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Experts leave once-a-year punters at odds

LIKE its yuletide equivalent, Melbourne Cup eve is abundant with possibility. The deflation of landing nothing better than more sock-drawer filler can wait for now, seemingly everyone can find a reason why their horse can win the big one.

LIKE its yuletide equivalent, Melbourne Cup eve is abundant with possibility. The deflation of landing nothing better than more sock-drawer filler can wait for now, seemingly everyone can find a reason why their horse can win the big one.

Yesterday's lunchtime crowd left Federation Square either convinced they had the inside running, or more confused than ever. As even the old master, Bart Cummings, said when asked what six decades and a dozen winners had taught him about the key to success: "Glad you asked, I'm still learning myself."

Perhaps a little too readily, the 83-year-old trainer declared he was "not really confident" that either Precedence or Illo could land him a 13th Cup. His caution won't stop many once-a-year punters backing Bart to do it again.

As the only female rider in the Cup, Lisa Cropp will have a big support base, too. Her horse, Glass Harmonium, is a grey another tick for the dollar each-way investors and has a temperament to catch the eye.

"He's one of those horses who should be on a carousel," said Cropp. "He's very beautiful and likes to show off."

Kerrin McEvoy's win on Brew 11 years ago launched him globally, and he will steer the massive Modun 17 hands tall as Sheikh Mohammed's bid to add a Melbourne Cup winner's cheque to his riches continues. McEvoy's report that Modun gave him "a good feel" in trackwork was another set-play of Cup-eve optimism.

Nothing is too gloomy to spin. Shamrocker will jump from barrier 24, so wide her jockey Luke Nolen hoped the pies selling near the outside rail would be warm.

The exalted internationals were on all lips three-quarters of the trainers and jockeys tipped Americain as their horse's greatest danger, while Luca Cumani, who saddles up Drunken Sailor and Manighar, was convinced the victory speech would be made in French.

Alain de Royer Dupre (Americain) was humble, saying all in racing know how hard it is to win the same big race twice. His fellow Frenchman, Mikel Delzangles (Dunaden), preferred to hail the race. "I wish we had something like this in Europe."

Kevin Bamford runs the largest label manufacturer in Australasia, but gleans more fame and joy from his part-ownership of Americain. He also has a chunk of Jukebox Jury, the English stayer with better form than any contender, so has a big chance of extending what he called a year-long party.

If the 2011 Cup is to be an Australian story, there would be none better than victory to Niwot, who co-trainer Wayne Hawkes recalled "smashing" the back of a knee two years ago, and vets in Sydney and Melbourne recommending retirement. "I just hope everyone comes out and supports him," Hawkes said, giving thanks that they were wrong. "Go Aussie, go!"

Aboard Niwot is a genuine battler, 37-year-old Westmeadows native Dean Yendall, who rides six days a week, covers more than 100,000 kilometres a year, and booted home more winners last season than any jockey in the land. Yesterday he packed the cat and dog in the car and drove to a date with his dream.

"I passed a few cars on the way, they'd be thinking, 'There's that Yendall again . . . does he ever slow down'?" he said. His wife, Christine Puls, rode the winner of the first at Hamilton yesterday the family luck may be in.

A thousand rides a season throughout Victoria and into South Australia have earned Yendall a following, and he knows "a lot of two-dollar punters out there" will be with him today. Taking on those big, exotic names won't unsettle him.

"I wouldn't know 'em if I tripped over 'em," he said of the overseas jockeys. "They won't be a concern to me."


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