It has become an almost annual occurrence, but the practice of the owners and trainers of overseas horses in the Melbourne Cup trying to dictate the state of the Flemington track on Melbourne Cup Day has got totally out of hand.

The time has come for the Victoria Racing Club, or the regulatory authority, Racing Victoria, to step and tell the visitors to play the game by the rules or simply don’t bring their thoroughbreds to run in our greatest race.

Saturday’s racing surface for Derby Day was outstanding. Yet several overseas trainers and owners — including those of the top weight and one of the favourites, Septimus, are now threatening to withdraw their entrants if the track is not softer than it was on Saturday.

While Melbourne’s weather may intervene and deliver a dead to slow track, the notion that the track should be watered just to please a couple of foreign trainers needs to be addressed by racing officials once and forever.

If Septimus was scratched tomorrow because the track was too “hard” punters would lose millions even before the race starts. Bets placed already on an “all in” basis will be forfeited if the horse is scratched.

The purpose of the “campaign” by the foreign trainers is to pressure the VRC to water the track today and tomorrow so that it is much closer to a “slow” — which oh so conveniently would suit Septimus and a couple of other overseas entrants.

The danger in the VRC agreeing to their demand is twofold. Firstly, it leaves the VRC open to the accusation that in order to attract overseas entrants to the Cup it is prepared to “doctor” the surface — even if that disadvantages the majority of entrants.

But secondly, the VRC (at least as far as we know), cannot control Melbourne’s fickle weather. If it waters the track to meet the demands of a couple of foreign trainers, and it rains today and/or tomorrow, the track might be close to heavy and that would really disadvantage most of the field.

Authorities need to make it very clear to foreign trainers, and owners — if you withdraw your horse because the track is too “hard”, forget about coming back next year, or the year after!

In effectively demanding that the track surface be slow, they are ignoring the interests of the one group that keeps the racing industry viable — punters. Punters, large and small, hate betting on slow and heavy surfaces.

They should be told, and told in no uncertain terms, to cop what mother nature delivers up or don’t come back next year.

All that said, tomorrows field is probably the highest quality in a very long time. Sadly, without the nine or ten overseas entrants — some of whom are world class competitors — the Cup field would be very average.

I would love to be able to tip one of the Australian (or even Kiwi) horses to win, but it is really hard to go past Mad Rush. To be ridden by leading Australian jockey, Damien Oliver, turned in one of the best cup trials I can recall in the Caulfield Cup.

The safest local “conveyance” would seem to be either of Lloyd Williams candidates — Zipping who finished fourth In the Cup last year, and the year before, or C’est La Guerre who was a very easy winner of this year’s NZ Derby in a strong field.

But bet carefully — in a field of 24, there are probably 10 genuine chances, with most of them being the overseas contenders with little or no form in Australia. It simply does not get much tougher!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey