By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Irish master trainer Aidan O'Brien will bid for an elusive Melbourne Cup win at a closed Flemington Racecourse on Tuesday, having come close to snatching the "race that stops the nation" in recent years.
O'Brien has saddled 15 runners in Australia's iconic two-mile handicap and will have another two in the A$8 million (4.3 million pounds) Cup's 160th running on Tuesday.
Both entrants are highly regarded, with Tiger Moth a narrow 13-2 favourite ahead of last year's Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck (15-2).
O'Brien came closest to a maiden Melbourne Cup win with runnerup Johannes Vermeer in 2017 but was pipped by his son Joseph's horse Rekindling.
In last year's eventful race, Aidan O'Brien's Il Paradiso was third behind local winner Vow and Declare after being impeded by Joseph's Master of Reality in the home straight.
Despite their high ratings, both of O'Brien's entrants have queries.
Anthony Van Dyck has a favourable barrier at three and was runnerup behind Verry Elleegant at last month's A$5 million Caulfield Cup, a traditional form guide for the Melbourne Cup.
But the five-year-old stallion is saddled with top weight at 58.5kg, and no winner has come close to carrying such a burden since three-times champion Makybe Diva completed her hat-trick with 58kg in 2005.
Tiger Moth, carrying 52.5kg, will have to win from barrier 23, the second widest in the field of 24. No runner has won from a wider than barrier 22 for decades.
The O'Brien family rivalry continues with Joseph entering Master of Reality and Twilight Payment.
Ben Melham will ride 20-1 chance Master of Reality, a year after the gelding was relegated from second to fourth in the 2019 race and jockey Frankie Dettori banned for bumping out Il Paradiso.
Vow and Declare, prepared by Australian trainer Danny O'Brien, will bid to become the first horse to go back-to-back since Makybe Diva's hat-trick (2003-05) but is an outside chance after a poor leadup run at Caulfield.
English stayer Prince Of Arran, promoted to second last year after running third in 2018, will look to go one better under Jamie Kah, who will hope to become the second female jockey to win after Michelle Payne's 2015 breakthrough on Prince Of Penzance.
The Cup will run without its usual bumper crowd, with only essential staff and officials permitted at Flemington due to COVID-19-related social distancing rules.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)