Two meetings to look at on Thurday, with Charlton and Redcliffe getting my focus. Down below are my best bets for the respective programs.
Who will win the 2014 Melbourne Cup? It’s the question you need an answer to, and we’ve previewed each horse in detail with tips and predictions for the race that stops a nation.
With runners from Japan, England, Ireland, France, Germany and New Zealand lining up against our few locals, we once again have a cracking Melbourne Cup field.
Throughout the spring thus far, the internationals have had our measure with Admire Rakti taking out the Caulfield Cup for Japan and then Adelaide raiding the Cox Plate for Ireland. The locals get their chance at redemption here in the world’s richest handicap race but it looks a big task for us.
Every Cup has its quirks and this year, the hot topic has been the firm tracks of Melbourne throughout the early stages of the carnival which has caused many contenders to jar up or injure themselves at training.
More 2014 Melbourne Cup:
» Preview and top tips
» Alfred Chan’s individual horse analysis and tips
» Andrew Hawkins ultimate Melbourne Cup preview
» PREDICTION: Signoff to win the Melbourne Cup
» Full field and odds
» Historical form analysis for 2014 Melbourne Cup
» Latest news, field and odds updates
With scattered rain across Melbourne in the days preceding the Cup, there may be a bit of give in the ground which plays largely in the favour of the Europeans.
Let’s have a look at each individual runner in the Cup.
1. Admire Rakti (T: Tomoyuki Umeda, J: Zac Purton, Barrier: 8, W: 58.5kg)
All the attention about this horse has centred around its weight of 58.5kg and how history is pegged so heavily against him. But what history doesn’t show is the weights of all the other horses in the field.
This year, the bulk of runners fall in the higher spectrum of the weights which makes Admire Rakti’s impost less relevant than other years where field swelled with horses carrying 53kg.
His run in the Caulfield Cup was enormous and he ended up winning quite easily, despite also carrying top weight there. The Japanese horses have a remarkable record in Australia because they only send horses they know are capable of winning.
Judging by how he balanced up in the Caulfield Cup he will be even better suited to the bigger track here at Flemington. Already a winner over 3400m back in Japan at Group 3 level, the 3200m here will be no issue and he is the deserved favourite.
Cavalryman (T: Saeed Bin Suroor, J: Craig Williams, Barrier: 3, W: 57kg) – scratched; read our story here
Although the name is familiar with Australians from when he ran 12th in the race two years ago, we did not see the real Cavalryman last time he came to our shores.
The Godolphin stayer has had a remarkable 12 months where he was a good thing beaten in the Dubai Gold Cup (3200m). He would have won on protest had it not been for Sheikh Mohammad’s refusal to win a race in the stewards room.
He then jettisoned over to Newmarket for the Group 2 Princess of Wales Stakes (2400m) where form out of the race was exceptional. He beat Hillstar, Pether’s Moon and Arab Spring who all went on to win Group races during the European season.
Three weeks later, he took out the Group 2 Goodwood Cup (3200m) where he got the better of Brown Panther who was one of Europe’s hottest stayers this season.
Don’t be fooled by the fact he is listed in the race book as a 9-year-old. He has had just 25 career starts which is low for his age. The booking of Craig Williams is very interesting because it signals a change from being loyal to their stable jockeys to giving their horse their best winning chance.
Cavalryman is good enough to deliver Godolphin their first Melbourne Cup.
3. Fawkner (T: Robert Hickmott, J: Nicholas Hall, Barrier: 9, W: 57kg)
In just about any other year, Fawkner would have won the Cox Plate. Based on the time he ran, we would have to think that he worked exceptionally hard to run such a good time and still not win.
The big difference between this year and last year when he ran sixth is that he steps up 2.5kg and is entering off a 10 day break compared to last year’s more standard 17 day break. That said however, he comes into the Cup in better form than last year having won at weight-for-age level in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) and second in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m).
The 7-year-old gelding has continually improved with age and has ticked all the boxes as a handicapper capable of taking they next step, is proven over the distance and handles the firm ground.
He’ll be right there at the end.
4. Red Cadeaux (T: Ed Dunlop, J: Gerald Mosse, Barrier: 15, W: 57kg)
Everyone’s favourite journeyman returns to Melbourne for a fourth crack at the Cup having already twice been runner-up. The record of runner-ups winning the following year is not great with three horses pulling off the feat in the race’s history.
The gelding is out to become the first 9-year-old in history to win the Cup but his form during the English season has only been average.
He had just two runs this season, finishing fourth behind Seismos in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2700m) and seventh in a weak edition of the Group 3 September Stakes (2400m).
Of his four attempts at the Cup, this is the worst form he has ever come in off. Trainer Ed Dunlop has again opted to run Red Cadeaux first-up in the Cup but it is a tactic which appears to work only for him.
Shouldering 57kg, this is bigger than the 53.5kg, 55.5kg and 56.5kg he has carried in his past attempts. As good as it would be to see him finally get up, there are too many records he would need to break to win here but could run second again.
5. Protectionist (T: Andreas Wohler, J: Ryan Moore, Barrier: 11, W: 56.5kg)
The German invader comes through a strong European campaign which included victory in the Group 2 Prix Kergolay (3000m) which has been a strong form race for the Melbourne Cup in recent years. However, the race attracted just three other runners this year and the time run was very poor.
Since arriving in Australia, he has had just one start in the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) where he carried the top weight and ran an eye-catching fourth.
German form has been quite difficult to line up in Australia over the years but Andreas Wohler is Germany’s top handler and he doesn’t travel horses unless if knows they are going to be right there at the finish. Big chance.
6. Sea Moon (T: Robert Hickmott, J: Tommy Berry, Barrier: 18, W:56.5kg) – scratched; read our story here
Sea Moon was the biggest disappointment of the Cup last year. He had come through all the big races in Europe and was touted as a Cup winner well before he arrived to our shores.
In Australia, he has simply been a shadow of his former self and unable to rediscover the impressive form he showed when beating Dunaden, Red Cadeaux, Fiorente and Dandino.
Lloyd Williams tried changing things up when they sent him to the front in the Caulfield Cup but he simply tapered on his run and looked like a horse that has had enough. Everything he has done on the track suggests he is due for gelding but his lack of size rules out those issues.
His best his good enough to win this but he hasn’t been at his best since he departed England and should be lower in the weights on recent form.
7. Seismos (T: Marco Botti, J: Craig Newitt, Barrier: 1, W: 56kg)
Producing an underwhelming run in the Caulfield Cup, we would be wise to forget that run because Seismos is a much better horse than he showed.
Having come through his European season with a victory in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2700m), he beat Red Cadeaux and Willing Foe in the race, both of which he meets here.
The Caulfield Cup may have been a bit short for this son of Dalakhani because he finished off the Geoffrey Freer like a horse that would go even better over further. He gets that step up in distance here. The firm ground is a big concern because his best runs have been on soft going but he’s had some time to acclimatise to Australia’s firm ground without the issues other international have had.
Ideally he would go better with a bit of rain but he’s one of the better roughies.
8. Junoob (T: Chris Waller, J: Hugh Bowman, Barrier: 7, W: 55.5kg)
Junoob is just about the only horse in the older ranks to have carried his winning autumn form into spring where he won the Group 1 Metropolitan Handicap (2400m).
However, over the years, form from the Metrop has been abysmal in the Melbourne Cup but Junoob is one of the better horses to have won the race.
The 3200m here will be a stern test for him and one of the reasons Chris Waller didn’t send him to the Sydney Cup (3200m) in autumn.
He ran seventh in the Caulfield Cup where he was cramped for room and didn’t get moving until late. In all of his good runs, he has been able to settle back and come sweeping down the outside with a sustained run. For this reason, Flemington should suit him well but the distance has to be a query.
9. Royal Diamond (T: Johnny Murtagh, J: Steven Arnold, Barrier: 6, W: 55.5kg)
Royal Diamond is the lesser of Johnny Murtagh’s two runners here but despite being a nine-year-old coming to the end of his career, his 2014 form has been respectable.
He has run second behind Leading Light, one of Europe’s top stayers, twice and if you can forgive his flop in the Group 1 Irish St Leger (2800m) he has been very competitive throughout his European campaign which has been run exclusively at Group level.
The distance will be no trouble for him but he hasn’t shown the same turn of foot he has in the past. Australian racing patterns probably play against him because he’s quite a dour type who just grinds away with his staying prowess.
The way Melbourne Cups are run nowadays, the tempo is backed right off and if it turns into a sit-and-sprint.
Murtagh would be wise to bowl Royal Diamond ahead up front which would give stablemate Mutual Regard its best chance of winning because Royal Diamond can’t win this.
10. Gatewood (T: John Gosden, J: William Buick, Barrier: 22, W: 55kg)
Having failed to gain a start in the 2012 Melbourne Cup despite winning the Group 3 Geelong Cup (2400m) that year, there was a plan to target him at the 2013 Cup under the care of Chris Waller.
However, Gatewood never settled into his Australian surroundings and was subsequently returned to John Gosden in the UK.
Gosden simply knows this horse inside out because he has completely turned the horse around to be one of Europe’s most consistent performers throughout 2014.
In his six starts this year, Gatewood has finished no worse than second which have included victories in the Group 3 Prix De Reux (2500m), Listed Tapster Stakes (2400m) and the Listed Buckhounds Stakes (2400m).
He comes in fairly with 55kg but his biggest undoing in Australia has been firm ground but lost the race on Friday night when he drew barrier 22 which does not suit. He needs some rain to be a chance.
11. Mutual Regard (T: Johnny Murtagh, J: Damien Oliver, Barrier: 12, W: 55kg)
With Damien Oliver booked for the ride, Mutual Regard is certain to get some undeserved attention. He arrives in Australia off back of his win in the Ebor (2800m), England’s richest handicap race and is running first-up here.
Over the years, the Ebor has only been an average form race for the Melbourne Cup because handicap racing in England is very different to handicap racing in Australia. Of the past Europeans to have come to Australia and won, most have won or placed at weight-for-age level before coming to Australia.
The horses Mutual Regard has beaten during the European season have been quite ordinary but he will cover the trip with no problems but he would go a lot better with some sting taken out of the track.
12. Who Shot Thebarman (T: Chris Waller, J: Glen Boss, Barrier: 13, W: 55kg)
Most would have written off this Kiwi stayer after a flop in the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) after victory in the Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m) which turned out to be a very weak race.
But like so many imports before him, he was turned around once assigned to Chris Waller who produced Who Shot The Barman to claim back-to-back victories at Flemington over 2000m and 2500m.
He bounced off those wins into the Caulfield Cup but never looked to be travelling well. Returning to Flemington will help him a lot but he’s only beaten Melbourne’s second tier stayers which makes this a bit too tough for him this year.
13. Willing Foe (T: Saeed Bin Suroor, J: James McDonald, Barrier: 17, W: 55kg)
This lightly race Godolphin runner has had just 14 career starts despite being an 8-year-old. He has had interrupted preparations over the past two years but this season has found the rich vein of form which saw him win the Ebor in 2012.
This season, he has run second in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2700m) behind Seismos and fourth behind Brown Panther in the Group 1 Irish St Leger (2800m). In the Geoffrey Freer, Willing Foe didn’t show the turn of foot to hold of Seismos who finished off the race much better.
His form in handicap class in Europe is excellent but he hasn’t quite performed well enough at weight-for-age level to bring Godolphin their first Melbourne Cup.
14. My Ambivalent (T: Roger Varian, J: Andrea Atzeni, Barrier: 4, W: 54.5kg)
People often ask, what makes a good trainer? Over the years, one of the most categorical indicators is that a good trainer wins the race they are targeting their horse at.
Originally primed for the Caulfield Cup by Roger Varian, My Ambivalent had to be scratched after sustained a stone bruise in her foot. That left the Melbourne Cup, which was always a possibility, as her new target.
In her work at the Werribee quarantine centre, the mare’s work has been atrocious and like that of one who has really struggled to settle into her new environment. The stable assure she is always like that but it appears as serious anxiety to the eye.
She has had a fair European season with a win in weak edition of the Group 2 Middleton Stakes (1900m) but boasts a strong third behind Cirrus Des Aigles and Flintshire in the Group 1 Coronation Cup (2400m).
As a mare that has only stepped beyond 2500m once where she finished well back in the field, the 3200m is probably a concern. Varian was right in making the Caulfield Cup her target because this looks too hard for her amidst an interrupted campaign.
15. Precedence (T: Bart and James Cummings, J: Michael Rodd, Barrier: 20, W: 54.5kg)
Lining up in his fourth Melbourne Cup, the old fella has been very lightly raced in comparison to his past Melbourne Cup preparations. He will break all sorts of record with a win here but he does not have anywhere near the form as others more fancied.
He had an excuse in the Group 2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) when he was knocked about and galloped on and his run in the JRA Cup beforehand was much better than his fifth placing suggests.
But when it comes to peaking a horse for the Melbourne Cup, there is none better than Bart Cummings.
In 2012 when Precedence’s form gave him absolutely no chance in the Cup which led him to jump as a $101 chance, he ran a mighty race to finish ninth and in the money. You couldn’t possibly to back him to win this outside of sentimentality but a top ten finish is still possible.
16. Brambles (T: Peter Moody, J: Luke Nolen, Barrier: 21, W: 54kg)
As the only horse in the field to have run in the Mackinnon where he finished ninth, it was a disappointing run to the eye but also evident that Luke Nolen eased up on him over the final 200m to prime him for this.
It was an interesting decision by Moody to run Brambles three days before the Cup because he has been up for a mighty long time since resuming in the Group 2 P.B Lawrence Stakes (1400m) back in August.
His run in the Caulfield Cup when fourth was probably the best of his career but he has been slaughtered by the barrier draw. Moody has made it no secret that Brambles needs to take up the running to be at his most competitive and with so many miles in his legs already, it is very difficult to see him holding off this field over two miles after working hard early.
17. Mr O’Ceirin (T: Ciaron Maher, J: Chad Schofield, Barrier: 19, W: 54kg)
On form alone, it’s difficult to see Mr O’Ceirin being competitive here having not won a race since September last year. He’s struggled throughout the spring to date and was unable to take the next step following a solid winter campaign in Queensland.
Well done to connections for gaining a Melbourne Cup starter but this will be too tough and too far for Mr O’Ceirin.
18. Au Revoir (T: Andre Fabre, J: Glyn Schofield, Barrier: 23, W: 53.5kg)
The French galloper was very impressive in his Australian debut when he ran an eye-catching third in the Group 2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m). The form out of that race is difficult to line up because his European form has been a tier below other Europeans in this year’s Cup.
His last win came in 2013 at Listed level against a very weak field and he is weighted accordingly. He showed enough in his run at Moonee Valley for him to be competitive here but he lacks the form that other raiders can boast.
19. Lidari (T: Peter Moody, J: Ben Melham, Barrier: 10, W: 53.5kg)
The former French galloper has had a very interesting path to the Melbourne Cup. He is now in his third Australian preparation but his run in the Caulfield Cup where he finished sixth was the first time he’d stepped beyond 2000m on our shores.
This will be his first crack at 3200m and with his campaigns previously centred around middle distance racing, it has to be questionable whether he can cover the trip here.
Of his 14 Australian starts, his best runs have been at Flemington where he ran second in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) and won the Group 2 Blamey Stakes (1600m).
If you look deeply into his breeding, it’s very difficult to see him staying the trip here and is explains why Peter Moody had never stepped him up to the staying races in his earlier Australian preparations.
20. Opinion (T: Chris Waller, J: Tye Angland, Barrier: 14, W: 53.5kg)
In just about every start Opinion has had, he has been searching for further ground.
Ignore his run in the Group 2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) because the track simply didn’t suit his racing style. Before coming to Melbourne, he ran an impressive second in the Group 1 Metropolitan (2400m) and comes in very well at the weights.
He finally got out to 3200m in autumn when he finished second behind The Offer in the Group1 Sydney Cup and was simply beaten by a better horse on the day. Unlike The Offer however, Opinion has been able to step up this preparation.
He deserves to be here but would need rain to have a winning chance.
21. Araldo (T: Michael Moroney, J: Dwayne Dunn, Barrier: 24, W: 53kg)
The former German stayer has been a model of consistency since arriving in Australia without winning any major races.
We last saw him run well to finish fifth in the Caulfield Cup and before that, Michael Moroney sent him up to Sydney where he was closing late to finish third in the Group 1 Metropolitan (2400m). He has only had one win (on protest) in Australia and that was in the Listed Bart Cummings Stakes (2500m) here at Flemington.
He comes in well at the weights here and always hits the line well to be one of the better roughies in the race but he’s probably not good enough to overcome the barrier.
22. Lucia Valentina (T: Kris Lees, J: Kerrin McEvoy, Barrier: 2, W: 53kg)
She has been the form horse of the spring carnival to date and was finishing off as well as anything in the Caulfield Cup when third behind Admire Rakti.
Entering spring, everyone Lucia Valentina pegged as a wet tracker but when silenced all the doubters when she won the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) on very firm ground. She was able to show her signature turn of foot in both soft and firm ground this season which indicates Kris Lees has this mare going as good as she can possibly go.
The Turnbull has generally been an excellent form race for the Melbourne Cup and this mare has done everything right since her win. She gets a generous weight swing here compared to her past starts but there is a serious doubt about her ability to run out the 3200m which is what prevented Lees from declaring this race as her seasonal target.
While her sireline (Savabeel) suggests she will cover the trip, her damline (Montjeu) is enough to convince us that she should not just cover the trip, but thrive from it.
The barrier is a little bit awkward for her because she will get trapped in a pocket with every horse in the field going around her. She does her best work from the back so if the race is run at a genuine tempo, get on her at the 400m mark because she’ll fly home.
22. Unchain My Heart (T: David Hayes and Tom Dabernig, J: Dean Yendall, Barrier: 5, W51.5kg)
This mare was purchased for this year’s broodmare season but she was going so well that connections decided to give her a crack at the Melbourne Cup.
It’s be a tough few weeks for the gamble with Unchain My Heart being on the edge of making the field and it was not until Saturday morning that they knew she was in, despite being in poor form.
She was withdrawn from the Lexus to be saved for the Cup and enters the field with the lowest weight.
She only beat one home in the Caulfield Cup but her last two wins have been the 2013 and 2014 Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes (3200m). The Andrew Ramsden is the only race run over 3200m at Flemington besides the Melbourne Cup so we know she thrives at here over two miles but it’s hard to see her winning this at her 59th career start.
24. Signoff (T: Darren Weir, J: Joao Moreira, Barrier 16, W: 51kg)
He looked to do it quite easy in the Group 3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) to earn his place in the Cup but not needs to back up off three days. Over the years, the Lexus has been a surprisingly good form race for the Cup despite it being only days apart.
Into the Cup with a meager 51kg and arguably the world’s best jockey aboard, Signoff has been the biggest mover in the betting over the past seven days with most expecting him to win the Lexus as easy as he did.
As his breeding suggested, he just gets better over further distance as most of Authorized’s offspring have been doing. He comes into this super fit and is probably the best Lexus winner we have seen since Maluckyday who went on to run second in the 2010 Melbourne Cup.
Alfred Chan’s Tips
1. Lucia Valentina
4. Admire Rakti
Alfred Chan is the Racing Manager for a prominent Victorian stable. He tweets from @AlfredC91