David Hayes is counting his blessings that Changingoftheguard did not win this year’s St Leger at Doncaster back in September.
If he had triumphed that day then Hayes would not have unearthed what he believes is a genuine contender to win his first Melbourne Cup in 15 years on Tuesday.
Changingoftheguard might have only been in Hayes’ care for a matter of weeks since he purchased the horse – who had been trained by Aidan O’Brien as a youngster – but he is growing excited about his chances in Australia’s famous race at Flemington.
He might be the least experienced runner in the field – with just two wins and three placings from seven starts – but Changingoftheguard has thrived since arriving in Australia despite at first suffering from a foot abscess.
But that quickly burst with Hayes admiring the toughness of the entire who will go into the Melbourne Cup with the equal-lightest weight of any runner with just 50.5kg.
Changingoftheguard has not raced since finishing sixth in the St Leger but prior to that he finished second in the Ebor at York where he was three places ahead of another European horse now with Australian interests in Warringah.
Hayes, whose only Melbourne Cup win was with another imported horse in Jeune in 1994, admits he is fortunate to have acquired the promising type.
“If he had won or probably even been placed in the St Leger then he wouldn’t have been for sale because he would have been a National Hunt stallion,” said Hayes.
“He has got a good pedigree and he would probably have stood at Coolmore’s jumping stud and would have been worth far too much for me.
“But I watched the St Leger and he just pulled far too hard in that race whereas he didn’t pull in the Ebor.”
Adding to Hayes’ confidence is that Changingoftheguard will be ridden by Australia’s most successful big-race jockey of recent times in Glen Boss.
Boss, who won Australia’s weight-for-age championship – the Cox Plate – aboard Bart Cummings’ three-year-old So You Think only last week, famously rode Australia’s greatest-ever stayer Makybe Diva to victory in each of her record-breaking three Melbourne Cup wins from 2003-2005.
However Changingoftheguard is unfancied in the betting with local markets rating him around a 20-1 chance mostly due to his lack of experience.
But Hayes is unfazed by that.
“I have seen a million three-year-olds win the Sydney Cup (also run over 3200 metres but held in Australia’s autumn) and Mahler (another European three-year-old) ran third in the Melbourne Cup a couple of years ago.
“And we saw a five-start three-year-old (So You Think) win the Cox Plate last week so it’s not as if it’s never been done before.”
Meanwhile Ian Williams was thrilled with the appearance of his eight-year-old contender Munsef after arriving in Melbourne late on Thursday night.
Williams, who is on his first visit to Australia, said Munsef had thrived during his three weeks in quarantine at Melbourne’s Sandown racecourse.
“The horse just looks great and (handler) Dawn (Oxley) must take full credit for the way she’s looked after him,” he said.
“For the first time since we decided to bring him to Australia, the Melbourne Cup now seems very real.
“Naturally we’ve all heard about the Melbourne Cup and I’ve read a couple of books about it but now that we’ve got the horse here fit and ready to run, it’s all very exciting.”