MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Irish eyes were smiling after Aidan O'Brien's Adelaide won the A$3 million ($2.64 million) Cox Plate in Melbourne on Saturday, but the result was less cheering to local trainers worried about "foreign" raids on Australia's top silverware.
Adelaide's win came a week after Japanese-trained stayer Admire Rakti won the Caulfield Cup, the first of the two key lead-up races to the $6.2 million Melbourne Cup, Australia's richest and most famous race.
Admire Rakti was quickly installed a 4/1 favourite to win the gruelling two-mile handicap at Flemington Racecourse on Nov. 4, despite carrying the top weight of 58.5 kilogrammes.
If the Tomoyuki Umeda-trained stallion fails to prosper -- no entrant has won carrying more than 58 kg in nearly 40 years -- German stayer Protectionist, currently second favourite at 5/1, might well.
Twice runner-up Red Cadeaux is also among the nine other international runners expected to make up the 24 entrants, leaving barely half the field reserved for local horses -- "local" meaning Australian or New Zealand-trained entrants in the domestic industry's neighbourly definition of the term.
With up to 11 foreign-prepared entrants, a record for a race dating back to 1861, the possibility of all three of Australia's biggest Spring racing trophies going overseas has sparked protectionist calls.
Local trainer David Hayes, a Melbourne Cup winner with Jeune in 1994, believes organisers should consider capping the number of "foreign raiders" allowed in the Melbourne Cup field.
"It's worked very successfully in Hong Kong where they allow positions to be left for locally trained horses and the rest of the race is made up of horses coming in from all parts of the world," Hayes told Fairfax Media.
"And this could also be implemented here for the Melbourne Cup. I'm not talking silly figures, what I'm saying is that people like (handicapper) Greg Carpenter and the club could work out the balance so it's just right between internationals and locals.
"And what I mean by locals is that those stables that have gone around the world, purchased horses and brought them home to Australian stables should rightfully be deemed locals."
GAMBLE WORTH TAKING
The last two Melbourne Cups were won by locally trained Fiorente (2013) and Green Moon (2012), but three of the previous six were won by a pair of French stayers in Dunaden (2011) and Americain (2010), and Japanese runner Delta Blues (2006).
Owners can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars putting their horses on long-haul flights and preparing them for the taxing race at Flemington, but with the Australian dollar's appreciation over the past decade, it's become a gamble worth taking.
Until Adelaide's triumph on Saturday, no other foreign trained entrant had ever won the weight-for-age race over 2,040 metres at Moonee Valley, regarded the toughest for international runners to win.
The cosmopolitan nature of the winning mounts prompted local media to liken Australia's Spring racing season to Wimbledon, in being big on prestige but small on success for the locals.
"Our carnival, in the races that really count -- the middle-distance and staying races up to and including the Melbourne Cup -- is becoming a handsome opportunity for raiders to plunder," a News Ltd pundit wrote.
"As the competition has widened, much like at Wimbledon a century ago, our inadequacies have been exposed."
(Editing by John O'Brien)