Grunt may chase Melbourne Cup not Cox Plate

Grunt's domination of his Group 1 rivals at Flemington on Saturday may force a change of direction this spring for the four-year-old with the Melbourne Cup suddenly becoming a major focus.

After two  useful 1400-metre runs to begin his spring campaign, Grunt exploded from just off the pace in the Makybe Diva Stakes over a mile in a performance that has his trainer Mick Price in a quandary as to how to best approach the spring's feature races.

Grunt and Damien Oliver, picture

"It wouldn't worry me if we ended up in the Melbourne Cup with a lighter weight given his liking for Flemington," Price said.

"He's got 54 (kg) in the Melbourne Cup. It didn't hurt Rekindling to be lightly raced so I'll take a line out of that.

"I would run him in it. He's sound. He settles. This is his track. I know he's a clean-winded horse."

Grunt settled well for champion rider Damien Oliver in fifth place but he soon put the race to bed once the field had turned for home as Oliver produced him out in the middle of the track and he raced clear.

On the line, Grunt ($10) had two lengths over Caulfield Cup favourite Kings Will Dream ($5), with a half-length to the gallant Kiwi galloper Jon Snow in third place, just ahead of the $3.70 favourite Kementari.

By winning the Makybe Diva Stakes so convincingly, Grunt took his second 1600-metre Group 1 race at Flemington following his Australian Guineas victory over the flat course last autumn.

Price said his Flemington form was so impressive, it made him rethink his original spring goal of a Cox Plate run.

"I am a bit concerned about him getting around Moonee Valley, but I honestly don't know which way to go," he said.

"He's in everything obviously. I think if you three weeks into the Turnbull, you've got to go Caulfield Cup or if you go to the Underwood and Caulfield Stakes, you've got to go to the Cox Plate.

"A couple of those horses had his measure at Caulfield like Kementari and Humidor and the other horse (Kings Will Dream) of Weiry's (Darren Weir), they looked a bit sharper. But getting back to the beautiful big track here at Flemington and that's him."

Price said that if connections decide the Melbourne Cup should be his ultimate aim this spring, it would determine his path.

"If that's the case, we would go through the Caulfield Cup," he said. "I am concerned about The Valley. If he runs in the Cox Plate, he would never have been there."

Price also paid tribute to Oliver for his handling of Grunt.

"He's at home in these Group 1 races. Low-resting heartrate, doesn't listen to anyone and just gets into the zone," Price added.

Oliver said he felt Grunt had to make a statement.

"He had to stand up today," he said. "His runs have been OK. He's been beaten a length at his first run and then two-and-a-half lengths at his second run so he wasn't going bad but I suppose for a horse with the hype that he's had, you would have liked to see him a length or two closer.

"But he showed that Flemington's his track today.

"I've always maintained to Mick, even in trackwork, he appreciates Flemington much better - the more open track - and we saw that today.

"He's a big-actioned horse and he just doesn't turn as well at Caulfield."

Murray Baker said the third-placed Jon Snow would progress to the G1 Underwood Stakes along with stablemate Bonneval before going into the Cox Plate.

"That was a very good field and that's the first track he's galloped on this time in that hasn't been heavy so it would a good performance," Baker said.

The race was a disaster for Sydney visitor Happy Clapper, who is finished for the spring after he bled from both nostrils and was given a three-month racing ban.

Makybe Diva Stakes, photo finish picture