Taranaki trainer John Wheeler hasn’t given up hope of getting Pentathlon into next month’s Gr.1 A$7 million Melbourne Cup, but he has come up with a left-field alternative if the talented stayer misses a start in the 3200m Flemington feature.
Pentathlon finished ninth in the 2016 Melbourne Cup and just failed in a last-ditch attempt to get a start in the race last year when third in the Gr.3 Lexus Stakes (2500m).
This year Pentathlon is currently sitting 58th in order of entry for the Melbourne Cup and Wheeler knows the seven-year-old son of Pentire has to lift his game in his next couple of starts to sneak into the big one.
Pentathlon was having just his second start since being runner-up to Gobstopper in the Gr.3 New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton 11 months ago when he was a creditable sixth to Nymph Monte in Saturday’s South Taranaki Club Egmont Cup (2100m) at Hawera.
“I thought he went super,” Wheeler said.
“He’d only had one race since the New Zealand Cup last year and I’d struggled to get the condition off him. He’s a robust horse and, even though he’d done a lot of work and is very fit, he’s not race fit.
“He also had a few hiccups, like a cracked splint bone which stopped him running on the second day at Hastings. After four days he was okay, but he really needed Saturday’s run.
“I’m confident he’s close to his best and I’m toying with the idea of going to the Moonee Valley Gold Cup (Gr.2, 2500m) then on to the Lexus, like we did last year. I haven’t given up hope that he can sneak into the Melbourne Cup.”
Pentathlon also holds a nomination for the Gr.3 Christchurch Casino New Zealand Cup (3200m) at Riccarton on November 17, though it seems more likely he will be racing in Australia, even if he doesn’t get into the Melbourne Cup.
“If I’m happy with him he can go over next Sunday or the following Wednesday,” Wheeler said. “The New Zealand Cup is still another option, but he’ll probably go to Aussie.
“I’ve got another option for him if he doesn’t get in the Melbourne Cup. He can go for the Jericho Cup.”
The Jericho Cup will be run for the first time this year, at Warrnambool on December 2. It is worth A$300,000 over the extreme distance of 4600m and confined to Australian and New Zealand-bred horses with the runners in the 12-horse event to be ridden by highweight and jumps jockeys.
It is being held as part of the 100th Anzac anniversary of the 1918 end of the First World War and in recognition of the Australian Light Horsemen, their mounts and a famous ruse employed nearing the end of the war.
As a decoy to a major offensive against the Turkish Empire, the Australian Light Horsemen staged a race meeting with the main race being the Jericho Cup over three miles through the desert sands.
It is planned to re-run the modern-day Jericho Cup annually and Wheeler, who is always proud to fly the flag for the Kiwis, would love to represent New Zealand in the novel event.
“It’s about three miles and Pentathlon will love the distance,” Wheeler said.
“If he doesn’t get into the Melbourne Cup there are other country cups over there he could run in too.”
There are a handful of opportunities left for Pentathlon to qualify for the Jericho Cup, with the Melbourne Cup on November 6 and the Listed Sandown Cup (3200m) on November 17 the most likely path, while there is also an Open 3200m race in Hobart on Melbourne Cup day that carries ballot exemption. – NZ Racing Desk