Cup carnival is go!

By CARYL WILLIAMSON

THE Melbourne Cup carnival officially got into full swing yesterday after some anxious weeks as the Victorian racing authorities watched the relentless progress of equine influenza (EI) throughout NSW and Queensland.

There were 39 horses vying for the 24 positions in next week's Cup after third declarations yesterday, down on last year's 50, but still an almost certain guarantee of a full field.

A relieved Victoria Racing Club (VRC) chairman Rod Fitzroy said preparations for the four-day Flemington carnival were complete.

"It has been an unprecedented few months with equine influenza, but we have been spared in Victoria," Fitzroy said.

"The 147th Cup will go ahead and the continuity of the great race is preserved, as is the 152nd running of the Derby and the 147th running of the Oaks."

The carnival begins on Saturday with the Victoria Derby meeting, which features the Saab Quality (2500m), the winner of which is guaranteed a place in the 3200m Cup next Tuesday.

Many Cup hopefuls will have their final hit-outs in the Group One Mackinnon Stakes, with 28 nominations received for the 2000m race.

Among them is Sirmione, who will be Bart Cummings' sole representative in the Melbourne Cup as the iconic trainer bids for a 12th win.

Cummings had assembled a large team of prospects, including Queensland Derby winner Empires Choice, but Sirmione, who finished a close third in the Brisbane classic was the only stayer who escaped EI, having travelled to Melbourne before the virus hit Randwick.

Without numbers from NSW and Queensland, momentum is building for the European challenge in the Cup, with English horse Purple Moon second favourite behind Caulfield Cup winner Master O'Reilly.

But the Irish bid hit a snag late yesterday with Scorpion in extreme doubt and undergoing X-rays after being found to be lame.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien is en route to Australia from the Breeders' Cup meeting in the United States where his colt George Washington had to be put down after breaking his leg.

O'Brien trains for the Coolmore conglomerate which still has Mahler in contention as third favourite.

Meanwhile, trainer Mark Walker was last night searching for a Melbourne Cup jockey for Princess Coup after Glen Boss indicated he was unavailable for the ride due to pressures to ride in Hong Kong.



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