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The well-weighted five in the Melbourne Cup

The Caulfield Guineas: one of Australia's best race days. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Roar Guru
6th November, 2017
17

Before we get to the good stuff, a little explanation is required about handicapping terminology.

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

I won’t explain how official handicapping system work. All the reader needs to know concerning the Melbourne Cup weight analysis is that when I refer to World Rankings (WR), that is a globally recognised number, like Winx having a WR132 points. The (WR) crosses borders.

The other handicap measurement referred to is the Official-Handicap-Rating (OHR) or more commonly known as a benchmark or domestic rating. This is a localised rating. There is a finite relationship between the two styles.

International horses usually arrive with a (WR) that is then converted to a (OHR). There are reasons but it is not necessary to explain here.

With regards to this year’s Cup, there is a three point difference from a competitors (WR) to their (OHR) described as that horse’s benchmark.

Just to repeat, if I discuss a World Ranking (WR) just minus three to get the domestic rating (OHR) or conversely add three points to the (OHR) if you prefer to think in terms of World Rankings.

Generally, one point equates to half-kilo in weight. If a horse is ten points better than another, he will be given five kilos more weight in a handicap.

The official Melbourne Cup race weight release was in mid-September. Greg Carpenter, the Melbourne Cup’s official handicapper assesses the form in light of a set of parameters and releases the weights. This is a fair and accepted practice and these days very transparent.

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The task of Melbourne Cup form analyst is to find any anomaly that might be hidden in the form that is not reflected in the race weight either to advantage or disadvantage of a runner.

I have isolated three serious contenders and two roughies that I believe are advantaged at the weights. The top three in my list are solid in the market and maybe reading my analysis may help you understand why. As for the two roughies: what can I say? Prince of Penzance and Old Rowley.

The horses are listed in preference order.

1) Rekindling
Weighted on his performance last July, when racing against fellow Melbourne Cup contender, Wicklow Brave. He ran down a start to that seasoned stayer winning with authority. No mean effort for a baby three-year old at the Curragh over 2600m.

A month later, he was beaten five lengths into second place by Europe’s best marathon stayer, Order of St George. It was another progressive effort by this quickly maturing baby.

His next run was after the release of the Cup weights. It was all class. In this year’s English Classic, the St. Ledger, he was strung up at the back and then only getting clear when the race was over. He was beaten by Capri (WR120). He has met Capri twice and was beaten two lengths both times. Once in a Maiden and then in the St. Ledger. Hot maiden wouldn’t you say?

The Official Handicapper was suitably impressed with his St. Ledger effort and increased is (WR) from 112 to 114 for finishing an unlucky fourth. He was a length behind third placegetter Stradivarius (WR 116). Stradivarius at his previous start won the open-aged, 3200m, G1 Goodwood Cup beating Big Orange. At his following start he finished one length third to Order of St George over 3200m on Ascot Champions day.

The High Chaparral is four years old in six-months (March foal). He is mature enough to race well at this distance, showing no weakness up to 3000 metres.

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Aidan O’Brien, father of Rekindling’s trainer, Joseph, brought the Ballydoyle three year old Mahler to Australia in 2007 to run third to Efficent and Purple Moon carrying 50.5kgs and beaten three lengths. At the time, he rated a WR 113.

Can Rekindling run time?
Without a shadow of doubt. His Curragh Cup defeat of Wicklow Brave was two seconds faster than par time. Johannes Vermeer won earlier in the day beating the good Group horse Success Days over 2000m recording under a second faster than par.

Rekindling’s fourth in the English St.Ledger on a soft surface was six lengths faster than Ventura Storm’s second placing the previous year on a good surface.

If Rekindling were to be handicapped today he would be carrying at least 53kgs. He races well fresh.

Rekindling

2) Humidor
Continues to improve under Darren Weir’s guidance. His last four runs are covered with merit. Last start with his Cox Plate second to Winx, he returned a confirmed WR122, the highest (pre-race) ranking of any runner in this year’s Melbourne Cup. If today’s race were re-handicapped now he would entitled to 58.5kgs or more.

My original doubt was his ability to go the distance is now dissolved. His Caulfield Cup effort was too strong to ignore; followed a week later with that Cox Plate surge at Winx. His pedigree has New Zealand stayer stamped all over it.

Can Humidor run time?
Any horse who can run a Flemington (G1) 2000m in 121 seconds (2min 01 sec) in the autumn , then backup two weeks later on a Heavy9 and chase home Jameka over 2400m Group 1beating Exospheric (WR 114) into third shows world-class quality.

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Then, the bay son of Teofilo returns in the spring breaking 96 seconds beating Hartnell in the 1600m Makybe Diva followed by one of the quickest ‘strathayr’ Cox Plate times recorded. What can you say? He is quick, tough and extremely well weighted.

Humidor

3) Johannes Vermeer
I thought he was coming for the Caulfield Cup and/or Cox Plate. Again, I doubted him as a fast stayer on what he displayed in Ireland. The Caulfield Cup run changed all that. Without the chance to wind-up, he was still in traffic hitting the post in third. He was great.

I’m seldom swayed by commentators but Aidan O’Brien, well, obviously he is different. He is not a commentator, he is an elite professional. When interviewed after Hydrangea won the 2400m Fillies and Mares (G1) at Ascot on Champions Day (UK), he commented that he was not concerned with his filly’s staying distance inexperience as … ‘Galileo’s just keep going’. The way this Galileo, Johannes Vermeer, finished off the Caulfield Cup, suggested Aidan was messaging Aussies from half a world away.

Another comment made by O’Brien’s assistant out here when he announced that the horse would continue to the Melbourne Cup also caught my attention.

T.J. Comerford said that he had brought three-year old Mahler here and ‘we’ thought Johannes Vermeer was a better horse.

Mahler didn’t continue racing after his 2007 Cup placing but allowing that he would continued to mature to four years, the current age of Johannes Vermeer, then his rating would have increased by at least four points to WR 117.

The Carpenter handicapping team weren’t letting this fellow slip under their guard and handicapped him on his best European performances to date, a WR 113. The question is … is he as good as Mahler? I think so, otherwise the European Group 1 winner wouldn’t have been put on the plane.

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If he was weighted to WR117 or a OHR114 he would be carrying 56kg.

Now for two very rough but well-weighted chances.

4) US Army Ranger
The first handicap sleeper in the Cup is US Army Ranger, stablemate of Rekindling. His peak rating was WR121 when a little over a year ago, started favourite and then coming from last to run second to Harzard in the Epsom Derby 2400m.

Since that performance he slid the scale dramatically rated WR110 leaving Ireland for Werribee. He was dropped further down the scale by Carpenter after two poor performances following an average third in the Queen Alexandra (4400m). He has been weighted on WR 107 (OHR104) rating.

Four runs ago when nutted in the Ormonde Stks he beat home Wall of Fire by 1.5 lengths on equal weights. Wall of Fire has remained reasonably comsistent on a WR 107.

There seems very little in US Army Ranger’s favour except for a few little details. Firstly, he races well fresh.

Secondly, Ryan Moore continued to ride him for most of his ratings slide. It seems Moore wasn’t giving up on him.

Thirdly, he never started at double figures regardless of his average runs were and they include Group 1 races like the Cornation Cup and lastly, he never carried under 57kgs in any of his twelve starts.

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Technically, if all horses in the Cup returned to their best form, he would be number three behind Hartnell and Humidor.

So here he is with two months away from the track and a trip to Australia where he will carry relatively no weight in his terms … if he were to show a glimpse of that WR120 form or even WR110 form – who knows.

5) Libran
An ordinary handicapper in Europe before joining Waller Racing, he quickly progressed through his grades into Group company finishing his first serious preparation running second to Gallante in the Sydney Cup.

He gave the winner 1.5kg and beat home Grand Marshall, Who Shot the Barman, and Almoonqith. He missed the 2016 spring, not running again until the last autumn. He had a dismal campaign and finished it being pulled up in the 2017 Sydney Cup re-run.

This spring was a return to better form, winning the Kingston Town second-up. He was beaten 3.5 lengths in the Metropolitan giving the winner Foundry 6.5kgs but that was nothing great.

But last start in the Moonee Valley Cup, Libran returns a rating point short of his best rating at OHR107. His Cup weight is based on this 107 rating but that is one point shy of his proven best. A rating point at this distance is a length or half a kilo.

Worth noting also is that Libran is mimicking his most successful campaign and once finding form late in a preparation holds solid. Dwayne Dunn from barrier seven won’t go astray either.

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This year is a very strong Cup and no doubt the winner will be quality. I’m happy enough backing Rekindling with Humidor and Johannes Vermeer as support and as for the two roughies, they’ll find some loose change and a slot or two in the exotics just in case.

Good luck.