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Melbourne Cup preview 2023

The great race - a good blend of foreign raiders, locally-trained imports and a couple of freaks who were bred locally. Where's the best formline - the Caulfield Cup, the Ebor, last year's Cup...? Vauban has been all the rage for a few months, but we've heard that song before. Willie Mullins is determined to win this race, he's been close several times.

Fingers crossed for a dry day, there's nothing more annoying than rain on race day that messes up all the ratings.

Weather report : 30C, likely storm but late in the day, so might be after the Cup. 70% chance of rain, but only up to 2mm - so how much of a storm actually is it? Might make the track slippery (favouring front-runners) if it arrives before the race. 

Gold Trip winning in 2022

The Lexus Melbourne Cup

Group 1 Handicap, 3200m
1500 local, 0400 GMT
Expected going - Good 4, approaching Good 3 by race time depending on the breeze.

1 - GOLD TRIP (Ciaron Maher/Dave Eustace) James McDonald 58.5kg (2)

The defending champ who has played a game of will he or won't he run in his last two starts, threatening to scratch because of the dry, firm tracks. Track staff will do their best to maintain a Good 4 here but if it's near 30 degrees, the track will be losing moisture by the minute, and especially if the breeze is up. Would the stable scratch him from his grand final of the campaign? Running as well as he did last season, the question is are his rivals going to be more competitive on the dry track? He showed an incredible turn-of-foot to win the Turnbull on a Good 4. Connections thought he was disadvantaged by the relentless pace at Caulfield, not giving him a breather with topweight. Shouldn't be as hectic here, but has to find a way out from his likely rail spot from gate two. A strong pace will break them up and should let him get clear, plus JMac is as good as it gets. Back-to-back winners are pretty rare, you have to be a freak to do it - we'll know that at 3.10 local time... A solid chance again.

2 - ALENQUER (Mike Moroney) Damien Oliver 56.5kg (9) (subject to vet test on Tuesday)

Ollie's last ride in the Cup on a horse who would have a reasonable chance if he was the same one who raced in Europe. He's a Group 1 winner (Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, a race won twice by So You Think back in his prime), ran sixth in the Dubai Sheema Classic (beaten 1.5L by Shahryar - ran third in Breeders Cup on weekend, and ahead of Hukum, Dubai Honour and Without A Fight in Dubai), and ran in two Arc de Triomphes. But since arriving in Australia, he's been a pack horse, no better than fifth (G1 2000m, Might and Power) or within 3.5L (last time, MV Cup), in five runs. The MV Cup wasn't bad though - he was dropped out to last from gate 12, never really got any room until straightening and then ran on nicely without being stretched. That was the furthest he's run but being by Adferflug, I doubt two miles will worry him. Can settle anywhere, he's not the worst in the field. Can insert a lot of value in the exotics.

3 - WITHOUT A FIGHT (Anthony and Sam Freedman) Mark Zahra 56.5kg (16)

Didn't fire in last year's Cup on a wet track, seems a completely different beast on firmer ground. Was very impressive winning the Caulfield Cup, coming off a blistering pace which meant being parked midfield on the rail was no trouble at all. The field spread out nicely and left him plenty of room to move when he needed it. I can't see such a mad pace this time around but he won't need to be parked on the paint either. Does the one kilo penalty work against him? Winning both Cups in the same spring is pretty rare, especially in recent years - it was last done in 2001 by Ethereal. Has had time to recover from that brutal Cup win. By Teofilo (sire of Cross Counter) so he should be OK to stay the trip, although Dubawi progeny aren't known for winning Derbys. High class, has to go close.

4 - BREAKUP (Taisuya Yoshioka) Kohei Matsuyama 55kg (18)

The Japanese runner who has a bit to prove after fading to finish eighth at Caulfield. I thought he'd be fine at 2400 but apparently this is his better distance range. If he wasn't fully tuned up, that was a decent run on a relentless pace and should be better suited here. He seems to need a bit of space, so he'll have to track forward and look for a position, possibly in the three-wide line. Covering extra ground won't bother him. The switch to a Japanese jockey is a bit of a concern, trading familiarity with the horse with familiarity with the venue. In the mix.

5 - VAUBAN (Willie Mullins) Ryan Moore 55kg (3)

This year's hype horse and rightly so. He is top notch over hurdles and on the Flat, with a real boom on him ever since he made his debut for Willie Mullins. A star juvenile hurdler, he won the two premier events of that division, the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Champion 4YO Hurdle at Punchestown. Stepping up into open company, he ran into exceptional jumpers in State Man, Honeysuckle and Constitution Hill who are as good as it gets over the 'sprint' hurdling trip of two miles. Not beaten far in any of them, just think Hay List against Black Caviar, always running for a placing. Since the jumps season ended, he switched to the Flat, winning very easily at Royal Ascot in the Copper Horse Hcp, leading virtually from the start then sprinting clear (off a slow pace), then won the G3 Ballyroan Stakes at Naas ahead of Valiant King who ran at Caulfield but won't start here. That Irish race doesn't have a great record in the Cup, no winners have gone onto win at Flemington, and several have tried - including Vinnie Roe, Profound Beauty, Galileo's Choice and Latrobe. There's plenty of talent here, but the early price was poison. Drifting a bit on Monday (3.20 - 4.40), think he'll top out about there, the pros will smash him on raceday.

6 - SOULCOMBE (Chris Waller) Joao Moreira 53.5kg (4)

A 5yo by Frankel who has had Melbourne Cup written all over him since he arrived in Australia but questions abound. His barrier manners have only gotten worse, a standard two-length pause at the start became six in the Caulfield Cup which meant race over. It is mighty difficult to overcome such a handicap in Aussie racing, especially when the pace is on. A couple of lengths missed from gate four here means he will settle back on rail, hopefully closer to midfield than the tail. He did draw barrier four first-up this campaign in the Heatherlie when he just cruised up along the rail and won easily, but over two miles it does mean more traffic as those who run out of puff hit the wall quickly and get in the way. 

The other concern is his class. While visually impressive in the UK as a 3yo, he wasn't top drawer. He has a formline through Secret State who traded blows against Deauville Legend, last year's 'unbeatable' favourite. Those two met on level weights, while Soulcombe received 8.5kg from Secret State and was beaten 1.75L. While it's one year on and natural maturity etc., it makes me think he's still weighted on potential. Deauville Legend wouldn't be carrying 62kg here. Conversely, you could say he missed the start at Caulfield by six and only finished 5.5L from the winner. As much as I'd love to see the Richmond players in the Punt Road End syndicate (small % owners in a big overall syndicate) win the Cup, I think they are relying a lot on Joao Moreira to work his magic here - but the Brazilian did ride five winners in Japan on Saturday! 

7 - ABSURDE (Willie Mullins) Zac Purton 53kg (8)

Another one mixing jumping and distance races, which is quite common in the UK & Ireland. He's had four runs for Willie Mullins since being purchased out of France (most Aussie form guides seem to miss the jumps runs), a first and a sixth (raced too keenly) in novice hurdles, and the Royal Ascot second behind Vauban followed by the Ebor win. That second behind Vauban is worth a deeper look. It was his first Flat run for the stable so he was a bit of an unknown quantity. Frankie Dettori chose to hook him to the back from the gates, meanwhile Vauban went straight to the lead. The margin upon settling, and all the way to the top of the straight - about 7.5L. The distance at the post - about 7.5L. He raced keenly, he always does so he needs to go forward, and even sit wide. He did just that in the Ebor (three wide no cover), under the same rider, and took the prize. Save a bit of energy, improve a bit under Mullins' care and he's right in the finish here. One caveat though, I don't believe it was a particularly strong edition of the Ebor, but he did rate the equivalent of Heartbreak City who ran second to Almandin back in 2016. I've missed the early price but think he's right in this race. A win here would cap off the career of Zac Purton - but note, as a World Pool race, his enormous HK following will mean his tote price is a fair whack under the fixed odds equivalent.

8 - RIGHT YOU ARE (Ciaron Maher/Dave Eustace) John Allen 53kg (15)

Untried at the distance but breeding suggests he should get there (sire MC 3rd, damsire VRC Derby winner). Ran fifth in the mad tempo Caulfield Cup and completely under the radar. Was one of the few in the front half of the field who stuck on, although he did have the dream run sitting sixth, making his move and hitting the front on the turn before the swoopers came. With a bit more patience, perhaps he goes closer?  Ridden cold, he might be a smokey. 

9 - VOW AND DECLARE (Danny O'Brien) Billy Egan 53kg (19)

Lines up in his fourth Cup, having won as a 4yo in 2019, then 18th as a 5yo (when going terrible), and tenth last year. Form looks OK this campaign, running like a stayer in G1 WFA races, not beaten that far then (2L behind Alligator Blood in the Might & Power), and then second to Cleveland in the MV Cup. Led and won from gate 21, might not have the pace to get across any more but will no doubt push forward. No horse will have ever won the race four years apart. Can't see him in the finish, midfield at best.

10 - CLEVELAND (Kris Lees) Michael Dee 52kg (23) SCRATCHED

Facile winner of the MV Cup given a peach of a ride by James McDonald (who can't make this weight). That was his first win in Australia in seven starts. His European form was up to this, winning the Chester Cup ahead of Coltrane (now one of the premier stayers in Britain), running second in the Copper Horse at Royal Ascot (won by Vauban this year - time 3sec slower). Probably has to go forward from gate 23 or hope can get cover in the three-wide line. Good enough on the right day but draw makes it tough.

11 - ASHRUN (Ciaron Maher/Dave Eustace) Kerrin McEvoy 51.5kg (11)

A remarkable story of a horse who was a decent chance in this race back in 2020, then went amiss and had almost three years off. Thus he has only raced 17 times as an 8yo by Australian timing. Back in his 3 and 4yo European campaign, he raced in top staying company, the Grosser Preis von Baden-Baden and Munich, the Prix Kergolay - there's a rerason Australian Bloodstock will have paid a packet for for this son of Authorized. Won the Hotham/Archer back in 2020 carrying 61kg then ran tenth in the Cup, when they were in a rush to qualify him. Thres progressive runs this time in, never beaten more than 3.75L, got too far back in the Bart Cummings and ran on nicely, sat closer to the speed in the Geelong Cup and ran a place to pass the balloting clause for entry. He's had time now and the stable have consistently said don't forget about this horse. Gate 11 is the most successful barrier in terms of wins (eight). Winning as an 8yo would be pretty unusual, but he's an unusual horse - there aren't many miles in his legs. Can see him contesting the placings.

12 - DAQIANSWEET JUNIOR (Phillip Stokes) Daniel Stackhouse 51.5kg (12)

Ran sixth last year at 60/1 from the same barrier and drops 1.5kg this time. Wasn't going any better last year coming into the race, just have to trust the stable have got him in similar condition. Sixth through twelfth earned $160k, he'll be in the fight for that money. 

13 - OKITA SOUSHI (Joseph O'Brien) Dylan Gibbons (a) 51.5kg (20)

The pauper of the field, winning just $182k to date. Was a private sale from Coolmore as a yearling, but safe to say he'd have been valued at plenty more than that.Ran third in the Copper Horse at Royal Ascot in 2022, just behind Cleveland. Won the Duke of Edinburgh at Royal Ascot this year, (same class and terms, just 400m shorter). Didn't really do a lot in the Caulfield Cup, can do much better, perhaps the bigger track will help but the downgrade from McEvoy to Gibbons isn't inspiring. 

14 - SHERAZ (Chris Waller) Beau Mertens 51.5kg (22)

Ran second in the 2022 Sydney Cup, hasn't done a great deal since. Four races this time in read 13-8-12-8, and while they were never that far behind (just 2L in MV Cup), you don't win the world's greatest handicap off a formline like that. Drawn wide, drops a few kg, will go back, but can't see him getting involved. 

15 - LASTOTCHKA (Mick Price/Michael Kent Jnr) Craig Williams 51kg (21)

Will go forward to make most of light weight. That's her preferred running style from France, not necessarily leading but up on the pace. Her French form might look low key but deeper investigation suggests it's quite solid. In her last win, the Prix de Gladiateur over 3100m (officially good to soft, but NEVER believe French track ratings. By the time and the video, it looked dry enough), she defeated three horses who then finished second, fourth and fifth behind Trueshan (multiple G1 winner over 3200m+) in the G1 Prix du Cadran (4000m). That might suggest she's a bit slow but we probably thought the same about Americain and Dunaden. Not out of this and the wide draw isn't such a bad thing (five winners in last 30yrs from 21 or 22).

16 - MAGICAL LAGOON (Chris Waller) Mark du Plessis 51kg (7)

Top class mare in Britain and  Ireland winning the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot and the Irish Oaks, but has been pretty poor since she got on a plane. Went to Japan for a mares' Group 1, came last. In five Aussie runs, she has finished no better than sixth, never beaten that far apart from her local debut, and finished only a length behind the winner in the blanket finish to the Geelong Cup after leading. The Geelong Cup was won by a 10yo and they finished in a pack -> rubbish form. Can't see her anywhere near them.

17 - MILITARY MISSION (Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott) Rachel King 51kg (5)

Sneaky pick who has been coming along nicely this season. Won the Hobart Cup in February, the Newcastle Cup in September and the Herbert Power last month at Caulfield. Was fourth in the Metropolitan when forced to go back from a wide gate. Won off a slow tempo at Caulfield, set a track record at Newcastle, so tempo shouldn't bother him. Drops 6kg from last run, will be ably ridden by Rachel King who won the G1 Coolmore Stud Stks on Saturday. King has won four times on this horse, including the Newcastle Cup, from 14 rides. Curious point - he was placed behind future Aussie G1 winners Just Fine and Dubai Honour in his first two starts in England. Definite place chance. 

18 - SERPENTINE (Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott) Jye McNeil 51kg (1)

The gelded Epsom Derby winner of the Covid era (2020) has found some decent form since switching to the Waterhose & Bott stable this year. Apart from running second in the Archer/Lexus last spring, he'd been woeful for the Hickmott stable but Gai's magic has unlocked something. He notched up his first local win in Brisbane in April, and since then has run second in a G3 (Premier's Cup), second in the City Tatts Cup at Randwick, followed by fourth and third in a Quality and G3 over 2500m at Flemington, carrying big weights each time. He gets in on 51kg here with the interesting booking of Jye McNeil, who won on Twilight Payment with a daring front-running ride in 2020. Has drawn the rail so he'd better jump quickly. Prince of Penzance won from that gate in 2015, before that it was Kingston Rule back in 1990. It's not a plus.

19 - VIRTUOUS CIRCLE (Liam Howley) Craig Newitt 51kg (6)

Showed future staying potential running second in the ATC Derby in the autumn on a heavy track, but seems a long way off them this season. 12th,9th,10th,8th in recent starts, although the tenth was luckless in the Bart Cummings, he then had every chance in the Geelong Cup and didn't even finish in the front group. Nope. 

20 - MORE FELONS (Chris Waller) Jamie Kah 50kg (24)

The horse formerly known as Scriptwriter in the UK. Made his name mostly as a handy juvenile hurdler but then switched back to the flat. Started 40/1 and was beaten 12.75L behind Vauban at Royal Ascot (5.25L behind Absurde). Then ran second in a poor rendition of the John Smith's Cup at York (five runners), then eighth in the Ebor (beaten 3.25L by Absurde, carrying 2lbs more, was caught four wide for much of the trip.). One of the least accomplished in the field according to prizemoney, winning only $194k so far. Made his local debut for Chris Waller in the Geelong Cup where he was close up in that blanket finish, showing a nice turn of pace late. I want to put a line through every horse in the Geelong Cup but I think we can expect a decent amount of improvement from this one at his second run. Jamie Kah, who was completely off the boil according to the tabloids last week, rode a double on Derby Day - she's back.

21 - FUTURE HISTORY (Ciaron Maher/Dave Eustace) Hollie Doyle 50kg (13)

Hasn't missed a place once in six starts in Australia (first one over shorter trip), including wins in the G3 Bart Cummings (golden ticket race) and a handicap at MV (receiving 5.5kg from Interpretation). He ran an honourable third in the MV Cup ten days ago, when he was wide (with cover) for most of the trip (drew gate 13), rather than his usual front-running style. Unusual breeding for a stayer (Showcasing usually sires sprinters), but all his form says stamina. Beat Vauban on debut 2.5yrs ago. Hasn't quite had the same career trajectory since. Nicely drawn in 13, can push forward or sit near the pace. Star UK jockey Hollie Doyle takes the ride, she is top class.

22 - INTERPRETATION (Ciaron Maher/Dave Eustace) Teo Nugent 50kg (17)

The Bendigo Cup winner who scrapes into the field. Had the perfect run in that race, was previously getting beaten by others who will be big odds here (Future History, Mostly Cloudy, United Nations, Serpentine). Started 50/1 last year (failed to finish, jockey thought something was amiss) and should be similar odds again. 

23 - KALAPOUR (Kris Lees) Zac Lloyd (a) 50kg (14)

Rated beautifully in front to win the Archer on Saturday to secure a place in the field. That was a weaker seven-horse field from gate one. Ran third in the Metropolitan and ATC St Leger before that, less than half a length behind Cleveland in the latter, now meeting him on 4kg better terms. A 7yo in Australan terms, he is very lightly raced with just 19 starts under his belt.  Interestingly he was close up behind Stormy Ireland (exceptional hurdling mare) and Sonnyboyliston (high in Melb Cup betting in 2021 after winning the Ebor, but never made it) early in his career in Ireland (ran there just four times before being sold to Australia). 

24 - TRUE MARVEL (Matthews Smith) Ben Thompson 50kg (10)

Qualified by running second in the Sydney Cup and third in the Brisbane equivalent earlier in the year (winning a hurdle race in between - extremely rare in Aus!). This spring has been 8th, 10th, 8th, 10th and no shorter than 60/1. Worked home OK last time alongside Alenquer and drops 5kg. His record on dry tracks is two wins from 28. Wouldn't even be competitive in the rubbish consolation race (R5). Name a price and add some zeroes.

SPEED MAP (at the winning post, first time around)


I think this probably goes back to a regular paced Cup, fast early to get a position, then the brakes go on a bit - not ridiculously like Prince of Penzance's year, but enough to give the higher weights a chance to catch a breath. That should give everyone a fair chance unless still caught wide, with the pace then applied about the 800. The Europeans, particularly Vauban, will want to make it a real test of stamina early and the rest of them will want to be within reach if they want to win, or else they are simply hoping for the pace collapse.

Absurde gets the sit on Vauban and I'm hoping he can do a Max Verstappen with the DRS down the straight and breeze on by. Willie Mullins could easily claim the quinella here, this pair seem to be his best Cup runners yet. I underestimated Without A Fight at Caulfield and won't be making that mistake again, while the likes of Lastotchka and Military Mission are in the mix for the placings, just a matter of whether it's a bunch finish or strung out like Brown's Cows.

I think there's quite a long tail to this race, the top half of the field dominate, there's not a lot down the bottom to threaten. 


Without A Fight
Gold Trip
Military Mission
More Felons
Future History
Right You Are


Absurde EW, around 9/1
Military Mission, 1x3 EW, 25/1


3,7 x 1,3,4,5,7,11,15 x 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,11,15,20,21,23

(if the rain comes early, I'll probably add Vauban to the winner bracket, as moisture on top of relatively firm ground inevitably seems to favour leaders)

Best of luck!


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