Godolphin Pair, Persian Punch to Challenge for Melbourne Cup

Queensland Oaks (Aus-I) winner Ethereal is the 4-1 morning-line favorite for Tuesday's two-mile Melbourne Cup (Aus-I), in which the hot Godolphin stable have two horses entered.

A 4-year-old New Zealand-bred filly, Ethereal (Rhythm--Romanee Conti, by Sir Tristram) won the $994,118 Caulfield Cup by a nose over fellow New Zealand-bred Sky Heights after finishing third in Northerly's Yalumba Stakes (Aus-I). The Sheila Laxon trainee has yet to race beyond 1 1/2 miles. Though favored on the morning line, Ethereal has slipped to 7-1 in early betting.

Next on the morning line is Big Pat (Full And By--Put In Place, by Hyperborean), who will break from post nine in the 24-horse field and is currently the 6-1 favorite. The Australian-bred gelding ran off three straight victories earlier this year, culminating in the 1 9/16-mile South Australian Derby (Aus-I), but has yet to visit the winner's circle after racing older horses.

Godolphin send out two entrants, Marienbard (12-1) and Give The Slip (25-1). Marienbard, a winner at 1 3/4 miles, comes into the Cup following a third-place finish on the Irish St. Leger (Ire-I) in September. Frankie Dettori will again ride the 4-year-old son of Caerleon.

"Two miles is a good trip for Marienbard though a mile and three quarters is probably his best distance," said Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager. "The key thing for him is to get his ground which is not too firm. Right now a 3.8 reading makes the ground very fast which could work against him if it remains like that on the day. The horse, by all accounts, is in really good form and he has got into the race with a handy sort of weight but it is a very competitive race.

Give The Slip has been used primarily as a rabbit for Fantastic Light this season. When last in a race without the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I) winner, Give the Slip won the Concord Dubai City of Gold (UAE-III) in February. Give The Slip (Slip Anchor--Falafil, by Fabulous Dancer) will be guided by Richard Hills from post 15.

"He (Give The Slip) can run from the front as he did when winning the Tote Ebor last year but he doesn't have to. He is not there to set the pace -- he is there to run his own race," said Crisford. "He has good tactical and early speed which will stand him in good stead. It is going to be difficult but we think that both horses will run really well."

The Melbourne Cup remains as one of the most coveted international races for Godolphin.

"In the past, apart from Central Park, we have brought horses who didn't stay or weren't good enough but this time we have nice horses," said trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "Marienbard is the pick of the pair although Give The Slip looks more relaxed than he has done in Europe and he will run his own race."

Seven-year-old Caitano is winless from seven starts this year and will begin his eighth start of the season from post eight Tuesday. A champion in Germany in 1998 and Italy in 1987, Caitano (Niniski--Eversince, by Foolish Pleasure) last won in September of 2000, earning a four-length win in the Bosphorous Cup in Turkey, his only win of that year. Gary Tanaka's Andreas Schutz trainee finished seventh of eight in the Cox Plate. Johnny Murtagh will ride.

Persian Punch, an 8-year-old Persian Heights gelding, has a 2 1/16-mile win on his resume and two group wins this season. In the Gold Cup at Ascot in July, Royal Rebel denied him a group I win in a thrilling renewal of the 2 1/2-mile race, with Royal Rebel winning by a head at the wire. Persian Punch (15-1) breaks from post 11.

The field for the Melbourne Cup by program number -- with post position, jockey, and morning-line odds -- will consist of:

1--Persian Punch (IRE), 11, T.R. Quinn, 12-1
2--Sky Heights (NZ), 21, D. Oliver, 15-2
3--Universal Prince, 6, J. Sheehan, 13-2
4--Caitano (GB), 8, J.P. Murtagh, 25-1
5--Give The Slip (GB), 15, R. Hills, 25-1
6--Marienbard (IRE), 7, L. Dettori, 15-1
7--Kaapstad Way (NZ), 5, N. Rawiller, 12-1
8--Yippyio, 22, D. Beadman, 12-1
9--Freemason, 24, D. Gauci, 25-1
10--Curata Storm, 18, G.J. Childs, 50-1
11--Mr. Prudent, 2, Craig Williams, 33-1
12--Pasta Express, 4, D. Nikolic, 50-1
13--Ethereal (NZ), 13, S. Seamer, 4-1
14--Hill Of Grace (NZ), 20, C.W. Brown, 12-1
15--Inaflury (NZ), 16, B. Prebble, 20-1
16f--Big Pat, 9, P. Mertens, 9-2
17f--Reenact, 17, L.V. Cassidy, 50-1
18f--Karasi (IRE), 19, G. Boss, 33-1
19f--Maythehorsebewithu (NZ), 10, J. Patton, 20-1
20f--Prophet's Kiss, 3, B. York, 25-1
21f--Spirit Of Westbury (NZ), 12, R.S. Dye, 33-1
22f--Rain Gauge, 23, K. Mc Evoy, 15-2
23f Rum, 1, C. Munce, 20-1
24f Celestial Show, 14, R. Mc Leod, 15-1

All horses bred in Australia unless noted.