Willie Mullins aims to bring Melbourne Cup 'back home'

(CNN)In October, 1849, a gifted Irish horseman called George Watson left his home in County Carlow and, with a pack of hounds for company, set out on a four-month voyage to Australia, never to return.

Melbourne was his destination and he would call the city home for the remaining 56 years of his life, during which he made a lasting impact on the world of horse racing.
With the help of the hounds, Watson quickly established the Melbourne Hunt Club and enjoyed great success as a racehorse breeder, trainer and amateur rider in the state of Victoria.
    George Watson depicted on white horse in "The Cup of 1862", 1863, by Frederick Woodhouse Senior

    Prince of starters

    He was a founding member of the Victoria Racing Club and part of the original committee that dreamt up the idea of the Melbourne Cup, the race that continues to stop a nation every year on the first Tuesday of November.
    Known as the "prince of starters," it was actually Watson -- wearing a striped jacket, waistcoat and shiny top hat -- who waved his flag to get the inaugural Cup underway at Flemington Racecourse in November, 1861.
    George Watson (left) died in 1906 and his son Godfrey Watson (right) replaced him as starter
    Fast-forward 156 years and another Irishman is making the journey from County Carlow to Melbourne -- albeit a much quicker one -- looking to leave his own mark on the race, which now boasts a purse of $4.8 million.
    "I am always joking with the lads around here that I'm going to bring it back home to Carlow," Willie Mullins -- one of the world's top racehorse trainers -- told CNN Sport.
    Mullins (right) has been crowned Irish national hunt champion trainer 11 times

    One day maybe

    Speaking on the phone from his yard which is based just four miles "as the crow flies" from the house that Watson was born in, Mullins is aiming to become the first Irish trainer to win the Cup since Dermot Weld, who won it twice in 1993 and 2002.
    "It would be a huge achievement for any Irish trainer," adds Mullins. "We're primarily a jumps yards so it would be a huge achievement for our establishment to win it given the few horses that we have that can compete at that level on the flat.
    "The international traveling is a huge thing. To go halfway across the world, to try and have your horse right. We would consider it a huge achievement altogether. One day maybe."
    Willie Mullins trained Hedgehunter to Grand National win in 2005

    It's got to be savored

    Mullins, 61, has been crowned Ireland's national hunt champion trainer 11 times and won some of the world's biggest races, including the Grand National and the King George XI, but he says that nothing compares to Melbourne.
    "The atmosphere leading up to the event is probably the best I've ever seen in an international race," says Mullins who trained a record eight winners at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.
    "You have Hong Kong, Tokyo, the Breeders Cup, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Cheltenham, Aintree in Liverpool -- all those races. I think the build-up in Australia for this event, the way the Australians build it up, is the best of the lot.
    More than 100,000 fans pack into Flemington on Melbourne Cup day
    "It's extraordinary how it gets off the racing pages, on to the front pages, on to the back pages. It's a huge build-up, it's a huge event down there and it's a race I always recommend to people if they get a chance to go to it.
    "Go there the week before and soak up the atmosphere and then go to the track and just see everything. It's a huge event and huge atmosphere so well worth traveling for or building a holiday around it.
    Usain Bolt presented trophy on Oaks Day at Flemington in 2016
    "The Australians are sports mad anyhow, and Melbourne itself, the skyline is dotted with arenas of different types between cricket, tennis, football or whatever and that comes across in the build-up when you're down there the five or six days before it.
    "All for the one race, it's huge. It's got to be savored as well. It's a fabulous event."
    Mullins came very close to winning the Melbourne Cup in 2015 when his horse Max Dynamite finished runner-up to Prince of Penzance, who was ridden by Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the race.
    Mullins' Max Dynamite narrowly beaten by Michelle Payne on board Prince of Penzance in 2015 Cup

    Magic Man

    Max Dynamite is running the race again this year but Mullins does not seem overly confident his charge can improve on his performance two years ago.
    "It would be a tough assignment for him to do that this year," concedes Mullins. "We're hoping to keep him under the radar a little bit and peak him on the day."
    Mullins has two other horses entered in the race, Wicklow Brave and the exciting Rich Ricci-owned Thomas Hobson, who won the Ascot Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.
    Thomas Hobson secured the last place in the 24-horse field at Flemington and Mullins has booked Brazil's superstar jockey, Joao Moreira, to ride him.
    One of Mullins' 2017 Melbourne challengers Thomas Hobson won at Royal Ascot in the summer
    Nicknamed "Magic Man," Moreira is widely considered to be the best flat jockey in the world. He is based in Hong Kong, where in March he rode a record eight winners in one day.
    "You hear about him. You hear how good he is. He's so talented. We're very lucky to have him want to ride our horse," Mullins says of Moreira, who has never won the Melbourne Cup and finished second in 2016 on board Heartbreak City.
    'Magic Man' Joao Moreira won eight races in a day in Hong Kong

    He'll suit our guy

    "I thought his ride in last year's Cup was terrific. He had his horse in the right position from a very awkward draw so I thought, just watching him throughout the race, I thought he was superb and I think he'll suit our guy [Thomas Hobson]."
    As Mullins gets ready to launch his latest assault on Melbourne, he can perhaps take some inspiration from an oil painting that hangs proudly in the Victoria Racing Club at Flemington.
    Moreira (yellow) fininshed runner-up  in 2016 Cup on board Heartbreak City behind the winner Almandin
    It shows County Carlow's Watson on horseback starting the second Melbourne Cup in 1862.
    How Mullins would love to see one of his horses finish the 157th race in front of the pack so that he can finally, as he describes it, "bring the Cup home."