Local horses now the outsiders for Melbourne Cup
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Australia's richest horse race, the $6.2 million ($4.4 million) Melbourne Cup, retains as tight a grip as ever on the nation's attention but Tuesday's edition is expected to continue the recent trend of foreign raiders taking the famed three-handled trophy.
Horses trained outside Australia or New Zealand have won three of the past five runnings of the two-mile race, and the Japan-trained stayer Fame Game is this year's heavy favorite.
That will not dim Australia's enthusiasm for the event at the Flemington racetrack in Melbourne. The race has been an integral part of Australia's social and sporting calendars since it was first held in 1861 and Australians collectively wagered around $A800 million ($570 million) - almost $A40 ($29) per head of population - on the event last year.
Fame Game is trained by Yoshitada Munakata, will be ridden by Hong Kong-based Australian jockey Zac Purton and earned favoritism with a fast-finishing sixth placing in the Caulfield Cup, one of a number of traditional leadup races.
It is the same trainer and jockey combination as for last year's favorite Admire Rakti, which died in its stall from a heart attack immediately after the race.
Munakata said his main hope this year is for Fame Game and compatriot Hokko Brave to return safely to Japan.
''It's the most important thing,'' Munakata said through interpreters. ''There is probably more of a stronger will to take the Melbourne Cup and we really want to win.
''Because of the unfortunate event (last year), it brought more attention to the Melbourne Cup (in Japan). We had a bit of a talk last year and it wasn't until the Japanese sping we decided to come.''
Fame Game's favoritism firmed when it drew favorably at barrier number 12. On Monday it was paying around $3.80 for a win with Australian bookmakers and is likely to be only the fifth horse in the past 40 years to start at odds shorter than 4-1. Of those, only three-time winner Makybe Diva in 2004 went on to win.
Fame Game will carry 57 kilograms - starting third in the weights behind Snow Sky (58kg) and Criterion (57.5kg) - and only three horses in the past 40 years have won with 57kg or more.
After Fame Game, Australian bookmakers have the English stayer Trip To Paris - trained by Ed Dunlop and ridden by Australian Tommy Berry - at around 9-1 and the Sydney-trained Preferment at 11-1.
The long race distance, the size of the field at 24 runners, and the handicap weighting make the Melbourne Cup a notoriously difficult race for picking winners. Only one favorite - Fiorente in 2013 - has won the race in the past 10 years. Most winners are at double-figure odds and three horses have won the race at odds of more than 100-1.
That feeds into the race's huge appeal to Australians, who relish its history of wins against the odds.
As the prize-money has risen, the race has attracted the world's richest owners and best trainers to risk the long journey and significant cost of sending their best gallopers. But underdogs can and do succeed.
Who Shot The Barman, who will start at 17-1, is owned by four New Zealand farmers who named the horse for an aunt who would shout the phrase when she was impatiently waiting for a drink.
It will carry plenty of support from the more sentimental punters, as will Red Cadeaux, which has been runner-up three of the past four years and is back at age 10 for another shot.
This year's race will be the first since the recent death of Australian trainer Bart Cummings who was known as the Cups King for training a record 12 Melbourne Cup winners.