Co-trainer and Hall of Famer David Hayes is convinced after last weekend’s Cox Plate effort that the two miles of the 2015 Melbourne Cup will be no worries for his four-time Group 1 winner Criterion.
The internationally performed Sebring stallion has winning form up to 2400m, but steps up to the two miles for the first time Tuesday week at Flemington Racecourse on November 3 in the $6.2 million Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup (3200m).
Five-year-old Criterion returned from a second overseas campaign with a first-up win in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) on October 10 before he broke Might And Power’s track record when runner-up to Chris Waller’s superlative mare Winx in the Group 1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m).
Now Hayes, who trains the $6.7 million earner in partnership with his nephew Tom Dabernig under the Lindsay Park banner, will back Criterion up in the ‘race that stops a nation’ at a track the horse has run just one second from four previous runs at.
Criterion hasn’t raced at Flemington since last Melbourne Cup Carnival when fifth to Happy Trails in the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) on Emirates Stakes Day on the back of a Cox Plate seventh.
In this year’s Cox Plate Criterion was badly interfered with on the home turn and Racing Victoria’s Chief Handicapper Greg Carpenter tipped improvement in the Melbourne Cup with the galloper dropping from 59kg at weight-for-age to 57.5kg in the world’s richest handicap.
Hayes has saddled-up a notable 21 Melbourne Cup runners (since 1983), but has run third just once out of those starters.
Criterion is currently rated a $15 hope to take it out for Hayes this season in the all-in Melbourne Cup odds at Ladbrokes.com.au who are offering Best Tote or SP + 20% on all the features this spring.
His English summer campaign is one of the factors helping Criterion’s Melbourne Cup claims this spring according to Hayes, the horse having also run fourth in the 2013 Victoria Derby (2500m) and first in the 2014 ATC Derby (2400m) as a three-year-old when prepared by David Payne.
“I think the distance (3200m) will suit him better at the stage he’s at,” Hayes told Racing Victoria.
“He ran a course-record [time] running second, he probably would have won 10 out of 12 Cox Plates.
“I think the tempo of two mile will be more comfortable for him, and I think he’ll show an even better turn of foot at two mile – like (1994 Melbourne Cup winner) Jeune and (1996 Melbourne Cup winner) Saintly did.
“He’s had this wonderful English summer, when the whole emphasis of the summer was training stamina into him.
“In the end, you never really know. But my gut feel is he’ll run the two mile pretty easily.”
The Melbourne Cup markets are dominated by Caulfield Cup graduates with sixth-placed Japanese raider Fame Game ($4), the Murray Baker-trained winner from NZ Mongolian Khan ($8) and the Ed Dunlop-trained runner-up Trip To Paris ($8).
Winner of the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup 94023m) back in June, Trip To Paris will be joined in the Melbourne Cup by his three-time second placed stablmeate Red Cadeaux ($26) contesting the race for the fifth consecutive year.
Criterion goes straight into the capacity 24-starter Melbourne Cup field without a Derby Day run this weekend looking to become the third horse in four years to back up straight from a Cox Plate and win the famous Flemington Race 7.
The last Cox Plate graduate to win the Melbourne Cup next start was the Gai Waterhouse-trained Fiorente (3rd in 2013), Waterhouse still with three official hopes for the 2015 edition.
As for the horse Hayes rates the biggest danger Tuesday week, he named his other runner Almoonqith ($17) as an obvious threat after his storming Group 3 Geelong Cup (2400m) win on October 12.
“I’m scared of Almoonqith which is a pleasant problem,” he said.
“Lee Freedman’s horse [Our Ivanhowe] – if it gets a bit of rain – is doing well, the Caulfield Cup winner [Mongolian Khan] was terrific but we have beaten him. And the Japanese horse [Fame Game] was outstanding.
“But I think if we rode Criterion dead cold to let him run home the last 400m in a Caulfield Cup, he would have surged home pretty well too.”
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