Downdraft was a reluctant runner and then a convincing winner of Saturday’s $300,000 G3 Lexus Hotham Handicap (2500m) at Flemington. And in doing so, the Northern Hemisphere four-year-old has set himself up to give Tuesday’s $8m Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) a huge shake.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Downdraft was third, beaten 1.5 lengths at his Australian debut in the $500,000 G2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m) behind Hunting Horn on October 26. On face value, given his progressive European form, his performance was slightly disappointing.
However, connections maintained that Downdraft would have performed better with cover.
The result left Downdraft in 24th position to run in the Melbourne Cup. He was forced to contest the Lexus Hotham Handicap, just seven days after his Moonee Valley outing, to preserve his spot in the Cup field, which he comfortably achieved by 1.5 lengths.
“We would have preferred to have stayed inside the box and not raced on Saturday but that wasn’t to be and I spoke to Joseph (O’Brien) and he was happy to run,” said OTI Racing’s managing director Terry Henderson.
“Of course we don’t know how Saturday’s run will impact on him for Tuesday. But we’re delighted with how the horse has pulled up. He had a couple of minor scratches from a barrier incident, that’s all.”
Recent Melbourne Cup history reinforces that highly-weighted Lexus Hotham Handicap winners must be respected a few days later.
HIGH WEIGHTED HOTHAM WINNERS IN MELBOURNE CUP
NB: Only considers Hotham winners carrying more than 56.5kg
2000: Brew (56.5kg) – WON at $15 defeating Yippyio
2006: Maybe Better (57kg) – THIRD at $10 to Delta Blues
2012: Kelinni (57kg) – FOURTH at $19 to Green Moon
2014: Signoff (56.5kg) – FOURTH at $8 to Protectionist
2015: Exceed Knowledge (56.5kg) – SEVENTH at $31 to Prince of Penzance
2018: Prince of Arran (57.5kg) – THIRD at $21 to Cross Counter
2019: Downdraft (59kg) – ?
“Most of those winners were colonial horses and used to less spaces between races generally and with our fellow we’re just not sure,” Henderson said.
“Prince of Arran last year was incredible really but he’s a slightly different horse – he is a strong horse. If you look at Downdraft he doesn’t appear to be as physically strong but Joseph’s view is constitutionally he could handle it.”
Henderson suggested Downdraft would head back to Europe after the Melbourne Cup in preparation for a tilt at next year’s race.
“If you said in a perfect world how do you assess the horse I would say he’s probably still on the way up,” Henderson said.
“I think without giving him a hard European year next year, I think whatever he does on Tuesday will be looking at him coming back next year, bigger and better.”
Downdraft is a $21 chance to win Tuesday’s Lexus Melbourne Cup with BetEasy behind $6.50 favourite Mer De Glace.