Lance O’Sullivan got a Melbourne Cup reminder on Saturday morning when a delegation representing Victoria Racing Club stopped off at his Matamata stable.
It was the annual road trip taking the actual Melbourne Cup (this year sponsored by Lexus) around parts of the world with the New Zealand stopover concentrating on a few Melbourne Cup hopefuls in the North Island.
The interest at the O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott stable was (Sir) Charles Road, the Gr.2 Chairman’s Quality (2600m) winner at Randwick and last-start third placegetter in the Gr.1 Sydney Cup (3200m).
Among the Victoria Racing Club squad was trainer Sheila Laxon, who knows the feeling of winning a Melbourne Cup. Laxon triumphed in 2001 with Ethereal, New Zealand’s most recent owned, trained and bred winner of the Flemington feature.
Seeing the Melbourne Cup obviously brought up mention by Victoria Racing Club’s public relations executive Kelly Price of how frustratingly close O’Sullivan had come to winning the Cup as a jockey in 1985 on Koiro Corrie May.
It was the first $1 million Melbourne Cup and Koiro Corrie May, trained by Dave and Paul O’Sullivan, went down a mere short head to the Lloyd Williams-owned New Zealand-bred What A Nuisance.
Now 33 years after Koiro Corrie May’s near miss, O’Sullivan is in the Melbourne Cup running again, this time as a trainer. But he’s not about to get carried away.
“There’s certainly a lot of water to go under the bridge to get there,” he said. “To win it would be a dream. It would be exciting just to have a runner.”
O’Sullivan has seen the rise both in quality and prizemoney in the Melbourne Cup with the total prizemoney for the 3200-metre feature on November 6 increasing to A$7.3 million.
“It’s extremely difficult to win with the Northern Hemisphere horses coming down,” he said. “The quality is far stronger each year and it’s recognised world-wide as one of the races to win.”
So does he think he will get there with Charles Road?
“We know he can run two miles (3200m) and be competitive at the highest level, but we’ll take it one step at a time,” he said.
“He didn’t come up last spring, mainly because of the tracks over here, but looking at him now he’s far stronger condition-wise and he’s more experienced. He’s also had a good break since Sydney.”
Charles Road has recorded five wins and nine placings from his 19 starts and showed much promise as a three-year-old when a Group Three winner and twice runner-up at Group Two level, including a second to subsequent Gr.1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) winner Gingernuts in the Gr.2 Avondale Guineas (2100m).
He recaptured form with a win at Pukekohe last December and went from strength to strength, culminating in a win in the Gr.3 City of Auckland Cup and a fifth in the Gr.1 Auckland Cup (3200m) before his two Sydney runs.
“He’ll go to Te Teko on the seventh (August) and have a quiet barrier trial. We’ll make a call after that where to go with him,” O’Sullivan said.
“He likes Sydney and there’s the Metropolitan so whether we take that path I’m not sure. The weather will play a big part in the decision and he will need to show he’s coming up well.
“He usually takes three or four runs to come right so we’d like to see him do something to keep pressing on for the Cup.” – NZ Racing Desk