Melbourne Cup: Hughie Morrison and Marmelo seek history for Britain

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Marmelo during Melbourne Racing on Caulfield Cup Day
Marmelo will be ridden by top Australian jockey Hugh Bowman in the Melbourne Cup
Emirates Melbourne Cup
Date: Tuesday, 7 November Time: 04:00 GMT Venue: Flemington racecourse Coverage: Updates on BBC Radio 5 live

Success for Marmelo in Australia's iconic Melbourne Cup would be historic for British racing, but it would also deliver another twist in the most dramatic of years for his trainer Hughie Morrison.

Morrison, 57 on the day of the 'race that stops a nation', will be saddling the four-year-old in the Flemington feature with a doping mystery hanging over him and his 75-horse string back home in the UK.

At the start of 2017, a filly named Our Little Sister, one of the lesser lights of the operation based on the edge of the Berkshire Downs near Newbury, tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

All such medication is outlawed, with the British Horseracing Authority pursuing a 'zero tolerance' policy since the infamous 2013 case of Mahmood Al Zarooni, who administered steroids to horses under his care in Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin team.

Morrison insists he's innocent of any malpractice and believes himself to be the victim of a malicious act; he's offered a £10,000 reward for information.

In May, the authority, which puts a 'strict liability' on trainers when it comes to failed dope tests, charged him and, if convicted, a lengthy ban could follow.

'Of course it's a worry'

"It helps to have something to take one's mind off it, and not just my mind, but all the people within the yard - people forget I'm supporting probably 40 people through my business," Morrison told BBC Sport.

"They feel equally - if not more so - responsible and upset by the situation and the false allegations, so it's very good for the yard to have something like this as a focus.

"Of course, it's a worry [but] my conscience is 100% clear."

Morrison didn't want to go into the details of the case, for which no hearing has yet been scheduled, but said "we're making major strides in finding the individual [he believes to be responsible]".

A striking run when dead-heating for sixth place in Australia's prestigious Caulfield Cup in October sent Marmelo racing up the reckoning for the two-mile, AUS$6.2m (£3.59m) flat race, the world's richest handicap.

2016 Melbourne Cup Winner Almandin with (left to right) owner Lloyd Williams, trainer Rob Hickmott, Joel Flannery and Australian Jockey Kerrin Mcevoy with Lloyd's grandson Frank Williams holding the Melbourne Cup
The Melbourne Cup, won by Almandin in 2016, has never been won by a British horse

Famously, the trophy - won by a female jockey for the first time in 2015 when Michelle Payne triumphed on Prince Of Penzance - has never been brought back to Britain in its 150-plus year history.

Since 1999 though, England has claimed no less than eight runners-up spots, three of them by the magnificent Red Cadeaux, who was beaten by inches in 2011 in one of five attempts.

'He goes there with a chance'

"It would take a day or two to get over [defeat by] a nose having gone all that way," said Morrison, who's held his licence since 1997.

"Marmelo seems in good form after that run the other day, and the form of his win in the Prix Kergorlay in France has worked out with the second [Desert Skyline] winning the Doncaster Cup.

"He goes there with a chance, and it feels great to be part of it all."

The race favourite is 2016 winner Almandin, trained locally by former Aussie Rules footballer Robert Hickmott and due to be ridden by Frankie Dettori in place of the suspended Damien Oliver.

Marmelo, the mount of top Australian jockey Hugh Bowman, has been joined on the trip from Europe by fellow British raiders Nakeeta, Wall Of Fire and Qewy.

The raid by Ireland - twice the winner, with Vintage Crop (1993) and Media Puzzle (2002) - includes the Aidan O'Brien-trained Johannes Vermeer.

Also expected in the line-up are US Army Ranger and Rekindling (both trained by O'Brien's son Joseph), and the 2015 runner-up Max Dynamite and his stable-mate Wicklow Brave, from the Willie Mullins stable.

Most romantic of the raiders from the Northern Hemisphere is the six-year-old Nakeeta, trained for owners Alex and Janet Card by Iain Jardine amid the rolling cattle and sheep-strewn hills of Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland.

Nakeeta has relished training in the warm air of Melbourne

The horse has made the long journey Down Under after victory - just like 2016 runner-up Heartbreak City - in York's Ebor Handicap in August.

Peaceful Dumfries and hectic Melbourne must feel like they are a million miles apart - 10,500 to be precise - and Jardine, once a journeyman jump jockey now with a burgeoning training stables, has described his temporary surroundings as "an eye opener".

"You get here, and you're taken aback a bit, but it's lovely to be here. I thought the air here - the breeze - from the south was a nice breeze and good for the horses," he said.

"I'm really pleased with my own lad - really, really happy. He's in the same kind of form as before he went to the Ebor.

"Having 24 runners means you need a lot of luck in running; he's a 'hold-up' horse, and if he gets a clear run, I hope he'll be there or thereabouts."

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