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2023 Caulfield Cup preview

The richest 2400m handicap in the world, a truly great race and a very strong edition of the race. After a lean few years of international involvement, we have some very good ones from Ireland, Japan and the UK. Five million dollars is worth the effort...

All eyes will be on Caulfield this weekend, the forecast is for 23C with a chance of a shower or two. 


Carlton Draught Caulfield Cup

AU$5m, Group 1 Handicap, 2400m

1715 local time, 0715 UKT

1. Gold Trip — Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — Jockey: Ben Melham — 58.5kg

The reigning Melbourne Cup winner who showed a blistering turn-of-foot to win the Turnbull Stakes three weeks ago, at set weights and penalties. Ran a close second last year, doing the hard work on the bend and hitting the front before being swamped late by a lightweight. Goes up only 1kg from last season and has earnt that rise. Loses his regular rider in Mark Zahra here, who was caught out by the uncertainty over him running here again. It was impossible not to be impressed by his Turnbull run. This is the perfect next step, another 400m, he's been here before and is proven carrying big weights. The stat that no winner has carried 58.5kg since the introduction of metric weights is a furphy - the minimum weight has changed over the years and half a kilo means sweet FA to a 500kg beast. Any doubts over needing a rain-affected track were dispelled last time too, although the stable are reserving the right to scratch him in the morning. I keep looking at his European form and doubting what he can do. Forget that, Maher & Eustace have taken him to a new level. Needs space, gate 11 is ideal. There is a recent precedent of horses winning the Melbourne Cup one year then returning to win at Caulfield - see Dunaden and Viewed. Not sure how they beat him. 

2. Without A Fight — Anthony & Sam Freedman — Mark Zahra— 55.5kg

Made his Australian debut with a midfield finish in last year's Melbourne Cup before transferring to the Freedman camp. Went to Brisbane for the winter (the northern summer that he'd have been used to) and picked up a G2 and a G3 in two starts to tune him up for the spring. Resumed after 15 weeks off with a nice sixth in the Underwood a month ago. He came from deep in the field to run on late after struggling to find room off the bend. Had it been his grand final, the intent would have been stronger - it was a lovely pipe-opener to get him ready for this. Had to be reinspected by the vets on Friday afternoon after reporting lameness on Thursday morning, but passed the test. 

3. Breakup — Tatsuya Yoshioka — Damian Lane — 55kg

A Japanese runner who is automatically hard to assess. Has been running at big odds in the races some of the western racing world are familiar with: Arima Kinen, $119, 16th of 16 (on the pace, stumbled at the 800m, faded out of it); Tenno Sho, $46, 4th of 17; Takarazuka Kinen, $113, 12th of 17 (sat three-wide on the pace). Amongst those, there are two races with better results, both of which were also lead-up runs for the ill-fated Admire Rakti, the Japanese CC winner back in 2014. (Mer de Glace took a different route and is harder to line up). In November last year, he won the Copa Republica Argentina (G2, 2500m) at an SP of $18, and ran third in the G2 Hanshin Daishot, SP $32. Admire Rakti ran third and second in those respective races. Part of the poor SP profile might be explained by the trainer (as of 2023) being relatively new - he sits 13th on the Japanese trainers table (by wins - 29) but he has far fewer career wins (92) than anyone else in the top 30. Damian Lane is the best line on his ability, having ridden a lot in Japan in recent years. If he wanted this ride, he has to be a strong chance. He'll sit close to the pace and make this a proper staying test.

4. Montefilia — Chris Waller — Nash Rawiller — 54.5kg

Fourth in the past two Caulfield Cups (drops a kilo on last year), she won going away in the Hill Stakes last time at Rosehill. Has changed stables this campaign, now with Chris Waller, which could see her finding that extra length or two required here. Drew 15 last year and had to go back, can sit much closer from gate nine if she jumps well (has been known to walk out of the barriers). Has never been one I've been keen on but she's in the mix.

5. Francesco Guardi — Chris Waller — James McDonald — 54kg

Meets Gold Trip 3.5kg better for 5.05L defeat in Turnbull. Created a big impression last year when he ran throughout the winter, entered the spring in peak fitness, carrying that through to running second in the Bart Cummings then bolted in in the Moonee Valley Cup on a heavy track on Cox Plate day. This season, he's had ten months off and arrives here fourth-up after three reasonable runs over shorter trips, never beaten more than about 5L. This is a proper distance for him at this stage of his career, and James McDonald returns to his saddle with a record of three wins and a second from four rides. He'll have to execute the perfect ride from gate 15 though.

6. West Wind BlowsSimon & Ed Crisford — Jamie Spencer — 54 kg

Meets Gold Trip 3kg better for 1.75L defeat in Turnbull. They went hard early in that race, he got caught wide and then had to push forward, leading or outside the leader from the 1000m mark, fighting on remarkably well for second. Better judges than me red flag that as being a gutbuster first-up which often leads to a flat run next time. Of course that's the usual standard in Australian conditions, technically he's still trained in the UK with markedly different training regimes. Strong form through elite performers Pyledriver and Paddington in the UK this season. Jamie Spencer from an inside gate at Caulfield is a concern, he wasn't fast away last time and might get caught back on the fence.

7. NonconformistGrahame Begg — Harry Coffey — 53.5 kg

Ran second two years ago behind Incentivise, but was flying at the time, second in the Might And Power, and won the Naturalism, but was only tenth last year. Has a very tough task this time from the outside gate, and in lesser form this time in - fourth last time in the Might And Power but a closer seventh in the Underwood before that. Always aimed at this race but think his time of being a winning chance is behind him.

Failed vet test on Friday --> SCRATCHED

8. Soulcombe — Chris Waller — Craig Williams — 53.5 kg

Made a huge impression in Melbourne last spring winning the G3 Queen Elizabeth at Flemington during Cup week, which was no surprise to those who had seen him in the UK. He didn't really come up in the autumn but this spring he has back in force, winning the Heatherlie Handicap in a canter, the shortest winning trip of his career (1700m), before stepping into G1 company for his last two runs, performing honourably both times. Meets Gold Trip 3kg better for 2.15L defeat in Turnbull. Has the Chris Waller magic touch to him, drawn nicely in six although he'll probably drop back. Everything has pointed at peaking him for the two Cups, big chance.

9. Duke De Sessa — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — John Allen — 53 kg

Imported galloper in his fourth Aussie run. They've not given him anything easy, running in G1s each time. Stepping out to a better distance last time, he now meets Gold Trip 3kg better for being beaten 4.85L in the Turnbull. There has been plenty of talk about him on the training track so I wouldn't write him off completely. With the master trainers of Melbourne, they know how to fire on 'grand final day' - just look at the 33/1 Caulfield Guineas winner last weekend. Drawn a little wide but the majority of winners in the past 12 years have started from a double-figure gate. One for exotics.

10. Hoo Ya Mal — Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott — Tim Clark — 53 kg

Twelfth in last year's Melbourne Cup fresh off the plane, then had a long break before his three runs this season in Sydney. Has built up nicely into this, finishing reasonably close as each race distance was extended, and finished a half-length second to Montefilia in the Hill Stakes over 1900m last time, trying to run them off their legs. Meets that winner 3.5kg better off here. Rises in class but his whole campaign will have been aimed at the two Cups. Would expect a typical Gai run, settling near the pace and then stretching them out early to pinch a break on the home turn.

11. Right You Are — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — Michael Dee — 53 kg

A revelation last season, winning six out of seven between December and April including the Mornington Cup. Now he's into proper G1 territory and finding it a bit harder. Wasn't far behind Soulcombe in the Underwood but then was beaten nearly 8L in the Turnbull. Has won at this distance (Mornington Cup) but his best asset here looks to be longshot G1 king Micky Dee in the saddle. 

12. Emissary — Michael Moroney — Jye McNeil — 52 kg

Geelong Cup winner and Melb Cup second last season, doesn't seem to be going as well this time in. Lines up 4.5kg better vs Gold Trip from the Turnbull but was beaten 10.05L. Gets to his right distance range here so expect some improvement, but I'm more likely to be looking at him in November. 

13. Goldman — Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott — Linda Meech — 52 kg

Won his way into spring contention with a string of wins in the autumn, finishing with a golden ticket into the Melbourne Cup by winning the Listed Roy Higgins. That form looks a distant memory though, he hasn't finished in the first five in the Feehan, Naturalism and Bart Cummings. Overraced last time, takes the blinkers off here which should help. Linda Meech is excellent on a front-runner. 

14. Okita Soushi — Joseph O'Brien — Kerrin McEvoy — 51.5 kg

Japanese-owned, Irish-trained visitor who seems to fail in big field handicaps, unless they are at Royal Ascot (first and third at RA, beaten out of sight in the Ebor and Irish Cesarewitch). Has the talent, doesn't always bring it on raceday. JO'B is a master at travelling, he's won the Melbourne Cup twice and the Cox Plate once and he's only 30. His stablemate down the bottom might be the more favoured runner but he's not here for the sun tan.

15. Fame — Peter Moody & Katherine Coleman — Craig Newitt — 51 kg

Ran second in the Qld Derby, coming off wins in a Kyneton maiden and a BM64 at Moe, not your usual route to a Derby placing. Running midfield against much-lesser rivals this time in, I don't give him any hope at all. 

16. Bois D'Argent — Annabel Neasham — Winona Costin — 50.5 kg

Arrived in Australia this time last year and has been having a wonderful time running in Cup races throughout NSW and Qld - Gosford, Caloundra, Wyong and Newcastle plus various pattern races in Sydney. Hasn't been close enough in his last two races, Newcastle Cup and the Metropolitan to suggest he has a chance here, though he does drop 6.5 and 3kg respectively from those runs.

17. Spirit Ridge — Annabel Neasham— Dean Yendall — 50.5 kg

The most experienced runner in the field, a 9yo (!) with 41 runs under his belt. That's not that many for his age but he's been on a similar regional run to stablemate Bois D'Argent and despite running a series of placings, let's not kid ourselves that is anything like the level required here. He has tried to lead all the way in the Wyong Cup, the Newcastle Cup and the Metropolitan, and fought on well each time for a placing. Durston last year at 7 (NH-bred so 6.5 really) was the oldest winner this side of the Y2K panic. 

18. Valiant King — Joseph O'Brien — Jamie Kah — 50 kg

The smokey at the bottom of the weights. As a northern hemisphere 3yo, he gets in with 50kg. Unusually, he's a Roaring Lion who likes wet tracks, the breed tend to prefer drier ground. He has had two headline runs - running a head second to the royal horse Desert Hero in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot (big field and well ahead of Land Legend who won the AJC St Leger last weekend), and then ran second to Melbourne Cup favourite, Vauban, beaten 1.5L and getting 10lb (~4.5kg) from the winner. Those two runs put him right in the mix here, but his last run tempers that just a little, beaten 6L by Adelaide River in the Paddy Power Stakes on Irish Champions Day. Has drawn gate one, won't have much choice other than to push up and settle in the front half of the field. Great chance but that draw is tricky.

19e. United Nations — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — Carleen Hefel — 50 kg

Now gets a run with Nonconformist coming out. Yet another one from Maher & Eustace. Three straight placings, the only one of any note is the second in the Herbert Power last weekend behind Military Mission. Lightly raced, he left the UK after winning a (weak) Derby trial last year. Chances are they haven't gotten to the bottom of him just yet, but it won't be here.


Here's my best guess.


This will be the 27th race run at Caulfield within eight days, so it's not unreasonable to think runners will start finding their way to the middle of the track by this stage, despite the track being a Good 4. There's also a chance of a shower or two on raceday. I think this will ultimately advantage those coming from off the pace much like last year. 

For me it centres around Gold Trip - impossible to ignore his Turnbull win and his ironhorse strength last spring, and Soulcombe, who has looked like a spring Cups horse ever since he was gelded last year in the UK.  They will sit back off the pace, move into position down the side and make their runs on the bend. GT has to carry 5kg more but he is up to the challenge. The question with Soulcombe is does he have another level to rise to? His best so fae goes very clse anyway.

Breakup is all class, this will suit him down to the ground. They won't get past him easily while the two Joseph O'Brien runners, Okita Soushi and Valiant King, will make their presence known at the business end. 


1. Gold Trip

8. Soulcombe

3. Breakup

18. Valiant King

14. Okita Soushi

Will also be adding Hoo Ya Mal and Duke De Sessa into my wider exotics.


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