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Melbourne Cup 2018: Preview and top tips

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4th November, 2018
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The 2018 Melbourne Cup (3200m, Group 1, handicap) is the 158th running of the great race.

Full of history, class, and international raiders, it is one of the world’s biggest races. It’s also the best race to back a winner in, because you almost never forget if you manage to jag a Cup victory!

The field of 24 has maintained international attention as well, with horses trained in New Zealand, England, Scotland, Japan, and Ireland, along with our locals of course.

The race is dominated by European chances, which makes sense because that’s where stayers are bred and trained – far more than here in Australasia, where we produce sprinters and shorter-distance horses.

But the handicapper in the VRC’s Greg Carpenter does his best to even the playing field.

In recent decades, we’ve been able to rely on two key rules for the Cup – but finally, one rule was broken last year when Rekindling won the race.

1. Every winner of the Melbourne Cup since 1993 has had a lead-up run prior. Except, of course, last year. In 2017, Rekindling won and won well without having had a run in Australia beforehand.

Some trainers swear by coming into the race fit and fresh, without having a warm-up. Legendary Cup-winning trainer Bart Cummings preferred to put at least 10,000m of race distance into a horse’s preparation, running in traditional lead-ups.

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Times change, and we have to accept that what was once a very black mark on an international hope’s chances is less of a factor. A Melbourne Cup horse can win fresh.

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. This remains true and affects a few runners here.

Let’s preview all the runners.

The finish of the 2017 Melbourne Cup.

1. Best Solution (British trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 57.5kg
Barrier: 6
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor for Godolphin
Jockey: Pat Cosgrave
Odds: $13

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For
Best Solution comes into the Melbourne Cup having won the Caulfield Cup by a narrow margin. He’s had a lead-up run and is going superbly. He’s put together four wins on the trot, including three Group 1 wins against quality fields in Germany and Britain, in which he beat some of those engaged here today.

His win didn’t see the handicapper penalise him further which helps him significantly.

Against
He only just won the Caulfield Cup and Greg Carpenter didn’t rate the victory as significant enough to penalise the horse further with more weight.

“There’s no doubt the record of horse high up in the weights for the Melbourne Cup has not been as positive as those high up in the Caulfield Cup,” Carpenter said.

“In fact, over the last 40 years, 63 horses have run in the Melbourne Cup with 57 kilograms or more and only one, Makybe Diva in 2005 with 58kg, has been able to win.

Significantly, this will be Best Solution’s first run beyond 2400m. That’s a key concern even for a horse that’s clearly good enough.

Will he see out a strong 3200m carrying the 57.5kgs? As a reference, Rekindling hadn’t stretched out to 3200m either when he won last year, but had raced well at 2941m.

In a few words
Showed he’s top class with the Caulfield Cup win, but it wasn’t a commanding victory. Carries topweight and has to get 3200m without proving he’s done it before. I’d be amazed if he ran poorly, but winning this stayers’ race will be a big test.

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2. The Cliffsofmoher (Irish trainer, Irish bred)

Weight: 56.5kg
Barrier: 9
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien for Team Williams
Jockey: Ryan Moore
Odds: $17

For
The Cliffsofmoher is a top-level performer in Europe, where he raced as Cliffs Of Moher.

Aidan O’Brien’s galloper has been in top calibre races, with his last six, including the Caulfield Cup, all at Group 1 level. He last won at Naas over 2000m, and last ran well enough in the Hardwicke Stakes and Coral-Eclipse.

He was one of the favourites in the Caulfield Cup over 2400m and did grab third by just under two lengths with the same weight he carries here.

Against
He’s a quality horse but that quality has never been tested over 3200m.

That doesn’t mean he can’t win with Irish master Aidan O’Brien’s polish on him, but he seemed like a better chance at Caulfield. He did well there of course.

In a few words
His win would be a surprise, not for his quality but for his untested ability as a two mile stayer. If you have a ticket, pray for a slow race that gives him a chance of running well.

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3. Magic Circle (British trained, Irish Bred)

Weight: 56kg
Barrier: 17
Trainer: Ian Williams
Jockey: Corey Brown
Odds: $9

For
Magic Circle is a true stayer, with his last two runs both wins at 3264m and 3749m respectively, where he belted his rivals by six lengths! He’s obviously a proper stayer but he does have a turn of foot as well. It’s a great setup towards the Cup.

This guy does have some formlines where he easily beat Weekender, and Red Verdon (who just missed this race with a hoof issue) as well as Marmelo, only just managed to beat that same horse. It doesn’t tell us anything definite, but formlines like this are useful – Magic Circle is going well.

Two-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Corey Brown rides, and has been booked for the horse months in advance. While he has won on both good and soft surfaces, his record is much better on rain-affected tracks. If he gets that, his chances go up.

Against
Magic Circle last raced in May and while that was a win, it was still six months ago. It’s the most obvious knock on the horse.

His wins over good distances haven’t been the highest quality races but his last win was against higher class opposition.

The issue is Magic Circle will carry 56kgs and that’s a definite negative. We’ve only seen one horse in Protectionist win with that weight or more, and he was a freak when fully fit. Is Magic Circle that good?

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His owner is British billionaire Marwan Koukash, a remarkably eccentric individual who says he’ll show off a custom made g-string if the horse wins. I count that as a negative.

In a few words
Capable stayer. Will need to lug weight and hasn’t had a race in six months. At the odds, there are bets you’d rather take but every drop of rain helps his cause.

He’ll be there at the end if he gets his chance and you can’t say that with confidence against some of his rivals.

4. Chestnut Coat (Japanese trained, Japanese bred)

Weight: 55.5kg
Barrier: 4
Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi
Jockey: Yuga Kawada
Odds: $34

For
Chestnut Coat is a young Japanese stayer hoping to dramatically improve on his only start in Australia.

His Japanese form is good enough – notably fifth in the Group 1 Tenno Sho Spring over 3200m on a firm track at Kyoto back in April. That kind of form – less than two lengths off the winner – is good enough to win a Melbourne Cup.

Barrier 4 should see him get an easy run, but he may need some luck if he’s going to be on the rail for the entire run, which looks possible.

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Against
He wasn’t really seen at any stage in his hit-out in the Caulfield Cup, so his connections will be hoping that he’s now much fitter and better prepared for the Melbourne Cup.

He carries 55.5kgs which doesn’t make the task impossible, but he certainly hasn’t beaten the handicapper. He hasn’t won at Group level.

Any rain hurts his chances badly – like most Japanese horses, he desperately needs a firm track.

In a few words
Always respect Japanese form but Chestnut Coat isn’t the kind of class that commands significant attention. His best form could see him run a place but he needs to take a big step up from what we saw in the Caulfield Cup.

5. Muntahaa (British trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 55.5kg
Barrier: 13
Trainer: John Gosden
Jockey: Jim Crowley
Odds: $11

For
Muntahaa is a last-start winner of the Ebor Handicap (2800m) at York. His other wins, including at Group 2 level, have come at 2400m and 2696m and he looks a true stayer.

Muntahaa has some wraps on him. Marmelo’s trainer Morrison has pointed out how well he is in at the weights.

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“He seems very well in [with 55.5kg],” said Morrison. “Funnily enough he beat [Marmelo] two-and-a-half years ago by six lengths in a maiden at Kempton on the all-weather [track]. We’ve won a Group 2, he’s won a Group 2 and the third [-placed horse] has won a Group 2 too so it was an extraordinarily competitive race.”

That formline is intriguing, and Muntahaa only carries 0.5kg more than Marmelo. Horses develop through their careers but that clash a few years back may be telling.

John Gosden is a legendary trainer, handling the likes of superstars Enable, Cracksman and Stradivarius.

Against
He hasn’t raced over 3200m before which is a knock, although a smaller one given the distances he has raced over.

According to comments and from his earlier career, Muntahaa does have temperament issues. Or at least he used to, before John Gosden worked hard to settle him down, which seemed to have worked in the Ebor. This bloke wouldn’t settle in some races, fighting the jockey and wasting his energy. Doing that over two miles would end his chances, so that remains a concern.

Jockey Jim Crowley doesn’t have a lot of experience at Flemington but did get a second on Derby Day, and has some other races before the Cup on Tuesday. Gosden, for all his merit, hasn’t won a Melbourne Cup.

In a few words
If Muntahaa brings his Ebor form he’ll be extremely hard to beat here.

Jim Crowley riding Muntahaa

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6. Sound Check (New Zealand trained, German bred)

Weight: 55.5kg
Barrier: 18
Trainer: Michael Moroney
Jockey: Jordan Childs
Odds: $34

For
The pressure is on me here because Sound Check is a German horse that’s been racing well at my local Berlin track. He won over two miles here in a Group 2, and then ran second in the Group 1 Grosser Preis von Berlin (2400m) behind Best Solution. Former Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist won that race when he returned to Germany a few years back.

He gets weight relief from Best Solution and was only beaten by a neck that day.

He’s a lovely staying type that will enjoy 3200m with form that’s good enough to do well, and his trainer has won the Melbourne Cup before.

Against
The real problem is Sound Check ran second to Best Solution in that race in Berlin.

While he does better from the handicap conditions, Best Solution also beat him in the Caulfield Cup, and quite handsomely. It’d be quite a turnaround but if he can capture his European form he’s a chance, no doubt.

In a few words
A nice chance for a German horse to win but keeps running behind his nemesis Best Solution, both abroad and in Australia. That makes him unlikely.

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7. Who Shot Thebarman (Australian trained, New Zealand bred)

Weight: 55.5kg
Barrier: 18
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Ben Melham
Odds: $67

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 in 2016. He sadly missed the race in 2017, when I was on him at $161.

He’s another year older and he’s carrying more weight than he was set for last year. That’s because he sensationally won the Sydney Cup back in April by the narrowest of margins. He beat Zacada that day, who has been trying to find form as well.

His trainer, Chris Waller, has put some miles into his legs in Sydney, running in Group races a bit short for his old legs. Those races don’t tell us much. Last year he went into the Melbourne Cup having won the Moonee Valley Gold Cup. This year he ran on from the back. He had his ears scrubbed off to keep him going and grab fourth.

He goes in all ground and ticks the important box of 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, he really is. The 3200m he’ll love. But he needs a consistent pace in the race because he can’t really sprint home and catch anything. He needs a high tempo race throughout.

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But that aside, it’s remarkable that this ten-year-old is going into what would be his fifth Cup if he’d not suffered a last-minute scratching last year. The great thing is he can definitely run in top ten or better if he has a hint of luck.

In a few words
The old boys of old boys. He’s some chance of running top six.

8. Ace High (Australian trained, Australian bred)

Weight: 55kg
Barrier: 22
Trainer: David Payne
Jockey: Tye Angland
Odds: $101

For
Ace High is a terrific Australian stayer. He only knows one way: on the pace, grinding. That’s how he tried to do it in the Caulfield Cup, but he fell away.

To be blunt, that was a dreadful performance – it seemed like things were set to go well for him but he dropped right off. His jockey on the day, Damien Oliver, didn’t have much to add:

“He was disappointing. I thought I had a cosy run in front but he was never really travelling for me, whether it was the soft ground or the track I’m not sure.”

It was a rain-affected surface, so a hard track will suit Ace High. He does like Flemington as well.

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Before this average effort, he had a commanding win at Randwick in a Group 3 over 2000m and didn’t disgrace himself in shorter lead-up races by running behind Winx.

One more positive – you won’t miss Ace High, wearing bright orange colours. He should be somewhere near the lead as well.

Against
It’d be quite the turnaround to bomb in the Caulfield Cup and then storm to a win in the Melbourne Cup, that’s for sure.

His form before this was okay but he hasn’t been stretched out to 3200m yet either.

In a few words
You’ll need a small act of faith to believe Ace High can turn it all around, but he’s easily one of Australia’s better stayers.

9. Marmelo (French trained, French bred)

Weight: 55kg
Barrier: 16
Trainer: Hughie Morrison
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Odds: $8.50

For
International raider Marmelo is back for another run. Last year he had great staying form in France, put in an eye-catching performance in the Caulfield Cup, but only managed a disappointing ninth in the big one as a warm favourite when ridden too close to the lead.

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This year his form isn’t far from what he’d recorded in 2017. This season he was second in the 2018 Prix Kergorlay in France, whereas he won that last year. He won the Grand Cup in York, and was second at Longchamp in a Group 2 over 3000m.

They’ve elected not to run him in the lead-up to try and have him fresh and firing. They thought he didn’t bounce back from his Caulfield Cup run last year so he’s been kept safe.

Hughie Morrison’s second attempt with Marmelo will be more informed after last year’s attempt, and he doesn’t carry more weight. Hugh Bowman rides him again, just as he did last year. We know he doesn’t mind travel.

Against
In that win at York, he only just managed a win over Weekender. Other horses in this race, Muntahaa and Magic Circle, have soundly thrashed Weekender, which might indicate the relative formlines.

Second chances don’t seem to work in the Melbourne Cup. At least they’re trying something different to get him to improve on last year though.

One note is that Marmelo has only had one run at 3200m, and that was last year’s Melbourne Cup. He has won at 3000m so the extra distance is hardly monumental, but worth keeping in mind.

In a few words
A failure last year is hoping to be wiped out of the memory this year with a different approach made by his connections. Last year Marmelo was a top pick, but this year some of his rivals show superior formlines. He’s a place chance for mine, and a win isn’t out of reach, but it’d surprise me to see him get over the likes of Muntahaa and Magic Circle.

Marmelo

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10. Avilius (Australian trained, British bred)

Weight: 54.5kg
Barrier: 11
Trainer: James Cummings
Jockey: Glen Schofield
Odds: $11

For
Avilius won the Group 3 Bart Cummings (2500m) for grandson James Cummings, putting together three wins on the trot to storm into the Melbourne Cup field for the powerful Godolphin stable.

He ran along behind Winx in the Cox Plate to grab fourth, which paid a handsome return. But this was more of a tune-up for the Melbourne Cup. James Cummings is following his grandfather’s words of advice by getting at least 10,000m of race fitness into Avilius before the Melbourne Cup. Running fourth in front of some good horses at weight-for-age doesn’t hurt!

He raced in France before being set for the Cup, running in the places in Group 2 staying races, including behind one of the world’s best horses in Cracksman at Chantilly, last year. He was a distant second, but that’s still okay form because he was ahead of Finche by a length, who is also running here. That’s a good formline to take.

Against
Avilius ticks a lot of the boxes and has been in great form. His win at Flemington in The Bart Cummings was particularly impressive given he carried 58.5kgs.

The obvious negative factor is that he hasn’t raced beyond 2500m before, so the 3200m distance will give him a test. Add into the mix that Avilius’ pedigree doesn’t show staying prowess – none of his relations have managed anything at Group 1 level beyond 2400m, so it’s a big question mark.

He’ll be coming from the back so he’ll need speed in the race so that it’s not a walk and then a sprint at the end, and he’ll also need his share of luck to pick a path through the enormous field. If there is a fast pace in the race, I don’t think he can win.

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Other small notes: Godolphin have never won the Melbourne Cup, and neither has jockey Glyn Schofield.

In a few words
The horse needs three things to go right: enough speed in the race without burning his legs, luck coming from the back of the pack, and getting the 3200m.

Jockey Glyn Schofield rides Avilius

11. Yucatan (Irish trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 54.5kg
Barrier: 12
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: James McDonald
Odds: $5.50

For
Yucatan is an Irish horse with a win there at Group 3 level in the International Stakes at Leopardstown over 2400m. He was purchased by the mighty Lloyd Williams operation to run in the Cup. In his first race, traditional lead-up Herbert Power Stakes (2400m), Yucatan was mighty.

He burst into massive Melbourne Cup considerations with a superb win, and was given a 2.5kg penalty from that which said a lot about how highly the handicapper thought of the performance.

This guy is the clear favourite for the race. And he’s owned by the recent dominant owner of the Cup, Lloyd Williams.

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Against
There are a few factors to consider. The first is that he hasn’t run beyond 2400m before so we genuinely don’t know if he can run the distance. His sire, Galileo, is a tick but his dam, a very good French horse and Group 1 winner, only raced beyond 1600m once. It’s superb breeding but is it 3200m breeding?

The distance query is probably the single factor that stops this horse being even more heavily backed. He wasn’t given any favours drawing barrier 23, either, which looks like he’ll be coming from the back, meaning he needs his share of luck.

In a few words
Absolute top chance, but does have a question mark on his ability to run a tough 3200m. His odds are super short!

2018 Melbourne Cup favourite Yucatan

12. Auvray (Australian trained, French bred)

Weight: 54kg
Barrier: 9
Trainer: Richard Freedman
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Odds: $81

For
Auvray just missed last year’s Melbourne Cup by just one or two horses, and has returned this year to easily make the field.

He’s been good without ever being spectacular. He did win the Group 3 Sky High Stakes (2000m) over some good horses, and was fourth in the Sydney Cup over 3200m which is encouraging.

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In this preparation, he did manage a second in the Newcastle Cup (2300m) and has been running close enough in big Sydney races. He was a touch disappointing in the ATC St Leger but he lost a plate in the running, so that’s a forget run.

He’s tough, he’s honest, he loves hard work. If it’s a dogfight, I’d like to be on Auvray’s side.

Against
Auvray is an honest staying type but he’s not classy. He’s a grit and grind horse, and unfortunately I don’t think he’ll win a Group 1 unless he gets a massive amount of luck or no weight at all.

Unfortunately, he’s got 54kgs which gives him no real favours. That’s why he’s $101. He needs a Prince of Penzance-type shock.

In a few words
Auvray is a great horse to cheer on as he won’t give up on you. But if he wins, it’ll be a huge shock because he hasn’t won a race of any kind of serious stature.

13. Finche (Australian trained, British bred)

Weight: 54kg
Barrier: 15
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Zac Purton
Odds: $26

For
Finche is another Frankel-sired horse and international raider contesting the Melbourne Cup, which is great to see.

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His form is all French to me – no really, it’s French form! He’s been running behind the likes of Cracksman and Cloth Of Stars so there’s not many better formlines from Europe.

He probably secured his trip down here when he won the Group 3 Prix de Reux in France over 2500m. He beat Tiberian that day while carrying 60kgs, a horse that was seventh in the Cup last year, a great effort.

In other races, he’s been behind Cracksman in the formguide by 4-5 lengths, but watching those races shows Cracksman had the race put to bed a long way from home, and didn’t extend fully.

Put in the care of Chris Waller, he had a first-up run in Australia, blowing out any cobwebs with a third placing in the Group 3 Geelong Cup (2400m) carrying 59kgs. He should be fitter from that quite good run where has chased hard.

The bad news for the winner that day, Runaway, is that Finche meets Runaway 3kgs better off from the new weights. That’s enough to give him a chance in this.

Against
This guy’s French form is solid without being spectacular. He’s a useful type just a few lengths off being a true Group 1 performer, and he did get beaten by Avilius last year at Chantilly.

He has a bit of a strange action that seemed to go astray a little in the Geelong Cup as the pressure went on. Maybe that’s normal, maybe that’s something Chris Waller can fix by the time the 2019 Melbourne Cup rolls around? Hugh Bowman said Finche would be better in the autumn so that’s another indication.

In a few words
He has some nice French form, he’s had a run, he drops weight into the Cup, and should enjoy 3200m. He’s not the best horse in the race but he can go much better than he did in Geelong.

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14. Red Cardinal (Australian trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 54kg
Barrier: 5
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Damien Oliver
Odds: $41

For
Last year, Red Cardinal came over as an international chance with decent form, but was too far back and not strong enough to get close to a win, running 11th.

With Australian Bloodstock deciding to leave him in the care for Darren Weir in Australia, alas, he’s since had an Australian preparation to get him right for another Melbourne Cup.

It’s clear he does stay the 3200m trip, and Damien Oliver is about as experienced for a jockey as you can get. Last year he drew barrier 24, and this year he’s drawn barrier five and is carrying less weight.

Against
Poor Red Cardinal. He just hasn’t been running well in Australia. He was last in his first race in August, then wasn’t too bad in two other races in Melbourne. He grabbed third in the ATC St Leger Stakes over 2600m at Randwick with a terrific ride that day, but then bombed out to be 11th in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup.

In a few words
Just going so poorly that just running in the top half looks pretty unlikely. He’s a better horse than that, but doesn’t have any form to give proper hope.

Red Cardinal

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16. Vengeur Masque (New Zealand trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 54kg
Barrier: 6
Trainer: Michael Moroney
Jockey: Patrick Moloney
Odds: $67

For
Last year this guy won the Group 3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m) after missing out on a Melbourne Cup start.

But he hasn’t done much since then. He’s been warmed up through the Heatherlie, Naturalism, Bart Cummings, and the Caulfield Cup. In these races, he tends to chase solidly without showing that he’s ever going to win.

He was ninth in the Caulfield Cup when the race didn’t really go right, without enough pace to let him have a chance at the end. He can be better than that.

The distance shouldn’t worry him.

Against
Ultimately he doesn’t have form that looks like he can threaten the top runners. It’s exposed and he’s been beaten by others engaged here.

In a few words
Not the worst and will be there at the end, but unlikely to crack the top six because he’s just a bit off the highest class needed.

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16. Ventura Storm (Australian trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 54kg
Barrier: 6
Trainer: David Hayes, Hayes, Dabernig.
Jockey: Glen Boss
Odds: $31

For
Ventura Storm is now a known quantity. Importantly, he won his last start in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup in front of a couple of his competitors today.

In his form this year he’s grabbed a third in the Australian Cup (2000m), fourth in the Turnbull (2000m) behind Winx, and you can forget the Caulfield Cup which was run too slow for him.

We’ve seen his previous overseas form is pretty handy which included 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 (when Muntahaa was fourth, ten lengths adrift, by the way).

The other thing is you can forget his Melbourne Cup last time around. He failed miserably but that’s because he wasn’t breathing properly with gear issues and his tongue over the bit. Forget that.

Against
There have been a fair few excuses but still we haven’t seen Ventura Storm at his best over 3200m.

He’s a stayer but he maybe isn’t quite suited to 3200m. The distance factor is so important. He’s failed at 3200m twice, and managed his best performances at 2500m, 2600m, and 2000m. I’m just not convinced he relishes the distance but second in a St Leger could say I’m wrong.

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In a few words
His best form doesn’t come at this distance and that rules him out of contention for the win.

17. A Prince of Arran (British trained, British bred)

Weight: 54kg
Barrier: 20
Trainer: Charlie Fellowes
Jockey: Michael Walker
Odds: $17

For
This English stayer burst into Melbourne Cup calculations having won the Lexus Stakes on Saturday. Backing up straight into the big race on Tuesday will mean he’s rock hard fit and he’s in form.

Before this race, he was third in the Herbert Power stakes behind Yucatan. With everything shaking out, he gets a (2.5kg) swing in weights to his favour, so no one’s waving the white flag to Yucatan just yet.

He has a win and two placings over 3200m, so the distance isn’t a concern at all.

Charlie Fellowes had his first Group win with this horse on Saturday which is great for the sport. His wide barrier might actually be ok for him.

Against
He’s finding form but he wasn’t near Yucatan in the Herbert Power. Even with a weight swing, you wouldn’t be surprised if that’s repeated.

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He’ll need to come through his race on Saturday without any niggles or complaints, which is tricky.

Barrier 20 doesn’t read like a great draw for him but being out wide and without too many across him, he should be able to get moving and try and get ino position. Now, given he’ll be wanting to be near the pace that may take some fine jockey skills from Kiwi Michael Walker, and burn a bit of his petrol early to get into a good spot.

In a few words: English raider with good Aussie form. Rough winning chance to become the King of Melbourne too.

A Prince Of Arran ridden by Michael Walker wins the Lexus Stakes

18. Nakeeta (Scottish trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 53kg
Barrier: 3
Trainer: Iain Jardine
Jockey: Glyn Schofield
Odds: $81

For
Nakeeta is a classic handicapper from Scotland, who finally grabbed a big handicap win in the Ebor Handicap (2800m) at York last year. He then ran fifth in the 2017 Melbourne Cup, coming into the race fresh, with ten weeks between those two runs.

Trainer Iain Jardine returns with Nakeeta again and will be hoping to improve. He gave the horse a start in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup, and should improve from that. That run shouldn’t be too closely inspected – his syndicate owner rep Darren Dance said it was just a matter of getting him moving.

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”We knew the Valley wouldn’t suit him but he was down the order of entry for the Cup and we had to run him to try to get some prizemoney,” said Dance.

”He didn’t really handle the track or go around the corner, but it helped take the freshness off him and in the end it’s served him well.”

His best hope would be that he can reproduce what he did last year, and hope that any rain around helps soften the track as well. The barrier helps.

Against
Nakeeta isn’t going as well as last year, though he does have excuses He was seventh in the 2018 Ebor behind Muntahaa, quite a way back off them, after copping interference. He then ran at Doncaster and was seventh again, deemed good enough to sort out the great expense of coming to Melbourne to race.

He settled in and then was given a chance in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup as mentioned, where he wasn’t great. Just to add another problem, vets scanned his front fetlock on Saturday. That suggests there’s been an issue, so even if he’s right to go, those little issues can be telling over 3200m.

In a few words
Few would be giving Nakeeta a chance based on his form. A win would be a genuine shock, but it’d be a great for a Scottish trainer.

19. Sir Charles Road (New Zealand trained, New Zealand bred)

Weight: 53kg
Barrier: 14
Trainer: Lance O’Sullivan and Andrew Scott
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
Odds: $91

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For
This Kiwi stayer has had plenty of success in New Zealand, and managed some nice results this year in Australia too. He won the Group 2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m) at Randwick and was then third behind Who Shot Thebarman and Zacada in the Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m).

We know he can stay, we know he’s fit, and he has won at Group level over distance.

Against
The problem is his form is average. In easier races he’s been ok – he was third in the Bendigo Cup last week, but there’s a mighty step from that race up to this.

He’s just not classy enough.

In a few words
Great for the Kiwis to have a runner, but if he won, the only people who would’ve bet on him would be those over in the land of the long white cloud. He can’t win if you believe in form.

20. Zacada (New Zealand trained, New Zealand bred)

Weight: 53kg
Barrier: 24
Trainer: Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman
Jockey: Damian Lane
Odds: $101

For
The other Kiwi in the race is Zacada, and he’s drawn the widest of all runners out in barrier 24.

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Sorry, there isn’t a lot of positives for Zacada. His best form is from back in April where he did almost win the Sydney Cup behind Who Shot Thebarman over 3200m. That form in the Melbourne Cup would be pretty good if he could reproduce it.

Against
The problem is his form in his last four races has been rubbish, and those in this race have been beating him easily. He was 12th in the Geelong Cup out of 15, and just whacked away.

He doesn’t get weight relief, he doesn’t look likely to improve after just having bad luck, and his barrier draw doesn’t help him.

Unfortunately, both the Kiwi runners look pretty average this year.

In a few words
Repeat what I said about Sir Charles Road. He can’t win this.

21. Runaway (Australian trained, Australian bred)

Weight: 52kg
Barrier: 12
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott
Jockey: Stephen Baster
Odds: $34

For
It’s great to see Gai Waterhouse in the Melbourne Cup with a live chance, and Runaway doesn’t have bad formlines. He won the Geelong Cup last start, which we’ve seen can be good form into this race, and led all the way.

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From barrier 12, the horse is likely to try and be right on the pace and the likely leader, hoping to repeat the Geelong Cup run.

Against
Runaway has been going okay but back in May he was almost last at Flemington over 3200m. He’d had a long preparation and might’ve just been exhausted but it was a bit of a worry.

He’s been a bit more gently treated this preparation and gets his chance. But Runaway looks like he’ll pass the finishing post for the first time as the leader. Holding on the entire way against this class of stayer looks like a very tough ask – you just don’t see it happen in a Melbourne Cup.

In a few words
Runaway should lead the field, but shouldn’t be able to win from that position given what we’ve seen of his form.

Jockey Stephen Baster rides Runaway to victory

22. Youngstar (Australian trained, Australian bred)

Weight: 51.5kg
Barrier: 18
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Michael Dee
Odds: $16

For
Youngstar is a great Aussie hope, and the only mare in the field. She’s a talented stayer, winning the Queensland Oaks over 2200m this year, putting together four wins on the trot. She then grabbed third against the boys in the Queensland Derby, although wasn’t close to the winner that day.

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Since then, she’s been impressive. At her first run at Flemington in the Turnbull against Winx, she very nearly caused an upset, beating everything but one of the greatest of our time. Now, that doesn’t mean as much as you might think given the problems Winx had in the run but Youngstar beat the rest in a Group 1.

That made her one of the favourites for the Caulfield Cup but she suffered the same problems that others did, finding the pace of the race too slow. She overraced and fought her jockey, lost a plate, and still ran the best last 200m which is hugely encouraging.

Against
It’s a bit of a funny thing. Her mother was never raced beyond 2000m and she was sired by Danehill, much more known for siring speed horses. But there is a little bit of pedigree showing her family has raced over 4000m. So with all that in mind, will she get 3200m? Well, it’s a big question.

I think she’s a versatile mare who might be able to make the 3200m if they go slow enough and she settles, and she does have a turn of foot in that case… but there’s enough uncertainty to think she’s a risk.

Ultimately, she needed to show more in the Caulfield Cup to fill you with confidence here. She ran on well but was beaten nearly five lengths and this is another level again.

We saw Extra Brut struggle to make ground on the same day as the Caulfield Cup and then turn around and win the Victoria Derby well on Saturday so sharp improvement is not beyond this mare, considering she performed well in the Caulfield Cup.

In a few words
What a great mare, and Chris Waller can certainly train a horse. I just think she’s a risk against quality stayers at 3200m.

23. Cross Counter (British trained, British bred)

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Weight: 51kg
Barrier: 19
Trainer: Charlie Appelby
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Odds: $9.50

For
This Godolphin horse has some solid English form, winning twice at 2400m before a runner-up over the same distance at York. It’s good enough to be very competitive here.

Cross Counter drops a huge amount of weight from those races, due to being weighted as a Northern Hemisphere 3yo – much like Rekindling, and has Charlie Appelby as his trainer, who we’ve seen have a lot of success with international horses coming to Australia.

Against
He’s only a young horse, with just seven races under his belt. Those have been small fields so a race with 24 gallopers all going hell for leather might be an eye-opener.

The 3200m distance is a definite query, too. Generally, we’ve seen from imports that those proven at or close to this distance have been better performers on average.

He also had a little bit of a disrupted preparation in Australia, forced to rest for two days after cutting a foreleg in quarantine. Those little hiccups happen, but you need things to go right. Still, he seems to have come through everything well and his stable say he’s fit enough to get through that well.

The draw out in barrier 19 doesn’t help.

In a few words
He’s a little bit like Rekindling last year. A young horse, with decent form, at a lightweight handicap. That’s why the bookmakers are keeping him at short odds. He can win if he gets the distance.

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24. Rostropovich (Australian trained, Irish bred)

Weight: 51kg
Barrier: 21
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Wayne Lordan
Odds: $26

For
The last horse in the field has one of the greatest of all time as his sire: Frankel. It’s exciting to see a Frankel horse running in a Melbourne Cup, especially one trained by Irish legend Aidan O’Brien, who, of course, has never won a Melbourne Cup, and saw his son, Joseph, win last year at his first try!

Now, Rostropovich looks like he’s definitely a contender. His form in Europe showed promise, with a win last start in Ireland. He wasn’t quite able to win at Group 1 level at Ascot but was second in the Irish Derby, although that wasn’t a good renewal. Still, we know in this Melbourne Cup, with wins at Group 2 and 3 level as well, that he can be competitive.

Now he has no weight on his back in these handicap conditions and that furthers his chances.

He had a start in Australia, going up against Winx in the Cox Plate and ran fifth. I’ve read overseas analysis that suggests the Cox Plate result proves he’s not up to this test, but I guess they don’t know Winx?

He really was okay in that race, good enough to show he’ll go on with things in the Melbourne Cup, and he’ll be fitter from it.

Against
He’s never run beyond 2400m, so like fellow import Cross Counter may find the 3200m a test. His breeding suggests two miles is a big concern.

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He didn’t draw too well out in barrier 21 and his pattern of racing suggests he’ll be hoping to burn right towards the very front. The draw makes that a tough ask.

In a few words
Rostropovich ticks plenty of boxes for mine, but it’d be nice to know if he can run 3200m or not. If he can, he’s a great chance and at the odds, shows some value.

He’s been one of my small bets at the odds, but I’m very uncertain he’ll make 3200m if there’s any kind of serious pace to be made.

Donnacha O'Brien riding Rostropovich

Melbourne Cup 2018: Speed of the race

If you don’t watch much racing, the speed of each race is all important. The leader or leaders dictate 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 generally 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 go for it 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.

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If it’s that kind of race this year, many horses won’t have a chance. Those that are a query at 3200m become much more likely to win.

If the pace of the race is more genuine, or simply a lot faster, you’ll probably 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.

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.

Some good judges are expecting the Melbourne Cup to have an above-average pace this year.

Melbourne Cup

Melbourne Cup 2018: Tips

This year looks a lot more clear-cut in being able to say around a dozen horses can’t win, or at least, would be very, very (very!) surprising to see them win. Best Solution is the best of the ones I don’t want to be on, just because of being forced to carry the topweight.

So who is in the mix? Cross Counter and Rostropovich are lightweight chances for mine.

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Yucatan is the rightful favourite but certainly has some questions about his ability to get 3200.

Magic Circle will appreciate the predicted rain while Muntahaa is classy but has a history of being a naughty boy in his races, fighting his jockey. Failing to calm that temperament might end his chances but I’m going to take the risk given his upside.

I have to give Youngstar a chance given she won’t carry much weight, and my roughies include Who Shot Thebarman, so watch out for the ten-year old to run top four if there’s great pace!

But there’s probably three or four that look clear cut winning chance depending on some factors I’ve worked through above.

Tips
1. Muntahaa
2. Yucatan
3. Magic Circle (if there’s rain, he gets elevated)
4. Youngstar

Roughies: Rostropovich, Who Shot Thebarman (place chance) – and include The Cliffsofmoher in your first fours.