LUCA Cumani has twice endured heartbreak in the Melbourne Cup but bookmakers believe the English-based Italian trainer could finally break his duck with progressive stayer Mount Athos, who has charged to favouritism for the Flemington marathon.
The five-year-old comfortably beat a strong field in the group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury on Saturday, defeating the classy Brown Panther (a Royal Ascot winner last year) with the 2011 English St Leger winner Masked Marvel toiling in his wake. Modun, a Godolphin candidate who ran down the track in last year's Cup, was a well-beaten third in the six-horse race.
Cumani knows what it takes to win at Flemington, with Bauer a close second behind Viewed in the 2008 Cup, and Purple Moon, runner-up to Efficient a year earlier.
This time, he has perhaps the strongest hand of all as he also has the Australian-owned pair Quest For Peace, a group winner at Goodwood last month, and the ex-German Ibicenco.
Mount Athos had his price cut from $26 to $17 for the Cup by TAB Sportsbet after his impressive Newbury win over 2700 metres.
The son of Montjeu's win came less than a month after he had shouldered a welter burden to score in a handicap race at York.
What was significant, especially for a European stayer, was that he showed he had a turn of foot, so critical in Australian staying races.
Cumani missed the race because he was stuck in a traffic jam and could not get to the Berkshire circuit in time.
However, he told the Racing Post: ''I listened to it and it sounded like an ideal prep for Melbourne. If he goes up to 53.5 kilos from the 52.5 he was given, that'd be OK. I'm just worried he'll go up more.''
Mount Athos was not the only Cups hopeful to taste success at the weekend, as the globetrotting Jakkalberry, trained by another Newmarket-based Italian, Marco Botti, but owned by an Australian syndicate, took out the inaugural running of the American St Leger under Irish jockey Colm O'Donohue.
Stamina is Jakkalberry's strong suit and he took the American race, over 2700 metres, when he hit the front in the last 100 metres but quickly went 2¼ lengths clear.
TAB Sportsbet tightened his Cup odds from $35 to $26, but he was clipped even more for the Caulfield Cup and is now into $26 from $51.
Markets will also move later today as punters and bookies digest the result of one of the most significant lead-up races, the Prix Kergorlay, which was run at Deauville in northern France overnight. Among the entries were Americain, the 2010 Melbourne Cup winner and Vadamar, Shahwardi and Brigantin.
Ibicenco's connections will get a better idea of his prospects later this week when the five-year-old returns to action after a lay off at York.
Cumani has not decided whether Quest For Peace would run again before coming to Australia.