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Finding the First Four on the Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup attracts interest from all over the world, and thus there are a plethora of different angles to assess the race. It's always worthwhile posting contrary opinions, even if they are against mine!

Davy Lane, @LosCharruas, returns with his annual look at claiming the biggest single-race exotic of them all, the First Four.

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Melbourne Cup First Four analysis

This Melbourne Cup analysis is intended to produce a plausible trajectory of the "First Four past the post at Flemington. I have broken the 24 runners into manageable categories and added a few pertinent insights.

Sheikh Mohammed's Mob -- The booking of Craig Williams and James McDonald (for me the two best jockeys in Aus-NZ) will send punters to the windows likes flies to camel shit. I urge caution. Both riders should ensure 2. CAVALRYMAN and 17. WILLING FOE will be competitive, though nothing more. If the race was 6 months ago Cavalryman would have had a hot chance, but the old marauder looked cooked when 4th last up behind Pale Mimosa and Estimate at York. That James McDonald has not given Willing Foe a spin before the race is useful information. So what's behind the entries and jockey bookings? The Godolphin organization is rebooting itself. If Emirates Airlines were not the primary sponsor and Asia not the emerging epicentre of world racing (both horses have entries in the Hong Kong Vase in December), perhaps Sheikh Mohammed may have chosen to by pass the race. But The Qataris are coming...The Qataris are coming. This is about Godolphin remaining relevant in a period of transition. This partly explains why Williams and McDonald agreed to take rides on two horses that won't win. In a post Dettori - McEvoy world there will soon be hyper serious global rides to be had. Williams (who perhaps could have sweated out the balloting and waited for Araldo) and McDonald are auditioning for those starring roles. Contributer in next year's Melbourne Cup being a prime example.

The Irish -- In every interview Johnny Murtagh has conducted in advance of the race, he focusses on the horse's owner, Andrew Tinkler. Tinkler's patronage has made Murtagh's training career viable. The trip to Melbourne almost seems as much as about giving Tinkler a taste of the big time as it is about winning the race. If the race was two years ago, 9 ROYAL DIAMOND may have been a serious contender. The horse has not sparkled since an injury and comes to Melbourne more as a traveling companion for his more in form stable mate, 11. MUTUAL REGARD. Murtagh's jockey bookings of Arnold and Oliver are shrewd, nonetheless. A top ten finish finish for one horse would ensure Murtagh and Tinkler would just about leave Australia in clover. Mutual Regard may have won the famed Ebor Handicap, but he did so with a 5lb claimer aboard. Only one other horse in that 19 horse Ebor field carried less. This time 11 horses will carry less than Mutual Regard. The Ebor winner is now weighted among proven Group winners, which he is not. Oliver's remit will be to make sure to keep at least 14 horses behind him and get into top ten prize money. Oliver can easily oblige. Arnold could squeeze into the top ten also.

The English -- I have a sentimental attachment to 4. RED CADEAUX and not just because I had him Each Way at 50-1 when Dunaden nosed him out. The fiery chestnut is probably the most simpatico horse the English have produced since Red Rum. But can he lump 2nd top weight around at his grand old age and win? I doubt it. Succor was taken in his freshener when retirement was on the agenda and he ran a credible 4th behind 7. SEISMOS at Newbury in August, but Seismos' subsequent display around Caulfield has somewhat exposed the current form. You also ignore Marco Botti at your peril, but Seismos plays second to Tac de Boistron at his barn. With a kinder draw I could have entertained Seismos picking up the pieces of fast run race, but he will get swamped on the rail early and will probably never find enough space to change up his gears. 8. GATEWOOD brings John Gosden to town. This is a good thing for Victorian Racing. Gosden is a scholar and a gentleman and the most straight up English trainer there is. When interviewed by TVN on his arrival in Melbourne, he expressed luke warm hope for a place. This was code for don't invest. Gosden's expressed keenness to be in town for Derby day at Flemington suggests he is scouting the territory. He will be back and watch out the next time he comes to town. Anyone watching Farraaj fly into the wind at Flemington in the McKinnon should be on notice. Roger Varian and Andrea Atnezi are on fire. It's no accident Qatar Racing have signed up the Sardinian to be their No. 1 rider. 14. MY AMBIVALENT is a very serious "First Four" chance. Her form very close behind two of the best horses of our generation in Cirrus des Aigles and Gentildonna make her an irresistible play in "First Four" markets. Her slowness in taking to training at Werribee made the stone bruise which kept her out of the Caulfield Cup most convenient. Ultimately I suspect relieved connections saw sweeping into the places at Flemington an easier proposition than getting mowed down at Caulfield. The draw in Barrier 4 is perfect. My Ambivalent will do her thing and take up the running at her own pace. She's smarter and classier than The Cleaner. Watch out.

The Mount Macedon Brigade charge with only two horses. 3. FAWKNER comes with a Caulfield citation and a gallant 6th at Flemington last year. Lloyd Williams has long said a Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup double was on the agenda for this horse. Fawkner is proven top drawer Group horse and has to be hugely respected. Ideally, Williams would probably have preferred to be also be running Green Moon and maybe Amralah. Instead Williams can only rely on 18. SEA MOON to help Fawkner set a strong pace. Sea Moon pulled up sore last time and I am surprised he is running. Given his weight and wide draw, his race will be over long before they turn for home. (Now SCRATCHED.)

Meet The Wallers. Chris Waller is the thinking man's trainer. Every horse he runs has a chance. So keep 8. JUNOOB, 12. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN and 20. OPINION onside in all your plays. Junoob is drawn well, but is carrying too much weight. My sense is that he is running for the pleasure of his owners. They will probably be cheering as they turn for home. You can't put a price such endorphins. Opinion impressed me most when closing like a train to grab a close 2nd second to Junoob in a quicker than average Metrop. With only 53.5 kg on his back, he's remains a legitimate live outside shout. However, it is Who Shot Thebarman who Waller has been seriously aiming at this race. His run in the slowly run Caulfield Cup was disappointing, but post race examination revealed the horse had some mucus issues. He is clear now. He won the Group 1 Auckland Cup at 3,200 Metres last year in emphatic style. When Waller in an interview on Shane Anderson's mandatory "Racing Ahead" show on RSN said major expectations were resting on this horse, I jumped on at 70/1. He then carried 60kg winning impressively around Flemington and the price plummeted. The booking of Glen Boss is also interesting. Could Boss have stayed on Signoff or he did choose to seize the opportunity on Who Shot Thebarman once the horse got the all clear from Waller. I think the latter.

The Wiseguy Horses -- 22. LUCIA VALENTINA hit the line hard in the Caulfield Cup. She is nicely weighted and when McEvoy left Godolphin he did so to have the chance to be on horses like her. She should be thereabouts, but her tight draw will see her squeezed early and this may compromise her chance to get in the big money places. 24. SIGNOFF has all the advantages going into the race. The lowest weight by a long chalk, a fair draw and the Magic Man flying in from Hong Kong to take the ride. I took 33/1 before the Lexus, but on reflection I don't think the horse is quite good enough to win the race. Beating up on Big Memory in a muddling Lexus is not form to take to the bank. That said, although Signoff may not be the winner, he will be sure to be challenging for a First Four place.

The Moodys -- 16. BRAMBLES is a proven Group horse whose return from a near career ending tendon injury is truly remarkable. He has to be respected, but his wide draw will impact his style and leave him flat down at the business end of the race. I took 200/1 on 19. LIDARI a few months ago after listening to Peter Moody say he had big hopes for his French import, especially now that he had gotten the horse to settle in races. I had seen Lidari win the Languedoc Derby in Toulouse in 2012. It's a performance that has stuck with me. He seemed to have so much more in hand. His close 2nd in the Group 1 Rupert Clark means he has now graduated from the provinces. He is weighted well below the serious Group horses at 53.5 kg, he is drawn ideally from gate 10. You can sure he will coming down the straight with a battler's chance.

The French -- When 18. Au Revoir was quarantined for this, OTI were thinking more about a serious challenge in 2015. When new shareholders were confirmed in late October was it because the horse stepped up earlier than expected or was it because folks wanted a day out at Flemmington. It's hard to know. The horse has an entry in the Hong Kong Vase and connections were close to booking Magic Man Moreira if Signoff had not won the Lexus. With a better draw (he comes from 23), I may have been tempted to take a punt. If I find out Andre Fabre has flown to Melbourne, I may yet. But somehow I doubt it.

The Japanese -- It is hard to ignore 1. ADMIRE RAKTI given his demolition job in the Caulfield Cup. The beast has drawn perfectly in the 8 hole. Zac Purton is sure to employ the same three wide come behind style he employed at Caulfield. The race seems set up for him. However, before you back Admire Rakti remember two things. First, the Caulfield Cup was a slow run race that suited him swooping late. And second you will have to factor the sustained heat Cavalryman, Fawkner, Junoob, Lidari and My Ambivalent will apply. I think Admire Rakti turns for home like a piece of Tempura. I am keeping him out the First Four.

The Germans -- 5. PROTECTIONIST will be the emphatic winner. When Ryan Moore advised punters not to back him for the English jockey's championship because he was scheduled to ride in the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup, this was a HUGE ante post clue. Moore would not agree to criss crossing the Pacific if he did think he had good things. A further clue came with Protectionist's subsequent win the Prix Kergorlay at Deauville. This result has been dismissed by most because he only beat three rivals, but a closer inspection strengthens the case for Protectionist. Wohler's in house rider jumped off previous year's Prix du Cadran champion Altano to ride Protectionist. And secondly, Protectionist won in second gear with Eduardo Pedroza's ass high in the air. The last horse in that race was Pia Brandt's Bathyrhon who was subsequently supplemented for this year's Prix du Cadran finishing 2nd and losing by only quarter of a length. Protectionist's earlier Group 2 win at Hansa Preis was equally facile. He went around the outside like Mercedes overtaking a fleet of Kingswoods. Among those behind him that day was Sirius who went on the win Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Berlin. The Herbert Power is cited as a weak race, but Protectionist did not go into the race attempting to win. Craig Williams was told to keep him out of trouble and turn it on late. After the race, Williams admitted he thought he gotten off this year's Melbourne Cup winner. Protectionist is a Group 1 horse, weighted below the other big boys and with the best jockey in the world riding. Ryan Moore was highly annoyed with his performance on Mount Athos in 2012. What many Australians perhaps don't appreciate is how difficult a ride Mount Athos can be. The Montjeu line notorious is that respect. Protectionist is by Monsun, the sire of most sensible and well adjusted offspring in the game. It will be just a matter of when Moore decides to press the button. Wohler has been back and forth to Australia on a couple of occasions to supervise the training of the horse. This thoroughness is significant. Wohler has said he does not want the track too firm. 6mm have added to the track overnight. It should be enough. Moore wants to put a second exclamation point behind his win on Adelaide. He will. BET THE FARM!

The Each Way Certainty -- 21. ARALDO never catches a break with post positions, this time getting Barrier 24. If Araldo had drawn more centrally and or Williams had pressed to keep the ride, then I may have some doubts about Protectionist getting caught on the line. Nevertheless, Araldo is now well used to coming wide and late. Araldo has winning form around Flemington, and an in-form jockey in Dwayne Dunn aboard. He has to be included in all First Four tickets.

The No Hopers - There are three. 15. PRECEDENCE and 17. MR. O'CEIRIN are trading on respectable efforts in modest affairs last year. For those who cannot resist a Cummings horse, note Precedence received a nasty gash in his last race. I caution those may want to take a flyer on Chad. The kid is good, but his mount on Mr. O'Ceirin is about him gaining experience in the race. 23. UNCHAIN MY HEART won a modest Listed race over Course and Distance earlier in the year to earn her place. She cannot compete at this level.

The BET

Protectionist wins. It's just a matter which of the following fill out the 2nd, 3rd and 4th places from the contenders below.

3. (9) Fawkner - 57kg - Hickmott - Hall
5. (11) Protectionist - 56.5kg - Wohler - Moore
12. (13) Who Shot Thebarman - 55kg - Waller - Boss
14. (4) My Ambivalent - 54.5kg - Varian - Atzeni
19. (10) Lidari - 53.5kg - Moody - Melham
21. (24) Araldo - 53kg - Moroney - Dunn
24. (16) Signoff - 51 kg - Weir - Moreira

Fawkner comes up a buck short in the final 200 Metres. He had a hard run in the Cox Plate. His jockey is top rider, but not the very best around. Signoff gets outclassed despite the urging of the Magic Man.

The bet is therefore to box 4 horses -- Who Shot TheBarman, My Ambivalent, Araldo, and Lidari -- for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th places places.

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