Incentivise (Image: Michael McInally)

Internationals are crucial says Kheir

Owner Ozzie Kheir said he is genuinely hopeful of strong international participation in Melbourne's spring feature races so Racing Victoria's new welfare protocols can be properly tested.

Kheir, who part-owns current Melbourne Cup favourite Incentivise and has another serious potential contender in super mare Verry Elleegant, said he feels it is important for the race that a number of internationals do make the trip for the race in the wake of stricter welfare protocols for overseas horses.

"You just hope some people do take that chance and come because if no one does, we don't even know if it works," Kheir said. "So, all you've done is stop people bringing horses here and I am sure that was not the objective of Racing Victoria.

"If they don't come then we'll be back here in 12 months with the new protocols still untested."

He said the Melbourne Cup has established itself on the world stage and he is hopeful it will remain there.

"So many people have worked so hard at it to make the Melbourne Cup the race that It currently is," he said. "The standard it has got to.

"We might accept this year it (international numbers) might not be near that level of the past but we hope that's it only this year.

"I think it will take a few trainers to test the system and if it works and they are comfortable with it, hopefully that will bring us back to where we were.

"It might take a year or two or three. It would be the best outcome for everyone if the system works and it reduces the deaths and we are still able to have the international competition.

"That's the best outcome for everyone and then it would be hats off to Racing Victoria for driving the changes.

"If is a good thing for racing and if it stops deaths and we can all deal with it, it will have all been for the best.

"But it's definitely been a part of all the discussions I've had (with European owners and trainers). The discussion always comes back to the protocols. It's definitely front in mind in Europe."

Kheir, who was part of an ownership group that brought out eventual Cox Plate champion Sir Dragonet last spring and who had a stake in the 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, said the prospect of international competition in the Melbourne Cup enhances the race's allure.

"The reason why I got into racing and what attracted me into racing was the potential thrill of competing against the best around," he said. "That's what drove me to get into it.

"That's the pinnacle of racing. To beat the best horses around the world.

"It also adds so much to the drama of the race. Look in the autumn when Verry Elleegant took on Addeybb. It was just one international horse and look at the amount of publicity and hype from just one runner. The buzz was phenomenal."

As for Verry Elleegant, Kheir said the mare will trial in the next week before her first-up run in the season's opening Group 1 race, the Winx Stakes on August 21.

Incentivise remains with former trainer Steve Tregea in Queensland while Victoria's borders are closed but Kheir said the delay in sending the horse to new trainer Peter Moody at Pakenham is of no concern looking ahead to spring.

Kheir added another local horse to his ownership roster in recent times with former Wendy Kelly-trained Hitotsu (by former Japanese star Maurice) now wearing his colours for new trainers Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace. 

"I am a big fan of the Japanese-bred horses and I keep a close eye on those horses and we liked the way he was finishing off his races and thought he'd be a better three-year-old," he said.

Hitotsu is a maiden after three autumn starts but did contest the Blue Diamond at just his second run and was beaten just five lengths.

"We are looking towards the ultimate target of a Caulfield Guineas," he said. "We think he's more of a miler or 2000-metre horse, so the fact he got so close in the Diamond was encouraging."