In a field loaded with raiders desperate to continue the internationals’ recent Melbourne Cup dominance, bookmakers believe trainer Chris Waller’s Youngstar shapes as one of the best local hopes.
And champion jockey Craig Williams, who is looking to add a victory in Australia’s greatest race to his previous Caulfield Cup (two), Cox Plate (two) and Golden Slipper (one) triumphs, is happy to fly the flag.
Williams missed out on riding 2011 winner Dunaden through suspension and finished third aboard Mount Athos behind Fiorente and Red Cadeaux in 2013.
He is eager to salute in a race which has changed dramatically with an influx of high-calibre international horses.
“It’s the race that drives us all,” Williams said.
“I went over to Europe two decades ago and really promoted the Melbourne Cup when it was classed as just a handicap. Now you can see there are 16 inter-national runners tomorrow.
“They’ve got really good horses and when you watch the lead-up races, trainers’ and owners’ comments are, ‘let’s hope it’s good enough for the Melbourne Cup’. It’s fantastic.
“Not only is it the race that stops our nation, it’s also a race that’s targeted around the world. It’s a privilege being an Australian jockey and if I can win it tomorrow it’s going to be the greatest race on earth.”
Waller is still on a high after mighty mare Winx delivered him a fourth successive Cox Plate at Moonee Valley late last month. He added the Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) to his growing list of Group 1 triumphs with Shillelagh at Flemington on derby day.
Youngstar was seventh in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) last start after running second in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), behind only Winx, at Flemington on October 6.
“The Winx form really franks it,” Williams said.
“In regards to an Australian perspective, she (Youngstar) has got the best credentials.
“She was a Queensland Oaks winner, she ran third in a Queensland Derby and the Brisbane carnival has been very strong for our (Melbourne Cup) carnival in recent years.
“She’s come up with a really nice barrier (eight) which is a really big help and whatever the conditions she gets, dry or wet, she’s adaptable.”
Co-trainer Ben Hayes said his leading local hope Ventura Storm ($31) was better placed to attack the race this year than last, having won the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) last start.
“He’s had a couple of big changes,” Hayes said.
“He’s lost his back wheels, he’s been gelded, and he’s also had a wind operation … he’s a completely different horse.”