Back after a short holiday with the family, hence the lack of posts for Derby Day. But now we're back in action for Cup day with a detailed preview!
Last year, we had the outlier race - farcical slow pace, biased track, plenty of interference and a 100/1 shot winning. Although it was a strong field, that combination of pace and bias created a mess and the shock result. This time around, it is a weaker field on paper but a slow pace is highly unlikely.
Weather - a cool spring day in the high teens, tiny amount of rain will not have any effect on the track. Haven't heard the official trackman's report but Flemington drains so well, they'd probably need to water it anyway to prevent it from getting too firm. Fair for everyone but any horse needing heavy rain will be disappointed.
The track raced perfectly on Saturday, no change expected.
Now onto the Race That Stops The Nation.
EMIRATES MELBOURNE CUP
AU$6.2m, Group 1 Handicap
Flemington 1500 AEDST, 0400 GMT
1. Big Orange - 60/1 shot last year when jumped to the front from gate 23 and controlled the pace to a walk. Masterful ride by Jamie Spencer who gets a better crack at it from barrier 7, won't have to lead but will aim to hit the front early and make it a hard slog in the straight. Similar lead-up winning the Goodwood Cup and a Newmarket G2, only up a kilo and a half from last year. Read Jamie Spencer's thoughts on the race here - he's confident.
PROS: Complete focus on the Cup this season, drawn much better. Field is undoubtedly weaker than last year.
CONS: Got it easy in front last year plus heavy on-pace/rail bias. Can't imagine that happening again. Topweights have to be champions to win this and there have been plenty of British/Irish raiders carry the #1 saddlecloth and go home with their tail behind their legs.
PACE MAP: Goes forward, but could be some competition for that.
2. Our Ivanhowe - unlucky here last year from gate 22 when squashed against the rail at the 250 when he would have been right in it. Goes up 1kg. WFA campaign in the autumn, close up fifth in the Australian Cup when well supported, ridden upside down in the BMW then dropped out sharply and pulled up lame. Returned after a short break to win the G1 Doomben Cup. Hasn't set the world on fire this campaign but caught the eye at Caulfield flashing home (ran second in same race last year).
PROS: Drawn ideally in six, set for the Cups this year and jockey is one of the best going around.
CONS: Not the same horse he was in Europe, just one win in his last dozen starts. Topweights have to be superstars to win the Cup.
PACE MAP: Just ahead of midfield, with options to go to the rail or stay one-off depending on track condition.
WARNING: The comment for Our Ivanhowe may be subject to confirmation bias as I backed him at 33s a couple of months ago.
3. Curren Mirotic - career wins only at 1800-2000m but beaten only a lip in the Tenno Sho Spring over this trip in May (seven places ahead of Fame Game, last year's Cup favourite) and a single length by Gold Ship and Fame Game the year before. Genuine G2 horse by Japanese standards, running at massive odds in the top echelon but 10-25/1 in G2s. Believed to be his final campaign before retirement so this is a last shot at the stumps but Japanese visitors have an incredible record here. 9yo by Australian standards will scare a few off but it didn't stop Red Cadeaux.
PROS: Japanese staying depth is the best in the world, placed both starts over two miles.
CONS: Hasn't won since Nov 2013 and this is his swansong tour.
PACE MAP: Will go forward from the wide gate and try to set a genuine pace.
4. Bondi Beach - Galileo entire who returns to Melbourne as a more mature horse than last year when still a northern hemisphere 3yo. Galileo progeny are on fire at the moment, running the trifecta in the Arc de Triomphe and winning G1s north of the dotted line regularly. Less tested this campaign running in small fields, never out of Ireland and no better than a G3. Part of that will have been to beat the handicapper but also he's had a few issues. The alternative view could just be that the O'Brien stable are spoilt for riches. No luck last year being caught wide and bumped around from gate 18. Rises 3.5kg as an older horse in a weaker edition. Ryan Moore didn't seem particularly confident in this preview but that could just be his nature.
PROS: More mature now, drawn five and has best jockey in the world aboard for the world's best trainer who will win the race sooner or later.
CONS: Comment from Francesca Cumani on seeing him at Werribee was that he seems to have more on his mind than racing, take that at face value.
PACE MAP: Midfield, likely to be tucked on the rail.
5. Exospheric - talented British import who has yet to run beyond 2400m. Gave him no hope in the Caulfield Cup as he'd been labelled a difficult horse to train and had multiple gear changes. Made me look like a chump with a storming run into third, after going back from an inside gate. The trainer recommended sending him to the paddock after that, with an eye on the autumn and next year (when imports traditionally flourish) but connections wanted to chase the big pot while they could. Damien Oliver returns after suspension.
PROS: Great run at Caulfield, huge chance if able to springboard from that.
CONS: Trainer wanting to put him away for next year.
PACE MAP: Went back at Caulfield, expecting same here with expected solid pace and no previous runs over the journey.
6. Hartnell - star of the spring until he got spanked by Winx in the Cox Plate in the highest-rating race ever in Australia. Still beat multiple G1 winners at Moonee Valley, a track he obviously didn't handle so you can't mark him down for that. Last year he was beaten 10.25L in the Cox, rating 117. This year beaten eight, he rated 123. Much better horse this year, ran 15th last year at 30/1 when drawn wide, went back and had to work home in the worst going. Well known that he won the Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot two years ago over this distance when he was rated higher than all his rivals, and repeated the dose three weeks later over 2600m in the same circumstances. In all his other starts over 2400m or further, he has just a single win with no other placings - in the 2015 BMW. In the other starts, he faced stronger opposition (Great Voltigeur and St.Leger in the UK, Sydney and Melbourne Cups in Aus) and has been beaten at least six lengths. On-pace and did it too hard in the UK races, led in the Sydney Cup and then was caught too far back here last year. His wins earlier this preparation came off moderate pace - can he sprint off a solid clip? Needs a bit to go right but this campaign has been all about winning this race - the Cox Plate would have been a bonus.
PROS - best local form, smashed Jameka in the Turnbull and meets her better at the weights. Take out Winx from the Cox Plate and he'd be 5/2 here. Handicapper would raise him 3kg if given another chance.
CONS - those distance queries in high class races.
PACE MAP - too far back last year on ridiculously slow race. This year's edition will be the opposite so McDonald may chance his luck sitting back again.
7. Who Shot Thebarman - third in 2014 (best of the locals) and 11th last year. Has won just one race in two years (Zipping Classic 2015), has collected plenty of place money. Beaten under a length in the MV Cup last week when he hit the front too early as the leaders wilted after a hot, contested pace into a stiff headwind, the winner had the cold sit and peeled off late. Super honest, drawn 20 but has Hugh Bowman aboard. Can't see him winning but must include in exotics.
PROS - quality run in MV Cup, no concerns about the distance and has best local jockey aboard. Prince of Penzance was second in that race last year.
CONS - doesn't win often and drawn the car park.
PACE MAP - has to go back from 20 on a fast pace.
8. Wicklow Brave - County Hurdle winner at Cheltenham in 2015, beating last year's Cup runner-up Max Dynamite. Has mostly campaigned on the Flat since and this race will have been in Willie Mullins' mind for quite a while. Last three runs - just over 3L behind Big Orange at level weights in the G2 Goodwood Cup (also 2L behind Sheikhzayedroad who won the Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day); third behind Quest For More in Lonsdale Cup at York (ahead of Trip To Paris, fourth here in 2015); won the Irish St.Leger with a daring front-running ride defeating Arc third Order of St.George - all very tough, won't shirk the task etc.. He'll need to be tough as he's drawn 24 and his racing style is prominent. Dettori has to push forward and hope for a trail, probably in the three-wide line which would suit him fine.
PROS - trained by a genius, ridden by Dettori who got his pants pulled down by Michelle Payne last year. Genuine stayer who will relish the hot pace and be ready to pounce if he finds cover.
CONS - gate 24 and Dettori who has been going home empty-handed for many years.
PACE MAP - likely to be caught three-wide unless the pace is so hot they get strung out early. But with enough horses going forward, he might get the cover he needs. Forward of midfield.
9. Almoonqith - the eye-catcher from Caulfield from cosy gate two. Unlucky last year, slow out of the gates, stuck at the back, couldn't make ground like all of them at the back. Then went to Sandown 11 days later to win the G3 Sandown Cup over this trip. Had done precious little in seven starts this season before flashing home last start at 70/1.
PROS - has hit form at the right time of year.
CONS - three poor runs at Flemington and drawn 19. Guaranteed to be unders now.
PACE MAP - worse than midfield.
10. Gallante - Sydney Cup winner who tried to control the race in the Moonee Valley Cup but was taken on all the way by Authoritarian and copped the worst of the stiff wind crossing the course, plus in the worst ground. Second to Jameka in the Naturalism the start before, coming off a 23 week spell.
PROS - Genuine excuses last time and previous two runs were very good.
CONS - By Montjeu, has never won on a dry track (just two thirds from eight attempts). Gate 2 is mighty awkward unless he pings the gate.
PACE MAP - with so much pace in the race, I'd expect Shinn to take a sit just in behind.
11. Grand Marshal - almost fell last year at the 300m in the wash-up from Dettori pulling out on Max Dynamite. Might have finished top ten but that's about it. Had the cosy run in the MV Cup last start and was entitled to win, poor in the Metropolitan before that. Needs the heavens to open to be any chance of picking up a decent cheque here.
PROS - Very good this distance range, the harder the slog the better.
CONS - Needs a lot of rain to show his best in this class.
PACE MAP - Midfield.
12. Jameka - devastating win in the Caulfield Cup but absolutely everything went right for her on the day. Jumped straight into the box seat, her main rivals missed start and/or over-raced, and a stiff headwind down the side meant nothing could make ground before she pounced hitting the bend. Can't imagine the distance will pose any concern after that win on top of the VRC Oaks but she is by a General Nediym mare. Drawn three, potentially awkward off a hot pace - she'll be locked on the rail with leaders coming back on her so Nick Hall will have to be very smart on which gap to take and when.
PROS - form of 121 beaten only by Hartnell this spring. Gave nothing else a chance at Caulfield.
CONS - penalty for winning the Caulfield Cup puts her into record weight-carrying contention for a 4yo mare. Could not have had more go right for her at Caulfield, that can't be repeated. Awkward gate.
PACE MAP - can see her about four back the fence. Tricky but that's about where Prince of Penzance was positioned last year from gate one.
13. Heartbreak City - the handicap plot horse from Ireland. First it was for the Ebor Handicap, the richest handicap in Europe, now it's for the richest handicap in the world. Ignore the hurdle form completely. He won a two mile handicap at York last year then was thrown in the deep end running in the Cesarewitch and Irish November Handicap. On his return in March, he won at Cork by 12L forcing trainer Tony Martin to go into damage control mode to protect his handicap mark. The Chester Cup was never going to suit him, followed by two hurdle victories before romping home in the Ebor. Now he brings that to Melbourne with a trainer who hasn't made the trip before (but won't be short of knowledge with owners and other trainers) and cops gate 23. That could be offset by the choice of jockey, Joao Moreira, the star of Hong Kong, but he'll need luck to get in from there. At York, he cruised up before unleashing his sprint. If he goes back, he will need to burn energy to work his way through the field before making his run. He doesn't have the same weight advantage he had in the Ebor.
PROS - perhaps still untapped and has Moreira aboard. Trainer is a genius in managing handicap ratings.
CONS - trainer's first visit to Australia, gate 23, rated close to the best stayers from Europe now.
PACE MAP - has to go back from there, probably three wide with cover.