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Caulfield Cup 2020 preview

The Melbourne spring carnival heads to Caulfield, affectionately known as 'The Heath' for the time-honoured and lucrative Caulfield Cup. Won by Japanese raider Mer de Glace last year, it earns the mantle of 'the greatest 2400m handicap in the world', a rich Group 1 traditionally run at a high-pressure tempo.
Mer de Glace wins 2019 edition. Image credit: Herald Sun

The quality of the race seems to ebb and flow regularly. This year I think we have a cracker, but... such is life in 2020, there'll be virtually no-one on course to witness it.

In drafting this preview, I've also had some input from previous blog contributor Arod, spliced in where useful, starting with his track & weather forecast:

"The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting anywhere between 10 – 20 mm of rain between now (Ed. Wed night) and race time and going by today’s reports the track might need the water. Reports have a few horses pulling up sore. Rain is predicted for Saturday so that should keep it in the soft 5-6 range but Caulfield is an amazing draining track and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is a good 4 by race time.  

Rail will be in the true position and track always plays fairly (apart from a handful of rare occurrences), however inside may not be the A ground. Initial thoughts are there isn’t much speed pressure in this race and I’m expecting the field to be compressed with horses starting to ramp up and build their momentum from the 800m mark. Most advantaged will be those on speed or horses able to build their momentum 3 and 4 wide. Those horses directly behind the speed on the inside could find themselves getting shuffled back at critical stages. Although, every time you think there’s no pace itoften works out to be the opposite."

For video form, your best bet is to use Racing and Sports, you'll find just about every run for every horse listed within their detailed form, locals and interationals. I can't compete with that!


Stella Artois Caulfield Cup
Group 1 Handicap, 2400m, AU$5m
17:15 local time, 0715 BST.
Expected going Good 4/Soft 5.
Watch live from anywhere in the world on

Image credit: Fox Sports

1. Anthony Van Dyck (IRE) - Aidan O'Brien & H Bowman (58.5kg) – Barrier 21
The 2019 (English) Derby champion with plenty of hype around him. So Aidan O'Brien has never brought a Derby winner out in the past and this year he has brought two (Irish winner Santiago goes straight to Flemington). But the Derby at Epsom is in the midst of a slump, there's been precious little form out of the race since Harzand in 2016. This horse is the only winner of the past four years to win another race, and that was at his eighth start beyond winning 'the biggest Flat race in the world' as exaggerated by xenophobic Brits. And no, they haven't all rushed straight off to stud. It was also a blanket finish in 2019, half a length between the first five, and the usual verdict out of a race like that is not a strong form race.

AVD's race to break the losing streak was the Prix Foy, a six-runner 2400m race at Longchamp where, in a masterful ride from Mikael Barzalona, he controlled the pace (2:00.0 for first 1800m, 33.29 final 600) and sprinted faster than Stradivarius who needed another lap, or at least to be wound up a lot earlier. Drew wide in the Hong Kong Vase, pushed forward to face the breeze and was gone on the home turn. Finished behind True Self, Young Rascal and Prince of Arran that day, and marginally ahead of Aspetar, all of whom have local relevance this spring. Can't see Bowman being aggressive on him and pushing too far forward, so he'll need to find a three-wide trail or come from the tail. Note that wide gates have a decent record in recent years, with Dunaden coming from 18, Best Solution (15) and Mer de Glace in 17. Still, he's not for me, lay him all day.

2. Avilius (GB) - James Cummings & J Allen (57kg) – Barrier 17
Has proven mostly to be a 2000m horse in Australia, but won the Bart Cummings (G3, 2500m) in Oct 2018 and a terrible edition of the Tancred (G1, 2400m, heavy track, four runners) in Mar 19. Third in this year's Tancred behind Verry Elleegant (4.4L), but also flopped in the 2018 Melb Cup, the furthest he has run. Has he been campaigned differently this time in? A second behind Kolding in the 2000m G2 Hill Stakes last time is the best of his recent form but if all eyes have been on the Cups, the peak should happen here. Never been a great fan of the horse but might be worth a look at big odds.

3. Vow And Declare - Danny O'Brien & D Oliver (57kg) – Barrier 18
Ran second in this race last year carrying 52.5kg, and only second-up in his preparation before going on to win the big one at Flemington. Not far away in his two runs so far this spring, but at the same time, not in the finish either. First-up over a mile, he sat back and made some ground late. Sat fourth in the Turnbull and was under hard riding coming off the home turn. Didn't have the sprint to go with them but did battle on ok. That to me signifies he'll be much fitter for the run and ready to peak for the Cups. Drawn poorly again but did manage to win the Cup from #21, crossing to lead then taking a sit behind the leader. Might need to repeat that here, although he did settle back in the field then made a long, sustained run from the 800 in this race last year.

Only four of the last 15 Melbourne Cup winners have backed up in the Caulfield Cup the following year - two have won, Viewed (2009) and Dunaden (2012). Shocking ran fourth in 2010 and Protectionist had gone completely off the boil in 2015 and finished 15th at 50/1. Chance.

4. Buckhurst (IRE) - Joseph O'Brien & B Melham (55kg) – Barrier 9
Perhaps not as dynamic as the Ballydoyle colts who are bred to run in the 3yo classics, this horse has always been aimed at the Aussie Cups. A little disappointing in his most recent runs in the G1 Tattersalls Gold Cup and a G3 but earlier season form demonstrated he had stepped up from his 3yo year. I'm not much of a weight person but drops 8.5kg on his last run which can only help, and is drawn ideally. We already know Joseph O'Brien is a genius trainer, he knows how to campaign a horse through the European summer and still peak them for the Melbourne spring. This one ticks a lot of boxes.

5. Mirage Dancer (GB) - Trent Busuttin & Natalie Young & C Newitt (55kg) – Barrier 6
Third in the race last year on his Aussie debut, carrying one kilo more. Only broke his local maiden status last start in G1 Metropolitan (eight runs in between) which can be excused through acclimatisation but he certainly hadn't been racing poorly. Takes a prominent position which always puts him in the mix for a competitve race like this. Goes close with the right luck.

6. Mustajeer (GB) - Kris Lees & W Egan (55kg) – Barrier 15
Ran an eye-catching sixth here last year, had a great Sydney autumn racking up Group race placings behind Master of Wine and Verry Elleegant, before a mediocre spring campaign - so far. Had every chance in the Metropolitan and will have his fourth jockey in as many starts - not a good sign. Settled at the tail and never got into the race the previous start, would need to see more positive signs soon or retirement beckons.

7. Verry Elleegant (NZ) - Chris Waller & M Zahra (55kg) - Barrier 11
The great local hope, fantastic strike rate of 10 wins from 23, one from one at Caulfield, two from two at the distance and has only missed the first four once in her past 11 starts, in last year's Cox Plate. Won the G1 Tancred during the autumn and the G1 Turnbull last start, although if you wanted to be picky, the former was over Mustajeer (at WFA?) and the latter was a blanket finish with just a length between the first six. But, in the Turnbull she made a long sustained run from the 900, was five-wide on the turn and let nothing get past her. That wasn't her spring target, this race is so there's good reason to believe she'll even improve out of that. Has her fair share of weight for a mare but she has won a handful of Group 1s to earn it. Versatile although she can overrace if the tempo is muddling, nicely drawn (probably starts from #9), ticks plenty of boxes.

8. Dashing Willoughby (GB) - Andrew Balding & M Walker (54.5kg) - Barrier 2
Classy British raider under the tutelage of Andrew Balding. Quoting a previous blog contributor Arod, "His trainer is on record saying the horse races best fresh and that’s why they’ve spaced his runs recently. Have also read that Prince of Arran is working better than him in quarantine but getting one person’s opinion is never a great guide. The other worrying sign is the concussion plates on first time. Don’t know too much about gear but from what Google tells me it’s generally applied when horses are having feet issues."

Has formlines through the likes of Communique, Cross Counter, Sir Dragonet, Southern France, Il Paradiso, Ashrun and San Huberto so there's no doubt about his class. Now starts from the inside rail so he's going to be locked away for the entire trip. Michael Walker has a great record at riding feature race winners at big prices, +100% at level stakes in Group 1 races in Victoria, and +15% at Caulfield. Supposedly targetting the Melbourne Cup as the higher priority but who's going to turn down a $3m cheque along the way. Definitely better than a fluker's chance.

9. Finche (GB) - Chris Waller & D Lane (54.5kg) – Barrier 12
Mighty honest galloper with just the one poor run since arriving in Australia, and that was first-up after a long spell over too short a distance. Every local run bar two has seen him finish within two lengths of the winner (Melb Cup 18 - 3.5L fourth, Chelmsford 1600 19, 4.3L fifth), and there lies the problem. He's only won once in those nine starts, the G3 Kingston Town, but he's always close up, never gives up, but can you back him with any confidence?

With no obvious pace in the race, he'll go forward and either dictate terms or be right on the shoulder of whoever does lead. Damian Lane's a genius and it might take a daring ride to see him claim a win. Would love to see him set them alight at the 800, a la Addeybb in the Ranvet and get the field off the bit. But that's very easy to call as the armchair expert. Odds-on for a top 5 finish, as per last year.
Last year's finish, Mirage Dancer 2nd, Vow And Declare 3rd, Finche 5th, Mustajeer 6th. Image credit: Getty

10. Prince Of Arran (GB) - Charlie Fellowes & J Kah (54.5kg) – Barrier 19
Ignore his European form, like old REd Cadeaux, he grows the proverbial extra leg in Australia. No need to race at Geelong or in the Lexus this year as he's fully qualified for Flemington. This is a better fit timewise for his campaign but is he up to it? Has run well in Herbert Powers, a Geelong Cup and the Lexus around this distance but they are a considerable rung below this class and pressure. To be competitive, I reckon he needs it to turn into a true staying test, i.e. Finche taking off early as suggested above, and they're all under pressure down the Queens Avenue side. Jamie Kah is an absolute gun and she will retire with more than one of the sport's biggest races on her ledger, but can't see this being the one this time around.

11. Master Of Wine (GER) - Michael, Wayne & John Hawkes & C Williams (53.5kg) - Barrier 7
Heavily spruiked for the Cups since ripping through the Sydney programme in the previous spring and autumn, with performances backed up by the likes of Vince Accardi and the sectional data. 0/4 in Group 1s since that four-run winning streak, but WFA (/SWP in the Turnbull) is a different kettle of fish to a handicap over the right distance for him this campaign. Trailed Verry Elleegant and Finche in the Turnbull, was outsprinted by them early in the home straight, and then worked home nicely, beaten under a length, without really going for it. Meets VE 2.5kg better for that small margin. Preparation timed to a T, gets the Melbourne G1 gun jockey aboard for the first time.

12. The Chosen One (NZ) - Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman & D Stackhouse (53.5kg) – Barrier 3
Started 12/1 last year coming off a win in the Herbert Power and still had plenty of upside as a 4yo. A year on and he hasn't really kicked on - midfield in most races, second in the Sydney Cup and a first-up win at 20/1 in the Winning Edge Hcp six weeks ago. Drops significantly in weight from recent starts in the Herbert Power and Underwood Stakes but not doing enough for mine. Needs the cheap run and lucky breaks from gate 3 (actually 2) to be in the finish.

13. Warning - Anthony & Sam Freedman & L Currie (53kg) - Barrier 20
VRC Derby winner from last season and the eye-catching run out of the Turnbull, flashing home late at 60/1 to go down by a length. Meets VE 3kg better for that result, but remember the mare had the tougher run and Warning made ground through the field without needing to do much work. Just the one poor run in his career, in the heavy ground at Randwick in the ATC Derby.

Drawn wide but is versatile - he went forward in the Derby before parking 1x1, and sat at the tail in the Turnbull, so the map will be important. Could have been right in the race with a better gate.

14. Dalasan - Leon Macdonald & Andrew Gluyas & W Pike (52.5kg) - Barrier 14
South Australian boom horse (been a long time since that's been said with any degree of seriousness) who gets the king of WA, Willie Pike, on his back, fresh from a four-timer here last Saturday. From Arod, "He was tried as a stayer in the autumn and ran a brave second to Russian Camelot in the SA Derby - a Derby that the chief handicapper says was rated equivalent to Santiago’s Irish Derby win." Four-year-old stallions have won three of the last five editions (by actual birthdate rather than hemispheric reclassification).

Likes to race prominently, but I'm not convinced he finishes off his races well enough. Perhaps that's part of his preparation, aiming to peak here. Drops in weight from his G1 lead-up races but think he'll look to be a great chance on the turn and then fade to finish a nice fifth or sixth.

15. True Self (IRE) - Willie Mullins & D Bates (52kg) - Barrier 4
Has done nothing this campaign in Europe and if it wasn't for the OTI ownership, surely she'd have stayed north of the equator. Was second in the Geelong Cup and won the Queen Elizabeth on the last day of the Flemington carnival last year, but hasn't been competitive in four runs of 2020, although missing the start regularly certainly doesn't help. Can't blame the stable for wanting to escape the misery of the northern Covid winter but surely she has no hope.

Conversely from Arod, "I have this girl in my top 5 for this race and it’s purely off her achievements last time she ventured to Australia... Hoping Willie Mullins can pull a rabbit out of a hat and we can see her perform to the same level she did in spring last year."

16. Aktau (GB) - Michael Moroney & D Moor (51kg) - Barrier 1 SCRATCHED

17. Toffee Tongue (NZ) - Chris Waller & M Dee (51kg) - Barrier 5
Broke her maiden in the G1 Australasian Oaks after running second in the Randwick equivalent in the autumn. Returned to form with a close second in the Turnbull at 66/1, taking the cheap run up the rail to just miss. Drops down in weight, there's plenty of history with lightly-weighted 4yo mares in the race and perfectly drawn to take the cheap run again. No issue with the wet or the dry, would need to improve again to win this. Can't have her with a strike rate of one win from a dozen but worth including in the exotics.

18. Chapada - Michael Moroney & J McNeil (50.5kg) - Barrier 16
From Arod - "Won his way in last start with a victory in the Herbert Power and that race has produced a recent winner in Boom Time. Poor barrier and will go back but he’s flying, runs the trip right out and has earned his spot in the race."

19e. Raheen House (IRE) - Kris Lees & TBC (53.5kg) - Barrier 22
The equine equivalent of the 6yo kid who once beat Roger Federer at tennis, or Usain Bolt in a foot race, then lived off that for the rest of his career. Perhaps a slight adynaton, as despite beating Enable as a 3yo, he didn't even win that race, and wins over Desert Skyline and Weekender in England aren't too shabby, but in Australia, he's had two good runs in the swamp which is Randwick in the autumn, and the rest have been terrible. Beaten out of sight in the Bendigo and Wyong Cups, he should not be in the field. At least drawn 22 he might not get in anyone else's way.

20e. San Huberto (IRE) - Matt Cumani & F Kersley (53.5kg) - Barrier 10
Unlikely to get a run. Better suited at 3200m.
21e. Oceanex (NZ) - Mick Price & Michael Kent Jnr & Z Spain (51.5kg) - Barrier 8
22e. Le Don De Vie (GB) - Anthony & Sam Freedman & TBC (52.5kg) - Barrier 13


Not a huge amount of confidence in this, with no obvious leaders, it could take a bit of initiative from a wide draw to spice it up. If the pace is dawdling, Verry Elleegant will overrace and probably be sent forward, but I doubt the Euros will let it be a farce, even if there is no pacemaker amongst them. If the speed is on, the wide runners get in easily. If it's dawdling, then being wide isn't such a bad thing.

11. Master of Wine 15/2
7. Verry Elleegant 5/1
3. Vow And Declare 40/1
4. Buckhurst 11/1
9. Finche 11/1
14. Dalasan 16/1


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