Prince Of Penzance winning last year's Emirates Melbourne Cup (Image: Darren McNamara)
Former champions Prince Of Penzance and Protectionist headline the first nominations for the 2016 Emirates Melbourne Cup, released on Tuesday.
While 2014 winner Protectionist is fairly unlikely to take his place at Flemington, there are a swathe of internationals vying to follow in the German galloper's hoof-steps after his devastating victory two years back.
Among the potential raiders are Japanese star and dual Tenno Sho placegetter Curren Mirotic; Aidan O'Brien gallopers Order Of St George, Idaho and Sword Fighter; Godolphin horses Manatee, Hartnell and Scottish; the American-trained Da Big Hoss; French horse Erupt; Michael Bell's Big Orange; Ebor Handicap winner Heartbreak City and Jockey Club Stakes winner Exosphere (not to be confused with his Australian namesake, who was retired to stud earlier this year).
A bevy of champion three-year-olds from last season are in the early Cup mix, including Tarzino (AAMI Victorian Derby), Tavago (Australian Derby), Howard Be Thy Name (Queensland Derby), Jameka (Crown Oaks), Sofia Rosa (ATC Oaks), Provocative (Queensland Oaks) and Fanatic (NZ Oaks).
Racing Victoria chief handicapper Greg Carpenter lauded the quality of the early nominations, which tally 124, for the $6.2 million feature.
"The Emirates Melbourne Cup is the world's premier staying race and the quality of the local and international entries for this year's race is outstanding," Carpenter said.
"From an Australasian perspective, there is Darren Weir's defending champion Prince Of Penzance, as well as a host of talented four-year-olds including three of last season's Group 1 Derby winners and four of last season's Group 1 Oaks winners.
"The depth amongst the international contingent is once again exceptional with the Ascot Gold Cup winner Order Of St George, Goodwood Cup winner Big Orange, Ebor winner Heartbreak City and Tenno Sho runner-up Curren Mirotic amongst 31 international entries.
"It is an exciting prospect for the Melbourne Cup to have its first United States-trained runner in the form of North America's premier stayer Da Big Hoss, who has been nominated by trainer Michael Maker and connections.
"A new country represented in the nominations is the Czech Republic with the Pavel Tuma-trained Trip To Rhodos, a Listed winner in Italy and a last-start placegetter in the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay in France."
James Cummings has entered Ruling Dynasty for the Emirates Melbourne Cup that his famous grandfather Bart won on a record 12 occasions, the up-and-coming trainer looking for his first runner in the race, after missing out on qualifying Precedence last year.
Five-time Cup winner Lee Freedman, who trains in partnership with brother Anthony, has each of Caulfield Cup placegetter Our Ivanhowe, VRC St Leger winner Cool Chap and spruik horse Tom Melbourne all in the mix to compete on the first Tuesday in November.
View the full list of nominations for the Melbourne Cup.