Champion WA jockey Damien Oliver will chase his Americain dream in today's $6 million Melbourne Cup at Flemington but the race that stops the nation threatens being overshadowed by the betting scandal surrounding the top hoop.
News of Oliver's appointment to ride Americain in a bid to win a third cup after victories on WA-owned Doriemus (1995) and Media Puzzle (2002) has seen the French stayer storm into $5.50 favouritism.
But Oliver has ridden through the spring carnival with his future under a cloud as he is investigated over claims he bet $10,000 on a horse he was riding against in 2010.
And according to a report in Fairfax newspapers today, Oliver admitted to Racing Victoria stewards yesterday that he placed the bet. The report says Oliver told his supporters he expects to be suspended for up to a year but that he is considering retiring in a move that could see him avoid a public hearing or penalty.
Americain owner Gerry Ryan said this morning he had not any questions of Oliver regarding the betting scandal.
Ryan called up Oliver to ride Americain today after sacking Frenchman Gerald Mosse following the horse's fourth in the Caulfield Cup.
He says Oliver spoke to him and fellow owner Kevin Bamford and said he was focused on claiming the Cup aboard the 2010 winner.
"Damien did call us and explain to both Kevin and I that this was going to come up," Ryan told the Seven Network.
"He also said that he is focused and won't let us down.
"If you have a look at his track record last Saturday, I said to him just keep those Group Ones coming," Ryan said.
"I'll leave it to the stewards. But all I know is that hopefully he can bring home Americain today."
After winning the Thousand Guineas at Caulfield last month on Commanding Jewel, the 40-year-old was at his brilliant best in winning Saturday's Victoria Derby with Fiveandahalfstar, which he celebrated with a kiss to the heavens in a touching tribute to his late brother Jason.
It revived memories of the moment a decade ago when he took Media Puzzle to victory days after Jason was killed in a trackwork fall at Belmont.
"When you win a big race, it brings the emotions and memories back and it makes it more special, you know," Oliver said.
Saturday's stunning win on Fiveandahalfstar, which also saw trainer Anthony Cummings step out of the shadows of his famous father Bart, was also special for Oliver because his wife Trish, mother Pat and other family members from WA's Wheatbelt were at Flemington, many of them for the first time.
Oliver's first win as a jockey came on a $21 shot called Mr Gudbod at Bunbury on March 15, 1988. It was the horse's only win in a 32-start career and his trainer Bruce Kay was also at Flemington on Saturday, as was Oliver's long-time WA confidant Neil Pinner.
Oliver's trademark smile that has been largely missing from the spring meetings was back flashing as broadly as ever on Saturday.
He revealed he had pulled back on his yoga regime of last year and had pushed himself back to peak fitness simply by riding more races.
And his bright attitude almost mocked the situation surrounding his alleged bet, which prompted owners, such as Lloyd Williams and former Test cricketer Simon O'Donnell, to strip him of rides in the Cox Plate and Caulfield Cup.
"It's going good mate," he said. "I'm feeling as good as ever.
"I'm fit and I'm well and life's pretty good at the moment. When everything's going good, you've got no worries."
A raucous group among the almost 100,000 people at derby day on Saturday left Flemington in no doubt that Oliver was still the punters' pal as they mimicked the Spanish chant with a chorus of, "Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie".
The rider himself is focused on his cup chance with Americain.
"I was more impressed to actually sit on him," he said of finally getting the chance to ride the stayer.
"He gave me a great feel and I'm glad I'm on him and not chasing him, but I haven't got ahead of myself.
"He's a great chance, but it's a strong cup and there are a lot of chances in it, so let's hope I can give him every chance to win."