Few would deny Newmarket trainer Luca Cumani a long overdue victory in the Melbourne Cup. The Italian has twice trained the runner-up with Purple Moon (2007) and Bauer (2008). The latter was denied only in the very last stride by Viewed.
Cumani has continued to chase the elusive prize and rated Mount Athos his best challenger to date when he contested the race in 2012. The son of Montjeu arrived in Melbourne on the back of three successive victories, the last of which came in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury.
On that occasion he beat Brown Panther by three and three-quarter lengths with Modun and Masked Marvel well beaten in third and fourth. He was then put away for a trip to Australia and prepared for the Melbourne Cup without a prep race.
Having been well supported down to 13-2, things did not work out well for the horse at Flemington. After a slow start, jockey Ryan Moore tried to get him into the race but was seriously hampered twice before he could get a clear run. He eventually powered home in fifth place just over three lengths adrift of Green Moon.
Mount Athos was then sent to Tokyo to contest the Japan Cup. He took a keen hold under Moore and never got into the Group One contest won by Gentildonna. Cumani has given him a light campaign this year with another tilt at the Melbourne Cup in mind.
He made his seasonal debut in the Ormonde Stakes at Chester and was never asked a serious question as he cruised to nine-length victory. He then went to Royal Ascot in June for the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes but never landed a blow in fifth behind the ill-fated Thomas Chippendale. Once again, Mount Athos was doing all of his best work in the closing stages.
He then ran in the Goodwood Cup and was sent off the 3-1 favourite under Jamie Spencer. He was held up at the rear and tried to launch his challenge down the outside before his run petered out. The race was won in convincing fashion by Brown Panther who turned the form around completely from Newbury last season.
Although that effort was slightly disappointing, there is no doubt that Mount Athos has the right combination of speed and stamina to win a Melbourne Cup. Cumani has always believed that the horse runs best fresh and he may now be put away for the season. With the trainer's fine record in the race, Mount Athos looks like being a serious candidate for the big race in November.
Mount Athos Form Guide
|24 Aug 2013||March Stakes||2800m||2/7||Harris Tweed|
|01 Aug 2013||Goodwood Cup||3200m||8/14||Brown Panther|
|22 Jun 2013||Hardwicke Stakes||2400m||5/8||Thomas Chippendale|
|25 Nov 2012||Japan Cup||2400m||12/17||Gentildonna|
|06 Nov 2012||Melbourne Cup||3200m||5/24||Green Moon|
|18 Aug 2012||Geoffrey Freer Stakes||2670m||1/6||Mount Athos|
|14 Jul 2012||Silver Cup||2800m||1/12|
|19 May 2012||Poptelecom Handicap||2800m||1/12||Mount Athos|
Mount Athos (2012 campaign)
"He's as good a chance as I've had," said champion trainer Luca Cumani after exciting stayer Mount Athos raced away to an easy 3¾ length victory in the Gr.3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury on August 18 2012. The race he is talking about for Mount Athos - the Melbourne Cup.
A trainer desperate to win Melbourne's famous two miler after going oh so close with Purple Moon (beaten half a length by Efficient in 2007) and Bauer (nosed out by Viewed in 2008), Cumani loves the Melbourne Cup and his enthusiasm has obviously rubbed off on Mount Athos' owner Maswan Koukash.
"Melbourne here we come!" he said.
"That was fantastic beating Group One horses," he told the Racing Post.
"I always had confidence in him. He will go into quarantine and go to Australia early."
That does not mean however that Mount Athos (who enters quarantine at Newmarket on September 12 - due to fly to Melbourne a couple of weeks after that) will necessarily race in Australia before contesting the Melbourne Cup - Cumani noting, that upon analysing his form, that he "runs best when fresh."
Jockey Ryan Moore was also impressed by the strength of Mount Athos' victory.
"It was a tough race," he said. "They went off quite hard and we were racing from a long way out. I was in front sooner than I wanted."
A seven times winner from 20 starts, Mount Athos - a son of outstanding Sadler's Wells stallion Montjeu - has been successful at his last three outings, all by wide margins. A winner from ten furlongs (2000m) to 14 furlongs (2800m), Mount Athos seems to have the turn of foot required for Flemington - rather than being just a dour staying type.
This preparation Mount Athos has progressed quickly through the classes - on May 19 at Newmarket winning a 14 furlong handicap at Newmarket and a month later the Listed John Smith's Silver Cup (14 furlongs) by four lengths.
His latest victory came at only his second run at Group level and it is little wonder, as a horse on the up at just the right time, that he has been installed as favourite in the most recent Melbourne Cup markets.
Bred for a trip, Mount Athos is attempting to become the second Sadler's Wells line horse after Viewed (by Scenic) to win the Melbourne Cup - and the first Irish bred horse since Vintage Crop in 1993 to claim the big prize.
A son of a stakes winning mare who won up to 2400m, Mount Athos is a full brother to talented three-year-old Imperial Monarch who, on July 14, made it a memorable day for the family by winning the Group One Grand Prix de Paris (12 furlongs) - on the same day that Mount Athos claimed his Listed victory at York.
Mount Athos' grandam Snow Day was a Gr.3 winner over 2100m and she also produced the Listed winning stayer Blue Stag who ran second to Quest For Fame in the 1990 Epsom Derby.
This is a family of strength and stamina, one that has also produced a winner of the world's most famous weight-for-age staying contest, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - Sakhee (2001).
It seems fitting that Mount Athos head to Melbourne seeming he has relatives who have won at stakes level in many different countries - England, France, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, Italy, Ireland and America.
Now there is just Australia to conquer - is Mount Athos the horse?