Michael Bell feels last season’s experience will stand Big Orange in good stead when the five-year-old has a second crack at glory in the Emirates Melbourne Cup at Flemington on Tuesday.
Big Orange ran a tremendous race 12 months ago when fifth behind Prince Of Penzance, despite having to cope with the shock of travelling to the other side of the world for the first time.
Now one year on, Bell is much happier with the way Big Orange has taken everything in and believes the horse is primed for a big run.
“He looks in good shape. It has been colder than normal at this time of year, so, with that in mind, I’m happy,” said the Newmarket trainer.
“He lost 30 kilograms when he came this time last year, this time he only lost 13kg.
“He is a more experienced horse, that was his first ever time he had left Newmarket last year.
“It was a big culture shock for him coming to the other side of the world.
“He is a huge horse, he is nearly 17 hands’ high and weighs 550kg.”
Of the rest of the European contingent, Bell rates Bondi Beach as the pick.
Aidan O’Brien’s charge also ran in the race in 2015, but was down the field in 16th spot.
“If there is a European horse trained with one race very much in mind it is Bondi Beach,” said Bell.
“He has campaigned with this race as his principal target and when you look at who trains it, his chances speak for themselves.”
Of the Australian brigade, Bell fears the Robert Hickmott-trained Almandin the most.
“The one that has caught my eye is Almandin, he looks like he has been laid out for the race,” he said.
“Hartnell looks a little bit of an afterthought for me, he has had a tough time in the past month.”
Hartnell is Godolphin’s leading contender and he continued his preparation with some light exercise at Flemington on Sunday morning.
“He did his main gallop on Saturday,” trainer John O’Shea told www.godolphin.com.
“It’s now a matter of keeping him ticking over, stretching his legs, keeping him relaxed.”
Godolphin have four other runners as Sheikh Mohammed’s operation sends a strong team in what has become a relentless bid to win the race “that stops a nation”.
Joining Hartnell are the Charlie Appleby-trained duo of Oceanographer and Qewy, with Saeed bin Suroor responsible for Secret Number and Beautiful Romance.
Oceanographer had a jog at Werribee, where he remains in quarantine, while Qewy also did light work.
Beautiful Romance and Secret Number had a more vigorous workout on the all-weather track at Werribee with their big-race riders aboard, watched by Bin Suroor.
“Beautiful Romance has settled in very nicely and she’s happy,” said the trainer.
“The jockey (Damian Lane) was also happy with her, he likes her, and I’m also very pleased with her condition.”
Secret Number, who is on his second trip to Melbourne, having finished second to Dandino in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Flemington this time last year, is also pleasing his trainer.
“Physically, he looks much better than last year, he’s more quiet and more relaxed,” he said.
Ryan Moore, who struck on Protectionist two years ago, is happy to be riding Bondi Beach in a race for the first time.
“I would like to think that I go into the Melbourne Cup with a better chance than most, and there are certainly worst draws than mine in five,” Moore told his Betfair blog.
“My colt disappointed, to a degree, in this race last season but he is a year older and a year wiser now, and the simple fact that he experienced the travelling and occasion then is a big plus to his chances this time around, as is his preparation.
“This will actually be the first time I have ridden the horse but he was clearly one of the leading three-year-old stayers last season based on his St Leger second, after which he went to Flemington and finished 16th in this race.
“It was a better run than his final placing suggests – he was drawn wide in 18 and was beaten only around six lengths – and I would think that this race has been his long-time target since.
“He has had a light and successful campaign, and he clearly shaped very promisingly over a mile and a half at Leopardstown last time when third to Zhukova and US Army Ranger, even if the first two home did nothing for the form next time.
“I think is fairly weighted, and the step back up to two miles on decent ground will suit. With luck in running, I would hope and expect him to be very competitive.
“To state the obvious, this is a wide-open race, though.”