The 2017 Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) is set to be an open event and there are a few local hopes to cheer on as Australia stops for a moment, or a day, to watch the 157th running of the great race on Tuesday at 3pm.
More 2017 Melbourne Cup
» Race report: Rekindling wins
» Who came last
» Complete finishing order
» Watch video highlights replay
» Re-live the race with our live blog
» Regal Monarch’s horror fall
» Winning trifecta and quinella
» Winning exact and first four
The field of 23 (after one scratching to Who Shot Thebarman) has maintained the international attention as well, with horses trained in Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland for the first time, Ireland, Germany, and France.
It has the look of an exciting race because we may have some genuine superstars of the track in our presence, with many formlines coming together. It’s quite an open race with a genuine number of chances.
Many of these thoroughbreds have met before, either here or overseas. And in theory, the handicap conditions of the race mean each horse is weighted against their previous performance. Every horse should get their chance to win based on the work of the VRC Handicapper Greg Carpenter.
There are actually three Australian-bred horses in the race, which is the most for some years, and two of those are mares. Boom Time, the Caulfield Cup winner, is the male of that trio and is a lightweight hope.
Amelie’s Star, trained by Darren Weir, and Single Gaze, the tough mare trained out of Canberra by Nick Olive, make a handy female duo.
The powerful local operation run by Lloyd Williams will have ownership of six runners in his navy colours – three trained here, one trained by Irish legend Aidan O’Brien, and two by Joseph O’Brien, his son. One of those is last year’s winner Almandin who is back again, trying to join a very select few by winning the Melbourne Cup back-to-back.
Listen out for a different voice from the grandstands too – caller Greg Miles has retired, with new caller Matthew Hill taking the microphone. He will have plenty of work to do keeping up with a field of 23.
Note two rules of thumb most people tend to hear each year.
1. Every winner of the Melbourne Cup since 1993 has had a lead-up run prior, meaning if an international horse hasn’t run in Australia before the race, it’s a bit of a black mark. Many years they run in the placings though, so it’s only a guide, not a rule! Three notable internationals this year have run here already: Johannes Vermeer (twice), Marmelo, and Wall Of Fire.
2. No horse since Tawriffic in 1988/89, who had finished outside of the top three placegetters in a previous year, has won the race at a subsequent attempt.
History is meant to be broken, but it also offers plenty of value in guiding us to what’s traditionally been helpful for finding the winner.
Let’s preview all the runners.
Trainer: James Cummings for Godolphin
Jockey: Damian Lane
For: Hartnell’s back, and the Cup is better for it as it also sees the return of the Cummings family to the Melbourne Cup. James saddles up Hartnell as a 29-year-old, and the great ‘Cups King’ Bart Cummings, his grandfather, saddled up his first runner when he was 30. James is doing well!
Onto the horse. Hartnell was third here last year, improving from 15th the year prior. He was as dominant as you could be behind Winx across the spring last year before grabbing third place, albeit beaten comfortably by Almandin then.
This year, his form has been mixed and he has found a few other horses a little too nippy for him.
He was a winner over 3200m back in Britain three years ago, in the Queen’s Vase at Ascot, and runs well on all track conditions. Early in the season, he won the P.B. Lawrence Stakes over 1400m, then had two seconds in Group 1s behind top performers, but followed up with a disappointing ninth of eleven in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) against similar class.
His jockey, Kerrin McEvoy, said after the Underwood that he was racing like he wanted his toe in, which means he’s looking for some softer ground that has had some rain.
While he rises in the weights from last year, he does have a 3kg turnaround on 2016 winner Almandin. He has the same barrier as last year.
Against: Hartnell isn’t going nearly as well as he was last year, and now carries 1.5kg more. Even with the weight turnaround on Almandin, he’s disadvantaged against most others.
He hasn’t enjoyed fast run races this preparation maybe because he doesn’t have the same speed in his legs – he’s far better when he can let down with a turn of foot in a slower run race. A sprint finish would elevate him significantly, but if we get a genuine pace in the race he could be found wanting.
Last year we all wondered if Hartnell could stay the distance. He certainly proved he’s versatile and class carried him into a third placing. But he’s not seen as an out-and-out stayer, he’s got far more brilliance than grinding stamina.
Last year we also were concerned the Melbourne Cup might not have been his target. That’s even more so the case this year, as he has run in different races. Godolphin even said they were targeting the Emirates Stakes rather than the Melbourne Cup, but with Winx likely to target that race, this has become the preferred option.
Will he see out a strong 3200m with the expected pace in the race? Has he been prepared for the distance all along? Can he regain the form of last year?
In a few words: The classy Hartnell isn’t going as well as he was last year when he was seemingly at his peak. Now he’s the topweight and faces an arguably better field. His best chance might be a moderately run race that allows him to sprint home quicker than some of the genuine stayers.
Trainer: Robert Hickmott for Team Williams
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
For: The big German horse was a brilliant winner of the Melbourne Cup last year, where he rose through the grades with a lightweight to just overcome Heartbreak City in a great finish. He was penalised 4.5kgs from that win in this race, and that will give the others a chance.
He put the writing on the wall with an absolutely dominant win in the JRA Cup at Flemington over 2500m back in September, as topweight. That’s why he’s the favourite here.
He’s very lightly raced with just 15 starts as an eight-year-old, which could mean he still has plenty left to show us. He beat Protectionist back in Germany before that horse won the Melbourne Cup as well. He deserves to be the favourite if you can forget about his last start.
Arguably the world’s best jockey, Frankie Dettori, who has finished runner-up here twice, takes the ride. He’s drawn slightly better in 14, last year jumping from barrier 17.
Against: Last year he made the big step up in class to the Melbourne Cup. This year he needs jump again under a big weight against arguably a better field, and now as an eight-year-old.
After that brilliant win in the JRA Cup, he disappointed with a fourth in The Bart Cummings (2500m) when he was expected to win easily again. Since then, he’s worked impressively. Many, many jockeys, trainers, and owners, will forgive one average run and if he’d won that race he might have received a weight penalty so there is no harm done from that viewpoint.
Dettori hasn’t won the Cup despite 15 attempts. He was fined $20,000 in 2015 and banned for a month when taking out nearly half the field looking for a run down the straight. Last year, he was third-last aboard Wicklow Brave.
It’s a strange thing, but many would have preferred Almandin to go with a local jockey who knows the track, rather than the flashy Dettori who has the proverbial monkey on his back. But Lloyd Williams, a friend of Dettori, is quite the romantic when it comes to racing and the Cup and so it’s not surprising we see the pair together.
In a few words: Like last year, he’s a top winning chance. Must beat the Dettori hoodoo to do so!
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Blake Shinn
For: Ex-Kiwi Humidor has really come into the reckoning for this race, finishing the closest anyone has come to actually beating Winx in the Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) last week. It was an incredible performance.
Humidor has shown he’s a fine weight-for-age performer. We first glimpsed that with his Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m) win over Jameka earlier this year. He then backed that up with a second in the Group 1 BMW (2400m), although he was beaten by six lengths by her in that race.
This spring, before the Cox Plate, he mixed his form. He was sixth in the PB Lawrence Stakes, and followed that up with a run that looked bad on paper in the Memsie Stakes, although he jumped slowly dropping back to last before finishing off well over the last 800m.
Following that he was very impressive in winning the Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m), beating Hartnell and Black Heart Bart off a hot tempo, running a fast time. He went into a match-up against Winx in the Turnbull Stakes and was expected to give her a fright, but he was very disappointing in the end only managing a distant third.
Darren Weir said he’d fiddle with his gear, but in the Caulfield Cup, he didn’t show his best from up on the pace. Weir lamented that he was ridden upside down.
Things went right in the Cox Plate. He loomed to threaten Winx in the straight like few other horses we’ve ever seen, until the great mare found that little bit extra that only champions can.
His sire is Teofilo, Dam sired by Zabeel so his breeding looks good for staying. He’s super fit. He jumps with Hartnell and Almandin next to him, two good horses to track in the race.
Against: Humidor is quirky. He can misbehave and lay-in or hang under pressure, which means he stops running straight and drifts across the track, which slows his forward momentum. Weir has given him blinkers which helped in the Cox Plate but he still displayed some bad manners there. He can jump from the barrier stalls slowly as well.
I’ve had question marks over his ability to run well as well as he does between 1600m and 2000m, to 2400m and beyond. The 3200m will test him given he hasn’t won beyond 2000m.
He needs to be ridden quietly before unleashing a run, and that may require a bit of luck in such a big field.
In a few words: Top chance who’s proving himself here at this distance, rather than already proven. If he stays he is a winning chance, but that’s a big question mark.
Trainer: Alain Couetil
Jockey: Olivier Peslier
For: Tiberian brings strong French form into this race and will be seeking his fifth win from his last six races, all in France. That’s great form, and he’s a leading international contender. There’s no query at the trip, and he has raced at Group 1 level too, although you can forget his failure on that occasion as the wet surface didn’t suit.
One of the really important facts about the horse is he has been brought here to race on a firm track. If he gets that, he’s a leading hope. He’s also versatile in that he can position anywhere in a race, but he likes a truly run race that allows him to settle early.
He has a touch of Dunaden about him with his French form, his French jockey, although Tiberian has arguably better form even if he didn’t race here before the Cup.
There’s also a good story that comes with Tiberian. His sire is Tiberius Caesar, a decidedly average plugger that won only one of his 25 races during a five-year career on the racetrack. But he was a stallion, and received an interesting job post-racing career.
Tiberius Caesar worked dutifully as a ‘teaser’ stallion for more ‘popular’ stablemates at Haras Du Logis stud. If you’re not familiar with that term, a teaser is a fairly unfulfilling role – his job is to help the dam get in the mood before the stallion is ushered in.
But it wasn’t all bad – Tiberius Caeser is allowed a once-off with mare Tomasina to keep him on his toes each season. He’s since sired two other registered runners, who have both won a few races in France as well. Tiberius Caesar is 17 years old and might still have another career ahead of him yet!
Here’s Tiberian, winning the Group 2 Lucien Barrière Grand Prix de Deauville, in France:
Against: Hasn’t raced in Australia before the Cup. Drawn wide in 23 although he can drop in so not a huge problem. Shocking won from this barrier in 2009. Tiberian drops right out of consideration if it’s a soft track but that shouldn’t be the case.
Both Hugh Bowman and Craig Williams have ridden the horse, but have elected not to stay with him, instead preferring Marmelo and Wall Of Fire respectively.
That brings Olivier Peslier, a French globetrotting jockey who has won 75 Group 1s around the world, to Australia for the first time. There’s no knock on the quality of jockey, and he knows Tiberian which is why he’s been given the ride. Peslier at least had a ride on Saturday to scope out Flemington, but it would’ve been better to have more experience at the track, so it counts against.
Here’s what Peslier said about the horse:
“He can make the running or drop in behind,” said the jockey. “He needs a decent pace otherwise he can pull a touch and so he’s better being allowed to stride on. I wouldn’t call him a straightforward ride.
“I’ve won on him both ways [in running] and we changed a couple of things which didn’t work out for him in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, but since then he’s won twice. He just takes a bit of knowing.”
In a few words: A really strong value hope if it’s a hard track (Good 4 or better). If only he’d raced here in the lead-up to give himself every chance, and us punters more of a lead! It appears that, on formlines and weight carried in Europe, he is the equal of both Marmelo and Red Cardinal.
Trainer: Hughie Morrison
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
For: International raider Marmelo has had good staying form in France. Importantly, he came to Australia early enough to run in a lead-up race, and put in an eye-catching performance in the Caulfield Cup, where he finished three lengths back in sixth.
He was a very good sixth, making up good ground on the outside, which was hard to do on a rails and leader biased day.
It wasn’t super flashy performance but he did enough at the finish for many to say “back him when he gets to the two miles of a Melbourne Cup”.
He’s only lightly raced with just 11 starts, but has only missed a place twice in his last nine races. He clearly gets the distance.
He won the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m), beating Red Cardinal in the process by a big margin, although the race was moderately run on a wet surface. Still, he did make the running proving his positional versatility. Following that win, a path was paved to the Melbourne Cup by trainer Hughie Morrison, and they were no doubt pleased he only received 55kgs from the handicapper.
Before the race above, he was second in the Group 2 Maur De Niell (2800m) at Saint-Cloud, and a good fifth in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup (2787m) before that.
Hughie Morrison told me months back that Marmelo was a genuine Cup chance, and went on to explain that Marmelo’s profile fits the two-mile course.
“I would hope, though I really have no previous experience on the race, that his profile as an improving stayer with good speed times over two miles gives him some sort of chance,” said Morrison via an email. “He is a big strong horse with a good attitude.”
Another Hugh, Bowman, takes the ride. He is yet to win a Melbourne Cup.
Against: Marmelo ticks far more boxes than he doesn’t, and looks versatile enough to either lead or sit at the back and steam home.
Let me say his Caulfield Cup run was good without being astounding. He caught Abbey Marie who ran with him from the back, but she arguably had a tougher race and did more work when swooping from the back, and they finished together at the end.
Marmelo’s trainer hasn’t attempted a Melbourne Cup campaign before, and Hugh Bowman hasn’t won the race either.
As far betting is concerned, he’s short in the market, and doesn’t present a lot of value. His draw in barrier 16 isn’t too bad as he’s near Almandin, a horse he’d want to track.
In a few words: A strong performance in the Caulfield Cup installed him as a top chance. Needs to lift to another level but looks capable.
Trainer: Andreas Wöhler
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
For: Red Cardinal is an import with exceptional form. He won the Group 2 Oleander-Rennen (3200m) comfortably at the beautiful Hoppegarten in Berlin. He then received an invite to run in the Belmont Cup Invitational (3219m) in the USA, and won that impressively to became the early Cup favourite.
He was given a final hitout in an important French staying race, the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m). This was a tougher race at weight-for-age than the race at Belmont – the Kergorlay was an unusual race on a soft track. Marmelo, who also lines up here, won it by setting just a moderate tempo, which didn’t suit Red Cardinal’s racing style. This guy only beat a few home to be fifth. It’s important not to put a line through him on that, with the word that he had a skin allergy making him uncomfortable as well.
German trainer Andreas Wöhler won this race for the same ownership group in Australian Bloodstock as Protectionist and is in Australia to oversee Red Cardinal (and get a bit of sunshine as well!). He is happy with how the horse is going.
It’s clear he stays the 3200m, an important tick. Kerrin McEvoy takes the ride, another plus.
Against: Red Cardinal hasn’t won at Group 1 level in Europe so this is a step up for him, and the big query is that he hasn’t had a lead-up run in Australia, which was the original plan. He was set to go in the Caulfield Cup, but connections elected to skip that race to avoid the possible repercussions of a hard Caulfield track surface.
That means his Melbourne Cup preparation hasn’t been ideal. It’s such a hard race to win that small hiccups can truly be the difference between triumph and disappointment.
Furthermore, Wöhler has stated this horse isn’t at the same level as Protectionist, who might well have won two Melbourne Cups if he’d stayed fit. The German trainer is a straight-shooter and said he was an each-way hope.
He’s drawn in what is the worst gate in barrier 24, which means he’s likely to be a long way back. That’s probably his racing style so it’s not too bad, and he’ll be alongside Tiberian, who McEvoy will be watching.
In a few words: Proven stayer with form good enough to win here, although not the best German trained horse we’ve seen. He has to overcome the statistic that an international needs a run here to actually win this race, and the widest barrier of all.
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Ben Melham
For: Johannes Vermeer is setting a different path as an international raider, with two runs already in Australia. And he’s shown on that form that Johannes Vermeer is not just a famous old dead painter!
The old master Aidan O’Brien trains this young guy, and he came to Australia bringing form from Group 3 races in Ireland. Before that, he ran in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes where he wasn’t far off the likes of Highland Reel and Ulysses, some of the better form in world racing.
He raced well in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) to flash home in second and put the writing on the wall for the Caulfield Cup.
He was a favourite for the Caulfield Cup. Things looked to be going his way in the race until he had to change course around the weakening Sir Isaac Newton. It cost him some momentum, although it remains debatable if he would’ve won in the end. It was a strong performance. They’ve now committed him to the 3200m and he’s fit. I expect him to be in a leading position from his barrier, right on the speed.
Against: When he first arrived in Australia his form didn’t suggest he’d take on a 3200m Melbourne Cup. He hasn’t raced beyond 2400m, and is therefore quite a bit of an unknown quantity. He did stay on in the fast Caulfield Cup so that leans you towards a decent two-mile performance.
I put him in a grouping with the likes of Humidor and Hartnell. These guys have a turn of foot but aren’t proper stayers types.
He’ll need some luck to be able to show his turn of foot, and that includes getting a somewhat moderate pace in the race.
In a few words: Another classy type that is looking to dash home rather than offer a long sustained sprint. If he gets that, he’s in with a chance.
Trainer: Robert Hickmott for Team Williams
Jockey: Michael Walker
For: This ex-Ireland galloper was a great three-year-old back at home in Europe but hasn’t seemed to like being in Australia. He’s been here twice before for a 16th in 2015 and a 13th in 2016. He had the ‘ultimate’ gear change in 2017, and is now a gelding.
Even though he hasn’t been going well, Team Williams have been surprisingly upbeat about him. There’s been a change to the way he’s trained and that might suit – honestly he couldn’t be going much worse. He’s wearing blinkers for the first time which look necessary. If he can bring the form he showed in Europe here proper, he could actually be a contender. He handles all ground.
Against: Bondi Beach hasn’t done a thing since the Melbourne Cup in 2015, with three runs this preparation all finishing way back in much lower grades than this.
It’s so hard to find reasons to back him when many others are either showing form or we know are capable if given the chance. Being drawn in 1 looks like a negative for him too.
In a few words: Team Williams know how to prepare horses for the Cup, and blinkers going on could sharpen him up. That’s all there is to go off as his form is plain bad.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Zac Purton
For: Max Dynamite was second in the (strange) 2015 Melbourne Cup and didn’t come back in 2016. He’s now back after that year off.
So what’s he done since then? He’s only raced four times, and one of those was the Galway Hurdle in early August. There’s little form evidence to go off.
In late August, his last run before the Melbourne Cup, he carried 73.5kg over 3419m for a strong win in a race worth just £8,316. That gives you some idea of the grade.
Actually, for even more information, it was a race run for licensed amateur jockeys like a Bong Bong Cup (hat-tip to Dominic Beirne for that info). The old Irish master Willie Mullins was just trying to get him fit without affecting his handicap.
— Hong Kong Racing (@HongKong_Racing) October 30, 2017
A big plus is that he will fire in wet conditions if any rain arrives. The news from Werribee, where the internationals are prepared, is that he’s looked very well and is setting great times – ‘smashing the clock’ is the phrase. That second in 2015, where he showed his turn of foot, says he can be in it again and being drawn in barrier 2 gives him an option or two.
Against: He’s so lightly raced recently that it’s quite hard to guess how he’ll go here. He has a turn of foot which can be useful if they go slow but we expect more pace.
You have to think the form of the other internationals is much higher grade and much better suited and, because of that, he’s a longshot on anything other than a bog.
In a few words: His form says no, but his preparation in Australia has apparently been rock solid so that’s in his favour. Rain dramatically helps his chances.
Trainer: David Hayes, Hayes, Dabernig.
Jockey: Glen Boss
For: This guy’s overseas form is pretty handy. He won an Italian Group 1 – the Gran Premio del Jockey Club (2400m) – in 2016, and was second in the English St Leger (2,921 metres) before that. As a young horse, he was purchased by a syndicate of owners including the Hayes-Hayes-Dabernig stable with the Melbourne Cup in mind, and they put the polish on him here.
There’s been a watch on this horse all preparation with everyone involved keen to get him out to further and further distances.
He’s run four times this prep, three times at Group 1 level, starting with a seventh in the Heatherlie Stakes (1700m), a decent show first-up.
He was almost untested in the Group 1 Makybe Diva (1600m) and didn’t get a chance to show too much. He then ran second behind Winx in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) – he was 6.5 lengths back to Winx but that’s not unusual and, all things considered, it was good, especially beating Humidor.
He went into the Caulfield Cup as a warm chance, where he dropped 2.5kgs off his Turnbull Stakes run to carry 54kgs. Unfortunately, he suffered a hoof issue and dropped out to finish 13th in a bit of a run to forget. He looked like a genuine chance before that. He’s been passed fit since, so he’ll be ready to go.
Barrier 6 gives him options.
Against: There have been a fair few excuses but still we haven’t seen Ventura Storm at his best.
If you ignore the Caulfield Cup run, which you have to given his injury, his best form is the Turnbull. He wasn’t near Winx and beat Humidor, but that form goes out the window based on the Cox Plate, where Humidor showed just what he can do. Ventura Storm has some distance performances but he was run down late over 2900m in the St Leger so his staying form has a small question mark.
The change of jockey to Glen Boss brings in an experienced rider (who could forget his Makybe Diva three-peat?), after regular jockey Regan Bayliss was suspended. Boss is a tick for a champion jockey, but Bayliss had the experience with the horse so perhaps that’s a small knock as well – they preferred Bayliss, not Boss.
In a few words: Has been improving throughout until a little injury mishap stopped him in the Caulfield Cup. He can be there in the finish and represents value.
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Tommy Berry
(He’s scratched, unfortunately)
For: Who Shot Thebarman is our grand stayer who goes around in the Melbourne Cup for a fourth time. He was third in 2014, 11th in 2015 (which wasn’t run to suit), and fifth last year.
Waller decided to follow last year’s preparation, but this year he went one better to win the Moonee Valley Gold Cup to show he’s not a spent force yet even as a nine-year-old. He gets 2kg off from last year which helps, especially if he’s going as well as ever.
He goes in all ground and ticks the important box for being able to run the distance and he’s been performing year after year.
Jockey Tommy Berry is a Sydney local who has recently been riding in Hong Kong, with his best result in the Melbourne Cup from five rides a fourth placing on Trip To Paris. He has the race experience. Drawn wide doesn’t hurt him.
Against: He’s a proper stayer who loves the 3200m. But he doesn’t always put in his best and will need a grinding pace in the race – which he got last year – as he has no turn of foot.
Again, it is very hard to win the Melbourne Cup after failing to win one previously. Plenty of others in the race have more dash, as Waller himself has acknowledged in the past.
The big negative is that he’s a nine-year-old and probably can’t win unless he gets every bit of luck possible.
In a few words: Scratched. He was a good chance to run top eight, too.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Stephen Baster
For: Wicklow Brave was 22nd in 2016 where a wide barrier draw (24!) ended his chances. He’s drawn much better this time.
Since that race, he’s performed quite well, although not up to the formlines of the last year. Irish trainer Willie Mullins obviously thinks a lot of him to try him again along with stablemate Max Dynamite, and his Irish staying form isn’t bad.
His best results are finishing a close second to Rekindling in the Group 2 International Curragh Cup (2816m), and a fourth in the Group 3 Belmont Cup (3218m) behind winner Red Cardinal.
He decided not to fight the rule and ran in the Caulfield Cup this year in the lead-up to the race but didn’t show much when finishing in 12th. That was a touch disappointing but at least he ran here.
Against: That third-last in 2016 doesn’t read well, and he faces a tough job of winning from that as a nine-year-old. He is drawn better, however.
He’s been in big races in Ireland and elsewhere but has just has been a few lengths off the winners consistently. He only drops 2kg from last year.
His best form is on rain-affected ground so the surface doesn’t look to suit him. Jockey Stephen Baster jumps on and while he knows his way around Flemington, he was set to ride a different horse in Jon Snow until he was ruled out with injury. I don’t think that helps.
In a few words: He’s ticked a few boxes for the international contingent, but he’s fighting his age and better performances from his international cohort. Needs a wet track to be a top-six chance.
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Brenton Avdulla
For: Big Duke showed enough early form in Europe to be purchased by Australian Bloodstock, and he’s been here acclimatising since last 2016 with the Cup in mind.
In the autumn this year, Big Duke showed what he was capable of, winning Sydney Cup lead-up races in the Group 3 Manion Cup (2400m) and the Group 2 Chairman’s Cup (2600m), before grabbing third in the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m) itself, carrying 52kgs. These races were all on rain-affected ground.
That saw him capable of performing in the Melbourne Cup and over the distance, and he’s had six starts on his way to the race already.
His first race was a good fifth over 1600m at Caulfield on August 19th carrying a big weight, and he followed that up with a fifth in the Opie Cup over 1600m, but was then flat in the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) where he was 10th.
They decided to take him back up to Sydney where he showed far more promise, grabbing second in the Group 1 Metropolitan (2400m) and then winning the St Leger (2600m), with Cismontane in third and with no weight pull against.
In his last run before the Melbourne Cup, he was put into the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) to test him out back in Melbourne. He was fourth, just two lengths off, and never really had a chance to win, stuck in traffic in a very unfortunate ride. He looked like he could’ve won that.
He’s jagged a handy barrier in 5 and should have a few options from there with Avdulla a fine jockey to have on him. During the lead-up, he was put over the jumps by Darren Weir to keep him sharp (along with Humidor) so he should be on the ball.
Against: Big Duke hasn’t quite put the writing on the wall. Before he went to Sydney, he seemed to go backwards in the Naturalism. And while he’s run well in the Harbour City in his two starts, the form out of those races isn’t holding up. Foundry, who won The Metropolitan, was a mile back in third in the Bendigo Cup last week and won’t even start in the Melbourne Cup. Third-placer Chocante packed up shop and went back to New Zealand.
The St Leger form looks only okay as well, with most of the runners in that then going to the Moonee Valley Cup, and the old boy Who Shot Thebarman beat them all. It does help that Cismontane from that race won the Group 3 Lexus Handicap (2500m), so there’s form out of the Moonee Valley Cup.
Going back further, he was a lightweight chance in the Sydney Cup and was beaten by Who Shot Thebarman, carrying 5kgs less. He’s only carrying 0.5kgs less here. (Although Who Shot Thebarman is out now).
So his formlines aren’t as impressive as some of the others, but at least he’s been beating them – or looking like he could.
In a few words: He’s hit form at the right time, and should get 3200m. Will enjoy a shower of rain but doesn’t need it. A place chance.
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Jockey: Jamie Spencer
For: US Army Ranger had a wonderful 2016 in his three-year-old season. He was second in the legendary Group 1 Epsom Derby (2414m), a huge race for colts, and before that won the Group 3 Chester Vase (2500m). He had a few more starts where he performed well, with another second in the Group 3 Enterprise Stakes (2414m) the highlight.
This year he’s mixed his form, and unfortunately tailed right off as the year progressed. He started off placing twice at Group 3 level, then was last in the Group 1 Coronation Cup (2423m) but rose to be third in the Queen Alexandra over the marathon 4355m.
His second last start is better than it looks, with an eighth in a strong Goodwood Cup that has shown good formlines, before being last again before heading to Melbourne in the Enterprise Stakes.
Against: Actually, most of the above explains why it’s easy to be against him. His season as a European four-year-old wasn’t anywhere near his three-year-old form, six runs without a win, although he has placed three times in easier company.
He tailed off enough that most didn’t think he’d come down, but Joseph O’Brien brought him. That’s likely because of the Lloyd Williams influence, and perhaps partly as a stablemate with Rekindling.
Most international Cup raiders have performed well enough to convince their trainers to bring them down. This guy seems a bit thrown into things based on his form, but Lloyd Williams is positive on him. Drawn out in 22 doesn’t help.
In a few words: He was a fantastic three-year-old in 2016, but he hasn’t shown that form this year. He’d be one of those surprises that can happen in horse racing, but a big risk and his odds show that.
Trainer: David Hayes, Tom Dabernig, Ben Hayes
Jockey: Cory Parish
For: This up-and-coming stayer won the 2017 Caulfield Cup against many of his opposition here today, a strong staying performance in a very fast run race. This time last year this guy was running at Flemington in benchmark 1600m races, so he’s come a long, long way.
He showed good signs before a very good performance in the Herbert Power Stakes, the only front-runner in a fast race to be there at the end.
He’s lightly-weighted and is rock-hard fit. David Hayes trains and owns him, which gives him all the control over his races and his riders. Hayes even wants to take him to the Japan Cup!
If the Melbourne Cup turns into another very fast race he can be there at the end. His draw is helpful.
Against: He’s not classy – Hayes himself called him a Group 3 horse – so Boom Time needs things to go right for him. The draw helps there. He failed over 3200m in the past, although that was the Sydney Cup on a bog.
He copped a 1kg penalty from his Caulfield Cup win which will set him back a little on his rivals.
The Caulfield Cup field wasn’t up to the quality of this field, and the track bias on the day helped him significantly.
Only 11 Caulfield Cup winners have gone on to win the Melbourne Cup, and only two in the last 20 years, with Might And Power in 1997 and Ethereal in 2001. Boom Time is no Might And Power, unfortunately!
His sire is Flying Spur, the famous Golden Slipper winner from 1995. That’s very unlikely breeding for a stayer. He’s shown his staying credentials but 3200m is surely a test.
In a few words: This Aussie needs everything to go his way again and in racing, that rarely happens.
Trainer: Robert Hickmott for Team Williams
Jockey: Michael Dee
For: Gallante won the Group 1 Sydney Cup over 3200m in 2016 for Lloyd Williams on a heavy track, and clearly likes the distance and a wet track. He’s lightly raced and gets a track that he likes at Flemington. He drops 1.5kg from his attempt last year.
It’s fairly likely that Gallante will try running to the front and setting a fast tempo, so he’ll be easy to spot for his backers.
Against: He’s a little too easy not to want here. He hasn’t shown any form at all, and didn’t prove anything running in the Geelong Cup as topweight.
That might be explained in that he’s a quirky horse. His sire, Montjeu, can do that to his progeny. He doesn’t like the same pressure that stayers like Who Shot Thebarman and Wicklow Brave relish, and we should see a race with similar pressure.
He doesn’t have many miles in his legs ahead of the gut-busting 3200m. Would dearly prefer a wet track and that can’t be under-emphasised. Another unfortunate stat is that barrier 18 has never won the Cup.
In a few words: He’s a genuine roughie not among the main chances unless it pours. Likely to continue with the barrier 18 hoodoo.
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
For: Libran was a fine European galloper across his seasons in 2014 and 2015. He was bought up by Australian connections sometime in late 2015, and arrived here in time to have one hit-out on Oaks Day in 2015.
He was spelled and then put together a very good 2016 autumn, winning Sydney Cup lead-ups, culminating in a second-placing in the Sydney Cup before he suffering an injury to miss the spring. (It’s interesting to see how closely that 2016 autumn matches Big Duke’s 2017 autumn formline, without injury.)
Libran reemerged back on the scene this autumn but didn’t show anything like his 2016 form, finishing out of the places in all five races in a campaign dogged by wet tracks which didn’t suit.
His spring needed to show promise, and after a first-up hit-out in the Group 2 Chemlsford Stakes (1600m) behind Winx, he impressively won the Group 3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m) at long odds.
That was enough to get excited about the horse and his Melbourne Cup chances, but he didn’t do much in two other starts in Sydney, finishing out of the places in The Metropolitan and the St Leger, both times behind Big Duke. Cismontane also comes through those races and gets a 1kg weight drop from the Moonee Valley Gold Cup.
In a final test, he was a good second in the Moonee Valley Cup behind stablemate Who Shot Thebarman, where he came from last, went past the field, then got a shade tired right at the end. Libran gets a 3kg weight turnaround on what ‘Thebarman was given, which will help, and that run was enough to halve his Melbourne Cup quote.
He goes on good and soft ground, and is drawn to get a place just better than midfield.
Against: Libran’s best might see him capable of grabbing a place, but he’s been so patchy. Aside from that one win in the Kingston Town, he hasn’t done a lot to flatter. His formlines are exposed enough to tell a story too.
He’s fallen twice to Big Duke in Sydney staying races, and even though the record shows Libran beat him in the Moonee Valley Cup, Big Duke didn’t have things go his way. Big Duke only carries 0.5kg more than him in the Cup. Who Shot Thebarman, who is also in those formlines, looked far more consistent as a nine-year-old before being scratched and Libran was tired at the end of that race. That’s not ideal for a stayer hoping for 3200m.
I do have a slight query on his ability to stay 3200m – the Sydney Cup last year wasn’t high class, and he wasn’t tested beyond 2500m in his European career. His best looks more like 2000m-2800m or so.
It’s Dwayne Dunn’s first ride on him and a jockey more familiar with the horse would help.
In a few words: Libran’s form hasn’t been consistent enough to find reason to back him, and the distance query doesn’t help. He’s no duffer but everything tells us he’s a little behind at least two others in this race.
Trainer: Iain Jardine
Jockey: Glyn Schofield
For: Nakeeta is a classic handicapper from Scotland, who finally grabbed his maiden Group 1 win in the Ebor Handicap (2800m) at York. Before this career-best triumph, he hadn’t managed a win since 2015.
The Ebor is generally good form for the Melbourne Cup. Heartbreak City ran similar time in the race last year and then came here and was second to Almandin.
Runner-up to Nakeeta in the Ebor was the up and coming Flymetothestars, who had been building a solid record coming into the race, and the pair did put a two-length margin on the rest of the field.
— York Racecourse (@yorkracecourse) August 26, 2017
The comments after the Ebor told us that Nakeeta needs cover, which he’s likely to get in a big field, and his barrier draw in 19 all but confirms that. But that means he’ll be coming through horses which always poses difficulties.
Trainer Iain Jardine is the first Scottish trainer to try his hand at a Melbourne Cup.
Against: The Ebor was great, but there hasn’t been much form out of that race from the other runners, and it was a special sort of ride that got him there. The Ebor hasn’t actually produced a Cup winner even though there’s been some close calls.
It is of some concern that the horse has failed to win in eight starts beyond 3000m, but on the other hand, he has run four placings, with three of those at 3200m and beyond. He’ll stay but he’s not classy.
Handicappers used to come out from Europe and be able to win but there are a few better stayers going around. His weight of 53kgs isn’t heavy but he doesn’t get much off horses like Tiberian, Marmelo, and Wall Of Fire.
He hasn’t had a run here so he needs to break that rule, and Jardine hasn’t had a Melbourne Cup runner before.
His stats read much better on soft tracks, so he’ll want some rain.
In a few words: He’s the Ebor winner, and that was his peak. He’ll need to lift another few levels here, and might not enjoy a hard track, but the race should be run to suit.
Trainer: Nick Olive
Jockey: Kathy O’Hara
For: This tough little mare was going about her Melbourne Cup campaign quietly until Kathy O’Hara judged her Caulfield Cup ride perfectly to lead up the field and hold on with a great show to finish second. That meant she didn’t pick up a penalty but went home with a big prize and an ideal Melbourne Cup preparation.
This chestnut mare, which O’Hara has partnered with throughout, is rock-hard fit. Her lead-up races have all been with the Cup in mind, and have all been Group 1s. And the form shows she’s been going better each time: The Memsie (10th), Makybe Diva (5th), Underwood (4th), Caulfield Stakes (4th) and then the Caulfield Cup (2nd). As the distance has increased, her performances have increased, so there’s hope for her 3200m performance again.
I like her, she’s trained by a Canberran in Nick Olive who deserves accolades for getting here for the first time, she’s a top Australian hope, and a great story too. Drawn in 11 looks suitable for her to be on the speed without needing to burn too much early. That’s quite a big tick for her and she should be able to get a Caulfield Cup-like run.
Against: Before the Caulfield Cup, in my preview for that race, I said she wasn’t classy enough, having only won once at Group 1 level in now ten starts. She’s not quite a weight-for-age star, but this is a handicap!
Her Caulfield Cup performance was strong but may have been advantaged by the pattern on the day. Racing at Caulfield that day was all about being both on the pace, and near the rail where the ground was much harder, and she was given the perfect run with those conditions.
She’s a great story but it has to be pointed out that it’s unlikely things work out for her quite the same in terms of the advantages she received in the Caulfield Cup day. It’s also her first time out to 3200m and her trainer’s first Cup preparation.
In a few words: She’s tough, she’s brave, she’s gutsy but how good can she be? Goes in all my exotics based on her perfect preparation and value odds.
Trainer: Hugo Palmer
Jockey: Craig Williams
For: Back in May, trainer Hugo Palmer was talking about trying to get this guy qualified for the Melbourne Cup. He was sixth in the Group 2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m), and did well enough in his two next starts to receive an invitation to the Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) where he was only eighth, behind winner Red Cardinal and Wicklow Brave (fourth). That race didn’t seem to suit him, doing work early and then carting up the field to tire late.
His next start was a very strong second in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2716m) behind top-performer Defoe, and might’ve beaten him with more luck, and did beat Frontiersman on his merits at the same weights – that horse was a chance of running here too.
But it was his first start in Australia in the Herbert Power Stakes that ticked a lot of boxes. He ran home in a flash to grab second behind Lord Fandango, who set a track record time, with the formline of that race leading to the Caulfield Cup in Boom Time and second in the Geelong Cup. That’s very strong form, possibly the best going into the Cup, and Wall Of Fire was impressive that day. He drops 5kgs from that run.
Hugo Palmer said the race has “been his goal all season” after his very good Geoffrey Freer run and that’s always good to hear. He doesn’t mind a hard track which looks like it will be the case tomorrow. Craig Williams takes the ride, and although his form has been up and down, he’s a top-level jockey. Barrier 15 is right with some of the better chances in the race if he can find a position.
Against: The early risk for the horse is that he’d just miss making the field, where he sat 26th and then 24th for quite a long time.
Now that he’s in, he’s a genuine chance. The formlines in the Belmont Cup in the US behind Red Cardinal and Wicklow Brave aren’t overly favourable, but I’d almost forget that run given the way it was run. He’s a younger horse, an improving type, and holds a nice low handicap. Big ticks.
He’s had two goes at 3200m without placing, but in quality events, and the distance doesn’t appear an issue. He is likely to be making ground from the back so may need some luck to get clear running in a big field.
Craig Williams needs to overcome some recent poor form to get Wall Of Fire steaming home.
In a few words: One of the best international contingent hopes who played their cards well to get him into the Cup with a good weight. Has had a run here and if he improves on that, which many do, is a winning chance.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Joao Moreira
For: This former hurdler took a break from the jumps in April to try flat racing in June. On his first start, he won the 2017 Ascot Stakes (4014m) in a track record time, then remarkably backed up four days later with a second in the Queen Alexandra Stakes (4355m) to beat US Army Ranger.
Mullins said at that point that the end game was the Melbourne Cup.
He battled to seventh in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3269m) at York which was a pass mark given that he raced on the speed. He turned that around with a second in the Group 2 Doncaster Cup (3599m). He presents with similar form to 2012 Melbourne Cup fourth-placegetter Simenon and 2016 second-placer Heartbreak City.
More joy for favourite backers as Desert Skyline justifies the strong market support & claims the Doncaster Cup under Silvestre de Sousa pic.twitter.com/el0XhB2tyH
— Bet Geoff Banks (@BetGeoffBanks) September 15, 2017
He goes on all ground and carrying 52kgs will be the lightest weight he’s ever had. He won’t know himself and should be fit enough from his last race in mid-September. Jockey Joao Moreira is the ‘Magic Man’ from Hong Kong and knows this race, and has been booked to ride him for some time.
Against: This guy is a real marathon horse. He’s recently been racing over longer distances but does have five starts for two wins and a second over 3200m.
He lacks a turn of foot that can be so valuable in Australian racing, which came in handy for Heartbreak City.
He’s another with stamina that will be looking for a strong tempo in the race and won’t do well without it. Another wide barrier for another international horse means a complicated start for Moreira.
Probably the biggest knock is he hasn’t had a run in Australia but at least he has raced recently.
In a few words: He looks the best of the three Willie Mullins horses on paper, and has a low weight to show what he can do. Will 3200m be far enough?
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Jockey: Corey Brown
For: This young colt is trained by Aidan O’Brien’s son and has Lloyd Williams as part of the ownership.
He’s only a young stayer, far younger than the usual imports we see. In his formline, he won the Group 2 Curragh Cup (2800m) over Wicklow Brave, in an impressive display where he had to make up significant ground.
He was a long second in the Group 3 St Leger Trial behind Order Of St George, beating Wicklow Brave again, before finishing fourth in the Group 1 (English) St Leger (2921m) itself, which is not an easy race for three-year-olds at Doncaster.
— Great British Racing (@GBRacing) October 4, 2017
He’s a four-year-old by Australian standards but even that is quite young.
He only carries 51.5kg and the Order Of St George form is world class, and the English St Leger is proper form as well, and he was only three lengths off the winner. He gets the best draw of the international contingent in barrier 4. That shortened his odds too.
We haven’t heard a lot about him, but Lloyd Williams said earlier last week:
“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Rekindling is a very good staying horse,” Williams said. “I thought his run in the [English] St Leger was terrific.
“He’s a tough little fellow. He has had a long season but he looks good and has put on weight since he has been here.
“He is showing good signs.”
He could be anything, a real x-factor to this horse.
Against: He’s so young and the Melbourne Cup is such a tough race. He’s had a very long preparation and only had nine starts in his career. It would be understandable if he needs a break.
Most of the races he’s run have been on wet tracks, with only two starts in the dry for one win. He also hasn’t gone out to over 3200m yet.
All of those unknowns mean you have to have a lot of faith in him, and the other element is that he hasn’t run in Australia before the race.
In a few words: An unknown quantity so plenty will look elsewhere for a winner, but if he can sustain a very long preparation he could prove capable.
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Dean Yendell
For: Amelie’s Star is the second Aussie mare but quite different to Single Gaze, although both are well-prepared and have fitness on their side. Amelie’s Star has already had six runs preparing her for the Melbourne Cup.
Her history is worth a look – she’s a six-year-old who only had a dozen starts before this preparation. She missed 18 months through injury, including the entire 2016 calendar year.
Before her injury, she won four straight, from a maiden at Hawkesbury through to a Group 3 over 2400m at Rosehill. Returning to the track for autumn 2017, she grabbed the Group 2 Queen Of The South over 1600m, and was fourth in the Group 1 Doomben Cup (2000m).
She resumed okay off only a short break in the PB Lawrence and then bounced up in the Heatherlie Stakes to grab third in a close photo, running gamely down the outside with the third-fastest last 200m.
Amelie’s Star then put in a great effort in The Bart Cummings to win and go straight into the Melbourne Cup as a ballot-exempt runner. She ran down Almandin easily that day.
Her Caulfield Cup was a disappointing, but you can forget it based on a bad ride from Craig Williams who burned too much petrol with her early – his words, not ours!
She’s fit as you can be and only has to lug 51kgs, and goes well in all conditions. She’ll be coming at them late and from barrier 10 shouldn’t be too far back in the running to doing so.
Against: Amelie’s Star needs luck as she’s trained by Weir to be like Humidor – stay off the speed, and come home late. To be successful there you need clear running and it helps to have a tow into the race. In a big field that’s not a given.
That makes her barrier draw more important than others.
In a few words: Lightweight hope with more sprint home than others, but needs the best ride and best run in the race to have a chance.
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott
Jockey: Beau Mertens
For: Cismontane was the last horse to make it into the field. He might be bred in New Zealand but with all his races here in Australia, might as well be an Aussie. He’s had runs at Newcastle, Kembla Grange, and Hawkesbury early in his career so at least he’s been seen around the traps, and he’s come a long way.
This guy won the Lexus on Saturday for Gai Waterhouse and training partner Adrian Bott, and backs straight up from that into this race, so he’s fit as can be. He didn’t receive a penalty out of that from the handicapper and with 50kgs on his back, he’s carrying the least weight of all runners.
— Racing.com (@Racing) November 4, 2017
In winning that race, he beat Vengeur Masque, the Geelong Cup winner, to do so, and held off some Sydney formlines in Alward. Pentathlon, who was third in the Lexus, managed to grab ninth in the Melbourne Cup last year. He was tough, and it was a strong performance.
He has a lot of early speed, and Waterhouse will probably be hoping he can lead, although he’s drawn wide.
In the formlines that lead into this race from Sydney in the St Leger Stakes, and then from the Moonee Valley Gold Cup, he’s been very close to both Big Duke and Libran (and the now-scratched Who Shot Thebarman).
He goes on all ground and doesn’t mind the Melbourne way of going.
Against: He’s not overly classy, having never run in a Group 1 before, and he hasn’t been out to 3200m before either so this will be a big test of his staying powers.
In winning the Lexus, he sped out to grab the lead and set the tempo. To do that again he’ll need to burn early and not many horses can do that in a Melbourne Cup and hold on to win, given the quality of stayers we’re seeing.
In a few words: He should give a big sight at the front of the field, and they’ll be chasing him home. How long can he hold on carrying no weight on his back depends on the race style but if he doesn’t get run down it’d be a huge surprise.
If you don’t watch much racing, the speed of each race is all important. The leader dictates the pace, and that can be crucial in deciding if it’s run fast or slow.
You can tell the pace by watching how strung out the field are. If they’re all running in a bunched order, without much distance from first to last, it’s slow. That’ll suit the horses at the front and those that have a turn of foot that like to charge home. The analogy I always use is to think of Usain Bolt slowly jogging for a kilometre with a marathon runner, and then the pair sprint the final 200m. Bolt wins, every time.
If it’s that kind of race, horses like Humidor, Hartnell, Amelie’s Star, and even Libran are more suited. Even Thomas Hobson has shown he has a turn of foot rather than a long, sustained run. This was how 2015 was run, but 2016 and 2017 were faster.
If the pace of the race is more genuine, or simply a lot faster, you’ll see the field more spread out. There’ll be gaps. There’ll be a big fight for the lead and then the leader will settle into a rhythm and hope to keep everyone behind it.
This year, like in 2016 and 2017, most are expecting more speed in the race. Horses that like to lead are drawn all across the track. We should see pace injected and that sets the Cup up to be ridden at a genuine tempo.
More genuine pace suits the stayers. These are the marathon runners, distance athletes, with stamina, not speed. These guys are the majority of the imports and overseas trained horses, but also our locals Boom Time and Single Gaze too.
That kind of race is likely to suit those that can stay and asks big questions of those that aren’t tough staying types. Of course, with such a big field, it’s extremely hard to be able to predict exactly what will happen. The best we can do is go off previous form and any announcements made pre-race about desired positioning in the race.
What a tough race! I’m sticking with Almandin as the one to beat, the outstanding stayer here.
The likes of Marmelo, Tiberian, Red Cardinal, Wall Of Fire, Max Dynamite, and Thomas Hobson should all be coming from the back, and my preference with them goes to those that have run here in the lead-up.
But I have my tips below for you to consider in your bets, across win, place, each-way, and exotics such as a trifecta or first-four. Best of luck.
1. Almandin (2)
2. Marmelo (5)
3. Wall Of Fire (20)
4. Humidor (3) – and throw in Wicklow Brave if it rains.
The roughies: Tiberian (if there’s no rain), Ventura Storm, Amelie’s Star, Boom Time.