Finche firms as Waller eyes mega-rich treble
Sydney's champion trainer Chris Waller can make a clean sweep of the three richest races in the southern hemisphere this spring carnival as his stayer, Finche, firmed into favouritism for the $8 million Melbourne Cup at Flemington on Tuesday.
Finche moved to the top of betting at $8 for the race that stops a nation as concerns grew about Japanese stayer Mer De Glace's ability to run a strong 3200m on a rain-affected track.
The Flemington track was rated a soft 6 late Monday with more showers predicted overnight. But the weather is expected to clear for Cup Day with a forecast top temperature of 18C. The Victoria Racing Club is predicting more than 100,000 race fans will flock to Flemington.
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Waller has already trained the winners of the world's richest race on turf, the $14 million The Everest with Yes Yes Yes at Randwick last month, and the $7.5 million Golden Eagle with Kolding at Rosehill last Saturday.
This big race double came after he prepared a world record four Group 1 winners on the same day earlier last month.
A breakthrough Melbourne Cup win for Waller with either Finche or stablemate Youngstar ($34) would complete the trainer's domination of the Sydney and Melbourne spring carnivals.
Finche and Youngster ran in the Melbourne Cup last year, finishing fourth and sixth respectively, with Waller conceding Finche is his best chance of winning the famous Flemington two-miler on Tuesday.
Waller said Finche ran very well in the Melbourne Cup last year after drawing wide but he should get a more economical run from barrier four.
"His work over the past week has been very good,'' Waller said. "In saying that, I haven't put him or Youngstar under too much pressure.''
Finche's ownership group includes Winx's part-owners Peter and Patty Tighe, Black Caviar's part-owner Neil Werrett, and Prince Khalid Abdullah who raced the great English champion, Frankel, sire of the Melbourne Cup favourite.
Tighe said he is still waiting on word if his mighty mare Winx is in foal to I Am Invincible but Werret revealed his champion Black Caviar last week gave birth to a little colt by the same sire.
Black Caviar, who retired unbeaten in 25 races, has another of her progeny, Prince Of Caviar, due to resume racing at Kyneton on Wednesday.
Werrett said his experiences as a part-owner of Black Caviar when she was racing and now as a broodmare eclipses anything he has achieved in racing - even if Finche wins the Melbourne Cup.
"If Finche wins it would be incredible but it would be number two after Black Caviar,'' Werrett said. "The four years of fun we had with Black Caviar when she was racing is something I will never forget, it was an amazing time.''
Finche will be ridden by Kerrin McEvoy who can equal a century-old riding record if he wins a fourth Melbourne Cup. Damien Oliver, the rider of Mustajeer, is also in line for fourth Cup win.
Youngstar and Vow And Declare are the only Australian-bred horses in the 24-horse Melbourne Cup field.
There are 11 northern hemisphere-trained stayers in the race while 20 of the 24 runners were bred and began their race careers either in Europe or Japan.
English stayer Cross Counter is topweight and the race's defending champion. He is attempting to become the first overseas-trained stayer to win successive Melbourne Cups.
The traditional Cup Eve parade through Melbourne's CBD on Monday attracted the usual large crowds of race fans alongside anti-horseracing activists.
The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses took up its usual position at the end of the parade route, chanting "Blood on your hands," "Animal abusers total losers" and "Say nup to the Cup" as the procession of trainers, owners and jockeys made their way down Swanston Street to Federation Square.
Another protest is planned outside Flemington racecourse on Tuesday.
Lucky owners chasing Cup dream
The owners of the three great champions, Winx, Black Caviar and Frankel, share a common goal - to win a Melbourne Cup.
It's the reason they have joined together in the ownership of Finche, one of the leading chances in the $8 million race that stops the nation at Flemington.
Finche will race in the famous colours of Prince Khalid Abdullah - turquoise, pink sash, white sleeves and pink cap. These colours may seem familiar and that's because they were worn by the rider of Frankel, Abdullah's wonder horse who was unbeaten in 14 races and earned a Timeform rating of 147 - the highest of all-time.
Abdullah has raced many great champions over the years including Dancing Brave, Midday and his current superstar, dual Arc winner Enable, but Frankel stands supreme.
Frankel is now at stud in England but remarkably, with only four crops of racing age, he has sired four starters in the Melbourne Cup today - Finche, Mirage Dancer, Master Of Reality and Rostropovich.
This is where Peter Tighe, part-owner of mighty mare Winx, and Neil Werrett, who raced the undefeated Black Caviar, become part of the story.
Abdullah wanted to send a horse by Frankel to Australia to try and win the Melbourne Cup and identified Finche as that stayer.
Sydney's premier trainer Chris Waller, who prepared Winx to win her final 33 races including a world record 25 at Group 1 level, was contacted last year and asked to train Finche.
"Prince Khalid wanted to keep 25 per cent in the horse but sold the rest and Chris rang to see if I was interested,'' Tighe said. "I didn't know a lot about Finche at the time but Chris recommended him so I thought that is good enough for me.
'"We bought into him sight unseen - Chris wouldn't offer it to us unless he felt the horse was a chance of doing well.''
At this time, Werrett also received a call from Waller who told him he had a really good Melbourne Cup prospect coming from England.
"Chris told me about this horse called, Finche, and showed me the details,'' Werrett said.
"When Chris and (bloodstock agent) John Ferguson told me they thought Finche could be a Melbourne Cup horse I decided to buy into the horse. They are very good judges.''
Waller also enticed other long-term stable clients like Francis and Christine Cook, and Noel Greenhalgh to buy into Finche.
The striking chestnut, a giant of a horse, did contest the Melbourne Cup last year finishing fourth behind Cross Counter at just his second start for the Waller stable.
But so much has changed since that race. Finche has been gelded, he's grown into a monster of a horse and Waller has had the chance to prepare him solely with the Melbourne Cup in mind.
Finche has had four starts this spring, racing well in each including his win in the Kingston Town Stakes and a narrow loss in the Turnbull Stakes. His close fifth in the Caulfield Cup last start was an outstanding Melbourne Cup trial.
Waller describes Finche as a "very tall horse with a very extravagant action.''
"He is in good form and I think, a year on, he has had the time to adjust to Australian conditions,'' Waller said.
"This time last year, he was quite a lean horse and it was all quite new to him. In the Melbourne Cup, he got to the front and didn't know what it was all about.
"In that extra 12 months and his last few runs, he has learned what is required of him in terms of relaxing in his races, quickening and sustaining a long gallop.
"He's physically a much stronger horse now and he has a great mind set, everything is in order for (Tuesday).''
Tighe has had previous experience as a Melbourne Cup owner when Preferment ran down the track behind Prince Of Penzance in 2015. But Finche is clearly his best chance yet to win a Melbourne Cup - and that includes his mighty mare Winx.
"We've got no regrets about not running Winx in the Melbourne Cup,'' Tighe said.
"I'm not saying Winx couldn't have run in it and gone very well but it takes a special type of horse to run in this race, they are specialists at the long distances.
"The Cup horses need the 'miles' in their legs and it would have meant Chris had to change the way he trained Winx. It might have changed the way she raced, too.
"But you can't run in everything, we chose the races for Winx and we are very happy with what she achieved.
"We are hoping Finche might be our Melbourne Cup horse.''
Tighe has also noticed the physical difference in Finche from the inexperienced, immature stayer that ran so well in the Melbourne Cup last year.
"Since he has been gelded, and under Chris's guidance, he's put on weight and really filled his frame,'' Tighe said.
"He's always been a big 'boy' but he has matured as a horse now. He is better acclimatised.
"We have been very fortunate to have had some amazing wins with Winx but it would be very special if Finche could win the Melbourne Cup. This is one of those races that everyone wants to win. It has its own place in racing folklore and history.''