PUNTERS have warmed to the prospect of the Melbourne Cup remaining in Australia, sensationally supporting the only mare in this year's race, Lights Of Heaven, at yesterday's Call of the Card at Crown Casino.
One of two runners for premier Victorian trainer Peter Moody, the Brisbane Cup winner was backed to win $1.2 million after chasing home Dunaden when third in the Caulfield Cup a week ago.
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Betstar's Alan Eskander offered $21 about Lights Of Heaven, which was quickly snapped up by two of Australia's biggest punters, Sean Bartholomew and Kingsley Bartholomew, who forked out $25,000 and $15,000 respectively to back the five-year-old Zabeel mare.
''I thought $21 was a fair price, but I didn't think it was bulk overs,'' Eskander said. ''They just kept coming for it. We're standing it for about $1.2 million at this stage and I think we took up most of the punting on the floor at $21. Lights Of Heaven was easily the best backed.''
Niwot, another locally prepared hopeful staring down the European invasion, was the subject of the call's biggest liability for bookmaker Tom Waterhouse after he accepted a $10,000 each-way bet at $71.
The Lights Of Heaven plunge and Niwot splurge was in stark contrast to the cool reception Americain and Dunaden received, with a $50,000 wager at $8 on Dunaden the only serious interest in the past two Cup winners. Waterhouse was ''surprised'' Americain and Dunaden were on the nose with the big players on Cup eve.
''They came for them, but they didn't come for the favourites the way I thought they would,'' he said. ''We held a lot of money [on other horses] and I suppose we've just got to hope it goes the right way [today].''
Caulfield Cup flop Glencadam Gold was the subject of a $5000 each-way wager at $51 before another punter launched into a revised $41 with a $10,000 each-way bet. Waterhouse also stands to lose $250,000 on a single wager on Bart Cummings' Sanagas.
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Overseas-trained horses Red Cadeaux ($12), Tac De Boistron ($81), Mount Athos ($8) and My Quest For Peace ($21) were all well tried. Eskander said apart from Lights Of Heaven, the small support for a number of runners in the great race indicated the field assembled was the most even for years.
''I think it's one of the best Melbourne Cups we've had assembled in recent history - if not all time,'' he said. ''I think when you have a level race like that it's hard for them [punters] to try to decide. Over the next 24 hours there'll be a truckload more money.''
Waterhouse said: ''This is a very, very good even field with a lot of good horses. The money came straight for a lot of them.''