Racing Victoria's chief handicapper Greg Carpenter says locally trained horses will be hard pressed to fight off the European invasion for this year's Caulfield and Melbourne Cups if the performance of French horse Shahwardi in last Saturday's Herbert Power Handicap is anything to go by.
Shahwardi was considered one of the lesser lights of the European contingent here for this year's two big handicap races having not won a race for three years.
But the French stablemate of 2010 Melbourne Cup winner Americain blitzed a strong field in the 2400 metre race - traditionally the last lead-up event for Saturday's $2.5 million Caulfield Cup - to rocket into contention for the Melbourne Cup.
While the Alain de Royer Dupre-trained galloper is now eligible for the Caulfield Cup, connections have decided not to back up the seven-year-old gelding - instead saving him for the Melbourne Cup.
Carpenter issued Shahwardi with a 1.5kg weight penalty following his win in the Group Two Herbert Power, lifting his weight for the Melbourne Cup to 53kg and also elevating the French stayer from No.42 to No.32 in order of entry for Australia's greatest race.
French horses in Dunaden and Americain have won the last two Melbourne Cups following on from the win of Japanese galloper Delta Blues in 2006 and Dermot Weld's Irish gallopers Vintage Crop in 1993 and Media Puzzle in 2002.
And with four European-trained horses set to contest Saturday's Caulfield Cup and possibly as many as 10 entered in the Melbourne Cup, Carpenter believes the locally trained stayers might find the going tough.
"I think the win of Shahwardi on Saturday was ominous as far as the European contingent are concerned," Carpenter said on Melbourne racing radio station ''RSN'' on Tuesday.
"He hadn't won a race for three years yet it was a soft win in the end and most of the better performed European horses that are here for the spring are still sitting in their barns at the Werribee Equine Centre."
Carpenter said the other European stayer that stepped out in the Herbert Power on Saturday in the English trained Gatewood - which is now owned by prominent Australian owners Terry Henderson and former Australian cricketer Simon O'Donnell - was also impressive given he finished the race strongly despite having little luck in the run.
Shahwardi was not considered amongst the top European threats for this year's Caulfield and Melbourne Cups with the top overseas based contenders expected to be Dunaden and Americain plus the Luca Cumani trained pair of My Quest for Peace and current Melbourne Cup favourite Mount Athos, along with Godolphin's Lost in the Moment and Cavalryman and Weld's Galileo's Choice.However, Carpenter said Shahwardi might just be one of those horses that thrives in Australian conditions and thus performs better than some of his better credentialed European rivals in the same way that Media Puzzle upstaged his higher profile Irish stablemate Vinnie Roe in winning the 2002 Melbourne Cup.
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