By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Frankie Dettori will look to end a quarter-century of frustration in Australia’s most prestigious horse race when the flamboyant jockey rides last year’s winner and favorite Almandin in the A$6.2 million Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.
The 46-year-old Italian has won virtually every trophy of significance in thoroughbred racing but victory in the grueling two-mile handicap at Flemington Racecourse has proved elusive.
Dettori made his Melbourne Cup debut with a ninth place finish on Drum Taps back in 1993 and has only two placings from his 15 campaigns, second place on Dynamite in the 2015 running his most recent near-miss.
Serendipity has played a part in this year’s bid, with Australian jockey and three-times Cup winner Damien Oliver losing his ride on the race favorite after being suspended for 20 races for “improper riding” during the lead-up Cox Plate.
Local businessman Lloyd Williams, who captured a record fifth Cup win as an owner when Kerrin McEvoy rode gelding Almandin to victory in a sprint last year, was quick to swoop on the Italian as a replacement.
“Obviously I am very grateful that I have the ride on Almandin, although it was in difficult circumstances. I am very sad for Damien Oliver,” Dettori wrote in a blog for a sponsor.
“I have been good friends with Lloyd Williams for over 20 years and he takes me under his wing every time I come to Australia.”
Dettori’s CV notwithstanding, history is against German-bred Almandin’s bid for back-to-back wins.
Only four horses have achieved the feat in the race’s 156-year history, with the great Makybe Diva the last with a hat-trick of trophies from 2003-05.
Long shots have often raced away with the prize, including Prince of Penzance which defied 100-1 odds in the 2015 running and made jockey Michelle Payne the first woman to ride a Cup winner.
Dettori will also be up against a raft of top quality foreign-trained entrants including the Aidan O’Brien-prepared Johannes Vermeer, a 10-1 shot.
Irish master trainer O’Brien has enjoyed a stellar year and set a world record for top-level wins when Saxon Warrior won the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster last month.
There will be a battle for bragging rights in the O’Brien family, though, with Aidan’s son Joseph preparing entrants US Army Ranger and Rekindling.
Darren Weir-trained Humidor is the top-rated locally-prepared contender after impressing in a runner-up finish behind champion sprinter Winx at the leadup Cox Plate.
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)