Melbourne Cup 2017: Hunter owners have mixed fortunes in lead up to dual shot at second win

FRESH: Red Cardinal gallops at Werribee racecourse on Sunday in preparation for the Melbourne Cup. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith
FRESH: Red Cardinal gallops at Werribee racecourse on Sunday in preparation for the Melbourne Cup. Picture: AAP Image/Julian Smith

PART-owner Luke Murrell kept up his great run of luck at Melbourne Cup barrier draws to boost Big Duke’s chances for Tuesday’s $6.2 million (3200 metres) race.

But the Aberglasslyn-based Australian Bloodstock co-founder and director was banking on jockey Kerrin McEvoy’s skills with his other chance of a second Cup victory, Red Cardinal, after it copped the extreme outside gate of 24.

Murrell and company partner Jamie Lovett won the 2014 Cup with Protectionist and the Hunter syndicators will have two runners in the race for the first time.

While Murrell drew barrier five for the Darren Weir-trained Big Duke, Lovett’s wife, Kellie, pulled out number 24 for Red Cardinal. That became 23 on Sunday when Who Shot Thebarman (barrier 20) was scratched because of an elevated temperature.

Murrell, who had previous grabbed good gates for Illustrious Blue (2010), Lucas Cranach (2011) and Protectionist (2014) in the Cup, had mixed emotions after Saturday night’s barrier draw.

“Big Duke, I think it was very important for him,” Murrell said. “I’ve got no doubt Red Cardinal is the best horse in the race, but he’s going to have to be to be in the race, whereas Duke is not quite as good.

“But by him having a softer run, that gives him obviously more or a chance and hopefully he saves a few carrots for the finish.”

As for the Andreas Wohler-trained Red Cardinal, which was out to $19 on Sunday from $14 before the draw with NSW Fixed Odds, Murrell was taking heart from McEvoy’s record in the race.

“Kerrin rode Almandin from 17 last year and won the race, and when he won on Brew [in 2000] I think he was in the outside gate that year, which was 22, so if there was one guy you wanted on, it was probably him.

“Before the barrier draw, I thought both could run top four, on form and ability overall. I still think that can happen.

“Red Cardinal’s chances are probably a little bit dented but like always in the big races, you need a bit of luck and we’ll see what happens.”

Big Duke’s jockey will be Brenton Avdulla, who has ridden the six-year-old gelding in his past three races, including a second in The Metropolitan and victory in the St Leger.

“He knows the horse, he ridden him a few times and, personally, I think he’s the most consistent rider in Australia," Murrell said.

“He makes the least amount of mistakes. He’s a nice, patient rider but he’s also very strong, so he'll suit that horse.”

Big Duke was $21 on Sunday and will carry 53.5 kilograms. Red Cardinal, which will be having his first run in Australia, will carry 55kg.