If you look at betting markets, 2023 is another year you would assume that the Melbourne Cup has been run and won already – there are two or three short-priced favourites, with the rest of the field making up the numbers.
The agencies seem to find a few fancied runners in the two-mile race – among the longest in Australia, with the biggest field in the country and with a number of unknown runners – and offer very narrow odds.
I cannot see the sense in this, given races are not run on paper, and history shows they get it often wrong when it comes to actually finding the winner (Those who know how gambling works know that not picking the winner does not really affect the bookies’ bottom line though). Winners most often salute at double-figure odds.
The great race in 2023 seems to be a weaker field compared to previous years, which leaves the door more open for the ‘roughies’ to spring an upset.
The five-year-old Vauban has been a firm favourite since his win in the Ballyroan Stakes in August, with the bookies offering around the $3-$4 quote.
I certainly could not talk anyone off him – he has powerful recent form and statistics to be a special horse. But coming to the other side of the world does not automatically mean European form continues and I just do not see him as home and hosed as the price suggests.
An interesting fact, whether it will be important or not, we will not know until the end of the race, is that Vauban has not run a race in an anti-clockwise direction, all 14 of his previous starts have been the opposite way.
I think Gold Trip is a more deserving favourite to go back-to-back. Yes, he is carrying more weight than in last year’s race, but just one kilo – and his form has shown he is well and truly up to carrying it. Normally, I do not like horses at the top of the weights, especially in long races with big fields, but the lead-up form suggests it will not be a problem in this year’s race.
The Turnbull run was huge and then to finish third in the Caulfield Cup with a good run home proves he is ticking along nicely at the right time.
I am less convinced with the horse who beat him, Without a Fight. It was a great finish and firmed him right up in the betting, but it has added a kilo to the weight he will have to carry, and I feel his distance is suited more to the mile and a half than the two miles. Making the step up in distance, especially with the extra weight may be a step too far.
Soulcombe is an interesting challenger. His form suggests an ability to be a real challenger, but like he did in the Caulfield Cup, he keeps missing the starts and has too much work to do in the later stages of the race.
He has form over distances races, albeit less than 3200 metres, and flashed home with a great run in the Heatherlie Stakes and a third place behind Gold Trip in the Turnbull. But he needs things to go his way, and I am just not that confident it will exactly go to plan on the day. He sneaks just inside my top five, but is definitely capable of running even higher.
Rather I think the lower quality of the race might see the winner come from a different form line path, one that has not really been talked about or given much credit.
Up until two years ago, there was a profile or trend of winners coming from down in the weights. For the five years between 2015 to 2019, the weights were around 51-53kg. In the next three, it jumped up to 55.5-57.5kg, but I actually can see a horse down the order returning to the winners list.
I really like Future History to spring an upset. With just 50 kilograms on his back and good staying form, I think he could be the forgotten horse in the race.
It was a brilliant ride in The Bart Cummings, before an impressive third in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup where he was held a little wide before being run down.
There is a huge weight drop from those runs and the Ciaron Maher-David Eustace camp is in scintillating form – I think they could quinella the race (the stable actually has five runners).
While most of the attention is on Gold Trip, I see no reason why the on-pace runner cannot keep on kicking down the straight as the other challengers try to catch him.
I also had the horse that beat him in that race, Cleveland, in my top five until his scratching less than 24 hours before the race.
The Melbourne Cup is often a hard race for mares, with only two placings since 2005. That is why the French runner Lastotchka is up against it, but the form is definitely on the board.
She has been running and winning at distances well above the Cup trip and the way she blew them away in the Prix Gladiateur in France nearly two months ago was why connections rushed her out to be a part of the race. I expect the five-year-old to be fighting out the finish with a light weight of 51 kilograms.
Breakup could pose a threat, but is another runner that needs everything to go his way, as the Japanese horse looks to emulate the success of his compatriot Delta Blues in 2006, and has his fair share of backers.
1 – 21. Future History
2 – 1. Gold Trip
3 – 15. Lastotchka
4 – 5. Vauban
5 – 6. Soulcombe