IT’S come a little later than planned, but for Newcastle Jockey Club chairman Geoff Barnett and his wife Maureen, having a Melbourne Cup (3200m) runner will be twice as good as they could have hoped come Tuesday at Flemington.
The Barnetts have part ownership in two Cup runners – Irish-bred geldings Big Duke and Red Cardinal – through Hunter syndication company Australian Bloodstock. Both were $19 with TAB Fixed Odds on Monday.
“It's very exciting and we'll be beside ourselves down there on Tuesday,” Mr Barnett said.
The Merewether couple bought into Australian Bloodstock’s Protectionist after its commanding 2014 Cup victory, but the German stallion was unable to make another shot at the race because of injuries.
Red Cardinal shaped up as a genuine contender last year before an elevated temperature forced connections to abandon his trip from England to Australia.
This year, the Barnetts and Australian Bloodstock directors Luke Murrell and Jamie Lovett were on track to have three strong hopes in the $6.2 million race before Japanese import Admire Deus broke down in track work leading into the Caulfield Cup.
Still, two out of three isn’t bad when trying to secure a start in the world’s richest staying handicap race.
Red Cardinal has already given the Barnetts a thrill with victory in the Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) in the US, while Big Duke has been a revelation, winning three times at group level and $1.15 million in prizemoney since coming to Australia.
“We went to New York to watch Red Cardinal win the two-mile event and that was pretty good,” Mr Barnett, the managing director and CEO of Minco Tech Australia, said.
“We're pretty excited about the whole thing.
“The other big one was Big Duke running the Sydney Cup this year.
“He ran third in the second running of it and that was big time stuff, getting into those bigger races. And we reckon he would have won the first running of it.”
Asked what was his best Cup chance, Mr Barnett said: “I don't know. It's always a very open race and rarely does a favourite win it, but they think both are a good chance.
“They have both proven they can run the distance. Red Cardinal, before he won at Belmont, won first-up over two miles after a long spell, so he's got the ticker.
“Then he went over to American and beat them. I think the American horses were pretty easy to beat but he competed against some of the European horses over there and you could see the way he was finishing off. It was just incredible.
“Luke is talking up that these horses can both run top five, and if you can do that, you're right in the money.
“It would be great to win it, but even if you can finish in that top group, it would be massive.”
Mr Barnett, who has been NJC chairman since 2011, has owned thoroughbreds since the late 1990s and also has horses with Newcastle trainers Kris Lees and Alan Scorse.
He said Australian Bloodstock’s strategy of targeting and buying proven horses from overseas to syndicate and race Down Under has given owners more chances of success in the major events.
“I've just always loved racing,” he said.
“It's a hobby that when you're raising a family and paying off a house, you can't afford to be in it, because it's quite expensive.
“But this new way they've got with the syndicated horses, where you don't have to buy a whole horse, you just buy a share, it's a very good way of going about it.
“We've probably got 12, 13 horses that we're in and the shares are only equivalent to maybe one and a half horse, so you can be in quite a lot, they're up and running and you've got more starters.
”We bought horses outright ourselves from the Magic Millions sales for a few years, and some never even raced, but doing it this way, we're getting into proven horses that have ability.
“You pay a lot for them. You might spend as much for a whole horse at the Magic Millions, and get a five or 10 per cent share, but they are proven horses.
“They've proven that the system Luke and Jamie have put together in purchasing them works. They select very good horses.”
If luck is not on their side in the Cup, the Barnetts and Australian Bloodstock have Articus in the following race, a $150,000 stakes race over 1800 metres.
They also have Tosen Stardom in the $2 million group 1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) on Saturday at Flemington.