AFTER spending the past two months living and breathing the Melbourne Cup preparation of Mustajeer, Cameren Swan has a new appreciation for international raiders taking a shot at Australia's great race.
And given the improvement he's witnessed in Mustajeer in recent weeks, the travelling foreman for Newcastle trainer Kris Lees sees no reason why the seven-year-old can't hit the target on Tuesday.
The $8 million race at Flemington will be the end of a journey that started for Swan after the Great Britain stayer won the $A1.8 million Ebor Handicap at York on August 24 for trainer Ger Lyons and new majority owners Australian Bloodstock.
Swan went to England to learn about the horse and oversee his stint in quarantine at Newmarket. After almost three weeks in the UK, Swan travelled with Mustajeer to Australia and spent two weeks with it in quarantine at Werribee.
The former race jockey has since worked and prepared him for new trainer Lees at Caulfield.
Swan is no stranger to a Cup preparation after helping the Lees stable get warhorse County Tyrone to the 2002 and 2003 editions, but the overseas journey has been a new challenge.
"It's been a long haul but it's been good, I've really enjoyed it," Swan said.
"I've missed home and the family obviously, but it's been a good experience.
"I've been with horses to Hong Kong before but never to Newmarket. I got to check out a few stables. Charlie Appleby showed me around his property, and I saw David Simcox's as well.
"I watched trackwork with a few different trainers and they were really nice. They showed me around, so it's been a good trip."
Swan felt privileged to play such a key role in an import's Cup preparation.
"I haven't been given an ordinary horse to come over with," he said.
"He won the Ebor so he's a quality horse and I feel privileged that they've trusted me to do it, so we'll see if we can get a result for them.
"My role in the beginning was just to go over, and I was met by a girl who worked for Ger Lyons, so I was just picking her brain about the horse and learning about him. And I've just kept learning about him all the time."
The experience has Swan well placed to judge Mustajeer's condition, and other imports, heading into the Cup.
And he was confident Mustajeer had improved since his sixth in the Caulfield Cup (2400m).
"He's been really good to travel with and I think he's really picked up since the Caulfield Cup," Swan said.
"It's a real juggling act. You've got to give them time to get over the trip, but then you want to keep the work up to them.
"I think looking back now, he just really came good after that run at Caulfield, eating-wise and his demeanour.
"Damien [Oliver] came and rode him the other day at Sandown, and he couldn't believe how much he'd improved and how switched on he was, compared to the last time he rode him.
"Damien tells you how it is. He was just expecting a little bit more from him at Werribee, but I think it was the whole fact that he wasn't settled in and everything was new to him.
"He's picked up in his eating, which is the major part of travelling horses - they've got to be on their food - and he's just picked up in general, so we're excited about Tuesday."
Swan believed Finche, from gate four, would be the hardest to beat. He hoped Mustajeer's draw near several top fancies in six would help give Oliver an ideal run.
"He seems a lot more interested since the run the other day," he said of Mustajeer.
"He had to go to four different stables between his last run [in England], so he's done a good job. He's kept his condition and he looks great, so fingers crossed we get a nice ride and a good run and the rest is up to him.
"It's a pretty evenly matched Cup, from what we can see, but there's nothing in it he couldn't beat."
Regardless of the result, Swan had new respect for the foreigners chasing the Cup.
"Before this trip, I used to think, 'why do we put this race on?'" he said.
"Our horses aren't suited to the 3200, so we just put this on for internationals.
"But after doing this trip ... they really put their balls on the line, because they have to forgo a bit of their season over there to set them for the race, it's an expensive trip, it's on the other side of the world and so much has to go right.
"And they are good horses that they are sending, so all credit to them."
Swan, who was apprenticed to Kris' late father Max Lees, was strapper to County Tyrone in one of his Cup campaigns. His wife, Joanna, was strapper in the other.
County Tyrone was 15th and 11th in the race, where he raced under Max's name in 2002. In 2003, Kris took over after his father's death two months earlier.
Kris also had Lucia Valentina in the race in 2014. She finished 13th as a $7 chance following an impressive third in the Caulfield Cup.
Swan, though, believed Mustajeer could be the stable's best chance yet.
"I think it's the first time we've thought we've got a really good chance," he said.
"Apart from Lucia, she was a good chance, but she was a real distance query.
"This bloke is probably a little the same, he hasn't been over it, but I think he will get it no problems.
"I've looked after County Tyrone going into a Melbourne Cup.
"He was a grand old horse and went to a couple of cups.
"He would always come off a hard Sydney campaign where the Metrop was his grand final.
"He probably lacked the class to win a race like the Cup but he was a good horse all the same and gave us all great experiences.
"If you're going just out of the Caulfield Cup form, [Mustajeer] has definitely improved.
"I'm not saying the others haven't, but he's going into this a lot better than when he went into that race.
"I know he's improved, but how much, we'll see."
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