Now we’re talking. The big guns are beginning to come back in Sydney, and we have three Group 1 races in Melbourne to get into.
The Group 3 Lexus Handicap (2500m) is not the biggest race on magnificent Derby Day, but it’s the only one that will affect the Melbourne Cup just four days later.
The race is ballot exempt, meaning the winner gets a guaranteed start in the Melbourne Cup, no matter the weight allocated to the horse.
Out of ten runners in the Lexus this year, eight of them are entered into the Melbourne Cup. Not one is in the top 24 in the order of entry, which might cause some hardship to those on the borderline at final acceptances.
Wall Of Fire currently holds position 24, and much has been said about Thomas Hobson’s chances, but he’s currently 26th in the order and could drop lower if the Lexus winner takes his place in the field. There’s at least two question marks with Qewy and Gallante but it’s going to be tight.
Where the Lexus might have been a tune-up race in previous years, now it’s a last-chance dash to try and make the grade. The eight runners here intermittently fill places 27 to 36 in the order of entry. They haven’t been good enough until now this season, and that places some small pressure on the Lexus managing to hold ballot-exempt status.
The last Cup winner from the Lexus was Shocking in 2009, with Signoff fourth in 2014, the most recent best performance.
The 2017 version does hold a few improving types and it’s an open race. Six runners were in single-figures at last check, and picking a winner is not going to be easy.
Harlem, Venguer Masque and Alward are the three horses racing in best form and hoping to get into the Cup.
Harlem was the big winner of the Naturalism ahead of Almandin but didn’t improve off that run in his next two starts, which included the Caulfield Cup. He wasn’t far away though and he looks very capable here if he can get back to that earlier form for David Hayes, Tom Dabernig, and Ben Hayes stable.
Vengeur Masque won the Geelong Cup by a whisker over Gallic Chieftain but was only given a 0.5kg penalty, so has to back up here again. He turned things around nicely for trainer Michael Moroney after a number of wide draws and more training to get him to settle for the staying trip. He’s drawn wide again in barrier eight but will be hopeful of being able to find a spot on the speed without jockey Patrick Moloney using up too much petrol. He looks well-weighted on 54kgs here.
What A Thriller!
— Racing.com (@Racing) October 25, 2017
Alward, the Chris Waller trained ex-French galloper, is carrying Sydney form on his back, winning four out of six in lower-class events, and was only run down late last start at Randwick when a soft track tired him out. He’s tough and hard fit.
Ecuador for Gai Waterhouse hasn’t been far away at Group 1 level but was a few lengths off them in the Seymour Cup which was much lower class than anything else he’s been in this year. He’s well drawn in barrier 1 and should be handy to the speed which helps. Not entered in the Melbourne Cup so he’ll be cheered on by the Wall Of Fire connections. He can come very close if he’s back to form.
Stablemate Cismontane is the last hope for a Waterhouse runner in the 2017 Melbourne Cup and I think he’s capable. He comes off two third placings and wasn’t given a great ride last start in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup where he was pushed to the front to control a slow tempo. Not sure that really helped him and I think he can be better than that. From barrier six he can lead, but expect more pressure.
Kellstorm is a surprise runner for mine because he went so badly in the Geelong Cup. The stewards report said post-race checks found no abnormalities, and “rider Michael Dee was of the view his mount may be at the end of its preparation”. It’s perhaps either a piece of Weir magic that he’s back or they’re just rolling the dice. He’s an improving type. I actually already have a peanut on this guy in the Melbourne Cup, partly because he’s the full brother to Order Of St George, and yet I can’t see him winning this off that run.
Aloft is trying to win this race to be a chance at getting a seventh runner for the Lloyd Williams ownership into the Melbourne Cup. They’ve already got six in there, including favourite Almandin, Johannes Vermeer, and Rekindling, although Gallante, currently 20th in the order of entry, is in some doubt and hasn’t been in form.
Aloft is shorter than I expected, which is partly the Williams influence on the race. His preparation for the Cup has been spaced, and he won at Flemington over 2000m, then ran a good third behind Almandin over 2500m here. It went wrong for him in the Herbert Power where he got his tongue over the bit and finished a mile off them to be second-last. If you can forgive that run, he’s in with a big chance.
Guardini has the most weight in the Melbourne Cup of these with 53kgs, but he hasn’t yet passed the ballot clause yet. He was great way back in the Heatherlie Handicap (1700m) but then was second-last and last in two other races, the latter being the Cranbourne Cup. Last start he was placed at Moonee Valley and will be on the speed from the draw, but I’d have to go around him on the form.
Havana Cooler is the other non-Melbourne Cup runner for James Cummings. He was third in this race last year, and has had three starts this prep that have gradually been getting better with improvement in the St Leger at Randwick. With Hugh Bowman on board he’s not out of it and should get a handy spot to steam home from barrier 3.
The Kiwi Pentathlon is the final horse in this preview. He was seventh in this race last year and went on to scrape into the Cup field where he was ninth, and picked up $125,000 for his troubles, thank you very much. While he’s entered in the Melbourne Cup again and a win here could see him in, he hasn’t shown a great deal at all and from barrier 10, gets no favours.
Not an easy race to pick a winner and I’ll only be playing a few very small exotics given how hard it is. The big focus is on how it affects the Melbourne Cup!
1. Vengeur Masque