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Ciaron Maher and David Eustace have only one runner in Tuesday’s $7 million Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m), and he could turn out to be the surprise packet in the field.

Southern France, a five-year-old Irish import by Galileo, will make his Australian debut in the race that stops a nation hoping to capture a slice of history at Flemington.

It’s been a big year for the stable after Loving Gaby won the Group 1 Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes at The Valley a fortnight ago, and it could turn out to be even more successful as Maher saddles his first-ever Melbourne Cup hopeful.

The international import was handed over to Maher from Aidan O’Brien after running third in the Group 1 Irish St Leger (2816) at The Curragh back in September – his second placing from seven starts this year.

Ciaron Maher (right) celebrates a win with Loving Gaby following the Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes. Photo Credit: Ultimate Racing Photos.

Southern France’s only win in 2019 came at Group 3 level back in August, but he has shown serious signs of improvement since returning to the races as a four-year-old.

Like a handful of others, the barrier draw wasn’t kind to Maher and connections on Saturday. Southern France drew wide in barrier 14 – a gate no horse has won from since Makybe Diva did so in 2003.

Even so, Maher is still in good spirits about Southern France’s chances as the third acceptor should sit one or two off the speed.

“Fourteen is good. Probably anywhere around the middle is fine. Not much you can do about it but it’s better than the outside.

“He would be forward-ish. I’d say somewhere behind the speed, but we’ll have to sit down and work out the shape of the race, but I would say somewhere behind the speed” Maher told Sky Racing.

Jockey Mark Zahra will be in the saddle on Tuesday hoping to make up for a horror Victoria Derby ride aboard Maher’s top chance Thought Of That. Zahra, like Maher, has never won the Melbourne Cup before, but he does share something in common with Aidan O’Brien trained horses.

Zahra famously rode Merchant Navy to a win in the Group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) in 2017 under trainer Aaron Purcell. Merchant Navy was eventually handed over to Maher, who sent the horse to O’Brien.

Merchant Navy won the Group 1 Diamond Jubliee at Royal Ascot last year under O’Brien, which meant he eventually owed Maher a favour. Now, Maher is hoping Southern France can display some of that exciting turn of foot Merchant Navy was known for down the straight on Tuesday and salute for punters at $26.00 odds.

Full 2019 Melbourne Cup Odds can be viewed here.

2019 Lexus Melbourne Cup Field 

# Form (Last 10) Horse Trainer Jockey Barrier Weight
1 12x1x1x434 CROSS COUNTER (GB) Charlie Appleby William Buick 5 57.5kg
2 211x11x1x1 MER DE GLACE (JPN) Hisashi Shimizu Damian Lane 2 56kg
3 7250×14335 MASTER OF REALITY (IRE) Joseph O’Brien Frankie Dettori 1 55.5kg
4 2x0x1322x3 MIRAGE DANCER (GB) Trent Busuttin & Natalie Young Ben Melham 13 55.5kg
5 37×3264413 SOUTHERN FRANCE (IRE) Ciaron Maher & David Eustace Mark Zahra 14 55.5kg
6 3344465881 HUNTING HORN (IRE) Aidan O’Brien Seamie Heffernan 11 55kg
7 220×344216 LATROBE (IRE) Joseph O’Brien James McDonald 22 55kg
8 4x1x723516 MUSTAJEER (GB) Kris Lees Damien Oliver 6 55kg
9 251557×790 ROSTROPOVICH (IRE) David & B Hayes & T Dabernig Dwayne Dunn 12 55kg
10 423x2411x7 TWILIGHT PAYMENT (IRE) Joseph O’Brien Hugh Bowman 19 55kg
11 x1x34x5125 FINCHE (GB) Chris Waller Kerrin McEvoy 4 54kg
12 8x49x58321 PRINCE OF ARRAN (GB) Charlie Fellowes Michael Walker 8 54kg
13 1x6x237x4x RAYMOND TUSK (IRE) Richard Hannon Jamie Spencer 3 54kg
14 x196112x31 DOWNDRAFT (IRE) Joseph O’Brien John Allen 15 53.5kg
15 2×53220224 MAGIC WAND (IRE) Aidan O’Brien Ryan Moore 24 53.5kg
16 2x30x80709 NEUFBOSC (FR) David & B Hayes & T Dabernig Luke Nolen 23 53.5kg
17 00x048x070 SOUND (GER) Michael Moroney James Winks 10 53.5kg
18 1514132×41 SURPRISE BABY (NZ) Paul Preusker Jordan Childs 20 53.5kg
19 531×212224 CONSTANTINOPLE (IRE) David & B Hayes & T Dabernig Joao Moreira 7 52.5kg
20 322×17135 IL PARADISO (USA) Aidan O’Brien Wayne Lordan 17 52.5kg
21 x11111x467 STEEL PRINCE (IRE) Anthony Freedman Brett Prebble 16 52.5kg
22 0141×59195 THE CHOSEN ONE (NZ) Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman Tim Clark 18 52kg
23 1x36621x42 VOW AND DECLARE Danny O’Brien Craig Williams 21 52kg
24 x059x87873 YOUNGSTAR Chris Waller Tommy Berry 9 52kg

The post Maher Plans for Southern France to Go Forward in 2019 Melbourne Cup appeared first on HorseRacing.com.au.