Godolphin Arrives for Spring Racing in Australia
Godolphin’s profile in Australia’s famous G1 handicaps is already high, with domestic flag-bearer Hartnell allotted second top weight of 57.5kg in the Melbourne Cup and topweight of 58kg in the Caulfield Cup.
But, on the other side of the world, trainers Saeed bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby are ready to send a strong squad of European stayers into quarantine at Newmarket (UK), prior to the long journey Down Under, where each will attempt a first win for Godolphin in the race that stops a nation.
Saeed is still finalising his team for the trip, though he already has a number of talented horses on his short list. Quarantine for the first shipment starts on Thursday.
“We have four entries (for the Melbourne Cup) at the moment and will decide on final plans in coming weeks,” Saeed said.
Heading Appleby’s team is Francis Of Assisi, weighted on 54kg in both Cups, while Qewy (53kg) and Kidmenever (50.5kg) occupy slots further down the scale. Folkswood, also to travel, holds an entry in the G1 Cox Plate.
“The weights were pretty much what we expected,” Appleby said.
“The four will go into quarantine later this week and ship out to Australia 14 days later.
“Two of the four we send from my yard have been to Australia before, so that is good experience to have under the belt.
“Kidmenever will probably need to win one of the prep races to get into the Cup, but we’ll give it a shot anyway,” the trainer added.
“I’m looking forward to going down to Australia again, and if we can get one winner, we shall be delighted,” he pointed out.
G1 Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington
The strongest field assembled in Australia this season confronts Hartnell in Saturday’s G1 Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington.
But the star of Godolphin’s local stable still stands above the opposition in a race that can provide him with a third G1 success and confirm his place among the world’s top echelon of racehorses.
Hartnell (James Cummings/Kerrin McEvoy) comes to the Makybe Diva off a hollow victory in the G2 PB Lawrence takes at Caulfield.
“Not only were we very impressed by his return in the Lawrence, but we’ve been very pleased with him in between runs,” Cummings said.
“He looked like he absorbed that first-up run even better than his preliminary training. It’s a really good sign.
“The team in Melbourne said he strode into his gallop on Tuesday really stylishly and is full of confidence going into this race, which he’ll need to be.”
Cummings acknowledges the Makybe Diva is a more difficult assignment than the 1400m of the Lawrence.
Against that is the return to Flemington, the scene of Hartnell’s most recent G1 victory, and the step out to 1600m.
“This race is that little bit stronger than what he faced first-up and Hartnell might be a little vulnerable from that perspective,” the trainer said.
“But he’s certainly giving us all the indications that he’s ready to fire.”
“We’re very excited about his prospects on the weekend and getting him into his preferred environment where he gets out on a big track and can use his big galloping action.”
On a day when Winx, the only horse rated more highly than him in Australia, attempts her 20th consecutive win in Sydney, Hartnell meets the best of the rest in a race in which no fewer than 14 G1 winners are entered.
For Cummings, the Makybe Diva is his first attempt at the top level since becoming head trainer of Godolphin in Australia in July.
“Group Ones are what we’re striving for, they’re more than just another race,” Cummings said.
“If we can get one with Hartnell and keep him at that top level, then we’ll be absolutely delighted, not just to achieve a weight-for-age Group One win, but to see a plan come off that’s been a long time in the making.
“I’ve seen it done before. It’s very hard to do and we have plenty of healthy respect for the opposition, so from that perspective we’ll be very grateful if he can do it on the day.”
The Makybe Diva comes in a week when Hartnell was awarded topweight in the G1 Caufield Cup and was made second topweight in the Melbourne Cup, prompting praise from chief handicapper Greg Carpenter.
“Hartnell proved he was one of the best horses in the world in the G1 Turnbull Stakes,” Carpenter said.
“His winning return in the PB Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield last month was very impressive, so he is ideally suited to the Caulfield Cup and is a worthy topweight.”
It is four years since Kerrin McEvoy rode his last G1 winner for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed – but his next could come as soon as Saturday when he rides Hartnell in the Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington.
“It’s pretty exciting to get the call up for such a high-quality horse as Hartnell,” McEvoy said.
“I rode him for the first time in a jump out at Flemington last month and even though we weren’t out to do anything spectacular, he gave me a really good feel, the feel of a top horse.”
McEvoy rode more than 500 winners around the world – including 29 G1s – for Sheikh Mohammed during a 12-year stint that ended in 2014.
In Australia McEvoy won the G1 Caulfield Cup for Godolphin on All The Good in 2008 as well as capturing the G1 Blue Diamond and G1 Golden Slipper double on Sepoy in 2011. His last G1 winner for Sheikh Mohammed was Guelph in the 2013 Thousand Guineas.
“I received an amazing opportunity to ride for Godolphin all around the world and to have another opportunity to win a G1 race for Sheikh Mohammed is an incredible privilege.”
Hartnell marked his seasonal debut with victory in the G2 PB Lawrence Stakes at Caulfield last month with a performance McEvoy described as “sparkling”.
“He certainly showed he’d come back in the same form that he showed last spring,” he said.
“It was impossible to fault that win and he can only have been improved by it.”
Hartnell has been handicapped to carry 57.5kg in this year’s G1 Melbourne Cup, a half-kilo less than the top weight Order Of St George. He is topweight for the Caulfield Cup with 58kg.