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First Four analysis for the Cup

I've posted enough on the Cup so it's time for a contrary view from Davy Lane, @loscharruas.


Melbourne Cup - First Four analysis

To find the first four in the Melbourne Cup it helps to approach the handicap like an algebraic puzzle. First, simply the equation. There are 24 runners. And contrary to the clinch, not every runner has a chance.

It is generally wise in handicapping to respect the top and bottom weights. Not this year. No. 1 Dunaden won by a nostril hair two years ago. Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad subsequently aimed his prize possession at prestigious Group 1 races in Europe. The Arc was the aim, but the gelding came up a buck short. Dunaden returns to Australia now because the owner can afford the freight and more importantly it provides the astute Al Thani with networking opportunities. Sheikh Fahad must have his eye on the Asian racing market. The smart money says there will soon be an Australian barn with his name on it. Dunaden has the worst of the single digit draws. The one pole and top weight of 58.5 Kg will contrive to choke him up. No. 24 Ruscello is also drawn (24) and earned his place by holding on for dear life in a poor renewal of the Hotham (Lexus Stakes). Greg Carpenter refrained from penalizing the English raider and connections seized the ballot exemption. Trainer Ed Walker had earlier voiced concern about running the horse off a three- day break. Ruscello is not of the calibre of the other European imports and has no chance of winning, especially after drawing the outside barrier. South African born, Cox Plate winning, featherweight phenomenon Chad Schofield gets the ride. The connections are there for the party and hope Schofield can cling on to a top ten finish with the front running Ruscello. 10th pays Aus$100,000.

I would next look to the Ethiopians to further break down the equation. I am referring to the platoon of six Lloyd Williams' horses from the Lodge. I call them the Ethiopians because they run in packs and train at altitude. No. 2 Green Moon is drawn (10) at the outside edge of a quartet of Williams' runners. He is the defending champion. (I had him to win last year.) Brett Prebble returns from Hong Kong for the ride. What’s not to like? Nostalgic dollars will be fluttered his way. But the horse ran backwards in the Cox Plate and is getting blinkered up for his troubles. Even if the horse were up for it, 2nd top weight of 57.5k would be too much for this Champ. If this were any other race, Green Moon would have been withdrawn and spelled for the Aussie summer. The other Williams runner without a shot is No. 11 Mourayan, drawn (19). Although the old campaigner won the Sydney Cup this past April, his form since has been woeful. He has already been booked for a new career in Dressage. B. Avdulla will cherish his first ride in the Cup, but his job here is not necessarily to win. His job will be to act as a spoiler for those good European things drawn to his outside. French import Tres Blue (trained by Gai Waterhouse for the past 14 days), Irish St Leger winner Voleuse de Couers (now trained by Mike Maroney), English 2nd Favourite for the race, Mount Athos, and perennial challenger, Red Cadeaux, will first to have to contend with each other and then have to plot a trajectory inside or outside of Wllliams' Mourayan. I am not suggesting there will be foul play ahoof, but Avdulla will enhance his credentials if he races a couple of those four out of contention. This could prove to be the key race within the race. And that’s racing. Whoever then gets by Mourayan will find Green Moon an even more obdurate track hog just ahead on the first bend. In short, Williams by paying up for Green Moon and Mourayan has reduced by two the number of other contenders in the race, while also ensuring traffic headaches for the remaining 18 runners.

It's now a 20 horse race. In years past one could safely cross out 7 or 8 other no hopers, just lucky to be there or there for their owner's pleasure. Unfortunately, I cannot do that. Any of the remaining 20 could squeeze into the first four. Whittling down the rest of the field is therefore a matter of playing the percentages and considering all the usual suspects and variables.

No. 3. Red Cadeaux is drawn (23) and carries 56.5K. That’s too wide and too much weight. No. 20. Ibicenco drawn (17) has two stakes wins to his name this year. He will grind out two miles and maybe among the top ten, but won’t have the zip to get among the first four. No. 13 Super Cool is drawn (13) and that’s just too unlucky in my book – plus when I saw the connections interviewed, I read a just happy to be there expression between the furrows on their brows. Super Cool has run serious races against the likes of It’s a Dundeel and Atlantic Jewel. He is a sure top ten finisher, but the bookies don’t pay you for that.

Now, it’s a 17 horse race. And here’s is where I have to get brutal with the analysis.

No. 5 Brown Panther is drawn (6). He’s far from top weight, but he carries more than his respective old English respective rivals, bar Sea Moon. He has a good draw and he seems a logical contender. The price will shorten on the day and the “beast” will seem like a good thing. But much of that will be down to the Michael Owen factor. I am ruling him out because the jockey Richard Kingscote is out of his depth. No disrespect, but even the connections have dropped him from the horse before.

I kept the wolves away from the door recently when I had Fawkner at 66/1 in the Caulfeld Cup. The temptation to include No 10 Fawkner here is immense. He has an optimal draw in (8) and a cocky, confident jockey in Nick Hall, but Fawkner has already run his race. He may look like the winner as they turn for home, but the 3,200 Meters is not his distance and he will run of gas in the final two furlongs. Hugh Bowman will get the best of out No. 12 Seville, drawn (9), but the horse is not as good as Fawkner. Ergo, extend the logic and don’t bother. In short both Fawkner and Seville could fluke their into the top four, but in reality, they are also serving in a similar capacity as Green Moon and Mourayan. They are not cannon fodder like Green Moon and Mourayan, but their respective inclusion in the race means Lloyd Williams’ live ones -- Sean Moon and Masked Marvel -- have four less competitors to face. Lloyd Williams has done the math!

It’s now a 14 horse race; the process of elimination an even more precarious practice.

I am generally keen on the Aga Khan’s entries and in particular any horse trained by Alain Royer Dupre, but No. 21. Verema does not appeal here. The draw (3) and weight 53.0k are optimal, yet there are a combination of circumstances that bother me. First, the horse is not as good as pundits suggest. She is still a relatively raw and rustic prospect. I look back with trepidation at her defeats to the likes of Domeside at Longchamp and Cavalryman at Meydan last year. Dupre is on the record as saying the horse needs better ground. The excuse applies for the Domeside debacle, but not for the 3L beating by Cavalryman over a good surface in Dubai. Cavalryman has run admirably in the Melbourne Cup, but never looked a winner. That’s the pertinent form line here. It is also a worry Verema has never raced in a large field. Finally, politics at the Aga Khan’s barn cannot be ignored. Lemaire has lost his job. This will be his last ride for His Highness. I don’t expect him to bust a gut here. Moreover, the Aga Khan himself will not be in attendance. This says something to me. It says the Aga Khan’s first runner in Australia is top dipping exercise.

No. 6 Fiorente has also drawn well in (5), but unlike Verema carries a more than optimal weight. Damian Oliver has served his time. His integrity and jockeyship are not in question, but if the horse was a real live chance, then I would have expected either James McDonald (arguably, one of the best up and coming jockey anywhere in the world, alongside Mikael Barzalona, Joel Rosairo, S’maga Khumalo and Chris Hayes) to have kept the ride or as more likely Waterhouse’s incumbent stable jockey, Tommy Berry, to have been given the mount (even though I know Berry could do 51.0 Kg for Tres Blue). Whatever remaining doubts I had with Fiorente were settled when he couldn’t break Shamus Award on the turn for home in the Cox Plate. He’s cooked or to borrow from the late, great Lou Reed, “stick a fork in his ass, he’s done”.

I have halved the field now, so finding 4 from 12 feels a more manageable proposition.

It’s a good time to recap and consider the 12 live chances. I have listed them in draw order, with weights, jockeys and prices.

14. (2) Masked Marvel 54.0 Kg – (M. Rodd) 30/1
8. (4) Dandino 54.5 Kg – (R. Moore) 10/1
4. (7) Sea Moon 56.5 Kg – (S. Arnold) 14/1
16. (11) Royal Empire 54.0 Kg (K. McEvoy) 20/1
19. (12) Simenon 53.5 Kg (R. Hughes) 16/1
9. (14) Ethiopia 54.5 Kg (R. McLeod) 66/1
7. (15) Foreteller 55.0 Kg (C. Newitt) 25/1
22. (16) Dear Demi 51.0 Kg (C. Munce) 25/1
18. (18) Hawkspur 53.5 Kg (J. Cassidy) 14/1
23. (20) Tres Blue 51.0 Kg (T. Berry) 20/1
17. (21) Voleuse de Coeurs 54.0 Kg (J. McDonald) 14/1
15. (22) Mount Athos 54.0 Kg (C. Williams) 8/1

Looking at the 12 above clarifies the calculus. 7 of the 12 above are drawn outside, i.e. between 13 and 24. Make no mistake: this is tres, tres dificile. It’s more difficult with more weight, and although I am loath to discard a horse from Chris Waller’s barn and despite being impressed with how No. 7 Foreteller plodded on for a game second behind Atlantic Jewel in the Caulfield Stakes. Carrying 55.0 kg and being drawn (15) is just beyond this game Dansili gelding. His 30% strike rate will not improve for this race.
It pains me to remove No. 22 Dear Demi from consideration (though I already had a little Each Way Ante Post piece of her at 100/1). She alongside Voleuse de Couers are my favourite horses in the race. There’s just something about fillies! I also have got a soft spot for Clarry Conners, who typifies what an old school trainer should be and gives the game that timeless air. Conners was frank when interviewed post draw. Dear Demi will have to drop back and hope for a gap along the rail late. In her previous two starts she has found that gap and charged late, each time coming close. But she’s won’t find that gap in the Melbourne Cup and although she may surge at some point, it will be too late.
I also caught No. 23 Tres Blue Each Way at 50/1 the moment it was announced the Waterhouse operation had initialled the purchase in France. The prescribed weight of 51.0 Kg was too good to be true. But several things have since gone against this son of Anabaa Blue. Tommy Berry is a super up and coming jockey, but he is a Sydney pilot and less used to going around the Melbourne direction. It’s a relatively minor consideration, but we are now shaving the variables and this counts against Tres Blue. Being drawn (20) is also highly problematic. And finally, the recent warming air in Melbourne also counts against this grandson of Monsun. The more the ground firms up, the less likely Tres Blue will be involved when it matters. See ya later, alligator!
Now, I have to find 4 from 9. There is a sense one may have simplified the equation as far as it will go. The first four will come from the following nine contenders. Eight of the following nine can win the race, I believe. It follows the smart approach here is to find the four that have an edge over the other five. The reward of finding the first four is far greater than identifying the winner.
14. (2) Masked Marvel 54.0 Kg – (M. Rodd) 30/1
8. (4) Dandino 54.5 Kg – (R. Moore) 10/1
4. (7) Sea Moon 56.5 Kg – (S. Arnold) 14/1
16. (11) Royal Empire 54.0 Kg (K. McEvoy) 20/1
19. (12) Simenon 53.5 Kg (R. Hughes) 16/1
9. (14) Ethiopia 54.5 Kg (R. McLeod) 66/1
18. (18) Hawkspur 53.5 Kg (J. Cassidy) 14/1
17. (21) Voleuse de Coeurs 54.0 Kg (J. McDonald) 14/1
15. (22) Mount Athos 54.0 Kg (C. Williams) 8/1

It’s at this stage of handicapping, one can’t seem to ignore the random cute variables and written in the stars clues. The sentimentality pull factor, if you will. Last year was Green Moon, this year it’s Sea Moon! Masked Marvel, the horse with the pastel pink cap wins! (And all the ladies who saw how cute Micheal Rodd looked in pink in the paddock, piled on! It was the least Micheal Rodd deserved after the injury to Atlantic Jewel; the horse was an English St Leger winner, after all, the male experts will grudgingly announce later, as they watch their wives and girlfriends cashing in their 30/1 tickets.) Simenon wins for Ireland, 20 years on from Dermot Weld’s historic raid. It’s Africa’s time, they will say when Ethiopia wins. No. 18 Hawkspur is the first horse to win from Barrier 18. And so on.
But before adopting cute tie breaking variables approach, it’s important to attempt to throw the remaining nine into the centrifuge. What separates them? It’s here I refer to advice of my father. Bet on the best jockeys. (Who can forget Gary Stevens at Santa Anita this past weekend.)
The six best jockeys – and by best, I mean best up and coming, best historically and just plain best just now -- in this race are as follows.
Ryan Moore - Dandino
Kerrin McEvoy – Royal Empire
Richard Hughes - Simenon
James Cassidy - Hawkspur
James McDonald – Voleuse de Coeurs
Craig Williams – Mount Athos

In my opinion (and the currents stats bear this out), Moore and Hughes are the two top jockeys in the UK and Ireland. McEvoy and Williams are the two best two jockeys in Australia. McDonald is one of the top four up and coming pilots anywhere in the world. And Cassidy’s record is the stuff of legend.

It’s no accident the mounts of these six jockeys remain in my final short list of 9.

At first glance, this makes it harder for me to plum for Masked Marvel, Sea Moon and Ethiopia, but other dynamics must be considered before I prescribe the winning tickets.

· The three best horses in the race by most agreeable metrics are: Sea Moon, Hawkspur and Mount Athos (two of which are ridden by my said best jockeys).
· The two best-weighted horses in the race are Hawkspur and Simenon (both of which have two of the said best jockeys aboard)
· The two best staying horses in the race are Masked Marvel (English St Leger winner) and Voleuse de Couers (Irish St Leger winner), one of which has the said best jockey in J. McDonald, though the other has a jockey in M. Rodd who has won the Melbourne Cup before. NB Simonen has mega staying form at a lower grade with decisive wins over 2m 4 furlongs or 4,000 Metres.
· The best-drawn horses in the race are Masked Marvel (2), Dandino (4), Sea Moon (7), Royal Empire (11) and Simenon (12), three of which cross reference favourably with my pantheon of pilots.
· The horse that will most prefer firm ground is Royal Empire.
· The horse with the best recent form is Voleuse de Couers.
· The best trainer in the race is Chris Waller. He trains Hawkspur.

With such variables mapped out, a couple of the first four slot into place.

They are:

Hawkspur. Best horse. Best trainer. Best Weighted. Legendary jockey.
Simenon. Best Weighted. Best Drawn. Best Jockey. Best Stayer. Iconic Irish Trainer.

The above two have to be in every First Four ticket. I have seen both horses run hard and fast when it matters down the stretch. Hawkspur has been unlucky lately, but always a very close loser. With luck in running, he wins both races and comes into this as the hotter than Tabasco favorite.

Next it comes down to random visuals and form line reference points.

Masked Marvel is the horse my gut tells me wins the Melboure Cup. I will take the 30/1 on offer just now and enjoy that for it is: the best priced horse of all the serious contenders. Lloyd Williams says he wins, if he bring his English St Leger form. I suspect that form has now been reprogrammed into the horse’s SatNav. Masked Marvel has a sweet, albeit tight draw in (2), he is weighted perfectly at 54.0 Kgs and he has trounced Brown Panther, Sea Moon and Seville from level weights when it really mattered. His 2nd in the Craven plate showed me he near enough primed for this. His latest race was merely a sharpener. The horse ticks all the boxes, though what really seals it for me is the pink cap! He must be included in most First Four tickets.

Dandino was closing like a train from an outside draw in the Caulfield Cup. I have long followed the horse. He was particularly unlucky to lose to Joshua Tree in the Canadian Internetional two years ago. Dettori was the difference then. He ploughed through horrendous Chicago traffic to win American St Leger at Arlington this summer. The horse gets racing and the way he closed in the Caulfield suggested there was more to come. Moreover, if I had to pick one jockey and my life depended on it, it would be Ryan Moore. The man is a machine. Dandino was primarily trained for the Caulfield Cup. It may prove he does not have stamina to win a Melbourne Cup, but with Ryan Moore aboard, Dandino will be come awfully close.

Sea Moon is the so called best horse in the race, or so they say. He could win comfortably despite having the most weight of any of the contenders. However, it must be remembered the Melbourne Cup is about the best-handicapped horse, not the best horse. I am torn over Sea Moon, but side with his owner who said he was in this up to his eyeballs. He must be on at least a couple of tickets.

Royal Empire gets the big check marks on the draw, jockey and weight. It is also significant the horse will get the firmer ground he thrives on. His two significant wins have been in the Melbourne direction. Goldophin are due. Likewise, the horse belongs in a few First Four tickets.

In theory, Ethiopia does not belong in this short list. The jockey is your bog standard Aussie navigator, no disrespect intended. The horse is not drawn badly, though 14 is less than optimal. His weight of 54.5 Kgs, while not burdensome, also puts him at a disadvantage to others in the reckoning here. His dead last run in last year’s Melbourne Cup was an embarrassment. However, a closer inspector shows he picked up an in running injury in the race and can be forgiven. His prep races this Spring have been unimpressive, but his most recent run in the Lexus three days ago when he ran 4th with top weight suggests he should not discounted so easily. Last year’s Australian Derby winner may be the horse that’s coming right at the right time. He’s the dark horse of the race. His connections have also indicated they now intend to race prominently, whereas before he before he had been a hold up horse. He’s the type who could grab easily a cheeky fourth place. It behoves you to include him in at least just one of your First Four tickets.

Voleuse de Couers would immediately join Hawkspur and Simenon based on her demolition of all comers in the Irish St Leger, but a few things have given me pause lately. Dermot Weld was not keen to bring the horse to Australia this year. Weld is a Vet and knew his own horse inside out and upside down. He said she was too fragile for the long haul flight this year. And initial reports suggested she indeed did not travel well. Egotistical connections have since back-tracked on this and have said all the things punters want to hear. The atrocious draw concerns me even more, however. It’s a shame. I pencilled in the mare as a sure thing many moons ago, grabbing an outrageous price long before Lady O’Reilly cashed in and broke Dermot Weld’s heart. Even so, James McDonald could do it or come very close, despite the draw. Voleuse de Couers carried 61 Kgs in winning the Irish St Leger. She’s getting a big weight break here and belongs in a couple of First Four tickets.

Mount Athos let me down for a massive pay out when a fast finishing 5th last year. A 4th place then would have seen me purchasing property in Bronte Beach. I had Green Moon, but it was Mount Athos on which most of my meagre portfolio rested. Ryan Moore would have gotten it right this year, no doubt. But Craig Williams is the Southern Hemisphere version of Moore and will ride Mount Athos as close to victory as is possible. He has a favourable weight of 54.0 Kgs, but the draw is dastardly. Despite this, he will be thereabouts again and must be included in most every one of your First Four tickets. Remember, Williams has never won a Caulfield Cup and it was he was chased down Dr. Marwan Kouhkash for the ride.

In Summary, I advise the following strategy. Forget about picking the winner. Find the First Four instead. The rewards are greater.

First Four (Boxed, ie. Any order)

19. Simenon (Every Ticket)
18. Hawkspur (Every Ticket)
14. Masked Marvel
8. Dandino
4. Sea Moon
16. Royal Empire
9. Ethiopia (one ticket, with Masked Marvel)
17. Voleuse De Couers
15. Mount Athos

Wash, rinse and repeat. 10 p a line should it the permutations manageable.


  1. The five best jockeys finished in the top five. Disregarding Oliver and Mosse was criminal on my part.

  2. I did wonder how you'd left out Oliver... Hindsight is always perfect!


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