Record breaking trainer Chris Waller has made a habit of winning staying races with imports from Europe but his best chance to land one of Australia's greatest handicap races lies with two home bred stayers in Hawkspur and Royal Descent.
The classic winning four-year-olds have worked their way into the $2.5 million G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) in outstanding style and it's no surprise that tab.com.au have the pair rated first and second in the Fixed Odds market.
Hawkspur ($4.50 favourite) burst into Caulfield Cup calculations during the Brisbane winter carnival winning the triple-crown for staying three-year-olds, culminating in the Queensland Derby.
All wins were helped in no small part by his jockey for the Cup, the irrepressible Jim Cassidy.
Hawkspur and Cassidy combined for a brilliant second-up win this campaign in the G2 weight-for-age Chelmsford Stakes (1600m) at Randwick, where the son of Purrealist showed a tremendous turn of foot when running away to win by over 3 lengths.
After a fourth (beaten 2 lengths) in the G1 George Main Stakes (1600m) when he came from last on the home turn, it was his last run in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington that has everyone talking.
With Cassidy unavailable due to Sydney commitments, Michael Walker warmed the saddle and Hawkspur was a certainty beaten.
Never clear at any stage down the long straight, Hawkspur went to the line untested and while there were several top Caulfield Cup trials in the race, none were better than his.
Hawkspur's biggest obstacle is barrier 16 which is likely to be 14 after the emergencies are withdrawn, however, Cassidy is a master at overcoming bad gates and with luck he is clearly the horse to beat.
Waller's Australian Oaks winning mare Royal Descent ($6.50) has had a wonderful preparation and she too was desperately unlucky in the Turnbull Stakes.
After three Sydney placings in the G3 Toy Show (1300m) at Warwick Farm; the G3 Tramway Stakes (1400m); and the G1 George Main Stakes at Randwick; Royal Descent found plenty of interference at her first run down south.
Settling back in the field, she struck trouble at the 1500metres then became ensconced in a traffic jam, before again being checked 200 metres from home.
After Flemington, Waller was left wondering what might have been but he would have been highly satisfied that despite bad luck, his two big chances in the Caulfield Cup were in-tact and more importantly, on track, to win the big 2400 metre race.
Waller may well be relying upon Hawkspur and Royal Descent as his main chances, but as has become the norm in any major Group 1 race around the nation, he has multiple runners including the $26 chance Moriarty and last year's Melbourne Cup fourth placegetter Kelinni ($41).
Third favourite Silent Achiever ($8 with tab.com.au) has been working nicely towards the Caulfield Cup. The Roger James trained mare has impressed at every run this campaign in Melbourne and the step up to 2400 metres will suit her perfectly.
She has the services of big race performer Glen Boss who only needs a win in the Caulfield Cup to join an elite group of riders to have claimed the Grand Slam of Australian feature races.
Already the winner of The Melbourne Cup (3 times); The Cox Plate (3 times); and the Golden Slipper (twice); Boss is itching to join an elite group which includes only two jockeys who are riding in this renewal of the Caulfield Cup, Jimmy Cassidy and Damien Oliver.
My tips are; 12 HAWKSPUR – 16 ROYAL DESCENT – 15 SILENT ACHIEVER – 2 DANDINO
Best of luck on what is always one of the great days on the Australian racing calendar.
G3 - The Majordomo Hospitality Handicap Steeple Chase
G2 - Prix Raoul Balliere
G2 - Prix Ariste Hemard
G3 - Victress Stakes
G2 - Premier Trophy