We had a nice return last week, with a couple of good things leading in the slop at Randwick and hanging on. The Witherspoon precedent may just have some legs!
Last year, we had some fun analysing the Melbourne Cup race weights in an effort to find some betting opportunities.
This year’s Cup looks to be a great rendition of our most famous race with high quality performers at every turn.
To preface the following comments like last year, I refer to Official Ratings (OR) that is followed by a number. They are an international rating. Simply, a rating of OR116 compared to a rating of OR115 means that a one-point difference is equal to one-half kilogram weight difference, the higher number carrying more weight.
Our Australian benchmark-system operates in much the same way with one point equaling a half-kilo but as our major Cups are handicaps a consistent compensation is applied of around three points so an OR116 would show a domestic handicap rating of 113.
It can get awfully confusing with two sets of numbers expressing the same thing … IE one-point equals a half-kilo weight difference. I’ll stay with the (OR) style of numbers.
So enough tech-talk, having a look at contenders this year, there seem to be a few with a handicap advantage. We start with my main contender.
THE CLIFFSOFMOHER aka CLIFFS OF MOHER (Ire)
I prefer to call this high-class animal by his Irish racing name, CLIFFS OF MOHER as opposed to the alphabet soup that represents his Australian moniker. This ‘naming’ edict comes about so he is not confused with something that has raced somewhere in Australia in the last ten years with the same name as that breathtaking Irish landscape.
Mentioning this Aidan O’Brien-trained galloper, preceding the Caulfield Cup in comment to Cam Rose’s Caulfield Cup preview, I wrote that he went to the top of my list of Cup contenders as soon as the race weights became public.
As indicated in that comment, I thought he would not be ideally suited at Caulfield and couldn’t wait for his appearance in Australia’s feature race and the expanses of the Flemington course. This would be much more to his liking.
I’m equally pleased to see Ryan Moore re-uniting with this son of Galileo.
CLIFFS OF MOHER’s top mark last year went to an unconfirmed OR118 after his tremendous second in the Epsom Derby but then he dropped a couple of points to a proven mark of OR116 that was confirmed this season. I’m inclined to think the original evaluation of OR118 is lurking in that big bay frame somewhere.
His European form is excellent. He is a really good racehorse.
He was beaten by stablemate Lancaster Bomber in the Irish Tatts (G1) at the Curragh where he ran up to win but couldn’t get past in slow-fast tempo-controlled race similar to this year’s Caulfield Cup.
For me, the Curragh is just the toughest racecourse I’ve ever seen. It’s a beauty. At Group level, these tough-as-nails competitors motor around it, uphill and down-dale and then they have to cope with a half-mile (800m) run home. It’s exhausting just watching them.
CLIFFS OF MOHER beat Success Days clearly at Naas in the Group 2 Mooresbridge with Yucatan two lengths back in third place. Success Days was the horse that battled Johannes Vermeer last year before that galloper made his worthy trip to both Cups.
Also, when it comes to form it might be noted that Cracksman, Capri and Best Solution finished behind him in the 2017 Epsom Derby with few excuses.
Interesting to note that O’Brien backed this horse up twice during Royal Ascot week, three days apart, where he ran with distinction against the Europe’s elite level before waiting only 14 days to run creditably at Sandown (U.K) in the Eclipse behind the world’s best three-year on turf, Roaring Lion with Saxon Warrior second.
In Australia, he ran in the Caulfield Stakes, backed up a week later in the Caulfield Cup and shortly will back in action just 17 days later in the Melbourne Cup. How about that for ‘coincidental’ timing?
The last box to be ticked is the race-pace and inherit competition pressure. CLIFFS OF MOHER will require a genuine stayer’s pace. He can run time off a solid pace. Established front-runner and stablemate ROSTROPOVICH should ensure a genuinely run contest as he has done many times in Europe this year.
He is a hard nut to crack in front too as he was just caught on the line in the Irish Derby by Latrobe, finishing in front of fancied stablemate, Saxon Warrior after a terrific three-way scrimmage over the last furlong.
CLIFFS OF MOHER is my top pick and has been since weights were released. I believe he could be competitive carrying a kilogram more than his allotted race weight and nothing has happened to make me second guess this estimation. A touch of rain wouldn’t bother his chances either.
Godolphin’s CROSS COUNTER to Coolmore
Charlie Appleby continues to gather the silverware for Godolphin and that continued a couple of days ago when Line Of Duty captured the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf at Churchill Downs. The victory taking his tally to 11 Group One’s this calendar year including the Epsom Derby with the very talented Masar.
Two of Appleby’s other Godolphin three-year-olds were also more than capable. Both OLD PERSIAN and CROSS COUNTER found solid from mid-year and were touted as genuine English St. Leger contenders. The stable decided to separate them with OLD PERSIAN continuing onto the last of the English Classics with CROSS COUNTER coming to Australia to contest the Melbourne Cup.
The eventual St. Leger winner, the Ballydoyle filly KEW GARDENS finished a closing third to the Appleby team in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2400m) at York preceding the long-trip Classic.
CROSS COUNTER has made sharp progress in his short career jumping the scale to 115 in seven career starts for four wins, two seconds and a fourth. He carries similar bloodlines to CLIFFS OF MOHER although not in the same pattern reference.
He is by the quality Galileo stallion Teofilo with a bit of Kingmambo and Danehill-Danzig there to liven the speed up a touch.
His racing style is good. He is tough and fought OLD PERSIAN all the way at York and may have got the better of him over another furlong although KEW GARDENS would have cleaned them both up.
Appleby and Godolphin know what it takes to win here but for me this is the first time they have got a high-class horse into the race well under the scale and with a lot of wiggle room.
To put my comments in context. Top-weight and fellow Godolphin runner, the multiple Group One winner BEST SOLUTION rates at a consistent OR116. CLIFFS OF MOHER was handicapped off OR115 mark. As mentioned, CROSS COUNTER currently sits on a mark of OR115 but under handicap conditions will receive six and a half kilos (13 points) off the top-weight, BEST SOLUTION, and five-and-half kilos (11 points) off CLIFFS OF MOHER.
That gives him an awesome advantage if he can tick the other requirements.
What are those requirements?
Is he seasoned enough to cope with one of the world’s toughest races?
Will he stay the 3200 metres at speed?
Is he genuinely a Group 1 horse? Or is that rating of 115 more to do with KEW GARDENS than his ability. His fellow pugilist, OLD PERSIAN, failed in the St. Leger behind the O’Brien trained filly.
How will he be ridden from barrier 19 as he has pace to go forward but he can also finish from the pack? Luckily, he has a master in Kerrin McEvoy to do the settling and steering, but it would have been nice to see him draw inside barrier 12.
Last year I was very keen on the another European three-year old, REKINDLING, but I had no doubt about his Group One status or his speed at a distance and he had come through some quality distance racing on tough tracks.
To counter my doubting questions is a chap called Charlie Appleby. He only brings contenders to Australia and for him to put this youngster straight into the Cup is as strong an indicator as any analysis could warrant and that is why he stays in my mix at second pick.
Waller Racing’s next YOUNGSTAR
Her Caulfield Cup performance was outstanding. This followed on from a sterling effort against stablemate Winx in the Turnbull. She caught most race-watchers attention when she went from a Hawkesbury Maiden to a Queensland Oaks in four winning starts finishing her campaign running a very strong third in the Queensland Derby.
She proved her Turnbull second placing was no fluke when she repeated in the Caulfield Cup quickly overhauling Kings Will Dream as they reached the line. The four year-old mare clocked the fastest last 200 metre split of the race translating as a couple of lengths faster than any other runner.
This YOUNGSTAR broke 48 seconds for the last 800m, 36 seconds for the last 600m, 24 seconds for the last 400 metres and clocked 12 seconds for the last 200 metres and all of those sectionals on a Soft(6) track surface. That performance of speed by itself indicates she will stay better than most.
Her pedigree is littered with quality Epsom Derby winners. Her sire is the dual Derby (UK-IRE) winning champion High Chaparral, whose sire is Sadler’s Wells, the sire of Galileo.
So the question is – will this young lady stay?
You bet she will. And I also think her Official Rating although fair to current proven form is a few points light of where she will end-up.
This quickly maturing young racer is doing everything right and will surely garnish an internationally ranked number (OR115+) as we move into the Autumn distance WFA championships. But right now, her rating and race weight is just fine with me.
She remains my third serious contender.
YUCATAN must jump the scale again
This Galileo had the misfortune to be ridden in a preliminary as if it was a grand final and showed the world he had return to his peak rating.
The gap he built in the stretch before being eased, combined with his record-capable time seemed a waste just a week before a $5 million race to which he would have automatically qualified when winning by any margin.
Had he remained undamaged by this domestic Group Two effort he was handicapping certainty in the Caulfield Cup.
Official handicapper, Greg Carpenter had little choice but to return him to his OR111 high mark from a low mark that may have set him up for a Cups-double tilt.
There is no denying his only Australian start says he is a contender. But that weight advantage compensating for his class deficiency has all but evaporated after his over-zealous Herbert Power win.
A close look at his form shows he has been beaten by some very serious race horses but in that phrase lies the keyword … ‘beaten’. He seems to be a genuine Group Two horse but now he is at the top of his scale and will have to find again and coming from barrier 23 isn’t going to help.
He remains a chance in my book on that Herbert Power effort and his run at Naas chasing home CLIFFS OF MOHER at equal weights to a two-length defeat. He is still a chance but not a favourite or a win contender for me.
For the record, my main investment is CLIFFS OF MOHER across the board with serious interest for both CROSS COUNTER and YOUNGSTAR. I hope some things I’ve discussed may be useful with your own analysis. Good luck and as always ‘let fortune favour the brave’.