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Melbourne Cup review: The vitality of youth dominates again

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Expert
6th November, 2018
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The lightly raced, emerging younger horse is on the rise from a Melbourne Cup perspective.

Cross Counter proved himself the outstanding stayer of the field with his second-last-to-first victory, and the only aspect more phenomenal than his blinding finish was the fact it was only his eighth career start.

Like Rekindling last year, the form guide tells us Cross Counter was a four-year-old, but being born in the northern hemisphere he is actually only three-and-a-half, with a foal month of April 2015.

In the early part of this decade, when international horses took a stranglehold on Australia’s greatest race, it was tough, experienced horses like Americain and Dunaden storming home to Melbourne Cup glory.

Americain was a multiple winner and placegetter at 3000m and beyond, while Dunaden was a 3000m winner as well.

The Melbourne Cup is ever-evolving and now it seems that freshness in the legs of a horse might be what is required, a low weight, and of course the ability to sprint well at a longer trip.

Cross Counter hadn’t raced beyond 2414m in his seven career starts before tackling the 3200m of Tuesday’s race.

Rekindling had only nine career starts before winning the Melbourne Cup at his tenth, and had never hit 3000m.

Even Almandin, while winning as a seven-year-old, did so at his 12th start. He had only two starts longer than 2200m before taking out the Cup, and they were wins at 2400m and 2500m in the lead-up.

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Almandin

Almandin (AAP Image/Mal Fairclough)

Protectionist in 2014, probably the most dominant Melbourne Cup winner of the decade, was a pointer to the future. While he had won at 3000m, it had been his only start beyond 2400m, and he took out the Cup at only his tenth career start.

If we exclude Prince of Penzance, who was an outlier for all sorts of reasons, the last four Melbourne Cup winners have averaged nine career starts before claiming the big race, and only one win at 3000m or beyond between them.

Even looking at the finishing order behind Cross Counter of the 2018 Melbourne Cup field, the most lightly raced stayers had the biggest impact.

Marmelo was a fantastic second first-up, finishing much more strongly than he did last year when he was left in front a long way out second-up. He’s now run in two Melbourne Cups in 17 career starts, and will surely be back if he stays sound.

The third horse, A Prince of Arran, was the veteran of the first six horses home, with 28 starts. He claimed the Hotham Handicap on Saturday to win his way into the field, and the winner of that race always seems to run well on the quick back-up in the Cup.

The fourth, fifth and sixth horses home are all extremely lightly raced, and if they stay fit and in-form we can expect to see at least two of them in next year’s Melbourne Cup.

Finche was fourth in his 11th career start, and second for trainer Chris Waller. He’s a three-time Group winner in Europe between 2000-2500m, and it’s easy to think he will get better under Waller’s care and with another 12 months of Australian racing under his belt.

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Rostropovich was the other northern hemisphere three-year-old in the Cup this year, and was fifth in his 14th career start. He hadn’t raced beyond 2400m before Tuesday.

Youngstar was rated the best Australian hope heading into the race, well backed on the day, and so it proved in running. She was honest and brave in finishing sixth only 13 starts into her career, and was another to have raced beyond 2400m heading in.

There was a distance query over a number of top fancies in the Melbourne Cup this year, including favourite Yucatan and Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution, as well as four of the six horses mentioned above.

As it turned out, Yucatan and Best Solution didn’t stay the trip, and the younger legs were able to win the day. Inexperience is proving to be a virtue rather than a hinderance when it comes to winning the Melbourne Cup.