By Nicholas Godfrey
Australia: German trainer Andreas Wohler’s two-week quarantine period in Australia proved worth the effort when Ashrun earned a last-minute spot in the Melbourne Cup field with a thrilling last-to-first victory in the Lexus Hotham Handicap at Flemington.
Bought by Australian Blooodstock with the Cup in mind, the four-year-old looked set to miss the cut after the most recent declarations stage.
Now Ashrun secures a run – albeit from the widest gate in 24 – after a short-head success in Saturday’s G3 ‘quality handicap’, a last-chance ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifier for the Melbourne Cup on the Victoria Derby undercard.
“We are so happy because we were always aiming at the Cup but had our troubles getting into it,” said Wohler, who will be seeking his second triumph in Tuesday’s race after Protectionist in 2014. Shocking was the last horse to complete the double in 2004.
“Protectionist was a different horse, a speedier type,” Wohler went on. “He got himself out of trouble quicker because he had more speed. For him [Ashrun], he’s more of a galloping type. He didn’t jump off well today and for that he was in a bad position.”
Wohler is the only international trainer to secure a travel exemption to supervise his horse’s Melbourne bid and had to undergo two weeks’ quarantine in Sydney. He drove down from New South Wales and arrived in Melbourne at midnight on Friday before watching Ashrun touch off Sound in the Hotham.
Winning Saturday’s race had made all the effort worthwhile, said Wohler. “For sure – when you get an outcome like this, it really is,” he commented. “Today, he didn’t have the best run around and still won in the end with topweight so we’re very pleased.”
Ashrun will carry 53kg (8st 5lb), 8kg less than the mammoth 61kg (9st8lb) in the Hotham) after not being handed any Melbourne Cup penalty. On the other hand, Germany’s representative fared less well at Saturday’s draw the Flemington two-miler as he was handed the widest gate in a 24-runner field.
Also done few favours was longtime ante-post favourite Tiger Moth, who was drawn 23 and is on the drift. Aidan O’Brien-trained stablemate Anthony Van Dyck will start from an ideal position in three.
Cox Plate winner Sir Dragonet is housed in 14, next to Caulfield Cup heroine Verry Elleegant breaks from 15. British-trained Cup stalwart Prince Of Arran breaks from the rail under Jamie Kah.
Three-time Cup winner McEvoy, who rides Tiger Moth, warned not to underestimate Ashrun’s chances in the Melbourne Cup. “He’s a good stayer,” he said. “Good in the wind. He didn’t have a lot of favours in the run. You can’t be taking him lightly on Tuesday. He’ll stay the trip and has a bit of class about him.
Looking at Saturday’s race, McEvoy added: ”I was worried – we wanted to try and make use of the draw, but he came out like a typical northern hemisphere horse, as they sometimes do, and I was last on the rail.
“I didn’t get much of a gallop, but the horse has done a great job with that big weight and pick up quickly and get into contention.”
Melbourne Cup betting (Ladbrokes): 6 Sir Dragonet, 13-2 Tiger Moth, 7 Anthony Van Dyck, 8 Surprise Baby, 9 Prince Of Arran, 11 Verry Elleegant, 12 Russian Camelot, 14 Master Of Reality, 16 Finche, Ashrun, 20 bar