The pandemic and the new screening restrictions on equine visitors from Europe make this a fairly mediocre Caulfield Cup. The top few in the original weights haven't accepted so we have the ridiculous situation of a topweight of 55.5kg - when the standard limit weight is only marginally below that for a run-of-the-mill race. Which makes it even harder to get top jockeys, the pool of which is already diluted by the Everest in Sydney.
This race looked absolutely perfect for the front-running favourite, Incentivise, but the barrier draw has thrown a spanner in the works. He's drawn the extreme outside, 20 (18 after emergencies come out), a test last overcome by Dunaden back in 2012, but he came late with a sweeping run down the outside. Mer De Glace also won from 17 in 2019. Could he be the new Might And Power? Australian punters love a front-running champion!
Might And Power was an absolute machine. 💪💪💪 pic.twitter.com/6LF9LGRqUH— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) October 14, 2021
Also, there's a significant amount of rain forecast every day between now and race time. How much of it hits the track is anyone's guess, plus last Saturday was verging on firm according to some trainers, so it'd need a decent soaking to get into the soft ratings - but that is entirely possible. At time of publishing on Thursday, the track is rated Soft 6 with more rain to come, although wind and good drainage may be able to absorb significant precipitation without a downgrade.
If the weather's awful, the crowd won't be complaining - by the simple fact there won't be one again. Covid restrictions are about to ease in Melbourne, but only just in time for the bigger event in November as the state of Victoria hits vaccination thresholds.
Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup
Group 1 Handicap, 2400m
Saturday 1715 local, 0715 UK
Formguide and replays - Racing.com
1. Homesman - a narrow runner-up in 2018 behind Best Solution carrying 53kg, and this is the lowest weight he has carried since then.
Generally runs honest races at WFA, won the G1 Australian Cup in March, second in the G2 Q22 in June but only fourth of five last week in the Might And Power (Caulfield Stakes), beaten under 2L in a muddling pace which saw the odds-on pop rolled. Can't see him winning it, but he's the best of the roughies.
2. Incentivise - the homegrown star Aussie racing has long been crying out for. After a slow start to his career being beaten in three Qld maidens, he has won his next eight starts, progressing from a Sunshine Coast maiden to successive Group 1s at Flemington, including four in a row by at least seven lengths. A versatile son of Shamus Award, recently he has been leading or parked on the pace, but connections are adamant he doesn't need to lead. Most recently in winning the Turnbull Stakes, he was taken on constantly in the lead yet still had enough left to fend off challengers approaching the line.&
"A NEW GROUP 1 STAR."— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) October 2, 2021
INCENTIVISE WINS THE GROUP 1 TURNBULL STAKES. pic.twitter.com/C5DHDCzemA
That run dispelled any doubts he was just a bush champion, he looks the real deal. The rain should hold no fear for him, a winner of four from four on soft tracks, he hasn't raced in heavy going but in a recent trial, jockey Brett Prebble said the horse handled a Heavy 9 without any problem. The pace map will be all important to his chances.
3. Explosive Jack - triple Derby winner from last season who ran the fastest last 200m in the Turnbull, working home nicely to finish fifth. He'll need every bit of the 2400m but the biggest issue is likely to be the inside gate. Usually a backmarker who will drop out and run on late, he'll face a tough task getting clear at the right time unless John Allen pushes him forward for a more prominent position. The Maher & Eustace stable will have him at peak fitness, but more than a little luck will be required to navigate through the field unimpeded.
Explosive Jack has won the Australian Derby 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/pmnlbyXbYh— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) April 10, 2021
4. The Chosen One - beaten a length into third last year with half a kilo less. He worked home nicely in the G2 Herbert Power Hcp last weekend, from a long last to a one-length second. Last year he drew two and got a cosy run; the year before he drew 18, went back to last and could only finish ninth. This time from a nice midfield gate, Damian Lane will have plenty of options and should be right in the finish. Listed as having synthetic hoof filler again which can't be a positive.
5. Ocean Billy - the Auckland and Waikato Cup winner of last summer as yet unseen in Australia, a tactic rarely tried in recent years. His three runs this campaign haven't registered a placing but all have been over unsuitable distances, 1200-1600m, and likely softer than his preferred going. Working home nicely at the end of NZ mile races is very different to the toughest G1 2400m handicap in the world. Keep an eye on him for Flemington.
Ocean Billy and Johnathan Parkes run away with it in the Barfoot & Thompson Auckland Cup!— TAB Racing (@TAB_Racing) March 13, 2021
The five-year-old holds out the flying Charles Road and Australian raider Sound to secure Group 1 glory for Rotorua trainer Bill Pomare pic.twitter.com/GiNyCTlOzL
6. Selino - Sydney Cup winner formerly trained in England by James Fanshawe running a trio of decent seconds in 2020 - Copper Horse Hcp at Royal Ascot, the Chester Stakes and the Doncaster Cup. Like a typical English stayer, he doesn't do a great deal over shorter journeys but worked home nicely in the Bart Cummings at Flemington a fortnight ago, beaten 2L into fifth at $81, giving the winner 3kgs. He did get a cosy run from gate four then, this time, he's drawn wide and will have to do early work or drop right out. Poor record on wet tracks. Look for him at Flemington instead.
7. Persan - won the Bart Cummings last year to claim his place in the Cup and then ran fifth at Flemington. This time he's high enough in the weights so hasn't needed to peak early. Outclassed in the Turnbull a fortnight ago, this trip is more his go. Likely to sit in the front half of the field from an ideal draw and jockey Linda Meech is very underrated.
8. Quick Thinker - SCRATCHED
9. Chapada - nice third in the Turnbull behind Incentivise, perhaps a little flattered by the race shape. Poor winning strike rate - 3/33, and has had plenty of chances in staying feature races in the past, including this one. Gate 18 (16) makes it very hard for him. Pack animal, no.
10. Delphi - the main danger to the favourite but he'll have to do it just as tough, drawing gate 19 (17). Great lead-in form, second in the Naturalism behind Nonconformist, then won the Herbert Power comfortably, taking off at the 600 and running them off their feet. He's tough, won his last three starts in Ireland by controlling the pace and fighting off challengers, and has the services of Damien Oliver riding in career-best form. Race shape important, expect him to stretch Incentivise a long way out.
Next stop, the Caulfield Cup.— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) October 9, 2021
Delphi wins easily in the Herbert Power. pic.twitter.com/wrcC2I0aVO
11. Master of Wine - started $7 in this race last year, drew ideally, sat on the speed and weakened in the straight. That was a much stronger edition of the race but his form coming in was also much healthier. Worked home nicely to finish third in the Bart Cummings at $51 a fortnight ago, but they really did crawl home in the final stages. Hasn't won for 18 months, can't see that changing here.
12. Montefilia - Sydney mare who was regarded by many as the best staying 3yo filly last season, despite finishing third (as odds-on fav) and fifth respectively in the Melbourne and Sydney Oaks. Won the G1 Flight and Spring Champion Stakes last year, started favourite in the ATC Derby (ahead of Explosive Jack and Young Werther, ran fourth beaten 2.4L), and her current campaign peaked with a win in the G1 Metropolitan, flying home late and conceding weight to every other runner in the first nine home. She's the danger if Delphi and Incentivise go for home too early. No fear of the wet.
13. Port Guillaume - talented French import (fifth in the French Derby (Prix du Jockey Club), started fav in the Grand Prix de Paris) who was set to run last year before a setback. Has started three times for the Hayes stable, with two shockers and an eye-catching run at Caulfield in the Naturalism. Ignore last start as he pulled up lame but the run here had plenty of merit. (Note - he has to pass a vet test on Friday to be permitted to run). He came from last on the turn to finish close up behind Nonconformist and Delphi without ever getting clear enough to go full bore - but at the same time, he did get a charmed run through the field rather than swinging wide on the bend. Blinkers applied for the first time which has landed a few big winners for the family over the years.
14. She's Ideel - beat Montefilia two starts back in the Kingston Town (in receipt of 3.5kg) then finished more than 3L behind here in the Metropolitan when closer in the weights and drew wide/dropped back to the tail. Third in the ATC St Leger, second in the Tancred, fourth in the Metrop. Gets a sweet run from gate six, one for the exotics.
15. Young Werther - gave Incentivise a real scare in the Turnbull second up at $26. Stepping up to 2400m looks ideal, was beaten a nose in the ATC Derby and third in the VRC Derby this time last year at only his third start. Has only won once (on debut) from 10 runs and his two weakest results have been here, probably incidental, but right in this with everything pointing toward a big performance.
16. Nonconformist - flying this campaign, most recently beaten a nose by Probabeel in the Might And Power/Caulfield Stakes, in front of Zaaki, won the Naturalism by a nose over Delphi, and fourth between 0.7L in the Feehan when he faced breeze out wide all the way. Has drawn 16 so he's got the same issues as Delphi and Incentivise. Back from WFA to 51.5kg, solid chance.
PROBABEEL KNOCKS OFF ZAAKI IN THE GROUP 1 MIGHT AND POWER STAKES... pic.twitter.com/naomjd1rA1— 7HorseRacing 🐎 (@7horseracing) October 9, 2021
17. Duais - Qld Oaks winner and finished ahead of Montefilia in the ATC Oaks earlier this year. Won the Coongy on Wednesday at $11 to claim a late berth after being caught out in a tactical Hill Stakes a fortnight ago. Great strike rate, very honest, 4yo mares traditionally have a great record in the race. Will need to push up early to take a position rather than be stuck out the back and locked away on the rails. Chance.
18. Charms Star - former Kiwi who ran second in the Qld Oaks in June behind Duais, and last time was entitled to finish slightly closer than 2.72L seventh in the Metropolitan after being blocked in the straight. On the other hand, she meets the winner Montefilia 3.5kg worse so it's hard to get too excited about her. Just the one win from 13 starts and a query in the wet. Fluker's chance for a place at best.
19E. Great House - won the Newcastle Cup last month on a Soft 5 before a close-up fifth in the Metropolitan, coming from the tail. Plenty of wet track form, that's his only chance here if he gets a run.
20E. Constantinople - nothing like the horse he was in Europe, showed a brief glimpse of his form when he first arrived but since acclimatising, he has been awful. Embarrassing that's even here.
SPEED MAP & RACE SHAPE
The battle between Delphi and Incentivise should dictate the race. Oliver on Delphi will think he has the horse who can sprint for 800m and hope to run the legs out of the favourite. So does Prebble sit back and call his bluff, or go harder earlier? Could he get to the front and back them right up to make it a sit-sprint, blunting Delphi's stamina. It's a fascinating contest and there will be several jockeys salivating at the prospect of the pair going too hard too early and setting it up for a late swoop.
If Quick Thinker doesn't run, we could end up with the two favs right on the front or a surprise move throwing the cat amongst the pigeons. Racing would become pretty boring if pace maps were easy to predict!
I'll be cheering the favourite for the story. I really want him to be the homegrown champion Australia needs at this distance, it's a brilliant journey of starting with Steve Tregea in Toowoomba and moving up to the big time with Peter Moody. Don't feel too sorry for Tregea, he still owns a share!
I believe he proved in the Turnbull that he is good enough to be taken on and still win. Obviously that has its limitations and there's likely to be more challengers in a $5m handicap than a G1 SWP race. Ultimately you have to trust Brett Prebble in the saddle. If the race was re-handicapped, Incentivise would be probably be carrying another 2kg.
But let's be realistic, I can't be backing him at 2.5-3.0 (6/4 - 2/1). Delphi has to be a risk as well if the anticipated battle ensues, so I'm looking wider for some each-way value. Homesman's not the same horse he was three years ago but he mightn't need to be. His versatility can see him run in the first four at around $34 (33/1). With a chance of what the Yanks call a 'pace collapse', a lottery ticket bet boxing a few in trifectas or First 4s without the first two in the market is worth the risk - on the off chance it eventuates, it will pay plenty.
Backing Homesman EW $41 (four places where available)
Boxed Trifecta 1,4,7,15,17