How to find the Melbourne Cup winner early: Key international races to watch in August

Tristan Rayner Editor

By , Tristan Rayner is a Roar Editor

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    Melbourne Cup 2014 winner Protectionist followed closely by second and third placers, Red Cadeaux and Who Shot Thebarman (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)

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    The Melbourne Cup isn’t won by a trainer on the first Tuesday in November. It’s a long, careful preparation, and we’re tracking the overseas races to look out for as we all try to find the Cup winner early.

    We’ve already previewed June and July and now things really rev-up with 11 unmissable races in August.

    Note that early nominations for the Caulfield Cup (2400m) and Melbourne Cup (3200m) this year close on August 29.

    These are the races to watch in August for an emerging Cup prospect:

    Group 3 Galway Hurdle (3200m) – August 3rd – Galway
    This two-mile handicap is unusual for Melbourne Cup form in that it’s a National Hunt in Ireland. But it’s a big handicap race and it’s a decent purse for European racing some €300,000 (AUD$450,000) to get over the jumps.

    The form? Well, it isn’t half bad, mostly because Max Dynamite was second in this race in 2015 and then second in the Melbourne Cup the same year. Wicklow Brave was also 11th in that race – he didn’t come down south that year though.

    Last year Clondaw Warrior finished first to finally give legendary Irish hoop Ruby Walsh a win in the race. Trainer Willie Mullins did say he was dreaming of a Melbourne Cup with the horse sometime if he can keep improving on the flat, and he’ll be back for the Galway if he’s well. Keep your eyes out for the rising ten-year-old!

    Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes (2414m) – August 10th – Leopardstown
    The Ballyroan is usually won by a good horse and in 2002 and 2003 that was Vinnie Roe, who tried to win the Melbourne Cup in the same years without luck. Not that Dermott Weld minded too much – his stablemate Media Puzzle got the job done in 2002, of course.

    Last year Bondi Beach finished third which put his trip to Flemington in jeopardy – but he travelled, and finished 13th.

    Group 1 Goodwood Cup (3219m) – August 3rd – Glorious Goodwood
    The Goodwood Cup, held during the Goodwood Festival, is a cracking lead-up given it’s the right distance and a real staying test during a great carnival of racing. It’s also now a Group 1, up from a Group 2 for the first time.

    The Cup was highlighted in 2016 with Big Orange winning the event last year before his 10th place finish in the Melbourne Cup. One of the highlights of Glorious Goodwood.

    Group 3 Summer Stakes (2816m) – August 4th – Glorious Goodwood
    Qewy was the runner-up in this race in 2016 carrying 61 kilograms, and that was his last start before winning the Geelong Cup, then a handy fourth in the Melbourne Cup, and then a win in the Sandown Cup.

    Does that make Goodwood’s Summer Stakes great Cup form? Well, consider that Francis of Assisi was sent down along with Qewy and other Godolphin horses as a lead horse for training, and wasn’t able to get in the Melbourne Cup after only winning the Bendigo Cup. Remarkably, he then thrashed the next-best stayers in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in a Group 3 to go up as an early 2017 Melbourne Cup favourite.

    Group 1 Nassau Stakes (2000m) – August 5th – Goodwood
    Not a classic Cup trial, this fillies and mares race saw Minding, the English Winx, win in 2016. Beautiful Romance ran in that race before heading over which is why it’s here. She was, of course, seventh in the Melbourne Cup and then took out the Sandown Classic over 2400 metres. She did well in Meydan earlier in the year too so watch out for her again. It’s a Group 1 and that says plenty.

    Protectionist in Germany, ready to race (Image: Tristan Rayner) (Image Supplied)

    Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin (2400m) – August 13th – Berlin Hoppegarten
    The first clash of three-year-olds and older stayers at Group 1 level in Germany and wider Europe. It’s a fairly big race and growing since returning to Berlin in 2011.

    The Grosser Preis is probably not on most charts as a Cup proving ground, but I’m not going out on a limb here as Protectionist won this race last year, and he was a very good chance of getting to the Melbourne Cup again before injury stopped him short and ultimately saw him off to the breeding barn.

    Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2671m) – August 19th – Newbury
    Red Cadeaux often ran this race before having a crack at the Melbourne Cup – rest his giant heart – but never won. Red Cardinal was third in the Geoffrey Freer last year as well.

    Other horses of note to have won include Mount Athos in 2012, who was fifth and third in the Melbourne Cup in successive efforts back in 2012 and 2013.

    Set the alarm for this, running at 3:05pm local time in the UK.

    Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) – August 20th – Deauville
    Speaking of must watch races, this French Group 2 isn’t particularly rich, and it’s not particularly prestigious, but it is the premier European Cup form race. Three-thousand metres is the right distance and Deauville offers a firm challenge in August.

    The race has been a proven stepping stone to the Melbourne Cup ever since Americain beat Manighar in 2010 on his way to his Cup win. Protectionist beat a four-horse field in 2014 by four lengths, and that was easily enough that year.

    Jukebox Jury was less successful after his win 2011, finishing 20th in the Cup, but this was still better than poor Verema who won in 2013 and broke down in that year’s Cup.

    Red Cardinal should take part in this race and provides a clue to a strong formline for 2017, easily good enough to win the Melbourne Cup.

    Group 1 Juddmonte International (2080m) – August 23rd – York
    The race is a seriously top level Group 1 and any horse with a Melbourne Cup entry that does well usually gets a plane ticket.

    Often Juddmonte winners are too brilliant for the great handicap, so it’s not always the winner that matters.

    In 2016, Exospheric was fifth in this race, beaten by world-class horses in Postponed and Highland Reel. Criterion finished down the track in the race in 2015 before running a highly credible third in the Melbourne Cup as well.

    A must watch!

    Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3319m) – August 25th – York

    This is part of the busy Ebor Festival at York and is yet another race that’s become closely watched in recent years. Max Dynamite won in 2015, and Quest For More in 2016, with Wicklow Brave third and Trip To Paris fourth in that year. Anything in the field is a chance of coming across given runners across all finishing positions have appeared over the years.

    Ebor Handicap (2816m) – August 26th – York

    The Ebor itself isn’t a Listed race, but it is the richest flat staying race in Europe and late enough to be a Cup horse’s last start before heading over.

    The ill-fated Heartbreak City won this race last year in a field of 20, which included Lexus winner and Geelong Cup third-placer Oceanographer (7th) and Kinema (11th), who missed a Melbourne Cup berth after a fourth in the Geelong Cup.

    In other years, Luca Cumani’s 2007 victor Purple Moon came over after winning, and was runner-up to Efficient’s famous win.

    Given it’s a handicap, it is an interesting race for form lines and punting if Cup contenders get involved.

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

    Melbourne Cup lead-up races overseas for June and July

    Melbourne Cup lead-up races overseas for September