Ah the Melbourne Cup, the envy of the world, what a race. And this year it ties in with my birthday as well, so giddyup, that has to mean a big collect doesn't it? :)
If only it was so easy. There's a bit of rain forecast during the day which is unlikely to affect the going (sand profile, drains incredibly well) apart from making it a little slippery on top so backmarkers may find it tricky to accelerate when required as they struggle for grip.
A lot of fuss can be made about the draw - it's about 900m (4.5f to the first bend) so there is plenty of time to get across into position. Having a positive jockey is a big asset. There was been six winners in the past 30 runnings drawn 20+, so if you fancy one out wide, talk it down as a huge negative and then cop a better price!
The Lexus Melbourne Cup
Group 1, 3200m, AU$7.3m
Flemington, 1500 local. 0400 GMT
1. Best Solution - quite simply the best horse in the race, seeking to become the first topweight to win the Cups double. Only Makybe Diva in 2005 has won carrying 57kg since 1975. Has a picket fence of four by his name, the last three being Group 1s - at either WFA or as topweight. This distance range is new to him, but he hasn't looked like stopping in his recent victories at 2400m. His sire is more associated with sprinting 2yos but the damsire has produced two English St Leger winners - no concern at all. Just a 4yo by UK time, he is still on the way up - posting his highest ever Racing Post Rating (RPR) last start. The Godolphin empire is flying worldwide at the moment, this could be the one to break their duck in the greatest race of them all. Ideally drawn in six. Likely to be a similar price to when he won at Caulfield - madness.
2. (The) Cliffsofmoher - since running second in last year's (English) Derby, 10 of his 12 starts have been in Group 1s, so it's hardly surprising he has only won once in nearly 18 months. Form through the likes of Ulysses, Cracksman, Poet's Word, Crystal Ocean and Roaring Lion is exceptional UK WFA form but the fact remains he doesn't win often (picked off a weak Irish G2 this year with Yucatan in third). Interestingly, has started in big fields (17+) three times - to easily win his maiden, second in the Derby and third in the Caulfield Cup, so he's not afraid of the hustle & bustle of a big field. Will sit midfield, might not have the explosive speed of a few but may have the advantage of a better point to kick away from. Ryan Moore flies in from a weekend in Kentucky to take the mount.
3. Magic Circle - the 'talking' horse this year with two conclusive early season wins in Britain before being put away for this race. Last year he was a handy stayer, this year with astute trainer Ian Williams, he's a darn good one. It's hard to knock a pair of six-length wins but I'm going to try to: the Chester Cup is a significantly weaker race than this and over 400m further. He gave Prince of Arran 6lb (3kg) and Nakeeta 4lb (2kg) that day as a guide to how far down the weights he was (beat them by 8.75 and 15.75L). At Sandown in the Henry II Stakes, it was a slow, meddling affair, and he romped away from Red Verdon & Weekender (second to Muntahaa in the Ebor). My theory on Magic Circle is that he needs every inch of the 'traditional' UK two mile race, a grinding slog where the pace ramps up from a long way out, rather than the Aussie version which requires more of a 2400m horse (as stated by numerous Europeans). Has obviously improved lengths this season for this trainer, but moves up in the weights, has had six months off (the only two European horses to win in Aus without a local run, Vintage Crop and Rekindling, had run in September) and the suspicion he wants more of a grind to be able to 'sprint' past the beaten brigade makes me think his current price is poison. Draw of 17 shouldn't matter too much, would probably prefer to be three-wide with cover anyway. Could just bolt in and make a fool of me - prepared to take that risk.
4. Chestnut Coat - poor at Caulfield after being well placed in the run, prepared to write that off as a reaction to the soft track, something he's never liked in his career. If he ran like his fifth in the Tenno Sho Spring in April, he just about wins. But that's a big ask based on his CC run. Prepared to throw him into my exotics for the placings.
5. Muntahaa - super impressive winner of this year's Ebor at York, a race strengthened this season by a big injection of cash. But thingd went right for him on the day - after drawing the outside rail, his jockey kept him very wide for the first 600m before sliding across ahead of the first bend and finding a perfect sit about three back. The horse gets wound up quite easily and Jim Crowley didn't want him to rush him into the contest, so getting him into a steady rhythm early was his primary concern. In front of 100,000 spectators, and drawn midfield in 13, he is unlikely get that luxury of some peace here. Was 4.5L behind Best Solution at Newmarket earlier in the season (level weights). Gosden is a genius though, can win anywhere, anytime. Goes very close if he behaves and has reportedly been working the house down at Werribee.
6. Sound Check - German import with form through Best Solution but also a local run in the Caulfield Cup where he was ordinary. Needs a quantum leap to be competitive here. No.
7.Who Shot Thebarman - lovely story for this old warrior to run in yet another Cup but an 8yo hasn't won since the 30s let alone a 10yo. Will probably pick up a check for finishing in the first ten though.
8.Ace High - was one of the better locals going into Caulfield then tried to lead all the way and capitulated by the home turn. Perhaps better returning to Flemington, won the Derby here, but drawn 22 so he has to go forward again and only those with bottomless levels of faith in the locals can give him any hope. No.
9.Marmelo - started close to favourite last year and had a dream run but apparently didn't handle the 'quick' backup between the Cups, after a great run at Caulfield. While not impossible, it's pretty rare for a horse to improve in its second run in the great race but he is only five in Northern Hemisphere time. That said, he has been a lot lower in profile this visit and will be around double the price. Not convinced about the strength of French form in the Kergolay and Maurice Nieuil this year but did win a staying WFA at York mid-season against Duretto (fourth in CC) and Weekender (second in Ebor, third in Henry II Stks) which provides a line against most of the Europeans. Can't compare his British handicap mark year-to-year as he rarely races in Britain, but appears to be in same form as 2017 based on Racing Post Ratings (RPRs). Trainer Hugh Morrison doesn't sound very confident though - not sure if that's his normal style or he's being pessimistic.
10.Avilius - boom horse early in the season who missed the Metropolitan in order to win the Bart Cummings a month ago to lock in Cup qualification. Impressive over shorter trips early in campaign but the form out of that race (G3, 2500m), hasn't looked that strong in hindsight with Jaameh, who pushed him to a half-head on the line, only finishing third in the Lexus on Sat. Ran fourth in the Cox Plate last week, beaten just under 8L having dropped back to 2040m WFA against the mighty Winx. Has a formline through Cracksman in 2017 but also finished behind Finche same season. Godolphin runner representing the home team and would be a tremendous story for the grandson of the great J.B.Cummings to win the race that Bart once owned. I think he's a considerable doubt at the trip - he was entitled to win by further over 2500m, and his sire Pivotal has nothing that can run two miles. Only one runner to achieve an RPR over 108 (that was a one-off rating of 112) at 2600m and beyond and while you could lean on the dam side, his full brother Saint Baudilino ran second in a French Derby (2100m) and couldn't go much further. Drawn nicely in 11 but inclined to take him on.
11.Yucatan - the surprise packet of the spring. Just a decent staying colt in Ireland, he has flourished since landing in Australia. Aidan O'Brien, a master of talking up any of his own, stated he has been a difficult horse to get 100% fit and always yearned for firm tracks, something rarely seen in his native Ireland. Was simply breathtaking in the Herbert Power, making two runs to loop the field and push the tempo, and then accelerate away on the turn before being eased right down to win by one length rather than eight. The strength of the race can be queried as can having minimal pressure from his rivals but you have to wonder what else is in the tank. He's obviously adaptable and will need to be from gate 23. Has the best jockey in Australia aboard who won't die wondering if the race needs an injection of pace or other innovative tactics. Copped a weight penalty out of the Herbert Power to get him into the field, does that extinguish some of his dominance or margin for error? Do you just go with the Occam's Razor principle (the simplest solution tends to be the correct one) or stay emotionally attached to his form in Europe? I'm on the fence, under 6.0 I can't get involved but if he drifts because of gate 23...
12.Auvray - qualified via decent form in the Aussie autumn but poor in recent runs and has no hope at all from the horror draw of gate one.
13.Finche - impressive European form with lines through Avilius, Tiberian and Waldgeist but only third in a weak Geelong Cup (once Withhold was in trouble). Gave the winner 5kgs (11lbs) last time but didn't do enough for mine. Can't imagine a Frankel entire winning on the flat over two miles but there has been money for him since the final field was declared. Apparently he struggled coming down the hill at Geelong which catch out some horses. Can't see it but will keep an eye on what the paddock watchers say pre-race.
14.Red Cardinal - boom horse last year and then flopped. First time blinkers applied but needs more than that to suddenly find the form to win this. Pass.
15.Vengeur Masque - honest stayer who will be plugging to get paid for a top 10 finish but needs a Stephen Bradbury miracle to win this after so many other chances.
16.Ventura Storm - broke his Aussie duck last start in the Moonee Valley Cup, but that's traditionally a poor form reference for this. Drawn seven, can sit forward, tough enough to keep on running at the back end - just not fast enough to trouble the best ones. Maybe a place chance to inject some value into exotics.
17.(A) Prince of Arran - impressive winner of the Lexus on Saturday to secure his berth. Trainer Charlie Fellowes declared to all the horse was flourishing in Aus and would win on Saturday, so there must be more to come. Some horses just thrive when they travel, he is one of them. Mounting yard watchers said his coat was in peak condition, mighty hard to do when he is now out of season. Michael Walker aboard, and he has a canny habit of winning big races at big prices (Bendigo Cup on Red Alto, 70/1, just last week his latest). Not sure he's brilliant enough to win, but will be in there for place money.
18.Nakeeta - in far better form last year when he'd won the Ebor and then ran fifth here. This time, the locals have bought in so he was always going to run. Beaten a fair way by Magic Circle, Prince of Arran, Muntaha and Ventura Storm this year, but was unlucky last time at MV, caught back in the field, blocked at a key stage but didn't ping home as I'd have liked. Huge price, will throw in exotics for the blowout chance from gate three.
19.Sir Charles Road - Kiwi stayer better suited to races like the Auckland & Sydney Cups. Will be chasing a top 10 cheque.
20.Zacada - awful form, should not be in the race. And the locals complain about not having enough local runners in the field. If this is the standard of them, there's your explanation.
21.Runaway - Geelong Cup winner last week who led all the way. Only Might And Power has done that in the Melbourne Cup in living memory, and he wouldn't get within 30L of him.
22.Youngstar - ran second to Winx in the Turnbull then got caught back in the Caulfield Cup when the pace went on, ran on nicely late. Kerrie McEvoy jumped off after that run though, switching to the #23. Concerns have been raised about her attitude at trackwork suggesting she is immature and at the end of her preparation. There's no room for weaknesses here and I must admit those doubts from sharp horsemen have me worried. Might be a year early for her.
23.Cross Counter - trying to replicate the success of Rekindling, winning as a Northern Hemisphere 3yo. Just the seven runs under his belt, his four wins were fields of 10 or less but his two bigger field runs weren't bad either, including a fourth of 18 at Royal Ascot in the King George V handicap with topweight. Beaten a nose in the Voltigeur at York as 2.50 fav, ahead of Kew Gardens who won them St Leger and started single digits in the Arc. Ideal sort, distance should be no trouble with Kingmambo on the dam side (see comment on Best Solution), drawn wide so pushes forward looking for a decent sit. Just how much has that minor injury affected his preparation?
24.Rostropovich - another NH 3yo trying his luck with a low weight. Ran second in the Irish Derby splitting Latrobe and Saxon Warrior, second to Old Persian at Royal ascot (who later beat Cross Counter at York). Went hard in the Cox Plate chancing his arm to take on Winx, but in reality it was the blowout he needed to be in top shape for this race. Meets Avilius on similar weight terms. Distance doesn't scare me, what Wayne Lordan chooses to do from gate 21 does a little. Needs to cross and take a sit, if he can do that without spending much petrol, he's a genuine chance.
So who leads? Runaway bowls along, leaving Finche, Rostropovich and Ace High to slide across. Cross Counter could kick up from wide, while Best Solution, Chestnut Coat, Marmelo and Muntahaa will line up the handy positions in front of midfield. The Cliffsofmoher, Yucatan, Prince of Arran and Magic Circle sit slightly further back and the rest don't matter. Note this could change significantly if it rains early and everyone starts panicking thinking they need to be on pace.
With the British-trained runner strike rate of something like 0-55 in this race, you could easily strike a line but it's not a stat, it's an anomaly in a relatively small sample. There's no reason horses trained in France, Germany and Ireland can win but not from Britain, and twice the margin has been a single pixel.
Going with the NH runners, they've simply got lengths on the locals (with some
leeway given to those who have just arrived).
(A) Prince of Arran
Will back my top two, possibly four, depending on market and conditions.
Potting Magic Circle, Avilius, and Youngstar
As always, my big investment will be with trifectas. Huge pools, huge value on a day like this will so many lucky numbers, mystery bets etc. swelling the pot.
$100 gets you 43%.
But I'll probably wait until late to place most bets, watching the weather and how Cross Counter, Finche & Muntahaa look in the mounting yard (parade ring for northerners). Cue tech problems as a major bookie crashes just when I need them...
Best of luck however you roll your dice punters!