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Melbourne Cup preview

I was going to pen a lengthy analytical preview for the Race That Stops The Nation but that was rendered futile when I got the email notification for this magnificent piece of work - Andrew Hawkins' Complete Guide to the 2017 Melbourne Cup. For all the background, all the detail, video links, back stories (read the one about Tiberian especially), go there, you won't find a better analysis anywhere.

So instead I'll keep it short and sharp, which based on the lack of sleep I've had in the past week, can only be a good thing!

AU$6 million
Group 1 Handicap, 3200m
1500 local, 0400 GMT

1. HARTNELL - third last year when looked poised to win at top of straight. Has been 'running more like a two-miler' this prep according to trainer, but hasn't run beyond 2000m either. History isn't kind to horses coming back a second time to win (actually it's his third attempt) especially high in the weights. No.

2. ALMANDIN - defending champ and looked likely to continue that when bolted in with 61kg at Flemington in September. But then ran a bit flat in the Bart Cummings in October to deflate the hype a bit. Postmortem - not such a bad run, had to make a sustained run earlier than ideal with a big weight, not pushed when jockey realised he couldn't win. Dettori in board, a fairy tale for him after all these years but has made plenty of mistakes in this race in the past, happy to have him go around without me at the price.

3. HUMIDOR - over-raced in the Caulfield Cup when too close to the lead, then switched to Blake Shinn for the Cox Plate and almost caused the boil-over of the century. Most recent Cox Plate placegetters to run in the Melbourne Cup have been Hartnell (third 2016), Criterion (third 2015), Fiorente (won 2013): how do you ignore that form? Can make excuses for his poorer 2400m runs, got to trust the master trainer D.Weir. If Shinn can put him to sleep until the home turn, huge chance.

4. TIBERIAN - huge form boost on Saturday night with Talismanic winning the Breeders Cup Turf impressively. Similar formline through French staying races to Marmelo yet he is three times the price on Betfair. Trainer has minimal travelling experience, first Cup ride for one of the world's best in Peslier. Those tidbits plus gate 23 (before the scratching) just inflates the price. Can race forward or back, happy to take the risk at the odds.

5. MARMELO - the run that nobody missed at Caulfield and now the price is long gone. Inexperienced with just 10 runs so every reason to believe there's still more to come. CCup was always meant to be the prep race, so no pressure, it was easy to just go back and rattle home. Does that change anything? Big show but poor value compared to Tiberian.

6. RED CARDINAL - big hype on this horse for over a year. Forgive poor run in Prix Kergolay when was on the wrong leg around home turn and by the time he balanced up, the winner was off & gone. Has tactical speed, and the owners/trainer/jockey have all been here done that. Barrier irrelevant, big chance.

7. JOHANNES VERMEER - is he that damn good or just one of these horses that flatters to deceive, always flying home after finding trouble? I've never warmed to this horse and has to be some query at the distance given Ballydoyle had never run him further than 2000m in Europe. Could just make a fool out of me, and if that's the case, c'est la vie. Goes around without me.

8. BONDI BEACH - no. Has done sweet FA since the English St.Leger, hasn't been in the front half of the field in two previous runs in this race. Time to lower the sights and aim for the Queensland Cup or the Grand Annual Steeple.  Dross that shouldn't be here.

9. MAX DYNAMITE - runner-up in 2015 to Prince of Penzance when Frankie was outridden by a Michelle Payne on the 100/1 shot. That was a relatively weak Cup so he needs to step up here having barely run for two years and is now an 8yo by southern hemisphere terms. Allegedly tearing up the track at Werribee but he burnt me two years ago, I'm not going there again.

10. VENTURA STORM - leading chance for this race until he put in a poor one at Caulfield. Can we forgive him? Stable reported a hoof abscess which couldn't help on a rock hard surface. Previous runs at Flemington were promising (finished between Winx and Humidor in the Turnbull) and excluding the CC, his record at 2200m+ is outstanding (5: 4-1-0). Remember the Hayes camp were keen on him at Caulfield, and didn't give the winner much of a chance. Goes in trifectas at the very least, possibly even in the top rung.

11. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN - scratched. Remind me why we don't have emergencies in 2017? Oh yes, the TAB still works on Commodore 64 technology...

12. WICKLOW BRAVE - not convinced Willie Mullins has his best chance this ever. He's become obsessed with the race and this trio this year just don't inspire. (Note - insurance boxed trifecta bet placed to at least make something out of it when his horses run the trifecta and make me look like a right tool!)

13. BIG DUKE - carries more weight here than he did running third in the vastly inferior Sydney Cup. Honest probably runs in the top 10 but can't see him getting into the money. Didn't have much luck in the MV Cup but still think he's third string from the all-conquering Weir stable.

14. US ARMY RANGER - gloriously-bred entire who has gone from Epsom Derby favourite to a dud stayer running at Royal Ascot over 4355m. Absolute pretender. Should be gelded and sent over hurdles, the only reasons against that would be that they already know he can't jump his own shadow or protecting the breed. No hope.

15. BOOM TIME - surprise winner of the Caulfield Cup with a charmed run so connections roll the dice again. Flopped in the Sydney Cup starting at $11, but had excuses apparently. Drawn nicely again, I can't see it happening but nor could I at the 'Heath'. Place chance.

16. GALLANTE - no hope, Lloyd Williams clogging the field with another dud...unless it suddenly pisses down (all his wins have been on wet tracks).

17. LIBRAN - started $19 in the (re-run) Sydney Cup and pulled up sore. If he's not in the market in that race, I can't see how he has a hope here. Second last week in a poor MV Cup, drops in weight, that's the only thing going for him.

18. NAKEETA - very interesting runner. Rated marginally lower than Heartbreak City in winning this year's Ebor Handicap at York. Had 77 days between runs after shrewd trainer Iain Jardine played a canny game to keep his handicap down in the right range. Probably should have won by further, finding a lot of traffic in the straight, but only just beating the handicap snip Flymetothestars. Here he resumes after 73 days, drawn to go back as per normal style. Has plenty of experience in big-field handicaps (>14 runners, 10:3-5-0) and that's a big tick.

19. SINGLE GAZE - huge run in the Caulfield Cup, doing most of the work to chase the tearaway leader. Not bred to run this far, but doubt she ever met her dad! Tough, tough mare. I can't seriously back her but if you like the fairytale story, don't let me dissuade you.

20. WALL OF FIRE - eye-catcher in the Herbert Power behind Lord Fandango and the form out of that race is sensational. Winner ran great fourth in CCup, third Gallic Chieftain was a nose from winning the Geelong Cup and of course Boom Time (fourth) won the CCup. Drops 5kg and gear switch from blinkers to a visor. A few concerns though - it's been a long season for him, he started the campaign in Dubai in March; just a 4yo by Euro standards, is he seasoned enough?; two starts at 3200m, beaten comfortably, including by Red Cardinal. Nice horse, prefer him next year.

21. THOMAS HOBSON - impressive at Royal Ascot over 4000m+ but those type of horses have repeatedly come up short in Melbourne. Form ties in with Marmelo (and Red Cardinal) via handy UK 3yo Desert Skyline, plus he finished just ahead of Qewy at Royal Ascot. Has the Mullins & Moreira hype but I am happy to oppose him.

22. REKINDLING - Williams owned colt in the Joseph O'Brien camp rather than his father Aidan. Only a 3yo by European standards, has been up since April and that's a tough ask. This sounds more like an afterthought than the original plan and it's incredibly hard to keep expecting a horse to peak. Fourth in a very strong St.Leger last time at Doncaster. Not out of it, but unders for mine.

23. AMELIE’S STAR - multiple winner at 2400-2500, then went too hard early in the CCup and tired at the end. Rider sacked and on goes Dean Yendall who will aim to put her to sleep midfield until the top of the straight. Impressive in the Bart Cummings a month ago, winning with ease. Forgive last starts and she's right in this.

24. CISMONTANE - very good around 2400-2500m, but in significantly weaker class. Just snuck home against a few not good enough to get in, and jockey broke the whip rules to do so. Rare that the Lexus winner goes around at 50/1, not up to these.


Cliche time, this is tough, could throw a blanket over plenty of them, blah blah blah. The simple fact is you can't put them all in and the whole reason you read my work is that I'm prepared to have an opinion rather than sit on the bloody fence. Have to take a stance against some of the leading chances.

Here's my order

6.Red Cardinal
10.Ventura Storm
23.Amelie's Star
20.Wall Of Fire
15.Boom Time
19.Single Gaze
7. Johannes Vermeer
21.Thomas Hobson
9.Max Dynamite
13.Big Duke


Will be backing my top four picks and taking a trifecta which looks something like this.

3,4,6,10,18,23 x 2,3,4,5,6,10,18,20,23 x 2,3,4,5,6,10,18,20,23

$84 for 25%

Best of luck!


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