Kew Gardens
Copyright Steven Cargill

Aidan O’Brien’s elite stayer Kew Gardens has been assigned the topweight of 58kg for the AU$8 million Lexus Melbourne Cup, known in Australia as ‘the race that stops a nation’.

Racing Victoria’s (RV) Executive General Manager – Racing, Greg Carpenter, unveiled the weights this morning for Australia’s two richest handicap races, the Melbourne Cup and the AU$5.15 million Stella Artois Caulfield Cup, which was won last year by Godolphin’s Best Solution.

Should he travel to Melbourne for the 2019 Victorian Spring Racing Carnival, Kew Gardens – a winner of two Group 1 races including last year’s St Leger – will set the benchmark for the 159th Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, 5th November at Flemington.

With Kew Gardens not nominated for the 142nd Caulfield Cup, held at Caulfield on Saturday, 19th October, the joint topweights for the world’s richest turf handicap over a mile-and-a-half are instead Avilius and Hartnell. The James Cummings-trained pair were both imported from Europe to race in Australia, where they have registered a combined six wins at Group 1 level.

Cross Counter, who surged to victory in last year’s Melbourne Cup for his trainer Charlie Appleby, will carry 57.5kg this year as he bids to become the first horse since Makybe Diva in 2005 to retain his crown.

The 6.5kg increase from last year’s weight of 51kg is the joint second highest progression in the weight allocated to a Melbourne Cup winner since 1970, with only Gala Supreme – in 1974 – receiving a larger increase of 8.5kg.

With differing topweights across the two Cups, the majority of dual entries have received 0.5kg less in the Melbourne Cup than the Caulfield Cup.

Avilius has been handed 57.5kg in the Melbourne Cup, with brilliant mare Lys Gracieux – trained in Japan by Yoshito Yahagi – next in the weight scale on 57kg.

“Kew Gardens was the world’s joint highest-rated stayer alongside Stradivarius last year, he was a dominant winner of the 2018 St Leger at Doncaster and so is a worthy topweight among the 152 entries for this year’s Melbourne Cup,” said Carpenter.

“Cross Counter will carry 6.5kg more than when he won the Melbourne Cup, which is the same increase as Let’s Elope in 1992; but given the nature of his victory last year and the natural progression in the weight-for-age benchmark from a three-year-old to a four-year-old, I felt it was an appropriate penalty to impose.

“In the Caulfield Cup, Avilius and Hartnell have both proven themselves at the highest level, and thus have been assigned equal topweight among the 145 entries. In the past 12 months, Avilius has won two Group 1 races at a mile-and-a-quarter or further and was Australia’s highest-rated stayer, while Hartnell has maintained his place among the nation’s elite performers.

“Inevitably the internationals will again pose a formidable challenge to the locally-trained stayers, with the first three home in the 2018 Melbourne Cup all set to return to Melbourne this year; but if the likes of Andrew Ramsden winner Steel Prince and Adelaide Cup winner Surprise Baby can maintain their form throughout the spring, I’m sure the visiting horses will have a real fight on their hands.”

The weights allocated to other notable entries are as follows:

The 2018 Melbourne Cup placegetters Marmelo (Hughie Morrison) and Prince Of Arran (Charlie Fellowes) both have the same weight as they carried 12 months previously, with 56kg and 53kg respectively. Prince of Arran has 53.5kg in the Caulfield Cup;

Northern Hemisphere three-year-olds have won the past two Melbourne Cups and the equal highest weighted on 52.5kg are Irish import Constantinople (now trained by theLindsay Park team of David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig), German Derby runner-up Django Freeman (Robert Hickmott) and Lonsdale Cup placegetter Il Paradiso (Aidan O’Brien). The former two are also nominated for the Caulfield Cup, and have 53kg;

Six-time Melbourne Cup-winning owner Lloyd Williams has multiple runners in contention for a start in the 2019 edition, including the Joseph O’Brien-trained trio of Master of Reality (55.5kg), Latrobe (55kg) and Twilight Payment (55kg); plus Homesman (56kg), Johannes Vermeer (55kg) and Yucatan (54.5kg), all formerly trained by Aidan O’Brien but now prepared locally by Liam Howley;

Last-start German Group 1 winner Danceteria (David Menuisier), one of two late entries for the Caulfield Cup alongside Constantinople, has been allocated 56kg for the 19th October feature;

Soon-to-arrive imports Mirage Dancer (Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young) and Southern France (Ciaron Maher and David Eustace) have also been allocated 56kg in the Caulfield Cup – 0.5kg more than the Melbourne Cup;

The Australian Bloodstock-owned Ebor Handicap winner Mustajeer (Kris Lees) has 55.5kg in the Caulfield Cup and 55kg in the Melbourne Cup, whilst runner-up Red Galileo (Saeed bin Suroor) has 53kg and 52.5kg respectively;

And emerging stayer Mer De Glace (Hisashi Shimizu), a winner of his past five starts, is one of five Japanese entries across the Cups and is weighted on 55.5kg in the Caulfield Cup and 55kg in the Melbourne Cup.

First acceptances for the Caulfield Cup close at 12 noon (local time) on Tuesday, 24th September and a week later at 12 noon (local time) on Tuesday, 1st October for the Melbourne Cup.

First acceptances were also taken today for Australia’s weight-for-age championship, the Ladbrokes Cox Plate, which will be run at Moonee Valley Racing Club (MVRC) on Saturday, 26th October.

First acceptances for the 99th edition of the Cox Plate have risen by more than 60 per cent year-on-year, with 17 internationally-trained horses among them – up from nine in 2018.

The overseas acceptors include the Japanese pair Lys Gracieux and Kluger (Tomokazu Takano) plus Danceteria, who have all accepted invitations from the MVRC to compete in the Cox Plate.

O’Brien, the 2014 Cox Plate-winning trainer, has retained seven horses within including Epsom Derby hero Anthony Van Dyck and dual Group 1 winner Circus Maximus.

His son Joseph has accepted with four horses for Australia’s Hall of Fame owner, Lloyd Williams – BuckhurstLatrobeMaster of Reality and Twilight Payment.

Williams has a further two locally-trained acceptors in Yucatan and Homesman, who is guaranteed a start and his shot at an AU$1 million bonus after winning last Saturday’s Group 2 Feehan Stakes at The Valley.

Second acceptances for the Cox Plate will be taken at 12pm (local time) on Tuesday, 24th September.

To view the complete list of Caulfield Cup weights, please click here

To view the complete list of Melbourne Cup weights, please click here