Hartnell has come through his Cox Plate run in great order and his trainer John O’Shea believes he deserves to be favourite heading into the Melbourne Cup.
Hartnell was no match for champion mare Winx when eight lengths second in last Saturday’s Cox Plate and is the $4.20 favourite for Tuesday’s Cup, with Caulfield Cup winner Jameka, who Hartnell beat two starts ago, at $5.50.
“I think that his form warrants for him to be head of the market,” O’Shea said.
“There are horses with less form who have started shorter in Melbourne Cups and been very effective. So I think he’s entitled to be somewhere near the top of the market.”
Hartnell is a winner over 3200m as a three-year-old in England but has been beaten in his only two attempts at the distance since being imported to Australia.
He was fourth as odds-on favourite in last year’s Sydney Cup before finishing 15th in the Melbourne Cup after he drew wide and got a long way back.
“To be fair to him he hasn’t had circumstances that have suited him,” O’Shea said.
“It would be nice to draw well and James could have him in a forward position and then we’ll get a true indication of his capacity to run 3200 metres here.
“I think in the Sydney Cup if we had our time over again we wouldn’t have led. That probably didn’t help. And last year in the Melbourne Cup once he drew where he drew and when we went back the race was over, so I think they’re inconclusive.”
McDonald is confident the distance is not an issue and says Hartnell’s form shows he’s going better this spring.
“Last year he was quite fierce in his races and had a few faults going into the race whereas this year his preparation has been faultless,” McDonald said.
“John’s got him in tip-top order and he’s relaxing a lot better. That was the biggest concern last year, he just wasn’t relaxing.
“This year he’s a different horse. He’s got the right attributes to run the 3200. He relaxes well and he’s a weight-for-age performer racing under handicap conditions. So it looks pretty well set up for him.”
McDonald believes Hartnell ticks all the boxes and says the big track at Flemington will suit him.
Hartnell’s stablemate Tally runs in Saturday’s Lexus Stakes but is not expected to take his place in the Melbourne Cup in which Godolphin has another five horses expected to line up.
“I think His Highness (Sheikh Mohammed) has a lot of great chances in the race and I think we can find alternative challenges for Tally,” O’Shea said.
The Lexus Stakes is the last chance for a Melbourne Cup nominated horse to gain an automatic start in the race the following Tuesday.