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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Godolphin and Charlie Appleby have Melbourne Cup defence in mind for Cross Counter

Trainer reflects on successful 2018 and his aspirations for 2019 with a tilt at the Kentucky Derby in mind

Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby with his Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter. AFP
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby with his Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter. AFP

Cross Counter is set to make a bid to become just the fifth horse in history to win successive Melbourne Cup titles after Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby outlined plans for 2019.

The three-year-old gelding, ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, won the 158th running of the Aus$7.3 million (Dh19m) Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse on Tuesday, becoming the first Godolphin horse to win the world's richest two-mile handicap race.

Cross Counter will now spend the winter in Dubai and Appleby said an official plan for next season will be formed soon, although a return to Melbourne is a strong possibility.

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Only four horses have successfully retained the Melbourne Cup – Archer in its inaugural year in 1861 and 1862, Rain Lover in 1968 and 1969, Think Big in 1974 and 1975 and Makybe Diva, who won the race three times in a row in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Asked whether Cross Counter could be aimed at Dubai World Cup night, Appleby said: “At this stage of his career, probably not.

“He’s a Group 1 winner over two miles now but that doesn’t he can drop back to a mile and-a-quarter, the Dubai World Cup distance. So, not this year, maybe for the future.

“He’s a gelding and the likelihood of him is to be campaigned internationally. We know it’s a tough ask but that could be the future for him, to work back for another Melbourne Cup.

“It’s always been a big ask. We would like to work-back from his Melbourne Cup again. We saw he was suited to the style of racing there. He’s got the class to go and win another one there if the conditions are right.

“Cross Counter will be four next year and more experienced and stronger. I would be happy to take him to the Melbourne Cup again.”

Tuesday's success highlighted a great personal year for Appleby, who took Godolphin to their first Epsom Derby win in June with Masar.

This came after Thunder Snow, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, won the Dubai World Cup in March at Meydan, and Appleby said he took great pride in the success of the Dubai racing operation, which is headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

“It’s been a stellar year right from the [Dubai World Cup] Carnival and the Dubai World Cup, really,” Appleby said. “I got two winners there and Saeed (bin Suroor) won two as well, including the Dubai World Cup. It’s been a good year for Godolphin.”

Looking back at his own achievements, Appleby added: “For me, the Epsom Derby will always go down in history as the finest moment of my training career.”

“Not only just because it’s a Derby but as an Englishman and on home ground. It is a supreme test for any three-year-old colt and just to have one of the early classics.

“It tests everything. It tests their mental situation, it tests their body and their stamina. I think we could all imagine.

“On winning the Melbourne Cup for the first time for the Godolphin was another milestone. It was fantastic to win it.”

Like Cross Counter, Masar will spend the winter in Dubai, with the Group 1 Coronation Cup in June at Epsom his initial target for 2019.

“Masar will spend a nice holiday in Dubai and won’t be seen on the racetrack until the next European season,” Appleby said.

“To have Masar in training next year as a four-year-old is very exciting. He has a winter program out here and want to give him all the time in the world. His major target would be the Coronation.”

Despite his successful 2018, Appleby is not resting on his laurels and his immediate goal is ensuring Godolphin have a productive time in the Dubai World Cup Carnival when it begins in January.

“As always, the Carnival horses progress throughout the Carnival,” he said. “If you ask me now personally if I have a horse for the Dubai World Cup, I’m not sure if I have one. I might have one progressing through the winter.

“Saeed is very good at winning the World Cup and we’ll leave that for him and we have to play second fiddle there!”

One prize that is now missing from the Godolphin trophy display is the Kentucky Derby, which is run in May.

“The Kentucky Derby is in everyone’s lips and obviously we’ll try to win that one for the Godolphin,” added Appleby.

“If we can, that would be a huge achievement. Yes, the Kentucky Derby will be high on the list for the Godolphin.”