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Opinion

Melbourne Cup 2020 preview and top tips

Jockey Craig Williams (right) rides Vow And Declare to victory in race 7, the Lexus Melbourne Cup, during Melbourne Cup Day, at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Tuesday, November 5, 2019. (AAP Image/Scott Barbour)
Expert
1st November, 2020
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3852 Reads

It’s that time of year again, where the race that stops a nation takes centre stage on the sporting scene. It’s been a cramped lead up to Australia’s greatest race with the AFL and NRL grand finals taking place in late October, but excitement now is at fever pitch.

» UPSET: Twilight Payment wins Melbourne Cup in a boilover

1. Anthony Van Dyck

Five-year-old stallion
Weight: 58.5kg
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 3
Odds: $9

One of the best-credentialled horses to ever board a flight to Australia, Anthony Van Dyck proved his class by carrying 58.5kgs in the Caulfield Cup and jumping out of the ground late to finish second behind Verry Elleegant.

His performances this year in front of world-class stayers like Stradivarius and behind Ghaiyyath further present his credentials, but carrying 58.5kgs again over 800m further than is a big, big ask.

2. Avilius

Seven-year-old gelding
Weight: 57kg
Trainer: James Cummings
Jockey: John Allen
Country: Great Britain
Barrier: 10
Odds: $61

Avilius won five races in 2019, including three at Group 1 level, but hasn’t been hailed the winner in nine starts this year despite running well on almost all occasions.

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His run in the Caulfield Cup was very good and quite unlucky, but he was behind five of his rivals here, and is weighted on his best from 18 months ago. It’s hard to make a proper case for him given he seems to have lost that winning feeling.

3. Vow And Declare

Five-year-old gelding
Weight: 57kg
Trainer: Danny O’Brien
Jockey: Jamie Mott
Country: Australia
Barrier: 4
Odds: $51

Last year’s Melbourne Cup winner is back to defend his title, but as his career goes on it is clear that his win was very much about time and place. His form this campaign is several lengths off his best from last spring, and he has to carry 5kgs more than he did when victorious in 2019.

In summary, he couldn’t win if he had Batman pulling him and Superman pushing him.

Vow and Declare

(Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

4. Master Of Reality

Six-year-old gelding
Weight: 56kg
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Jockey: Ben Melham
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 11
Odds: $21

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One of many horses that is back in the Melbourne Cup after running well last year, Master of Reality is in at least as good form this time around in Europe as he was when only half a length behind Vow and Declare.

He was around 25-1 last year and presents at a similar price this time around, and will be right up on the speed if not leading this field. If the race is a slowly run affair like last year, he is tough enough to be right there in the finish again.

5. Sir Dragonet

Five-year-old stallion
Weight: 51.5kg
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace
Jockey: Glen Boss
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 14
Odds: $10

The Cox Plate winner races in the Melbourne Cup for the first time since So You Think in 2010, when that horse ran third behind Shocking.

Sir Dragonet showed all of his class and ability at Moonee Valley when roaring away to the post, relishing the wet conditions, and now drops back from weight-for-age to a handicap with 3.5kgs less on his back.

In recent times, Fiorente and Green Moon have used the Cox Plate as their lead up to winning the Melbourne Cup, so the pathway is proven. The tailend of 3200m is going to be this horse’s stiffest test.

6. Twilight Payment

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Eight-year-old gelding
Weight: 55.5kg
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Jockey: Jye Mcneil
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 12
Odds: $34

Twilight Payment ran moderately in last year’s Melbourne Cup at a big price, but presents in better form this time around, and an eight-length win over Master of Reality back in July ties him right in.

While he has produced the occasional enigmatic run across his year, he is another that will look to ease his way to the front of the field from his middle barrier, and with the right run he is a winning chance at big odds.

7. Verry Elleegant

Five-year-old mare
Weight: 55.5kg
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Mark Zahra
Country: New Zealand
Barrier: 15
Odds: $11

Verry Elleegant is a six-time Group 1 winner that hits the Melbourne Cup in outstanding form off her Caulfield Cup and Turnbull Stakes wins. By defeating Anthony Van Dyck in that Caulfield Cup, it established her credentials against one of the world’s best stayers.

It is well known that this mare is a very good horse on dry ground, but several lengths better on rain-affected going, and the track is going to be quite firm on a hot Melbourne day on Tuesday. It’s the only question mark around her, but it’s a big one.

8. Mustajeer

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Eight-year-old gelding
Weight: 55kg
Trainer: Kris Lees
Jockey: Michael Rodd
Country: Great Britain
Barrier: 2
Odds: $81

Mustajeer finished down the track in last year’s Melbourne Cup off a much better Caulfield Cup run than he produced this time around. He had his favoured soft conditions in both of those races, and won’t get that here.

If you’ve drawn him in a sweep, best chance of a collect is paying out on last place.

9. Stratum Albion

Eight-year-old gelding
Weight: 55kg
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Jordan Childs
Country: Great Britain
Barrier: 9
Odds: $51

Willie Mullins is an Irish trainer that has had some reasonable success targeting his hurdlers at a Melbourne Cup and brings another one across the world to tackle our greatest race.

He’s probably got the most stamina of any horses in the race, and brings in a last start performance that profiles well enough to be competitive but it’s hard to think he can do any better than a fifth or sixth-placed finish in what appears to be a deep edition.

10. Dashing Willoughby

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Five-year-old gelding
Weight: 54.5kg
Trainer: Andrew Balding
Jockey: Michael Walker
Country: Great Britain
Barrier: 19
Odds: $81

Another international raider that can’t shape up to be any more than a rough hope. Was behind Stratum Albion at his last start before hitting Australian shores, and then produced a Caulfield Cup run that can only be described as poor. Even before that, his winning credentials looked inferior to most of the other overseas gallopers.

11. Finche

Seven-year-old gelding
Weight: 54.5kg
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: James Mcdonald
Country: Great Britain
Barrier: 6
Odds: $17

Finche is one of the hardiest customers at the top level in Australian racing, always putting himself up on the pace, often from wide barriers, and is always competitive. The problem with him is he just doesn’t win.

He finished fourth in his first Melbourne Cup in 2018, and then last year was less than two lengths behind Vow and Declare. He has also run fifth in a couple of Caulfield Cups and placings in the Turnbull Stakes. Once again he’ll be thereabouts, but does he have enough class to beat them all?

12. Prince Of Arran

Eight-year-old gelding
Weight: 54.5kg
Trainer: Charlie Fellows
Jockey: Jamie Kah
Country: Great Britain
Barrier: 1
Odds: $10

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Like Finch, Prince of Arran is also looking to strike it third time lucky in the Melbourne Cup, and is on the right trajectory after finishing third in 2018 and second in 2019.

His Australian form is always outstanding, with a record here of 7: 2-2-2. The only time he’s missed the placings in this country was last start in the Caulfield Cup when his fourth placed finish was arguably the best run he has produced here, swooping late from the tail. If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned Melbourne Cup trial, this was it.

 Michael Walker riding A Prince of Arran

(Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

13. Surprise Baby

Six-year-old gelding
Weight: 54.5kg
Trainer: Paul Preusker
Jockey: Craig Williams
Country: New Zealand
Barrier: 7
Odds: $9

Surprise Baby is another contender coming back after running so close last year, finishing fifth beaten less than a length after sustaining a run from back in the field. This natural stayer has only been seen twice since then, running well in the Feehan Stakes first-up before putting in an even effort in the Turbull Stakes.

Craig Williams has taken the ride on this horse, and will be sure to give him an absolute dream run from barrier seven. Many will find him to be Australia’s best chance of defeating the overseas visitors.

14. King Of Leogrance

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Six-year-old gelding
Weight: 53.5kg
Trainer: Danny O’Brien
Jockey: Damian Lane
Country: France
Barrier: 18
Odds: $51

UPDATE: King of Leogrance was a race-day scratching after a vet’s inspection found lameness in the off foreleg.

While Surprise Baby won the 2019 Adelaide Cup, King of Leogrance won this year’s edition in ultra-impressive fashion, putting himself in the Melbourne Cup picture.

He failed to flatter in the Turnbull first-up, and has to turn the tables on several rivals from that race. A last start third in the Geelong Cup was a bit more like it, and behind him there was Ashrun who franked the form winning the Hotham Handicap on Saturday. He’s not the worst chance at big odds.

15. Russian Camelot

Four-year-old stallion
Weight: 53.5kg
Trainer: Danny O’Brien
Jockey: Damien Oliver
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 16
Odds: $13

Once a Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate favourite, Russian Camelot has perhaps not yet become the superstar many feel him destined to be, but he’s still a major player coming through the major weight-for-age lead-up races.

To run third in a Cox Plate at only his ninth start speaks to his class and potential, and his most impressive performance was in the SA Derby in the autumn when getting up to a staying trip for the first time. Class and stamina is an intoxicating mix for a Melbourne Cup contender, and he is in this race up to his ears.

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16. Steel Prince

Seven-year-old gelding
Weight: 53.5kg
Trainer: Anthony & Sam Freedman
Jockey: William Pike
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 21
Odds: $31

Steel Prince is a bit reminiscent of the old-fashioned tough stayers that would compete and often win Melbourne Cups. He loves distance races at Flemington, building into his work with lengthening strides down the long straight.

After finishing seventh in the Cup last year, his lead-up form this time around indicates he is a 3-4 length better horse; he only went down by two lengths in 2019, so looks a great value proposition at $31.

17. The Chosen One

Five-year-old stallion
Weight: 53.5kg
Trainer: Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman
Jockey: Daniel Stackhouse
Country: New Zealand
Barrier: 5
Odds: $34

Yet another horse looking to improve on what they did last year, The Chosen One can be hard to catch but is always capable of surprising at a big price.

Second in the Sydney Cup back in April, and third in the Caulfield Cup behind Verry Elleegant and Anthony Van Dyck give an insight into his ability, but he’s hard to trust given he rarely strings two good performances together.

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18. Ashrun

Five-year-old stallion
Weight: 53kg
Trainer: Andreas Wohler
Jockey: Declan Bates
Country: France
Barrier: 24
Odds: $21

Ashrun was the winner of the last chance saloon ticket into the Cup, taking out the Hotham Handicap on Derby Day with a visually impressive last-to-first performance. He let down beautifully with 61kgs on his back there, and now drops down to 53kgs.

The winner of the Hotham almost always runs well three days later in the Cup, as they are unquestionably fit and in-form. He also meets the likes of Steel Prince and King of Leogrance better at the weights for being close behind them in the Geelong Cup. Has to be a player.

19. Warning

Four-year-old gelding
Weight: 53kg
Trainer: Anthony & Sam Freedman
Jockey: Luke Currie
Country: Australia
Barrier: 8
Odds: $51

Warning, the VRC Derby winner of last season, is a bit of a forgotten horse coming into this event. He worked to the line in eye-catching style when second-up in the Turnbull, behind Verry Elleegant and Finche, and meets them both 3.5kgs better for that length defeat.

While his Caulfield Cup run didn’t make much of an impression, this is a serious Flemington specialist who has drawn beautifully to sweep into the race as he likes upon straightening. Clearly over the odds at $51 with some bookies.

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20. Etah James

Eight-year-old mare
Weight: 52.5kg
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace
Jockey: Billy Egan
Country: New Zealand
Barrier: 22
Odds: $91

Etah James is one of the rank outsiders in this field, despite winning the Sydney Cup earlier this year. That was on a heavy track, and while she is always at her best over this sort of a trip, there’s nothing on her CV to suggest she can win a Melbourne Cup in a field of this quality.

21. Tiger Moth

Four-year-old stallion
Weight: 52.5kg
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Kerrin Mcevoy
Country: Ireland
Barrier: 23
Odds: $8

The most fascinating runner in the field, by virtue of vying for favouritism in a Melbourne Cup at only his fifth start. He’s a northern hemisphere three-year-old, which is become a tantalising profile for winning our great race, but never has one been so inexperienced before arriving here.

Kerrin McEvoy is one of the best staying jockey’s we’ve ever produced, and will give himself every chance to win a fourth Melbourne Cup. Wide draws are no impediment either, look for him to push over from gate 23 and find a position on the speed.

22. Oceanex

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Five-year-old mare
Weight: 51.5kg
Trainer: Mick Price & Michael Kent Jnr
Jockey: Dean Yendall
Country: New Zealand
Barrier: 17
Odds: $71

Oceanex booked her spot in the Melbourne Cup field with a win in the Andrew Ramsden back in May, defeating King of Leogrance in the process. Her form had been a bit plain in three runs back before turning things around in the Moonee Valley Cup last start, but there are just too many ahead of her in the reckoning.

23. Miami Bound

Four-year-old mare
Weight: 51kg
Trainer: Danny O’Brien
Jockey: Daniel Moor
Country: New Zealand
Barrier: 13
Odds: $41

Similar to Oceanex, Miami Bound had appeared to be battling form earlier in her campaign, but announced herself as one to keep an eye on with a reversal in the Moonee Valley Cup. She was a dominant last-to-first winner, relishing the wet ground.

Her VRC Oaks win last spring was on a good deck so she’s not just a wet tracker, and if she can sustain her turn of foot back onto firmer ground, then she has to be taken seriously as a winning prospect.

24. Persan

Four-year-old stallion
Weight: 51kg
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace
Jockey: Michael Dee
Country: Australia
Barrier: 20
Odds: $31

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Persan broke his maiden at Bendigo earlier this year, having taken 11 starts to do so. Since then he has become a winning machine, recording five more victories. Four of those have been at Flemington, two of them at 2500m. He loves the big track and long distances.

His last start win in the Bart Cummings left Steel Prince in his wake, albeit he had a kinder run in transit, but with only 51kgs to carry, the lightest weight in the field, he can make his presence felt.

Summary and prediction

It’s almost impossible pre-race to determine how fast the Melbourne Cup will be run. 24 horses, 24 jockeys, 24 sets of tactics, hundreds of decisions to be made in less than a minute once the gates open.

Master of Reality and Twilight Payment will be prominent from middle barriers. Drawn inside them, Finche and Prince of Arran will want to make use of good gates but won’t necessarily want to lead. Damien Oliver has a decision to make on Russian Camelot from 16. Willie Pike might chance his arm on Steel Prince and ride him positively.

Tiger Moth, Oceanex and Persan all have 52.5kgs or less but have drawn 17 and wider. The best chance of making the most of light weights is to be forward, so they could all cross.

It sets up to suggest that anything could happen, but anything stronger than an even tempo doesn’t look likely, and anything settling in the last third of the field may find it tough when the whips are cracking.

There appear to be 6-8 primary chances, about that again on the second tier, and the rest form the tail of a 24 field.

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Prince of Arran has impeccable Melbourne Cup form, is never less than strong at the end of 3200m, has drawn favourably to conserve energy from the get-go, and put the writing on the wall in the Caulfield Cup.

Surprise Baby has been out of sight but not out of mind, and has drawn to be closer this year. Sir Dragonet might just be the obvious one, but with some doubt at the distance. Steel Prince is up and about. Tiger Moth must be taken seriously. Warning is a far longer price than he should be.

Tips: 1. Prince of Arran, 2. Surprise Baby, 3. Sir Dragonet, 4. Steel Prince, 5. Tiger Moth, 6. Warning