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Melbourne Cup preview

The great race, the greatest week of the year, it all comes down to this.

For the most comprehensive preview of the race you'll find anywhere with videos, stats and price trends, check out Andrew Hawkins' blog. It's what I'd like to have done but he beat me to the punch and actually pulled it off. So instead, you have this below from me...

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Emirates Melbourne Cup
3200m Group 1 Handicap
AUD 6,000,000
1500 local time, 0400 GMT

Form guide
Odds Comparison

Saturday's meeting threw an absolute spanner in the works with the rail being the only place to be in the straight. For Tuesday, it has been moved out two metres, but further than 10m out, the track is rated Soft 6, while the inside section is rated Good 4. Not much rain expected, one or two millimetres at most. That rail position and the lanes make this very tough to decipher - and I hate betting overnight on a race when you need to see the earlier races to determine any pattern. Anyway, this is how I've lined it up...

Runner-by-runner

Snow Sky - the wraps are strong from the UK but I'm not convinced he's the right type for a Cup. He won the Hardwicke easily but Dettori and Kirby on the two favourites were slammed for poor rides and letting Snow Sky get away. Then at York those same two horses ( Eagle Top and Postponed ) beat him comfortably, but the stable blamed the soft going. So his true ability is probably somewhere in between, which fits with his HK Vase and Caulfield Cup form; very nice horse but just a few lengths off the best ones in this class. Going back over the Caulfield tape again and the stop-start tempo certainly worked against him, locking him up on the rail as most of the field made their run. He wants steady/building tempo and to work his way clear when half the field are gasping for air. That is very possible in a race like this where the tempo is more likely to be genuine the whole way through. History against him carrying the top weight, only Makybe Diva and Think Big have won with 58kgs or more since the advent of metric measurements, but I rate tempo as more important than one or two kilos, so it will be up to the genius Ryan Moore to settle him and keep him running if the leaders hit the brakes at any stage. Unlikely winner, but if he's going around at 66/1, there are sillier things to do with your small change. Goes in exotics.

Criterion - has thrived this year, winning the Queen Elizabeth at Randwick then taking on the best middle-distance turf horses in the world at Royal Ascot and York, before winning the Caulfield Stakes and running a strong second in the Cox Plate. Now stepping into unknown territory out to two miles, can a Sebring run that far? Similar doubts were expunged in the ATC Derby last season so perhaps we just have to have faith in the trainer. Hayes said he settles, goes to sleep, and lets go when asked. Any repeat of that and he is right in this. Big weight to carry in a high-pressure race though.

Fame Game - the star quality. It was clear from the start that their only focus on this trip was the Melbourne Cup, and gate one at Caulfield only made that more obvious. Just how Zac Purton got away with it is another story, but that's water under the bridge now. This horse is all class, can unleash great sectionals at the end of staying races and is better suited at 3200m. Japanese stayers are the best in the world, has to be favourite but way too short on opening prices. 5.0 is more realistic in a race like this. Have to oppose him purely on value if he is sub 4.5.

Our Ivanhowe - much improved in the Caulfield Cup but had every chance. Now steps up to 3200m for the first time. Possessed high class form in Europe, winning the G1 Preis von Baden, then running sixth in the Japan Cup but appears to be a bit short of that here. CC placegetters have a good record in the Melbourne Cup but drawing 22 is going to make life tough for him.

Big Orange - won a pair of British Group 2 races in July, at the undulating courses of Newmarket and Goodwood. Three other starts this season though, at Chester and York (x2), he's been beaten out of sight, fitting with his record of five wins and one second from 13 starts. It's all or nothing for him, so if you plan to take him on, the place lay makes more sense. Beat some very handy horses in those July victories - Second Step, Gospel Choir, Quest for More and Trip to Paris, so if he's on song, he could be right in the mix.

Hartnell - hype on this horse has been massive but never quite seems to live up to it. Won the BMW in Sydney in the autumn but hasn't run a place in his next four starts - including flopping in the Sydney Cup at odds-on. Close up in the Turnbull then did OK last week considering he wasn't in the privileged inside lane. You've got to be mighty good to win a Cup on this sort of weight. McDonald is a superb jockey but I'm happy to let him run against me.

Hokko Brave - didn't see much from him at Caulfield, but like Fame Game, this was always the end game. Was rated better than Fame Game a couple of seasons ago and beat him in the 2014 Autumn Tenno Sho, not really seeing it now. Perhaps improved fitness and the wider spaces of Flemington will give him a lift. Might be one to keep grinding away into third or fourth to put value into your exotics.

Max Dynamite - the mystery horse who is tough to line up. Forget the fact he has run over hurdles. He's trained by Willie Mullins, jumps racing is generally all he cares about so that is only a good thing, plus he was good enough to run at Cheltenham, so he's no slouch. Cast an eye back to his early Flat career in France, he was running in the Derby, the Grand Prix du Paris, the Prix Niel - the elite 3yo staying races. Never a real chance in those races, going around at huge odds, he was always running on at the end, and was snapped up by Rich Ricci with an eye to going hurdling - or was it to win the Melbourne Cup? Probably should have won the Northumberland Plate but his running style of dropping back then trying to weave through the field didn't help on a track with a relatively narrow straight. After that he ran second in the Galway Plate, flying home in a high class handicap hurdle, then won the G2 Lonsdale Cup at York, with Trip to Paris, Big Orange and Simenon all in his wake. Dettori on board, hasn't had the greatest luck in Australia but has had a sensational year, just 12 months when everyone had written him off. My big concern with this horse is where he settles. Drawn 2 and always dropping back, he'll be stuck on the rail and that leaves a lot of traffic ahead of him. Mind you, Protectionist was well back on the fence last year...

Red Cadeaux - the veteran who we keep writing off each year and he makes us look like fools. Trust Ed Dunlop to have him in great shape again. Loomed up to win the Geoffrey Freer in August but then died on his run. He has done everything but win this race in the past but have to think this run is more about a farewell tour than being a genuine winning chance. Throw him in the exotics for the place again.

Trip To Paris - dispelled the 4000m plodder reputation with the fastest sectionals for the last 800m at Caulfield. Nobody missed that run so are his odds too short now? That turn-of-foot though means he can adapt to any race pace and shape, he just needs to be clear at the right time. Won't get the cold smother on the rails this time. Won the Ascot Gold Cup because of a canny ride avoiding the interference in the straight (Kingfisher should have won). Dunlop-trained, Tommy Berry aboard, right in the mix.

Who Shot Thebarman - third last year off the back of a marginally closer finish in the Caulfield Cup than he ran this year. Down slightly in weight which suggests this is a stronger contest than 2014. This is the race he has been set for. Not one of my favoured horses but he's honest and will be collecting a cheque. Whether that's for ninth or second is another matter. Goes in the exotics.

Sky Hunter - This year's Godolphin raider and they always run honest races but fall a few lengths short. Go back over his old form - he runs third in a French Derby (2013), started 6/5 favourite against Noble Mission and Telescope in the Gordon Richards, and has been sparingly raced this year. Very good strike rate winning six from 11. Hard to line up. Drawn well, you know he will be fit, goes in exotics.

The Offer - has come up ridiculous unders on the totes, based on the Gai Waterhouse factor. Won Bendigo Cup last week and that was a terrible race. Has been up since June, carrying big weights, but not producing a level which is competitive in a Melbourne Cup. 50s with bookies is the right price.

Grand Marshal - the farewell ride for multiple Cup-winning jockey Jim Cassidy. Won the Sydney Cup by a nose ahead of Who Shot The Barman (who had the cheap rails run), and the odds-on favourite Hartnell who flopped. 100% record at the track and at the distance (different races), but can't have him in this.

Preferment - genuine star horse who can break the trend of foreign-breds dominating the Cup. Won the VRC Derby last year as a maiden but has kicked on since then. Won the Hill Stakes in Sydney at big odds, then did it again in the Turnbull at Flemington, making his record here two from two. Had no chance in the Cox Plate with the rail being the yellow brick road. Bowman back on board (chose to ride Winx in the Cox), drawn ideally in 11, clearly best of the locals and could just be the one to put C.Waller on the Cup honour roll for the first time.

Quest For More - nice European form but flopped badly in the Geelong Cup, at least on pure result. Caught wide, worked to sit outside the leader and then when condition gave out in the straight, the jockey put the stick away and eased him up. Not as bad as that run suggests but drawn 21 in a much tougher race, can't see this being any easier for him. Probably goes forward.

Almoonqith - the second Hayes/Dabernig runner who burst into calculations by winning the Geelong Cup a fortnight ago, with a bold ride from James Macdonald, sweeping around the field when the pace slackened. Not sure many other jockeys could get away with that, Dwayne Dunn couldn't. Had been OK but nothing special in his other Australian runs. Previous form in Dubai, didn't appear much left in the tank at end of the Dubai Gold Cup. Big step up from the Geelong Cup here, he's no Americain or Dunaden having their tune-up run. Not for me.

Kingfisher - allegedly the one Coolmore have had lined up for the Melbourne Cup for two years. Consistency is my biggest gripe with this one - some excellent runs mixed in with absolute shockers. Should have won the Ascot Gold Cup in June but for repeated interference, but his two runs since have been terrible, beaten 16 and 43 lengths. The stable have declared he will race forward, his work at Werribee leading Bondi Beach had suggested so already, and he has the second or third-string stable jockey aboard, so look for him to be ensuring a steady tempo as an unofficial pacemaker, but one with some sort of chance. Stamina not in question.

Prince of Penzance - led in the MV Cup, set a hot tempo and was gunned down late. His last win was the same race last year and there have been plenty of easier races in between. Pushes through to lead, or he won't be seen at all. No hope.

Bondi Beach - lost, won then lost again the English St. Leger in September after a typical British racing stewarding farce. Robbed of the win at his previous start at York when Storm he Stars took him right across the track. Nicely weighted and well seasoned at similar distances, Coolmore have waited patiently for the right type to return to Melbourne with. Has only had five starts, never worse than second and never beaten more than half a length. The main negative is lack of competitive racing - he hasn't run in a field with ten or more runners so he better be set for a lot of bumping. Needs to overcome the poor history of European runners without a local start. Has a touch of class and suited here.

Sertorius - zero chance. Goes forward from gate five and then gets in the way of everything when the tank is empty at the 600.

The United States - MV Cup winner who took the rails run to chase down the leader, but had very little in the tank on the line. Magic Man Moreira aboard, will need to work that magic to win on this. Deserves to be a few more kilos away from the classier beasts at the top of the weights.

Excess Knowledge - gained a run by winning the Lexus on Saturday. By Monsun, massive tick. Finally showing his true colours getting out to a distance but still think there's a class gap to make up. Gate 24 certainly won't help.

Gust of Wind - 4yo mare who started the year as a maiden, then inflicted Winx's most recent defeat in the ATC Oaks in April. Had all the positives for the Caulfield Cup, barrier, jockey, weight, age trend etc, (my money not necessarily a positive) and ran a nice fourth. Draws 19 here, some query on the distance, have to let her go this time.

Summary
There are historical stats and trends which people hang onto like gold teeth, but records are made to be broken. Foreign raiders having their first start in Australia have been beaten by inches, so the 'must a local lead-up run' hoodoo must be blown away forever soon. Times change. Training methods change. The Bart Cummings blueprint is no longer. Travel methods adapt. It's an anomalous record which disappears soon, and hopefully tomorrow. Dermot Weld did it over twenty years ago and Willie Mullins is an even better trainer. And then there's Aidan O'Brien. They've won the Cox Plate, now the Melbourne Cup goes top of their list. Finding it very hard to split my top two picks so I'll be backing both, and most likely throwing the third pick in the top of my trifectas as well. The others go into all my exotics for the placings.

Bondi Beach
Max Dynamite
Preferment
Trip to Paris
Fame Game
Sky Hunter
Who Shot Thebarman
Criterion
Snow Sky

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