The 2014 Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) to be run at Flemington on Tuesday at 3pm has brought together one of the most competitive fields in the 154-year history of the great race.
11 internationally-trained gallopers have travelled to Australia in search of the $3.6m first prize. Of the 13 locals, three are Australian bred (down from six in 2012 and five in 2013) and four have been purchased from the Northern Hemisphere and imported to Australia with a view to winning this race.
1. Admire Rakti (Japanese trained, Japanese bred)
Trainer: Tomoyuki Umeda
Jockey: Zac Purton (Australian based in Hong Kong)
For: Japanese raider Admire Rakti is the favourite for the Melbourne Cup. He won the Caulfield Cup (2400m, Group 1, handicap) which, in recent times, has replaced the Mackinnon Stakes (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) as the best traditional lead-up for the Melbourne Cup. There he carried the top weight and produced an electric final 200m.
He has won over 3400m previously in Japan so the distance holds no problems for him and he showed his true quality by running a close-up fourth in one of the top races in the world, the Japan Cup (2400m, Group 1, weight-for-age), last November.
Against: Admire Rakti was penalised 0.5kg for his victory at Caulfield which means he is attempting to carry the biggest weight to Cup victory since Think Big went back-to-back for Bart Cummings in 1975.
Only Makybe Diva in 2005 has carried top-weight to victory since Rising Fast did so in 1954. Both those horses would be ranked in most racing pundits’ top 15 racehorses to have ever raced in Australia.
In a few words: Deserving favourite but history is against him.
2. Cavalryman (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: Saeed Bin Suroor for Godolphin
Jockey: Craig Williams (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: Cavalryman is a much improved horse compared to the one that finished 12th in the 2012 Melbourne Cup when sent off at odds of $31. His best performances in 2012 were a pair of Listed-race (that’s the fourth tier of racing after Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3) victories in England.
He returns two years later on the back of a 2014 season that has seen him win his last two races, both at Group 2 level in England against some top stayers. That’s the reason he’s asked to carry three kilos more than he did in 2012.
Cavalryman will have no issue running 3200m and he boasts a field-high nine victories at Listed level or above. The next highest is Precedence with six.
Against: It’s difficult to find holes in Cavalryman’s form. The biggest would be his failure to run top ten in this race in 2012. He struggled to sprint that day when the race was run so slow that it suited those close to the lead. If the pace is slow again, he will struggle to overpower his rivals in the straight.
In a few words: An outsider that can win the Cup
3. Fawkner (Australian trained, Australian bred)
Trainer: Robert Hickmott for Team Williams
Jockey: Nick Hall (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: The 2013 Caulfield Cup winner is back better than ever. He ran sixth in this race last year with 54.5kgs after settling 23rd in running. In the last 12 months Fawkner has developed into the country’s best weight-for-age performer and lands in the Melbourne Cup off a perfect spring campaign.
He kicked off with an impressive second in the Makybe Diva (1600m, Group 1, weight-for-age) at this track before winning the Caulfield Stakes (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) and beating all bar Adelaide in the Cox Plate (2040m, Group 1, weight-for-age).
His Cup trial in the Cox Plate was equal to Fiorente’s last year (excellent!!) and Gai’s horse went on to win this race. Since 2005, four of the six local winners of the Cup ran in the Cox Plate.
Against: 3200m. Fawkner was outstanding in last year’s Cup but he was ridden at the tail of the field to help him finish the race off strongly. To make amends in 2014, he’ll need to be ridden more positively by Nick Hall and that is going to test his stamina.
In a few words: Will finish top three if he finishes the race strongly
4. Red Cadeaux (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: Ed Dunlop
Jockey: Gerald Mosse (Frenchman based in Hong Kong)
For: Red Cadeaux loves the Melbourne Cup and he loves racing fresh from a break, as he does here. Second-place finishes in the 2011 (53.5kg) and 2013 (56.5kg) Cups sandwich a fantastic eighth when the race wasn’t run to suit in 2012 (55.5kg). He is a modern-day Shadow King, who raced in the Cup six times for two seconds, two thirds, a fourth and sixth in Phar Lap’s era.
By all reports, Red Cadeaux has been working the house down at the International Quarantine Centre at Werribee.
Against: Truth be told, Red Cadeaux, as honest as he is, doesn’t win very often. 30 times he’s fronted the starter in Listed races or better and he’s come away with victory only four times. He’s only won twice in the last three years.
He returns to Flemington after an average season in Europe. Eighth in the Dubai World Cup (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) is no match for his great second in the 2013 version. Then there was a trip to Japan where he finished one spot behind Admire Rakti, who was 13th, in the Tenno Sho (Spring) (3200m, Group 1, weight-for-age).
Most recently, he was an ok fourth when carrying the same weight as Cup combatants Seiemos and Willing Foe in the Freer (2670m, Group 3, weight-for-age) at Newbury in the UK (now he has to carry more weight than both of them) before a forgettable last in a 2400m Group 3.
In a few words: I’d love to see him win but I don’t think he’s much value at $21.
5. Protectionist (German trained, German bred)
Trainer: Andreas Wohler
Jockey: Ryan Moore (Englishman based in England)
For: The lightly-raced Protectionist has the profile of an internationally-trained Melbourne Cup winner. He is having only the tenth start of his career on Tuesday and it comes at the end of a season that has seen him rise from Listed level in Germany to a victory in the Kergolay (3000m, Group 2) in France. His potential is unbounded.
The Kergolay is the race that Americain and Dunaden used as their final lead-up before travelling to Australia to win the Melbourne Cup in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Protectionist has settled into Australian life well. I was told at Werribee on Sunday afternoon that he has been the best track-worker of all the Europeans that have travelled out to Melbourne this spring, and that is evidenced by a slashing fourth in the Herbert Power (2400m, Group 2, handicap) on Caulfield Guineas Day when he had little luck but assaulted the line with great vigour.
Signoff was second in the Herbert Power and won the Lexus (2500m, Group 3, handicap) with great ease on Saturday to eek his way into this field.
Against: The best I can come up with is that no German-trained horse has won the race, but they have not been greatly represented.
Digging deeper, I think the biggest thing against Protectionist is the Australian style of racing. He encountered trouble in the form of traffic congestion at a key moment of the Herbert Power. He needs to avoid such traffic in the Cup.
That’s where Cox Plate-winning jockey Ryan Moore comes into the equation. He has been the architect of two poorly thought out rides in the Melbourne Cup on Mount Athos in 2012 and Dandino in 2013. He can make amends here.
In a few words: Can definitely win.
6. Sea Moon (Australian trained, British bred) – SCRATCHED
Trainer: Robert Hickmott for Team Williams
Jockey: Tommy Berry
For: Sea Moon has the ability to win a Melbourne Cup. He is Group 1 placed in the US and a Group 2 winner at Royal Ascot.
Against: But enters this Melbourne Cup in atrocious form. He was a horrid last in the Caulfield Cup as an outsider. He ran 13th in this race last year but came into it in great form and as a key winning chance. We can only assume he doesn’t stay 3200m.
In a few words: Hard to see him threatening the top ten.
7. Seismos (English trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Marco Botti
Jockey: Craig Newitt (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: German Group 1 winner by four lengths in August last year who has failed to recapture that form in the last 12 months. He won the Freer by beating Willing Foe and Red Cadeaux at level weights in August and meets Red Cadeaux 1kg better here.
Against: But Willing Foe enjoys a 1kg pull in the weights on Seismos after the Freer. And Seismos was very average when running 15th in the Caulfield Cup. He has failed to finish closer than sixth in three attempts at 3200m.
In a few words: His best can win the Melbourne Cup but I’ll be shocked to see it on Tuesday.
8. Junoob (Australian trained, British bred)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Hugh Bowman (Australian based in Sydney)
For: Imported galloper at the top of his game. He won the Hill (2000m, Group 2) in September at weight-for-age and The Metropolitan at Randwick (2400m, Group 1, handicap) on route to a good seventh in the Caulfield Cup when he raced wide for the entire journey.
He has never been tested at the distance but he races like it will suit.
Against: His class. I don’t think he has the ability of many in this field and he has been poorly treated by the handicapper, mainly because of a 1.5kg penalty for winning The Metrop.
In a few words: Honest as any of them. Top eight chance.
9. Royal Diamond (Irish trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Johnny Murtagh
Jockey: Steven Arnold (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: Eight-year-old gelding who was a multiple Group 3 winner in Europe last year, and will have no issue finishing off the two miles strongly. He did win the Irish St Leger (2816m, Group 1) in 2012 as a $17 chance. Two miles is what he wants.
Against: But he has failed to reach those heights since. He comes here off an average sixth in the Irish St Leger when he was once again $17 and beaten almost 13 lengths (Willing Foe was five lengths ahead in fourth). That is a race that can produce a top three finisher in the Melbourne Cup but always off a better performance than that.
In a few words: I rank him ninth of the 11 visitors. He could figure highly if he produced a new career best performance.
10. Gatewood (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: John Gosdon
Jockey: William Buick (Englishman, with Danish dual-citizenship, based in England)
For: Former import Gatewood has not finished out of the top three since Chris Waller sent him back to England at the end of a failed 2013 Sydney autumn campaign.
He was sent to Waller after the 2012 Spring Carnival when he failed to make the Melbourne Cup field despite winning the Geelong Cup (2400m, Group 3, handicap) narrowly. At that point the Geelong Cup had produced the previous two Melbourne Cup winners.
Gatewood has run well in Europe this year, winning a Listed and Group 3 as well as completing his Cup preparation with a Group 2 second in France. He returns to Melbourne with a much stronger CV.
Against: I remember holding a 3200m distance query against Gatewood in the spring in 2012 and, while he’s yet to be tested at the journey, I’m yet to be convinced that he does have the stoutness to run the two mile journey.
Gatewood might have a lot more Group top threes on his record than he did in 2012 but I’m not sure he’s lengths better than he was then. But he needs to be much better to figure here.
In a few words: I think he’s 50/50 to finish in the top ten
11. Mutual Regard (Irish trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Johnny Murtagh
Jockey: Damien Oliver (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: Like Protectionist, Mutual Regard is a European stayer on the rise. He has only been tested at Listed level or above once and it was when running third in a Irish Listed race over 2816m against six rivals two starts back. That’s hardly inspiring form for any Group 1.
Before 2014, he would run in handicaps that offered prize-money that ranged from £2500-20000 Pounds. It’s a far cry from Group racing.
But he followed that Listed third with a strong victory in the £265000 Ebor Handicap (2816m) carrying a mammoth 61kg to beat the well-specked Lord Van Percy (58kg) who has also been brought out to Australia this spring, but failed to make the Cup field.
Prior to the Listed run was a two-length victory in a restricted Irish handicap offering €24500 when he carried 63.5kg over two miles. He will stay without any worries.
Against: The Ebor is one of the great handicaps of the English turf but has not been a serious Melbourne Cup lead-up for the best part of a decade. Quite simply, the great race is much better than any English handicap.
But horses don’t rise as quickly as Mutual Regard has without having some special quality.
In a few words: I like him because he keeps stepping over the rising bar, but he’s no value at $12.
12. Who Shot Thebarman (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Glen Boss (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: As the 2014 Auckland Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) winner Who Shot Thebarman will run two miles without any problem in the world. Anyone who saw his arrogant victory in the Bart Cummings (2500m, Group 3, handicap) in October would appreciate his love of the great expanses of Flemington and his serious staying talent.
His 14th in the Caulfield Cup reads poorly on paper but things didn’t go his way. He was ridden forward which is against his pattern of racing and over-raced badly. In the home straight, he was buffeted from pillar to post. Forgiving the run would be wise.
He’s only had 15 starts and has won eight of them. He has upside in spades.
Against: Is he good enough to win a Melbourne Cup? That’s the million dollar question. Many will say no.
In a few words: Yes, he is. I like him a lot. The best roughie.
13. Willing Foe (English trained, American bred)
Trainer: Saeed Bin Suroor for Godolphin
Jockey: James McDonald (New Zealander based in Sydney)
For: He won the Ebor in 2012, so we can assume he’ll run 3200m strongly. He’s only had two runs after a 15-month layoff. In those two runs he was second to Seismos in the Freer. Fourth was Red Cadeaux. He meets both of them better at the weights. He could, without shocking me, beat both of those two horses on Tuesday.
After that he was fourth in the Irish St Leger, beaten eight lengths but finishing five ahead of Royal Diamond.
Against: That’s ok form for a Melbourne Cup. Is he good enough to run any better than ok?
In a few words: I’m unconvinced. Prepared to take him on because I don’t know enough about him.
14. My Ambivalent (English trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Roger Varian
Jockey: Andrea Atzeni (Italian based in England)
For: She is very classy. That is evidenced by being a Group 1 winner in Ireland last season over 2011m against her own sex.
In 2014, she boasts a great third against world leading stayers Gentildonna and Cirrus Des Aigles on Dubai World Cup night in the Sheema Classic (2410m, Group 1, weight-for-age) when she was in the lead with 300m to run.
She followed it with a Group 2 victory at York over 2092m before meeting Cirrus Des Aigles again in the Coronation Cup (2423m, Group 1, weight-for-age) on English Derby Day, at the more testing Epsom circuit, and being beaten by four lengths more than she was by him in Dubai.
Those who follow European racing will point out that 40/1 is ludicrous odds for a mare of such high talent.
Against: In her only try over ground longer than 2500m, she was very one-paced when running fifth in a Group 2 over 2937m at Doncaster. My gut instinct says that as good as she, she won’t run a strong 3200m.
The big disadvantage is that she has been victim of bad luck at Werribee. She missed the Caulfield Cup due to a bruised hoof and then some trackwork after it because she hit her leg.
In a few words: The Melbourne Cup isn’t her race and the preparation has not gone to plan. Pass.
15. Precedence (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainers: Bart & James Cummings
Jockey: Michael Rodd (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: Bart Cummings trains and Michael Rodd, a Melbourne Cup winner in his own right, rides. Precedence has run in three Cups and has run well, relative to expectation, each time – eighth in 2010 at $21, 11th in 2011 at $51 and ninth in 2012 at $101.
Against: He enters the race in ok form. Two fifths in lesser grade at Moonee Valley. I think he was going better last year when he missed making the field because it was the strongest Cup of all time.
Precedence has started in 14 Group 1s and has never finished in the top four in any of them.
In a few words: It will be 15 Group 1s for blot on Tuesday afternoon.
16. Brambles (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Peter Moody
Jockey: Luke Nolen (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: He was outstanding in the Turnbull (2000m, Group 1, set weights and penalties) when a close-up third and almost as good when holding on for a determined fourth in a Caulfield Cup that was won by the Melbourne Cup favourite.
Sure he ran a poor ninth in the Mackinnon on Saturday but listening to Peter Moody pre-race I got the feeling the horse was there for a fitness tune-up, not necessarily because he thought it was a winnable race. If you can forgive the miss, his form is very good.
Against: For mine, it’s the two miles. He was good at Caulfield at his home track and at the distance of his 2012 Queensland Derby (2400m, Group 1, three-year-olds) success. But he has never struck me as a two miler.
And, if he is to be ridden forward, not only will barrier 21 be a nuisance but the extra 800m of the Melbourne Cup will be a few furlongs too far.
In a few words: A top five chance if he stays it. I doubt he will.
17. Mr O’Ceirin (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Ciaron Maher
Jockey: Chad Schofield (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: He’s in the field. So at least, in theory, there is some hope. The horse’s best asset is his toughness. He’ll try his guts out, I’ve no doubt.
Against: He has never struck me as a horse with Group 1 ability, nor a two miler. And his best form was 14 months ago. He’s not going anywhere near as well now.
In a few words: I hope his owners enjoy the day. I’m very jealous!
18. Au Revoir (French trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Andre Favre
Jockey: Glyn Schofield (South African based in Sydney)
For: He’s lightly raced and looking at him, as a horse that is yet to run in the top two at Group level, I suspect his career-best performance lies ahead.
In his only run at a comparable distance to the Cup, he was a close fourth (3000m, Group 3, three-year-old) in a field of seven at Longchamp in Paris. Perhaps, off that, you could make a case to say that he’ll run a strong 3200m. I need more data before forming an opinion.
Against: In five goes at Group level in France, he has not run a place. He was an ok third in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m, Group 2, handicap) but that race was levels below Melbourne Cup standard this year.
In a few words: I think he’s massively out-graded.
19. Lidari (Australian trained, French bred)
Trainer: Peter Moody
Jockey: Ben Melham (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: He’s been racing in a great form this preparation. He was less than two lengths behind Foreteller and the eventual Mackinnon winner Happy Trails in the Underwood (1800m, Group 1, weight-for-age), then a great second to Lucia Valentina at this course in the Turnbull. I thought he could run top three in the Caulfield Cup but raced too dour and plugged into sixth.
Peter Moody has acknowledged that speed needed to be trained into his legs for this assignment. If we saw a sharper Lidari on Tuesday, with a strong 3200m staying performance, then we could be talking about a horse that runs top three.
Against: His father Acclamation was a top English sprinter so I think my doubts about his ability to run two miles are well founded. If he doesn’t stay the trip, he doesn’t run in the top ten. He simply doesn’t have the class to carry him into the finish of a Melbourne Cup without the aid of some two-mile stamina.
In a few words: Wouldn’t be shocked if he ran well but it’s more likely he doesn’t.
20. Opinion (Australian trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Tye Angland (Australian based in Sydney)
For: He was super behind Junoob in The Metropolitan. He was expected to then win the Moonee Valley Cup by many punters but was a bitterly disappointing sixth. He ran a good second in the Sydney Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) four lengths behind The Offer in the autumn to indicate that two miles isn’t out of his comfort zone.
If he repeats The Metropolitan performance, he could run into the top three.
Against: But that’s against the pattern of his form. Disappointing at all of his other spring starts, I suspect he’ll disappoint backers again on Tuesday.
In a few words: His form is too patchy to contemplate anything other than him missing the top five.
21. Araldo (Australian trained, British bred)
Trainer: Michael Moroney
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: He was, in my opinion watching the highlights on the television, the best track-worker at Breakfast with the Stars at Flemington last Tuesday. I loved the way he worked under his own steam to the line under a heavy hold from his rider.
He was an eye-catching fifth in the Caulfield Cup when he charged through the ruck late. Obviously, Araldo is thriving.
He was aimed at the Melbourne Cup last year but wasn’t quite good enough to make the field. He won the Bart Cummings and was third in the Lexus in that campaign.
Not sighted for ten months, he’s returned in a great spirit to run a super third in The Metropolitan before that great fifth at Caulfield.
He is a winner in Germany over 2800m. He may well stay the trip!
Against: Even so, the distance is the query. If he runs it, dare I say it, he could win. He does lack a bit of class but he makes up for it somewhat because he is in a rich form.
In a few words: The smokie.
22. Lucia Valentina (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Kris Lees
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy (Australian based in Sydney)
For: She’s been racing like a horse possessed this spring. Super when winning first-up at Randwick. Good in the George Main (1600m, Group 1, weight-for-age) when she was the only horse to make any ground out wide. Then, despite suffering a setback in the lead-up, blew away her rivals in the Turnbull.
I thought she’d win the Caulfeild Cup but she got too far back. Her last furlong, along with Admire Rakti’s, broke the clock. It was the best Cup trial of the spring!
She’s flying. She’s well weighted. And, if it somehow manages to rain, she’ll swim like a duck.
Against: The distance is the query. Does she run two miles? Some say her lack of size will play against her in that facet. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.
In a few words: Winning chance
23. Unchain My Heart (Australian trained, Australian bred)
Trainer: David Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Dean Yendall (Australian based in Melbourne)
For: She has won at Listed level over 3200m at Flemington. She is a strong stayer. If the pace was frantic, she could run top ten on stamina alone.
Against: Recent runs have been atrocious.
In a few words: I’d rather have money on Mr O’Ceirin. Now that is saying something!
24. Signoff (Australian trained, Irish bred)
Weight: 51kgs (will run with 51.5kg due to jockey)
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Joao Moreira (Brazilian based in Hong Kong)
For: He has a very similar profile to the 2009 Cup winner Shocking. It is spooky.
His last three runs leading into Tuesday have all been very good. He beat Protectionist home in the Herbert Power and was strong through the line that day. Then he was good in the unsuitable 2000m David Jones Cup (Group 3, handicap).
Finally over some ground and at the spacious Flemington, we saw the perfect Cup trial on Saturday when he coasted to victory in the Lexus to win his way into the field. Off that run he drops 5.5kgs to carry the bottom weight here. Superbly treated at the handicap! ‘The Magic Man’ Joao Moreira takes the ride and he may well be the greatest jockey on earth.
You can never be sure until they’ve had a run at it, but to me, he looks like he’ll eat two miles.
Against: Could running on the back-up for the first time be his undoing? In all seriousness, we won’t know until Tuesday. I can’t find any reason not to be confident of a high finish.
In a few words: The horse to beat
Melbourne Cup 2014 Tips
3. Who Shot Thebarman
4. Admire Rakti
5. Lucia Valentina
Best outsider: Araldo
Good luck if you’re having a bet. Enjoy the great race!