The 2015 Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) will be run for the 155th time on Tuesday at 3pm.
Horses trained in Australia, England, Japan and Ireland form the field of 24 runners and the great race is typically full of depth.
While there are many locally-trained gallopers capable of winning the race, Sertorius is the only Australian-bred runner in the 24. I have a positive outlook for the future of the Australian-bred stayer but it may be a few more years before we see them saturate a Melbourne Cup field.
1. Snow Sky (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute
Jockey: Ryan Moore
For: Snow Sky, the Melbourne Cup top weight, enters the race on the back of his best season in Europe, where he won twice at Group 2 level in the Yorkshire Cup (about 2800m) and the Hardwicke Stakes (about 2400m).
Against: He was given a lead-up in the Caulfield Cup (2400m, Group 1, handicap), where he also carried 58kg, and was very one-paced in a fifth place finish. The European gallopers who perform best in Australia are those with good acceleration and Snow Sky appears to lack in this facet. Making his task harder is the statistic that Makybe Diva is the only horse to have carried top weight to victory in the Melbourne Cup in the last 50 years.
In a few words: Too much weight for a horse that may not be best suited by the race.
2. Criterion (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: David Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Michael Walker
For: Criterion is arguably the third best horse in Australian racing behind Winx and Chautauqua at the moment, and his supporters will be hoping his class takes him to Melbourne Cup victory. At his best when the ground is soft, Criterion is a four-time Group 1 winner, including twice this year, both times at 2000m. He was an unlucky second in the Cox Plate (2040m, Group 1, weight-for-age), and that is great form for the Melbourne Cup.
Against: Although Criterion won the 2014 Australian Derby (Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) on a heavy track at 2400m, he is best at 2000m because he has the perfect combination of sustained speed and stamina for that journey. Whether he has what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup at two miles with 57.5kg to carry is another question. But, I’m very excited that he has been given the chance to attain a level of greatness by winning here.
In a few words: Best horse in the field but concerned about the weight and distance.
3. Fame Game (Japanese trained, Japanese bred)
Trainer: Yoshitada Munakata
Jockey: Zac Purton
For: The Japanese raider Fame Game is the Melbourne Cup favourite. He will eat up the 3200m distance. He was an eye-catching second in the Tenno Sho – Spring (3200m, Group 1, weight-for-age) in Japan earlier this year. That is seriously strong form for the Melbourne Cup.
In the Caulfield Cup he charged through the ruck to snatch sixth at the death. It was a perfect Melbourne Cup trial, and the stewards agreed. Believing the run was used purely as Melbourne Cup lead-up, they grilled jockey Zac Purton about his tactics, questioning whether he showed enough intent to win the race. As a result of the steward’s inquiry, Purton has been ordered to ride Fame Game in the same manner as Caulfield – by saving ground.
That’s no negative, in fact, it’s the exact way Glen Boss rode Makybe Diva to her three Cups victories. I’d be expecting Fame Game to be improved by the extra distance, fitness and the bigger track.
Against: In a Melbourne Cup of considerable depth Fame Game is short odds. He was not the only horse to shine in the Caulfield Cup. In saying that the only real concern I have is related to the track conditions. Fame Game has never been tested on rain-affected ground before. I’d be willing to take him on if we got a soft track.
In a few words: The horse to beat.
4. Our Ivanhowe (Australian trained, German bred)
Trainer: Lee and Anthony Freedman
Jockey: Ben Melham
Odds: $ 21
For: Our Ivanhowe, a Group 1 winner at 2400m in Germany before being transferred to Australia, was a good third in the Caulfield Cup after looking like the winner of the race at the 400m mark. There’s two ways to view his Caulfield run – he was outsprinted over 2400m by Mongolian Khan and Trip To Paris and will be better suited over two miles or he plugged in the straight under 56kgs, not wanting any more distance.
Because Our Ivanhowe has been aimed at this race all spring by five-time Melbourne Cup winning trainer Lee Freedman I’m prepared to say that he is ready to peak on Tuesday. Freedman has always believed that the 17 days between the Caulfield Cup and the first Tuesday of November are the most important in a Cup aspirant’s campaign. I’m happy to pass on the stable report that Our Ivanhowe has improved considerably off that Caulfield Cup run. A big plus is that he will get through a soft track if those conditions prevail.
Against: I thought that Trip To Paris was better than him at Caulfield so Our Ivanhowe will need to draw upon the improvement that Freedman speaks about to win the Cup.
In a few words: Definite winning chance at good odds.
5. Big Orange (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: Michael Bell
Jockey: Jamie Spencer
For: On-pacer Big Orange comes into the Melbourne Cup off a strong European season where he won twice at Group 2 level. Most notably, he beat Melbourne Cup combatants Quest For More and Trip To Paris in a tough staying test over two miles in the Goodwood Cup.
Against: Big Orange is penalised heavily for that very narrow victory at Goodwood because he meets both horses 2kg worse at the weights here. What is also concerning is that he can’t handle the wet, so he needs a firm track on Tuesday. Only 1993 victor Vintage Crop has won the Melbourne Cup without a lead-up prior.
In a few words: There are too many negatives for Big Orange.
6. Hartnell (Australian trained, British bred)
Trainer: John O’Shea for Godolphin
Jockey: James McDonald
For: As the BMW (2400m, Group 1, weight-for-age) winner earlier this year, Hartnell has the class to win the Melbourne Cup. He has turned in three solid if not spectacular performances in preparation for this race. Most recently, he was a decent fifth in the Cox Plate. He will benefit from the drop to handicap conditions here. As a winner over 3200m, Hartnell should stay the distance no problems.
Against: He was extremely disappointing when asked to lead all the way in the Sydney Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) as a short-priced favourite earlier this year. There is a school of thought that says Hartnell isn’t going as well as he was when he starred in the autumn. And it is worth noting that only Makybe Diva has performed the rare BMW-Melbourne Cup double, in the same calendar year.
Finally, I’ll add that while Hartnell beat home Saturday’s Mackinnon (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) winner Gailo Chop in the Cox Plate, as well as Preferment, he was flattered by racing closer to the faster inside section of the track in that race.
In a few words: Hartnell has a chance on Tuesday but there’s too many things against him for my liking.
7. Hokko Brave (Japanese trained, Japanese bred)
Trainer: Yasutoshi Matsunaga
Jockey: Craig Williams
For: The second of the two Japanese runners, Hokko Brave tuned up for his Melbourne Cup assignment with an even tenth-placed finish in the Caulfield Cup after having a wide run. His form in Japan is quite good, running third in the 2014 Tenno Sho – Spring, and sixth, a length or so behind Fame Game, in the 2015 version. He stays the distance no problems.
Against: Hokko Brave, an eight-year-old, has not won in over two years and perhaps the reason for that is a lack of brilliance in his racing. I note that jockey Craig Williams was not happy with his trackwork at Werribee in the week after the Caulfield Cup but he did report the horse to be sharper in his work since.
In a few words: His form is good enough but I just feel he isn’t the right horse for the Melbourne Cup.
8. Max Dynamite (Irish trained, French bred)
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
For: Max Dynamite profiles well for this Melbourne Cup as a horse with strong form who I believe is yet to reach his career peak. A big plus is that he will relish wet conditions if any rain arrives. After failing to measure up to Group-level racing in 2013 he was given a stint over hurdles last year.
In 2015, Max Dynamite has gone a new level. Most notably, he romped away to win the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup over 3300m in August on soft ground, smashing the Caulfield Cup runner-up Trip To Paris and Big Orange.
Against: He meets Trip To Paris two kilos worse for that meeting in the Lonsdale Cup, a penalty he will feel if the ground is not soft. Willie Mullins has successfully travelled the Simenon (fourth in the 2013 Melbourne Cup) to Australia before but – Red Cadeaux excepted – it is not easy to do extremely well in the Cup without a run in Australia prior.
In a few words: If it rains he could win. Don’t think there’s any value in the 12/1 quote.
9. Red Cadeaux (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: Ed Dunlop
Jockey: Gerald Mosse
For: The biggest positive for Red Cadeaux is that he’s Red Cadeaux! The three-time Cup runner-up, the marvel, the Cup legend! Year after year, he’s there running the race of his life at Flemington. This year he even ventured to Sydney and ran another cracking second in the rich Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m, Group 1, weight-for-age) behind Criterion, whom he meets better at the weights by 2.5kg and at a more suitable distance. This horse is a swimmer. He’s never raced in a wet Melbourne Cup but we may be due one.
Against: He’s ten and he hasn’t won for 35 months.
In a few words: It’s hard to tip a ten-year-old in a Melbourne Cup but there’s no reason to think he won’t run well again.
10. Trip To Paris (English trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Ed Dunlop
Jockey: Tommy Berry
For: Trip To Paris profiles perfectly for this Melbourne Cup. He’s progressive. He will stay the trip without a worry in the world as a Group 1 winner over 4000m in England. He turned in a great Caulfield Cup trial when he stormed up the rails to run a close second. He has the speed you need to win a Melbourne Cup. He is very well weighted with 55kg, meeting the likes of Big Orange and Max Dynamite better at the weights. He comes from the stable of Ed Dunlop, the trainer of Red Cadeaux and the man that travels horses better than anyone in the world.
Against: The only knock is that he doesn’t go on soft ground.
In a few words: Top winning chance on a good track.
11. Who Shot Thebarman (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Blake Shinn
For: Who Shot Thebarman was a top third in this race last year and comes back a year later as a better horse with 0.5kg less to carry. He was a good seventh in the Caulfield Cup when he had to circle the field in the last 800m and he will be much better suited at Flemington. He was a great second in the Sydney Cup earlier in the year, once again affirming his status as a great 3200m horse. He goes in all ground.
Against: It’s hard to nail a negative down. It is very hard to win the Melbourne Cup after failing to win one previously. There are a few exceptions to the rule including Fiorente (second in 2012 and first in 2013) and weighted as well as he is, Who Shot Thebarman is capable of joining the list.
In a few words: A winning hope who should finish in the top eight.
12. Sky Hunter (English trained, British bred)
Trainer: Saeed Bin Suroor for Godolphin
Jockey: William Buick
For: Sky Hunter enters Tuesday’s race as a progressive stayer for Godolphin as they go in search of that elusive Melbourne Cup title. He’s only been seen twice this year but has acquitted himself well each time. He won a Group 2 (2400m, weight-for-age) in Dubai in March strongly before preparing for his Australian visit with a solid second in against an above-average Group 3 line-up over 2200m when he carried 2.5kg more than any of his well-credentialled rivals.
He is effective in all ground and he is well weighted with 54kg. Many people will point to the fact that Godolphin have never won a Cup despite their many and varied attempts as a negative but they have taken a number of placings in the race with unknown commodities like Sky Hunter in the past.
Against: He’s never been past 2400m before but there’s nothing to say he won’t stay. He’s another that is trying to defy the weight of history by winning the Cup without a prior lead-up in Australia.
In a few words: I quite like him at 40/1. A winning chance if things fall into place.
13. The Offer (Australian trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse
Jockey: Damien Oliver
For: Off the back of a dominant victory in the Sydney Cup, The Offer was the early favourite for last year’s Melbourne Cup. Unfortunately, after a Caulfield Cup failure, the campaign was aborted.
A reasonable spring this time around really took off with a strong victory in last Wednesday’s Bendigo Cup (2400m, Group 3, handicap). He benefits from avoiding a weight penalty after winning that race (quite strange considering some of the penalties handed out this spring by Greg Carpenter) and the drop down in weight from 59kg to 54kg is significant. He runs a strong 3200m, will appreciate the big Flemington track and is a superior animal on rain-affected going.
Against: Even as a Group 1 winner by four lengths, perhaps the slight concern is whether he is good enough to win a modern-day Melbourne Cup – they tend to be a lot stronger than the Cups of 15-30 years ago. I’m prepared to side with him, especially if the track is wet.
In a few words: He’s a good chance at big odds.
14. Grand Marshal (Australian trained, British bred)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Jim Cassidy
For: On Melbourne Cup Day last year Grand Marshal won by a nose the 2800m restricted-grade handicap. Then in April he caused a big upset when he ran down Who Shot Thebarman in the last stride to win what was the strongest Sydney Cup in at least 20 years. He is a definitely a stayer!
This spring, he’s gone to another level. He was competitive in a strong Hill (2000, Group 2, weight-for-age) on route to a very good 11th in the Caulfield Cup when he ran out of room at a vital stage, costing him fifth or sixth place. Grand Marshal is a stayer on the rise, and in wet ground, like so many of his Melbourne Cup opponents, several lengths better than on dry footing.
Against: Many will question whether Grand Marshal, a horse who was merely your no frills Saturday handicapper 12 months ago, is good enough to win a Melbourne Cup.
In a few words: He’s definitely good enough and a major player with considerable rain.
15. Preferment (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
For: Preferment, the 2014 Victoria Derby (2500m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) winner is back 12 months later hoping to emulate the feats of Phar Lap and Efficient as the only two horses to have completed the Derby-Cup double in consecutive seasons in the last 85 years. Preferment clearly has a liking to Flemington where he also won the Turnbull (2000m, Group 1, set weights and penalties) last month with a sustained finishing spurt. He meets Hartnell and Who Shot Thebarman 1kg better for beating them easily.
On paper, a 12.7-length thumping in the Cox Plate reads terribly, but as has been well documented the track prejudiced those racing wide on the bend and Preferment was one of those. Pleasingly he was closely quickly on Gailo Chop at the end and as the Mackinnon field learnt on Saturday, that’s no mean feat.
Preferment profiles similarly to Efficient, who won the race in 2007. Both Derby winners, four years old, coming off quiet runs in the Cox Plate and Flemington horses. Efficient was definitely more brilliant but a tad less consistent than Preferment.
Preferment goes to 3200m for the first time but he’s always looked like a real stayer to me.
Against: Preferment didn’t fire in the Australian Derby in April when the track was too soft. Expected to figure prominently, he wasn’t even able to get the bit between his teeth. He’s not a duffer in the wet because he won the Hill Stakes on a soft track last month. So, only if it is extremely wet (very unlikely according to the forecast), I’d be concerned.
In a few words: The X-Factor.
16. Quest For More (English trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Roger Charlton
Jockey: Damian Lane
For: Quest For More profiles perfectly for the Melbourne Cup. He is a young and progressive stayer that has his best performances laying ahead. His form ties in well with Trip To Paris, whom he finished alongside at Goodwood, yet meets considerably better at the weights.
Against: After being balloted out of the Caulfield Cup, Quest For More ran 16th in the Geelong Cup when he got trapped wide on the track and endured a tough run. It would take an amazing reversal of form to see him win on Tuesday. Horses do not tend to follow a race where they drop out after racing near the lead with a Group 1 victory, let alone in the Melbourne Cup. The campaign went to ashes at Geelong.
In a few words: Can’t have him.
17. Almoonqith (Australian trained, American bred)
Trainer: David Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
For: Some judges I respect highly have Almoonqith, the runaway Geelong Cup winner, ranked highly in their Melbourne Cup numbers. That makes me nervous. Earlier in the year, before being imported to Australia, he was an impressive winner over 2800m in Dubai at Group 3 level. He has a turn of speed that will win plenty of races in Australia.
Against: The two concerns I have are his ability to stay 3200m and a tendency to waste valuable energy by pulling for more reign when the pace slackens in a race. Following the big Dubai victory, Almoonqith loomed to figure in the finish of the Dubai Gold Cup (3200m, Group 2) but petered on his run about 300m from home. A slow pace would ordinarily help a horse suspect at two miles stay the trip but because Almoonqith that doesn’t settle as well as most stayers that will probably fire him up.
In a few words: I respect the hype but I’m against him.
18. Kingfisher (Irish trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Colm O’Donoghue
For: A patchy performance reel is highlighted by a second in the 2014 Irish Derby (about 2400m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights) and a close and unlucky second to Trip To Paris in the Ascot Gold Cup (about 4000m, Group 1, weight-for-age). He meets Trip To Paris 2kg better for the 1.3-length defeat.
Against: Kingfisher is probably better suited in easier races than the Melbourne Cup. I know he was second in an Irish Derby but it wasn’t the strongest renewal and he only beat three horses home. His most consistent form is at Listed level (the fourth tier of racing) where he usually wins.
Kingfisher comes into the Cup off a 43-length hiding in the Irish St Leger (about 2800m, Group 1) which was preceded by 16-length drubbing in that race’s main lead-up.
In a few words: He may be 40/1 but there’s plenty others at big odds that I have above him
19. Prince Of Penzance (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Michelle Payne
For: What a thrill for the owners of Prince of Penzance who have followed their horse all the way from a Stawell maiden to the Melbourne Cup. He enters this race off a good second, aided by enormous rail bias, in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m, Group 2, handicap). He meets his vanquisher, The United States, 0.5kg better at the weights. He won a weak Queens Cup (2500m, Group 3, handicap) at the last Melbourne Cup Carnival.
Against: Put simply, he’s not good enough to win a Melbourne Cup but he is honest enough to run a good race. The big concern I have is the distance. He’s never taken me as a two miler.
In a few words: He’s not a winning chance but he should be congratulated for making the field.
20. Bondi Beach (Irish trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Brett Prebble
For: Bondi Beach, the horse with the standout name in the Melbourne Cup, comes to Australia as a highly talented, highly progressive galloper. In preparation for the Cup, Bondi Beach was second in both Great Voltigeur (about 2400m, Group 2, three-year-olds, set weights) and the English St Leger (about 2900m, Group 1, three-year-olds, set weights). These are two of the top three-year-old races in Europe in each season. He handles all ground.
Against: What is interesting about Bondi Beach is that as a European three-year-old he is considered a four-year-old by Southern Hemisphere time. Essentially, he is six months older than an Australian three-year-old.
Using the standard weight-for-age scale, if he assessed as a Southern Hemisphere May three-year-old (May because May is six months later than November, when the Cup is run), the 52.5kg he is being asked to carry is 2.5kg under weight-for-age.
If he was an older horse that compares to being asked to carry 57kg in this Melbourne Cup. Only three horses have carried 57kg or more to Melbourne Cup victory since the metric system was employed for the first time in Australian racing in 1972.
In recent times, two European three-year-olds have run in the Melbourne Cup. Mahler, who was fifth in the 2007 Great Voltigeur and second in the 2007 English St Leger, carried two kilos less (50.5kg) than Bondi Beach into third in the 2007 Melbourne Cup as a 9/1 chance. Tres Bleu (51kg), who brought in French form, was 22nd at 25/1 in the 2013 Melbourne Cup.
In a few words: You could argue that Bondi Beach has been weighted out of the Cup. He’ll need to be super special to win it.
21. Sertorius (Australian trained, Australian bred)
Trainer: Jamie Edwards
Jockey: Craig Newitt
For: I jumped on the Sertorius bandwagon after he won a Moonee Valley 0-78 handicap in September 2012. He won five races in the next 14 months and I backed him each time. To see him run in a Melbourne Cup will be a great thrill.
Against: Unfortunately, Sertorius’ best form has deserted him this spring and he has no chance of winning. He is the rank outsider of the whole field.
In a few words: He’s another horse that should be celebrated for the achievement of making it into the race.
22. The United States (Australian trained, Irish bred)
Trainer: Robert Hickmott
Jockey: Joao Moreira
For: The United States enters the Melbourne Cup in top form. As a horse racing out of its skin, he demands respect. Partnered by Hugh Bowman, he brought Moonee Valley to its feet when he picked off his opponents one-by-one on the way to an exciting victory in the Gold Cup.
I remember reading that the Moonee Valley Gold Cup was to be The United States’ last run of his campaign. But he had improved so much that this plan was aborted and the ever-conservative Team Williams decided to throw caution to the wind and press on to the Melbourne Cup. That’s a big push in the horse’s favour.
Against: He’s rising significantly in grade and to a distance he’s never seen before. It will take a special performance to win the Melbourne Cup considering how far back The United States has had to come from to get to the starter on Tuesday.
In a few words: It’s a big ask for a special talent. An outside winning chance.
23. Excess Knowledge (Australian trained, British bred)
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
For: Excess Knowledge is superbly treated at the handicap with 51kg. He has been building beautifully through the spring to land in the Melbourne Cup off a massive, albeit narrow, win in the Lexus (2500m, Group 3, handicap). There he raced wide on the track on a day where it was a significant disadvantage to do so, and survived a line-ball protest to hold the race and his place in the Cup.
I know Gai Waterhouse has no trouble getting excited but you just get the feeling she was so happy to have got the photo decision her way on Saturday because she believes Excess Knowledge is a winning chance in the Cup.
Excess Knowledge has always shown Group 1 potential and he drops 5.5kg to carry the bottom weight here. He is peaking at the right time.
Against: Is he good enough to win the Cup? That’s the big question. I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.
In a few words: Good chance at big odds.
24. Gust Of Wind (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)
Trainer: John Sargent
Jockey: Chad Schofield
For: Gust Of Wind, the Australian Oaks (2400m, Group 1, three-year-old fillies, set weights) winner from the autumn, has been building towards the Melbourne Cup all spring.
She was fourth in the Caulfield Cup after racing closer to the speed than usual and lacked a tad of her powerful spurt in the straight. I’m prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt and say she will run out the 3200m, although I’m not convinced.
If she can settle in the middle of the field and produce her big finishing spurt in the straight, she’s a big chance.
Against: But, off her ok Caulfield Cup trial, I suspect it’s a big ask for the four-year-old mare. It’s been 14 years since Ethereal, the last four-year-old mare to salute in the great race, won the Cup.
In a few words: She’s capable but I’m not certain she has shaped herself as the Cup winner this spring.
1. Trip To Paris
3. Fame Game
4. Our Ivanhowe
The best roughies: Red Cadeaux, Sky Hunter, The Offer, Grand Marshal and Excess Knowledge.