WE have now passed the halfway mark in the world's greatest racing carnival and it is again proving an outstanding year.
The BMW Caulfield Cup Carnival was a top-class opening chapter for the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival, which culminates in the 56th running of the group 2 $351,000 Sportingbet Sandown Guineas (1600 metres) at Sandown's Hillside track on November 17.
We have again seen a large influx of international performers seeking a share of the riches on offer, especially for the 152nd Melbourne Cup and prizemoney for that race of $6 million, plus $200,000 in trophies.
The visiting horses have already shown their influence on the carnival with Dunaden's win in the Caulfield Cup, and then last Wednesday the John Gosden-trained Gatewood became the third successive international to win the group 3 $315,000 Geelong Cup (2400 metres).
Americain was successful in 2010 and then Dunaden followed up last year and both subsequently won the Melbourne Cup.
Remember that Media Puzzle won in 2002 before his Melbourne Cup win and in 2008 Bauer won the Geelong Cup before being narrowly beaten by Viewed at Flemington.
Gatewood's win at Geelong will greatly enhance his chances of a start at Flemington, but with just a one-kilogram penalty he's still well down the list of qualified horses.
At the weekend, Moonee Valley took its turn with the running of the Cox Plate and this week the attention turns to Flemington. This Saturday is considered by racing purists as the finest day of racing on the Australasian calendar and one of the major international days — the program features four group 1 races, two group 2s and three at group 3.
The main event is the 158th group 1 $1,510,000 AAMI Victoria Derby (2500 metres), and the unbeaten Kiwi three-year-old It's A Dundeel is justifiably the favourite.
The Murray Baker-trained son of High Chaparral made it five wins from five starts when he beat Proisir in the group 1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000 metres) at Randwick in Sydney.
He suffered his first defeat when second to Super Cool in Saturday's Group 2 $235,000 Mitchelton Wines Vase at Moonee Valley, but the pace didn't suit and he will be much better suited at Flemington. Super Cool stamped himself as a top chance with his win.
The Peter Snowden-trained Solemn also emerged as a top chance with his win in the Listed $120,000 Geelong Classic last Wednesday. Last year his stablemate, Induna won at Geelong and was unlucky at Flemington, but Haymaker in 1974 is the last horse to win the Geelong Classic (then known as the Geelong Derby Trial Stakes)/ Victoria Derby double.
He completed his preparation on Saturday in the group 2 $235,000 Mitchelton Wines Vase at Moonee Valley.
The Starlight Children's Foundation Norman Robinson Stakes (2000 metres) at Caulfield on October 20 has always been a good guide to the Victoria Derby and the winner Hvasstan impressed.
Saturday also features the group 1 weight-for-age $1,002,500 Longines Mackinnon Stakes (2000 metres), which will see many horses having their final start before the Melbourne Cup.
The Spring Racing Carnival concludes on November 17 with Sportingbet Sandown Guineas Day on Sandown's Hillside track.