A RED-EYE flight between Sydney and Melbourne was Kerrin McEvoy's first mount of the morning as he flew in yesterday to test drive French stayer Shahwardi ahead of Saturday's Herbert Power Stakes.
Shahwardi is one of three European raiders set to race at Caulfield this weekend as local and overseas-trained runners try to force their way up the order of entry for a place in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups.
Clear skies ensured that McEvoy's flight was a smooth one, and while nowhere near as fast as a Boeing Airbus, Shahwardi provided the much-travelled jockey with a trouble-free cruise around Werribee as the pair got to know each other before Saturday's group 2 event.
''He had a nice easy bit of work and travelled nicely. He feels in good order and I'm looking forward to riding him on Saturday,'' McEvoy said.
With Godolphin's spring team of Lost In The Moment and Cavalryman not due to arrive until October 20, McEvoy is keen to secure a Caulfield Cup ride so he turned to Europe for a suitable mount.
''I rang [trainer] Alain [de Royer-Dupre] to put my name in the mix for the ride. I thought it was a good opportunity. He hasn't won for a few seasons but since he has been back with Alain he has run a couple of good races behind quality opposition, so he's in good form,'' McEvoy said.
The winner of his first three races under de Royer-Dupre's care before being sold to race in England, Shahwardi's form since returning to his original trainer has been strong with good performances at group 2 level in France.
''I think he can run a good race on Saturday,'' said Stephanie Nigge, the trainer's representative. ''It's important that he can win so we can qualify [for the Melbourne Cup]. He has run some good races for us this year and we need him to keep going. If he doesn't make it, he can do the Moonee Valley Cup and the Sandown Classic.''
Joining Shahwardi in the Herbert Power Stakes will be the Luca Cumani-trained Ibicenco and the John Gosden-trained Gatewood. All three horses are sitting on the borderline of a Melbourne Cup start.
While it is highly unlikely that a winning import would back up again in the Caulfield Cup, a golden ticket to that race is available to the winner. More important for the European trio, victory on Saturday would bring a penalty that would elevate the winner in the Melbourne Cup elimination order. Gatewood (59th), Ibicenco (60th) and Shahwardi (61st) all have 51.5 kilograms in the Cup, with a mark of 53 to 53.5 kilograms considered a safe weight five weeks from the race.
With four wins from eight starts before coming to Australia, much is expected of Gatewood this spring, but the lightly raced five-year-old, who is part-owned by Australian OTI Racing group, has become something of a forgotten horse at Werribee.
''He's going well, we are happy here but we don't get much attention,'' said travelling foreman Marcel Koren.
Koren said Australians could see a smart stayer at Caulfield if the Herbert Power is run to suit Gatewood, who scored a hat-trick of wins at York, Goodwood, and Royal Ascot before placing twice in strong group races in England and France.
''He likes to get back to mid-division and come late but if he gets to the lead too early he looks around.
''The horse that only just beat him in France last start ran third in the Arc [Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe] overnight,'' he said.
OTI Racing also holds ownership of the Cumani-trained Ibicenco, who has improved his attitude since arriving in Australia after giving his new stable some headaches when joining the Newmarket string early this year.