The Melbourne Cup is Australia’s most famous horse racing event, where up to 24 horses will grace the turf for a bit over 3 minutes, covering a distance of 3200 metres at one of the most picturesque race courses in the world, Flemington. Held on the first Tuesday of November, the race is more commonly known as and stands up to it in ever sense of the meaning, ‘the race that stops a nation’. When the barriers crash open at 3pm AEDT on Tuesday, only the strongest and toughest staying horses will be there when the vocals of Matt Hill increase with the roar of the crowd. With only a few races over the trip held in Australia every year, the Melbourne Cup has turned into a paradise for the World’s best looking to raid our shores for $4,000,000+ and Group 1 glory. Testing the endurance and stamina from barrier to box, there arguably isn’t a more prestigious handicap anywhere else in the world.
3 – The most wins by an individual runner in the Melbourne Cup (Makybe Diva, 2003-05)
5 – The barrier that has launched the most Melbourne Cup winners (8)
12 – The most wins by a trainer (Bart Cummings, His most recent, Viewed, 2008)
18 – The one and only barrier that has yet to ever produce a winner
34 – The total times the race has been won by the favourite
65.5 – The heaviest weight ever carried to victory (Carbine, 1980)
196.3 – Seconds, the fasting winning time to have won a Melbourne Cup (Kingston Rule, 1990)
1941 – The last time a 3yo won ‘the race that stops a nation’ (Skipton)
1993 – The first true International horse to win the Melbourne Cup (Vintage Crop)
250,000 – The value of the trophy given for winning the Melbourne Cup
7,300,000 – The total prize money up for grabs
The Barrier Draw
All eyes were on the mounting yard as Owners, Trainers, Punters and great minds alike were keen to see where their fancies would jump come 3pm on Tuesday. It was solid going early before connections of Yucatan were called to the stage. With the lift of a miniature cup, you could soon realise that things weren’t good and a hush went around as if someone had just pulled the queen’s pants down. Regardless barrier 23 isn’t necessarily bad. Other notable poor selections went to Who Shot Thebarman who drew the haunted barrier 18 as a 10 year old, and will be looking to break all the rules come Tuesday. Godolphin import, Cross Counter drew 19, Lexus Stakes winner, A Prince of Arran and last year’s Derby winner, Ace High also drew poorly in 20 and 22 respectively.
On the positive side of things Caulfield Cup winner, Best Solution drew a handy barrier 6, Moonee Valley Gold Cup winner Ventura Storm drew 7. The Cliffsofmoher drew nicely in 9 and James Cummings gelding, Avilius, should be satisfied from 11. It was slim pickings for Chris Waller’s Youngstar getting what was left, but fortunately it was a positive, drawing beautifully in 8. Barriers aren’t everything and some benefit drawn wider than others, but it’s fair to say the market will tighten up a little when they crash open to the roar of the crowd.
The Important Factor
Commonly ignored when deciphering where the hard earned will be placed in the race, the tempo can eliminate several runners before they leave the back straight. 3 or 4 runners fighting for the lead and they can set it up nicely for the ones parked behind. A cheap lead out in front and they may need to have the finish of Winx to come over the top. Heading into Tuesday, it does set up as though there may be a bit of speed on early, but I’ve been wrong plenty of times before. Ideally this looks like the type of race where you may want to be positioned around midfield or better.
The Main Chances
It is hard to argue that Yucatan is a deserved favourite after his impressive win in the Group 3 Herbert Power Stakes. In a traditional lead-up to the cup, The Herbert Power was a race to remember for the Lloyd Williams Import. After settling back in the field, Yucatan made a mid-race move to sit up on the pace, before taking off around the bend with the lead extending every stride he took. He was eased down late to an absolute walk in a clear stamp of authority. The concern for the son of champion sire Galileo is that he has drawn wide in barrier 23 and is yet race over the 2 mile distance. Still only quite young, but there wouldn’t be many better than James McDonald and he will need to produce every bit the skill to help Yucatan home.
One from the Godolphin camp, Cross Counter heads to the cup trying to overcome a minor injury that hampered him since touching down on Australian shores. The Teofilo colt has been ultra-impressive back home winning 4 of his 6 starts to date, and will be looking to put the past fortnight behind him on Tuesday. To his favour, he will get in light at the weights, a similar factor that help last year’s winner, Rekindling. Much like Yucatan, Cross Counter has drawn poorly in barrier 19 and will also be taking his first step to 2 miles on Tuesday. Although history is against him, he does get the services of 2016 Melbourne Cup winning Jockey in Kerrin McEvoy and he is full of confidence ahead of the big dance. This is one impressive horse and anything he does would not surprise us.
Another runner, another import. That is the growing trend of how well these Internationals have become. Magic Circle comes here after a couple of impressive victories in International lead-ups, the Chester Cup Handicap and the Group 3 Henry II Stakes. A massive plus for the Ian Williams trained gelding, is the booking of last year’s Melbourne Cup winning jockey, Corey Brown. Connections are so confident in Magic Circle, that they have touted the 7yo gelding as being better than Mount Athos. Unlike the earlier two, Magic Circle has had experience over the trip, but does need to overcome the massive hurdle of racing in Australia for the first time. If there’s a horse to win the cup without previously gracing our shores, this looks the one.
Trying to emulate what his grandfather was able to achieve, James Cummings saddles up Avilius after locking in his spot with a close victory in the race named in his grandfather’s honour. After victories in the Kingston Town Stakes and The Bart Cummings, Avilius tried to do what many haven’t been able to do, and that is beat Winx. The 5yo gelding had a nice run in behind the speed before finding himself left for pace turning and unable to match the feats of the great mare. Drawn barrier 11 on Tuesday, Glyn Schofield will use all his experience to help James Cummings notched up his first cup. Avilius will see the Flemington 2 miles for the first time, but with even luck is one of the main chances.
Another of the imports yet to grace the Australian turf under race conditions, Muntahaa heads to the cup having notched up International lead-up, the Ebor Handicap. The John Gosden trained gelding appears to be well handicapped in the race given his feats over the past couple of years, including victory in Group 3 John Porter Stakes. Muntahaa, like a few of the others will need to overcome having not raced in Australia previously, but with the booking of Jim Crowley from barrier 13, the son of Dansili will run a bold race no matter the outcome.
It is amazing to think that one of the biggest, if not the biggest racing empires has yet to win a Melbourne Cup, and In ‘Best Solution’ they may have found the answer. Having his first run in Australia during the Caulfield Cup, he overcame plenty of trouble early to settle into a nice rhythm. From a long way out, the pressure was turned on he was able to sustain a long run to hang on for an impressive victory. Whether he is able to pull off the same feat in the Melbourne Cup is the big question. We are sure he can, but he will need plenty of favours and that all begins with jumping nicely from barrier 6.
Not just a beautiful location on the west coast of Ireland, The Cliffsofmoher heads to the cup after impressive runs finishing runner-up in the Epsom Derby before subsequent runs in Australian. After being squeezed early to settle at the rear, victory looked impossible when the pace ramped up, before coming from the car park and winding up for a strong 4th in the Ladbrokes Stakes. The Aidan O’Brien horse had a much more comfortable ride in the Caulfield Cup, taking off from back in the field to make excellent ground through the field to look the winner 200m out, only to be touched off late for 3rd. Drawn nicely in barrier 9, this horse ticks a lot of boxes leading up to Tuesday.
Probably about the only thing Chris Waller hasn’t won and he saddles up impressive 4yo mare Youngstar to try and change that. The daughter of High Chaparral was impressive during the winter and with luck could certainly carry that on into the spring. In the Turnbull Stakes, she settled about midfield and took a little while to get going turning, holding up the wonder mare, who still managed to get out and pip her stablemate on the line. Subsequently, she settled near the rear in the Caulfield Cup and had to come really wide around the bend before finishing off strong late. Having to settle for a ‘not so disappointing’ barrier 8, she is no Winx, but she would arguably be the next best in the Waller camp.
The Final Straw
In what is considered the last chance for any trainer trying to get that final guaranteed cup spot, you could almost mistake the Lexus Stakes for an ashes test match… Well not quite, but an English-Australian battle nonetheless as Brimham Rocks and A Prince of Arran were left to fight out the finish. Michael Walker was able to get a cosy sit in behind the leaders on the British import, A Prince of Arran, before the speed really started to pick-up. In a solid clip, runners were strung out like nanna’s washing before Walker found open air turning and soon gobbled up the early leaders. After looking home 300m out, a strong finish from Brimham Rocks looked to have it going down to the wire, only for A Prince of Arran to hang on and seal a spot for the first Tuesday in November.
It is hard to ignore runs on the board when it comes to horse racing and the feats achieved by those at the top of the market, demonstrate why they are there. On the other hand it is hard to ignore history and how hard it is to win a Melbourne Cup without having run in Australia or at the distance. Needless to say, whether it be being stuck with the outsider in the office sweep or your brother’s mate’s sister’s baby-sitter’s hot tip, this looks to be a cracking edition of the cup with every horse getting its chance.
Best – Yucatan
Value – The Cliffsofmoher
Danger – Youngstar