How to find the Melbourne Cup winner early: Key races to watch in June and July

Tristan Rayner Editor

By , Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor

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    Ryan Moore kisses the Melbourne Cup after he rode Protectionist to victory in 2014. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

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    Too early to find a Melbourne Cup winner? Not a chance!

    The diehards and professionals follow the stayers across the world all through the year, but for the battlers, we only have enough time for Saturday form if we’re lucky, plus the odd midweek Cup here or there when we can.

    Still, these winter months in Australia are when the northern hemisphere season comes alive. And it’s already underway if you’re a Cup watcher.

    The Australian Bloodstock syndicate, who won the Melbourne Cup with Protectionist, already have a European winner over 3200m this season, with Red Cardinal winning at the Berlin Hoppegarten. He’ll now almost certainly make the Cup field after missing out in 2016.

    Trained by Andreas Wöhler, ridden by Eduardo Pedroza – the same winning combination that had Protectionist firing for wins across Germany including this race in 2014 – Red Cardinal won the Group 2 Oleander Rennen from a field of 16 runners as joint favourite.

    Look out for him saving ground on the inside, beating home English stayer Nearly Caught, who has won the Kergorlay (3000m), which makes good form reading.

    The top three from that race received an invitation to the Group 1 Irish St Leger (2800m), while the winner in Red Cardinal received an all-expenses paid invitation to the Group 3 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (3200m) which he’ll contest on Friday, local time.

    The son of Montjeu is learning all about travelling for a race so it’s a real Cup test. He should then race in the Hansa-Preis (2400m) and possibly the Kergolay (3000m) in August.

    Make no mistake though – the owners aren’t Australian Bloodstock for no reason – they’re delighted about having another Cup contender already, even if they won’t beat the handicapper. He’s already the $15 equal favourite and might come in further depending on the Belmont Gold Cup result.

    Our old friend (or foe) Fame Game, who was a controversial sixth in the 2015 Caulfield Cup, followed by a 13th in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, has also won an important race this year.

    The seven-year-old gelding took out the 2500m Meguro Kinen in Tokyo over favourite Vosheb to win a ballot exemption for the Caulfield Cup and potentially then take on the Melbourne Cup.

    Here he is coming home late:

    Don’t miss another one! Stoke the fire and put the kettle on, and get ready to start staying up (or catching replays) of the more important staying races across the UK, Europe, Japan, and the USA.

    Here’s the races to watch in both June and July – which are certainly early form, but very much worth the effort of watching for how key known horses, and up and comers, are progressing. Especially during Royal Ascot!

    Group 3 Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (3200m) – June 9th, 2017 – Belmont (NY, USA)
    Already mentioned in passing, the Belmont Gold Cup has six European runner in the field of 13, including Wicklow Brave who of course disappointed badly in last year’s Melbourne Cup. Wicklow Brave is the hot favourite, with Red Cardinal currently second fave in the race.

    Red Cardinal received the all-expenses ticket as already mentioned and Australian Bloodstock’s Jamie Lovett told Racing.com that the team were hoping for a good performance.

    “It’s sort of the fork in the road, that’s what Andreas said. We’ll travel the horse – he hasn’t travelled before – and so that should bring him on a bit and get him used to travelling and then certainly if he is to race up against these sort of tough horses, we know where we are at and we can start to plan,” said Lovett.

    “Provided he runs well, the plan would be to take him back to Europe and then we’ll look at a couple of options for him. He may have another run in Germany or there’s the Kergorlay (in France), which has been a traditional lead-up race to the (Melbourne) Cup.

    “If his form warrants it, the Melbourne Cup is obviously our target for him, but having said that there are a number of options in Europe depending on what level he gets to.”

    Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup (4023m) – June 22, 2017 – Royal Ascot
    This brute of a staying test is the most prestigious staying race in Great Britain, and is run in front of the Queen as part of the wonderful Royal Ascot carnival. The Gold Cup – in 2017 known as “the Gold Cup in Honour of The Queen’s 90th Birthday” – this field will easily handle the 3200m of the Melbourne Cup.

    Won easily by Order of St George in 2016, who is favourite again in 2017, it’s a competitive race with foreign raiders often competing. Watch out for Order of St George again, with quality stayer Vazirabad at least some chance of winning as well.

    Vazirabad beat Beautiful Romance, who of course had 2016 Cup-form, at Meydan in the 2017 Dubai Gold Cup. It’s a little bit hopeful but Vazirabad might be a Cup hopeful in time to come.

    There’s also a nice story about emerging stayer Torcedor, who is aiming for a Gold Cup win. The Kiwi owned horse is trained by 70-year-old Irishwoman Jessica Harrington and has won two on the trot since changing trainers. The Kiwi ownership have an eye on the Melbourne Cup, but with the horse by sprinter Fastnet Rock out of a Sadler’s Wells mare in Magnolia Lane, both the 4023m and 3200m of Flemington will be a stern test.

    We may see other familiar names from past Cup tilts judging from the nominations, such as Qewy, 2015 Cup second-placer Max Dynamite and fourth-placer Trip To Paris, plus Idaho, who didn’t make the trip across last year but was in contention before pulling out.

    Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes (2414m) – 24 June, 2017 – Royal Ascot
    Another Royal Ascot race and an early guide to formlines for how European stayers are travelling, although the 2400m can attract more brilliant horses as well.

    The Hardwicke often sees good horses compete – Dunaden and Dandino are well-known runners-up from yesteryear. Last year, Beautiful Romance (5th), Wicklow Brave (6th) and Exospheric (8th) behind finished behind both the Queen’s horse, Dartmouth, and Highland Reel as runner-up.

    As a Group 2, the field is more Cup-like than the Ascot Gold Cup.

    Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) – June 25 2017 – Hanshin
    A topline Japanese stayer coming to Flemington would be a big deal. This 2200m race is a big race to watch already as one of the two ‘All Star’ races in Japan. it also serves as a Cup guide along with the Tennō Shō, which is run in both the northern hemisphere spring and autumn – the fabulous Kiaisan Black won the spring edition earlier this year.

    The oldest ever Cup-hopeful in Curren Mirotic from last year finished midfield in the Takarazuka Kinen in 2016 and was second in 2014, with Fame Game also in the 2014 race.

    Here’s the 2014 edition won by the superb, quirky, Gold Ship:

    Princess Of Wales’s Stakes (2414m) – July 13th 2017 – Newmarket
    This Group 2 is one of the big races to open the Newmarket Festival (and on Ladies’ Day!). More importantly for us, it’s a very good one for Cup watchers: Fiorente won this race in 2012, Cavalryman won in 2014, Big Orange in 2015 in an upset and again in 2016. Runner-up in 2015, Quest For More, was ninth in the 2015 Melbourne Cup.

    How crucial will this edition become for 2017 and beyond?

    We’ll take a look at a big number of races to watch in August and September in the next part of this series. And if you think there’s a good early race that hasn’t been mentioned, do jump into the comments and let us know!

    Melbourne Cup lead-up races overseas for August

    Melbourne Cup lead-up races overseas for September