SOUTHERN Speed's victory in the Makybe Diva Stakes on Saturday might have breathed some life into the local tilt for this spring's feature cups, but the scene is set to change dramatically with the first group of European raiders set to enter quarantine in England on Thursday.
Racing Victoria's international scout Leigh Jordon said yesterday he expected that at least 16 horses, including the past two Melbourne Cup winners, American and Dunaden, would begin two weeks' quarantine at Newmarket in time to arrive on AFL grand final day.
''There's some quality horses on their way such as the established Melbourne Cup horses Dunaden, Americain and Red Cadeaux, as well as emerging stayers Mount Athos and Quest For Peace,'' Jordon said.
Also booked on the first flight to Melbourne is last-start US St Leger winner Jakkalberry as well as Dermot Weld's stayer Galileo's Choice, who will this week enter quarantine in Ireland.
Jordon said the success in recent years of horses having one prep run in either the Caulfield Cup or Geelong Cup meant most of the raiders would be among the first planeload. The second flight, due to land in Melbourne about Caulfield Cup time, is expected to deliver at least two Godolphin horses aimed solely for the Melbourne Cup.
Some of the best local feature race hopes this spring will clash on Saturday at Moonee Valley in the group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes, a race likely to have a heavy impact on cups markets.
The likely favourite on Saturday will be Lloyd Williams' imported galloper Green Moon, who is the favourite for the Caulfield Cup and equal favourite for the Melbourne Cups despite being no certainty to run in both races. Williams alerted punters a few weeks ago that Green Moon might not run in the Caulfield Cup, the race he ran so well in last year when second to Southern Speed. The owners said the stable had eyes on the Cox Plate this year instead, before a tilt at the Melbourne Cup.
The Williams' team stocks are high this year when considering the Melbourne Cup. The team enjoyed a winning double last Saturday at Flemington with two emerging local stayers, Fawkner and Excluded, while imported galloper Mourayan ran a great first-up race to be fourth in the Makybe Diva Stakes.
Another import, Midas Touch, will join Green Moon in Saturday's Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes, as could another stayer Tanby.
In Sydney, owner John Singleton has More Joyous and Strawberry Boy to watch at Rosehill on Saturday after Gai Waterhouse had a change of plans with the Caulfield Cup contender. Strawberry Boy remains a restricted galloper despite taking his record to four wins from five starts on Saturday.
But the likelihood he wouldn't get a run in the Naturalism Stakes at Caulfield on September 22, which Waterhouse planned to use to get him into the Caulfield Cup, will force the four-year-old into a seven-day back-up for the Kingston Town Stakes at Rosehill.
■Australian mare Ortensia's winning run overseas came to an end when she suffered a cut to a sesamoid during her unplaced effort in the Sprint Cup at Haydock on Saturday.