Maher team chase Cup start at Flemington

A start in the Melbourne Cup is on offer for the winner of the Andrew Ramsden at Flemington.

STRAWBERRY ROCK. Picture: Racing Photos

The Ciaron Maher stable will attempt to short-circuit the exhaustive process of gaining a Melbourne Cup start at Flemington on Saturday. 

The Listed Andrew Ramsden (2800m) offers the winner a ballot exemption into the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) at Flemington in November. 

Since being offered as a ballot exemption race in 2019, only two winners of the Andrew Ramsden have gone on to compete in the Melbourne Cup, both collecting prize money. 

Steel Prince (2019) finished ninth six months later and the following year Oceanex finished 11th. 

Injury, or poor form, robbed subsequent Andrew Ramsden winners Realm Of Flowers (2021), Point Nepean (2022) and Lunar Flare  (2023) from running in the Cup. 

Come November's Melbourne Cup, Maher is certain to have a host of runners and would like to add either Strawberry Rock or Lionel, his two starters in Saturday's race, to that list. 

Maher's assistant trainer Jack Turnbull has seen the progress Strawberry Rock has made since arriving from the UK in time for the autumn of 2022. 

Strawberry Rock is coming off a last start third in the Listed Mornington Cup (2400m) last month. 

"He's been in good form this prep but it has taken him time to put it together," Turnbull said. 

"He was always a bit light and hadn't trained on previously prior to this campaign, but he's come of age this time and the ticket into the Cup, that's the plan." 

Lionel is a former UK stayer that will be having only his seventh start on Saturday and despite having raced only once in Australia, is now into his third preparation with Maher. 

Described by Turnbull as an out-and-out stayer, Lionel started his Australian campaign in Sydney last year but was given a break after one trial and after a further two trials when preparing for the spring, was turned out again. 

Finally making his way to the races, Lionel pleased the Maher stable with his third-place finish over 2000m at Mornington last month. 

"He's a hard horse to get a line on at home as he's a true staying horse," Turnbull said. 

"But the way he travelled, picked up and closed off first time out, we were extremely happy with. 

"Since then, he's really come on. He'd been a bit anxious, high-energy horse, but since then it's almost knocked a bit of sense into him. 

"He's training a lot better, and he's jumped out well." 

Turnbull said the use of the back tracks at Cranbourne, with less rails and less activity, had contributed to Lionel's improved demeanour. 

"He probably feels as though he's at home, but a lot of our Europeans do a lot of their work out there," Turnbull said. 

"He's been very much a work in progress. Last prep he was very light, but this time around he's a different horse. 

"He's not that well in because of the set-weights, but he stays, and we know he will be there if he's on his game and then hopefully it will be all systems go for November."