A whiff of glory

American humourist Mark Twain once said: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

That means his Cambridge namesake has got as good a show as any other horse of winning the Melbourne Cup, the richest horse race in Australasia, at Flemington this year.

The Melbourne Cup and ambassador Damien Oliver visit Cambridge Stud. Photo: Angelique Bridson.

And the rising five-year-old bay gelding is one up on the other starters – he’s already had a sniff of the $800,000 gold cup which will be handed to the winner’s owners on November 5, the first Tuesday in November.

The cup is on its annual pilgrimage to New Zealand under the watchful eyes of Joe McGrath – its official keeper – and had a photocall at Kingsclere Stables in Cambridge with Mark Twain on Monday.

“Mark”, as he is known around the stables, qualified for the Melbourne Cup with a Kiwi-like come from behind performance at the end of March in the 2600m Roy Higgins listed race at Flemington. That gave him a ballot-free entry into the cup, something co-trainer Robert Wellwood describes as “a boyhood dream even to have a runner.”

Trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood with Mark Twain. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

There are 40 years between Wellwood, 29, and his veteran co-trainer Roger James, but the prospect of having a Melbourne Cup winner has them both champing at the bit alongside Mark Twain.

“The Melbourne Cup is the one race that stands out in Australasia,” says James.

“It’s built a name over the years that’s wrapped in history. To be able to have a runner in it is a privilege.”

James glosses over his earlier training experience in the cup in 2007 when Railings finished second to last noting he was not keen to run him “the owners were.”

But Mark Twain is different, and his form is such both men can dare to dream.

“What could it do for any trainer’s career? For somebody of his (Wellwood) age to win a cup, it would be phenomenal.”

The Melbourne Cup at Cambridge Stud. Photo: Angelique Bridson.

Not a bad result for a 69-year-old either. He has trained six New Zealand Derby winners – including Mark Twain’s stablemate Orchestral – and won 35 group one and more than 1300 races in a 42-year training career.

The mostly Australian owners of Mark Twain prefer to have the New Zealand-bred horse trained in Cambridge.

“New Zealand is the greatest place to race horses, the best place to bring them up, we’ve got such good land and it’s a good environment to bring them, and they know if the horse is good enough, we can travel it to Australia pretty easily,” said Wellwood.

Add in Cambridge’s synthetic track – next door to the stables – and you have training facilities able to negate what would normally be heavy track conditions for horses.

The 2024 Lexus Melbourne Cup. Photo: Angelique Bridson

“Getting a horse like Mark Twain ready for the spring racing, now we’ve always got a track we know takes the variability out of it.”

Wellwood describes the horse as “laidback – a real dude, never has any worries or issues. He loves lots of people. He’s very unassuming, walks out, does his thing, never causes any trouble.”

Minutes later he does just that led out by handler and track rider Matt Ivil and as the two walk around the parade paddock, Mark Twain takes a sneaky look at the cup sitting on the fence.

And when retired jockey Damien Oliver – a three-time winner of the cup and now its ambassador – brings the cup over, the ultra-relaxed stayer could not resist sniffing it.

Cambridge stayer Mark Twain sniffs the 2024 Melbourne Cup held by ambassador, retired jockey Damien Oliver, and watched by from left, Roger James, Matt Ivil and Robert Wellwood. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Cambridge stayer Mark Twain sniffs the 2024 Melbourne Cup held by ambassador, retired jockey Damien Oliver, and watched by from left, Roger James, Matt Ivil and Robert Wellwood. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.


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