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Melbourne Cup preview

UPDATED AFTER WITHDRAWAL OF CAVALRYMAN

This year's preview won't be as long as in previous years - I've simply been trumped by a tremendous effort from Andrew Hawkins, @AndrewNJHawkins, it has the video links and details for each runner in a consistent format that he would have spent several days preparing! So I suggest you read that in tandem with my preview, if you have the time.

Read Andrew Hawkins' comprehensive Melbourne Cup preview here

Here's my take on The Race That Stops The Nation.

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Emirates Melbourne Cup
$6m, Group 1 Handicap, 3200m
Flemington Racecourse
Tuesday November 4
3pm local time (0400 London)


Form link

Local odds comparison

It's odd that by the southern hemisphere thoroughbred clock, we only have one 4yo in the field (Lucia Valentina) and four 9yos (only Precedence is truly nine by foal dates). Au Revoir and Protectionist are both 4yos by European time. Is this change in maturity of the field a generational anomaly or a subtle change which goe with the evolution of the race - no longer an Aussie-controlled sprint-cruise-bunch up-sprint race, but more like the European style of staying: start slow and then build up the pace over the last mile to make it a true staying test? If it's the latter, and I suspect it is, then old trends start to become irrelevant. That one about no English-trained horse ever winning the race without a lead-up run in Australia - does it still have merit?

1. Admire Rakti - the one to beat. Was only supposed to be aiming at the Melbourne Cup, but picked up the Caulfield Cup when Bande wasn't able to take his place. Goes up only half a kilo, hard to see anything from the Caulfield Cup beating him. Ignore the trend experts crapping on about the history of top weights. He carries a mere 7.5kgs above the bottom weighted, #24 Signoff, whereas in previous years the spread in weights was often double digits. This is now a Quality Handicap rather than an old-fashioned one, there are no sneaky ones getting in under the radar anymore. Japanese stayers have an outstanding record in Australia, logic suggests that run will continue.

2. Cavalryman - midfield in 2012 when started 30/1, his official rating has barely moved since that run. Two years ago when ridden by Dettori, he settled near the back and simply missed the boat in a moderately-run Cup. Ran on nicely but far too late to finish 12th. C.Williams aboard (stable second choice, James McDonald went to Willing Foe), drawn an inside gate, if he can make use of that (must do otherwise he'll be locked away), he is the archetypal British stayer who can take off on the turn and get them all chasing. Needs a lot to go right to win, but has the right credentials to sneak into trifecta and First Four calculations. NOW SCRATCHED

3. Fawkner - 2013 Caulfield Cup winner and then finished sixth in this race with the ride heavily criticised, coming from too far back, and then very wide when they all bunched rounding the turn but he also jumped like a drunken sailor, getting bumped and squeezed until he was snagged back. Great run for second in the Cox Plate beaten by the outstanding Adelaide. Simply can't knock the form, but he needs to make use of the ideal barrier. His start cost him in the Cox Plate too, can't afford to do that at the elite level in capacity fields. Must go close.

4. Red Cadeaux - easy to say he's too old for this but Ed Dunlop is no mug and he was only beaten a head by Admire Rakti in the Tenno Sho in May. 30/1 in 2011 (2nd), 17/2 in 2012 (8th), 60/1 last year (2nd). Shorter this year in field of less depth... he can't win it... surely? Write him off at your peril, I have every other year and it has been costly!

5. Protectionist - talented German galloper flew home in the Herbert Power on Oct 11, a far weaker race. Was slashed into favouritism after that run, but since displaced by Admire Rakti. Thought (Lord) Van Percy's run that day was every bit as good but there's a considerable gap in class between that race and the MC. Signoff beat him that day on similar weight terms and was unsuccessful in a protest against the winner. That field was the largest he has faced. His hype run in Germany was the Hansa-Preis where he circled the field mid-race and kept going. But it wasn't much of a field and it's far easier to circle a field of 10 on a slow to moderate pace, than it is in a capacity 24-runner field strung out over 30 lengths. His win in Prix Kergolay, a strong formline behind Americain and Dunaden was meaningless IMO, he only beat three rivals. Breeding suggests he may enjoy the sting out of the track with his best two wins on softer ground, but they have watered overnight to lose that firmness. He's the one I am prepared to risk.

6. Sea Moon - not a hope in hell. Finished 13th last year and in three runs since has only beaten three horses. Indictment on the quality of the field that he is running, handicapped on glories of a bygone era. Mind you, with that rating, he'd have got in any year... NOW SCRATCHED

7. Seismos - drawn the paint again which is definitely not a plus in the Cup. Did nothing at Caulfield from gate 1, and not convinced he's up to these but Marco Botti has been able to work miracles before on horses with seemingly no hope. Needs to do work early and/or get off the rail quickly, otherwise he'll end up locked away eight pairs back. Consider for the roughie to spice up the tris and F4s.

8. Junoob - had everything in his favour in the Caulfield Cup, can't see the extra half mile being to his advantage. Hugh Bowman takes over from Douglas Whyte in the saddle. While not wanting to take anything away from one of the greatest jockeys of recent decades, perhaps his unfamiliarity with Caulfield and the world's toughest 2400m handicap did nothing for this horse's chances. (After another look at the replay, he was on the wrong leg around the home turn and got bumped a couple of times. Once he balanced up, he was making ground on the leaders.) Was so much better in the Metrop, drawn ideally here. A win would surprise, a top half finish wouldn't.

9. Royal Diamond - Irish veteran who hasn't won since taking out the Champions Long Distance Cup in Oct 2013. Would need a lot of luck and probably rain too to figure in the finish here.

10. Gatewood - the best chance of the OTI stable according to reports. Since his last Australian visit, he's finished in the first three in all ten runs, but none have been on a firm track or in a field of 10 horses or more. Drawn 22, trainer has concerns over the ground and his rating hasn't advanced since he was last here. Nope.

11. Mutual Regard - Ebor winner looking to go one better than Purple Moon in 2007 but that race was weakened by the equine influenza outbreak. Barring the topweight though, you could argue this race is no stronger. Nice win in the Ebor but had the benefit of a 5lb claimer beating the handicap. Expected a longer price, but the depth has fallen away, and now has the services of Damien Oliver. On ratings, there is little between him and his stablemate Royal Diamond and he's at least six times the price...

12. Who Shot Thebarman - NZ handicap stayers haven't been genuine chances in this race for a couple of decades now. Will stay the two miles and Flemington suits better than Caulfield but several others will be ahead of him.

13. Willing Foe - has long been an enigmatic conveyance, just 14 runs over five years, but Godolphin marking him top pick, steering James McDonald his way. Finished in front of some decent horse flesh such as Pale Mimosa and Pallasator when running fourth in the Irish St Leger, which was stolen by a great ride on the winner, and being only his third run in two years, you'd think there was still improvement left in him. Narrowly beaten by Seismos at his previous run, and just ahead of Red Cadeaux, at level weights. Pure logic of that puts him right into this and his big field record (won Ebor 2012 with 19 runners, second in 2011 November Hcp with 23 runners) suggests he'll handle the hustle and bustle. The wildcard in the field.

14. My Ambivalent - had an interrupted prep, missing out on the Caulfield Cup which was probably her main target. Third behind Gentildonna and Cirrus des Aigles in Dubai, and then CdA again at Epsom (subsequent Arc and Breeders Cup Turf runner-up Flintshire ran second) at WFA over 2400m this year. That is high quality form! This also ties in with the favourite, with Admire Rakti finishing a similar distance behind Gentildonna in the Japan Cup. Played up at the gates before her last run in Ireland. Jockey Andrea Atzeni rode Farraaj in the Mackinnon on Saturday, a terrific balanced and patient ride from gate 14 rather than panicking about being stuck three wide on a limb. On the flipside, she's a bit of a nutter and is first-up since the end of June, taking on the longest trip of her career. She'd be right in this if her preparation hadn't been disrupted, but that is more than compensated for in the odds. Can she run two miles? Must be considered.

15. Precedence - not good enough to make the field last year after winning the Moonee Valley Cup, this year he was several lengths away and gets in. See comment about Sea Moon for what that says about depth/quality of the field. Midfield at best.

16. Brambles - honest run in the Caulfield Cup when finished fourth, Qld Derby winner at three but slight stamina doubt on the dam's side. Just a run on Saturday in the Mackinnon, so he's set for the longer trip but don't think he'll get too close.

17. Mr O'Ceirin - apparently this is the type of horse we should be reserving space in the field for because he's locally trained. No, we shouldn't. Hasn't won for over a year, well beaten in the Caloundra and Cranbourne Cups, has never won on a dry track or over 2400m or further. Well done to connections for owning a horse capable of winning half a million bucks and qualifying for the race, but spare me the sob story, he'll be one of the first horses beaten, getting in the way of far better horses as they make their move.

18. Au Revoir - will be improved by his first-up third in the Moonee Valley Cup, but that was a weak race in the grand scheme of things. Has European formlines with Flintshire (Arc and BC Turf runner-up) and Singing (runner-up to Protectionist) so he's thereabouts, but he's a typical on-pace stayer without much of a kick. Will have to go forward from the wide gate to take up a position but will be passed by anything with a turn-of-foot in the straight. If any firm is offering top 10 betting, I'd take a look.

19. Lidari - the last of the OTI quartet, and the only one not drawn the car park. Ran a nice sixth at Caulfield with a cosy run, and from gate 10, he'll have every chance to perch with the perfect trail but I cannot have a son of Acclamation running a strong two miles.

20. Opinion - a Royal Ascot winner (Duke of Edinburgh Handicap) who has run second in both the Sydney Cup and Metropolitan this year. Poor in the Moonee Valley Cup and to my untrained eye, looked to be on the wrong leg coming around the bends. Gets out to his target distance, but the big question - is he up to it? Waller's a genius if get this one to claim his first Melbourne Cup.

21. Araldo - slashing run in the Caulfield Cup and before that, the Metropolitan in Sydney, so the 3200m should be right up his alley. Draws a shocking alley yet again (CC 15 of 18, Metrop 16 of 16) but with his standard race pattern being well back, that's not a big factor. Shocking, Brew, Rogan Josh, Doriemus and Empire Rose all won from barriers of 20 or higher. Definite each-way chance and will going in all my exotics.

22. Lucia Valentina - her run in the Caulfield Cup was just as good as the winner, draw made it very difficult for her to win. No reason on breeding and running style to doubt her ability to stay two miles. Filling a place in the Caulfield Cup used to be the best formguide of them all - unpenalised and obviously in form but that trend has changed in recent years. Clearly best of the local hopes, but gate two makes it harder. Kerrin McEvoy will be keen to put Saturday's slaughter of the Derby favourite behind him.

23. Unchain My Heart - probably the only Australian horse in a very long time, bar Makybe Diva, to have won three races at 3000m and beyond on the flat. The problem is, those races are all of plodder class and she'll be a long way behind the winner.

24. Signoff - the appointment of Joao Moreira started the crush on his odds, with the facile victory in the Lexus which secured his place in the field turning it even further. Unlucky in the Herbert Power (runner-up, protest against winner dismissed), but finished ahead of Protectionist on similar weight terms. Traditionally the Lexus/Saab/Hotham Handicap isn't a great lead-up, most of the runners are taking their last roll of the dice. For Signoff, it was always on the cards. The Lexus has been a poor race for favourites for many years but the last one to win it was Shocking, who went onto win the Cup three days later.

SUMMARY

As you've probably worked out from the analysis, I don't think this race has much depth, and thus have narrowed it down to two winning chances.

Admire Rakti
Signoff
Lucia Valentina
Fawkner
Araldo

Trifecta - my usual bet focus on the Cup, the pools are massive and so much mug money in there (mystery bets, lucky numbers etc)

1,24
x
1,3,4,5,13,21,22,24
(added Protectionist) x
1,3,4,5,7,8,11,13,14,18,21,22,24 (added Junoob)

$77 for 50%

The Face-Spitter Box Trifecta
(if it comes in, that's what you'll be doing to your boss)
Red Cadeaux
Willing Foe
My Ambivalent
Araldo

$24 for 100% (corrected)

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