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Your Complete Guide To The 2015 Melbourne Cup, by Andrew Hawkins

November 2, 2015

It’s here – the most comprehensive free Melbourne Cup preview on the internet, a tome that is longer than War And Peace, all devoted to a race that is over in 200 seconds or so.

This preview brings together 12 months of form study, replay analysis and in-depth research to try and find you the winner of Australia’s most famous race, the Melbourne Cup.

If you just want to know who I’m selecting, bypassing all the stats, click here!

This is the eighth year this Melbourne Cup preview has been released and it shapes as the toughest I’ve assessed. I’d go so far as to say there are 16 or 17 horses that could legitimately win without shocking. However, the purpose of this preview is to try and narrow those selections down, so I’ve put my head on the chopping block and given my assessment of where I think each horse is likely to finish.

Last year, four of our top five selections finished in the top five – we found first, second, fourth, fifth and last among the top five – so hopefully our good luck can continue this year.

It has come out a little later than normal this year, due to some technical difficulties, but hopefully it is all worth it come 3:05pm Melbourne time on Tuesday.

After many, many days of deliberation and consternation, we’ve finally settled on our selections for the Melbourne Cup. These selections have changed numerous times, but now this preview is published, we are locked in!

Good luck if you have a bet in the race, whoever you choose – and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you have a bet on Melbourne Cup day?

To navigate easily to each runner (for stats, colours and a full assessment of each runner), click on the runner’s name below. You can also go to my analysis of the speed, my summary of the entire race and my selections by clicking below. Otherwise, feel free to scroll through the preview!


1. SNOW SKY (16)Snow Sky
Nayef x Winter Silence (Dansili), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Sir Michael Stoute
Jockey: Ryan Moore
Weight: 58kg
Career stats: 15:5-2-2
Win/place percentages: 33%/60%
Last 5 starts: 7x116x5
Distances won at: 1 (2,816m), 2 (2,414m), 1 (2,309m), 1 (1,609m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes (2,414m), Ascot, 20 June 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $51
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $51
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $61
Summary of his chances: Deserved topweight but while he is classy, he doesn’t appear to have the required turn of foot for Australia. Not for me.
Predicted finish: 17th

One of the classiest Europeans to make the long journey to Australia, Snow Sky is the first horse to carry the famous green, teal and white colours of Saudi prince, Khalid Abdullah, down under.

Looking through the number of top gallopers raced by Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation over the years is like a who’s who of Group One winners over the past three decades.

There’s Frankel, the highest rated horse ever who retired undefeated at the end of his four-year-old season in 2012. There are Derby winners like Quest For Fame, Commander In Chief and Workforce, as well as the should-have-been Derby winner, Dancing Brave, who won everything else under the sun. There’s Danehill, who turned the breeding world upside down in the 1990s. There are Arc winners Rainbow Quest and Rail Link, there’s top miler Kingman. And that’s a very short summary.

Amongst that lot, Snow Sky has no place, but he is a decent galloper in his own right. A handy three-year-old, he won the Lingfield Derby Trial – beating rival Hartnell – and the Gordon Stakes and was third in the St Leger at Doncaster from seven starts.

However, he stepped up again as a four-year-old this season, winning the Yorkshire Cup in fairly comfortable fashion before his career peak to date in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

That day, Pat Smullen took Snow Sky straight to the front, slowly building the tempo until he had everything off the bit and he cruised home to win by almost four lengths. Behind him were King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes one-two Postponed (third) and Eagle Top (second), as well as last year’s Canadian International winner Hillstar, this year’s Canadian International third Sheikhzayedroad, the much spruiked Telescope and the evergreen Red Cadeaux.

It was such an impressive performance that the Cups looked like they would be off the agenda, with Snow Sky instead targeting races like the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup Turf – or even staying races like the Long Distance Cup.

However, he raced very flat in the King George behind Postponed and so was spelled with Melbourne in mind.

In the Caulfield Cup he raced handy, tracking the leaders – although not on the lead as many had predicted – and while he was slightly hampered at the top of the straight, I doubt he would have finished much closer than his eventual fifth, five lengths behind Mongolian Khan.

He does get the services of quietly spoken Ryan Moore, the inaugural winner of the World’s Best Jockey title and the man who guided Protectionist to his four-length success 12 months ago.

The step up in trip probably suits him, because even though he has never shaped as a European two-miler, the Australian 3,200m is softer and tends to suit a strong European over 12 to 14 furlongs.

However, I question whether he has the turn of foot to capitalise from his likely handy position. He will be outside runners here, unlike at Caulfield, which will probably suit, but I can’t see him sprinting with them when they move up at the 300m.

Still, while I could see him finishing top 10, I’d be shocked to see him in the mix in the final stages. Overlooking.

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2. CRITERION (4)Criterion
Sebring x Mica’s Pride (Bite The Bullet), 5yo chestnut horse

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: David Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Michael Walker
Weight: 57.5kg
Career stats: 31:7-5-5
Win/place percentages: 23%/61%
Last 5 starts: 35612
Distances won at: 1 (2,400m), 3 (2,000m), 2 (1,200m), 1 (1,100m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2,000m), Randwick, 11 April 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $13
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $13
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $15
Summary of his chances: The first horse to contest both the Golden Slipper and Melbourne Cup in a generation. Arrives in career-best form but the two miles is a major query.
Predicted finish: 13th

The Golden Slipper and the Melbourne Cup are polar opposites as races.

The Golden Slipper, run around a hairpin 1,200m at Rosehill in Sydney, is the world’s richest two-year-old race, attracting the most precocious types around. It is a race that showcases future stallions and is the pinnacle of the breeding industry.

The Melbourne Cup is for classy stayers. It is the world’s richest handicap, and is far from valued by the breeding industry. Generally, it is the late maturer that thrives in the race that stops the nation.

The only thing that links both races is the big prize money on offer and the fact both are considered to be among the “big four” races in Australia, along with the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate.

So to run in both races takes a very special horse indeed, and it is something that is generally not considered at all. Which brings us to David Hayes and Tom Dabernig’s Criterion, one of the more fascinating runners in this year’s race.

Incredibly, Criterion is the first horse in almost a generation to run in both the Golden Slipper and the Melbourne Cup. The last to contest both was John Singleton-owned Sunshine Sally, who ran sixth in Courtza’s Golden Slipper in 1989 and last in the 1991 Melbourne Cup behind Let’s Elope. Still, it’s not as remarkable as Stylish Century, who ran in both the Golden Slipper (eighth) and Melbourne Cup (21st) in 1989.

It has been a long-term goal for Criterion to contest the Melbourne Cup, at the insistence of his owner, prominent New Zealand businessman Sir Owen Glenn – something that looked extremely unlikely when he was winning Group races easily as a juvenile.

Criterion, a son of a Golden Slipper winner in Sebring, was plenty precocious as a two-year-old, winning three times including the Black Opal Stakes in Canberra and the main Slipper lead-up for the colts and geldings, the Todman Stakes. These weren’t poor fields either, as at those three runs he beat into second Group One winning sprinter in Sweet Idea, Golden Slipper runner-up Sidestep and Blue Diamond Stakes runner-up Fast ‘n’ Rocking. He ended his juvenile campaign with sixths in the Golden Slipper behind Overreach and the Champagne Stakes behind Guelph.

As a three-year-old in the spring of 2013 and autumn of 2014, he was placed at Group One level in the Spring Champion Stakes behind Complacent and the Australian Guineas behind Shamus Award, as well as finishing fourth in Polanski’s Victoria Derby. However, it was March 2014 that he finally hit top gear, winning the Rosehill Guineas in a canter before adding the Australian Derby to his record – both times, aided by wet tracks.

He shaped as potentially being an early developer who would be surpassed by late maturers, but he has continued to get better and better with age. A second in the Caulfield Stakes to Fawkner last year was followed by somewhat unlucky performances behind Adelaide in the Cox Plate and Happy Trails in the Mackinnon Stakes, but he produced the best effort of his career to that point at his next start when a game third to two Hong Kong horses of the year, Designs On Rome and Military Attack, in the Hong Kong Cup.

And yet, into the autumn this year, he kept upping the ante. Placings in Group Ones over 1,300m and 1,500m had him cherry ripe for Sydney’s richest race, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, which he took in ridiculously easy fashion, although again he had conditions underfoot to suit. After that, he was sent on a globetrotting mission, once again finding himself at Sha Tin where he finished third to Blazing Speed in the QE II Cup before heading to England.

While he was comfortably and unsurprisingly beaten in two runs in England, he was far from disgraced and those formlines are genuinely world class, finishing four lengths from Free Eagle in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and less than six lengths from Arabian Queen and Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International.

He returned to Australia and went bang straight away, winning the Caulfield Stakes, before he was the only horse who could mount any kind of hard luck story behind runaway Cox Plate winner Winx last start.

There’s no doubt he is once again racing in career best form, and he keeps stepping up to the plate, but it would be mad not to question his staying credentials. His pedigree contains little to suggest he will see out the trip – not just with Sebring as the sire but there is plenty of speed on the dam’s side too – while he has never really shaped as a two-miler in his races.

While 2,000m has become his pet distance, he did win the Australian Derby over 2,400m last year, but as is so often the case with these three-year-olds, perhaps that was more a case of class prevailing against inferior rivals.

Ethiopia (seventh, 2013), Dr. Grace (20th, 1991) and Kingston Town (20th, 1981) are the only Australian Derby winners to have contested the Melbourne Cup as a five-year-old since the Sydney race was run in the autumn, although Kingston Town did famously finish second – and should have won – as a six-year-old.

That said, he does look a similar style of horse to the likes of Saintly, who was dismissed as a non-stayer before romping home in the 1996 Melbourne Cup. Saintly was probably more classy against a worst field, though, and he had absolutely everything go right under a plum Darren Beadman ride while many of his toughest rivals got too far back.

Also, it could be argued Saintly had more upside, too, and more of these class types get beaten out of sight rather than winning.

So does he stay? It’s impossible to know. He’s a place chance on class alone, but it’s tough to see him winning. Never dismiss class, though.

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3. FAME GAME (12)Fame Game
Heart’s Cry x Hall Of Fame (Allez Milord), 6yo bay or brown horse

Bred in: Japan
Nationality: Japan
Trainer: Yoshitada Munakata
Jockey: Zac Purton
Weight: 57kg
Career stats: 17:5-1-1
Win/place percentages: 29%/41%
Last 5 starts: 1012×6
Distances won at: 2 (3,400m), 1 (2,500m), 2 (2,000m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Copa Republica Argentina (2,500m), Tokyo (Fuchu), 9 November 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $4
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $3.80
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $4.40
Summary of his chances: Logical favourite but very much under the odds now. He’s a chance but can’t be backing him at such short odds.
Predicted finish: 5th

The headline horse of this year’s Melbourne Cup and definitely the one most eyes will be on come Tuesday. And not just because he is the favourite.

Carrying the Sunday Racing colours worn by Delta Blues when he won the 2006 Melbourne Cup, and also worn by such Japanese champions as Orfevre, Gentildonna and Duramente, Fame Game enters the race with a heady reputation only enhanced by a barnstorming Caulfield Cup run.

A Group Two winner over 2,500m, a two-time Group Three winner over 3,400m and a Tenno Sho (Spring) second to one of Japan’s best horses – that’s a hefty CV for a Melbourne Cup. He is the best Japanese horse to make the trip on overall form, although he is quite similar to Eye Popper and that horse could only manage 12th behind Makybe Diva in 2005 after a similarly terrific Caulfield Cup run.

It’s the second year in a row that Hong Kong-based Zac Purton has been aboard the favourite, and he will definitely be hoping it turns out better. Last year, he was on Caulfield Cup winner Admire Rakti, who raced handy before dropping out and finishing last – and then sadly dying in the tie-up stalls.

Purton came under heavy criticism for his ride in the Caulfield Cup when Fame Game flew home for sixth to Mongolian Khan, with stewards querying his intent and his vigour. Much of it was misguided, it was the way the horse has been ridden in most starts in Japan, but there was a lynch mob out after him.

However, it also served the purpose of ensuring that many declared the Melbourne Cup as good as over.

There’s no doubt he’s the horse to beat. On his run behind Gold Ship in the Tenno Sho, when he took time to wind up but absolutely stormed late, he should be going very close to winning, really.

However, he is ridiculously under the odds in a 24-horse field now and I feel there are horses that are in the ballpark in terms of chances that are three, four, five times the odds. In terms of value, one must look elsewhere.

I also think there is a slight query over the Caulfield Cup as the main lead-up race as the set-up is likely to be very different here at Flemington.

Hard to beat but it can be done.

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4. OUR IVANHOWE (22)Our Ivanhowe
Soldier Hollow x Indigo Girl (Sternkoenig), 6yo bay horse

Bred in: Germany
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Lee and Anthony Freedman
Jockey: Ben Melham
Weight: 56kg
Career stats: 14:5-2-1
Win/place percentages: 36%/57%
Last 5 starts: 6x7x923
Distances won at: 3 (2,400m), 2 (2,200m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Baden (2,400m), Baden-Baden, 7 September 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $26
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $21
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $21
Summary of his chances: Good staying effort in the Caulfield Cup but not convinced it is the form race for this. Place chance.
Predicted finish: 11th

German import who really caught the eye with his third placing in the Caulfield Cup.

He arrived from Germany earlier this year with a fairly lofty reputation. He was no champion, but he had been fairly consistent. His biggest scalp came in the Grosser Preis Von Baden last September, when he became the first and only horse to lower the colours of 11-length German Derby winner Sea The Moon.

He had been well beaten in the Arc after that, but showed his talent with a sixth in the Japan Cup, not beaten far behind such names as Epiphaneia, Just A Way and Gentildonna.

The Freedmans have given him a preparation very similar to that which they have given many of their European imports over the years, giving him the one run in the autumn in Adelaide over a mile before pulling up stumps and aiming solely at the spring.

Their opinion throughout has been that he has been a bit more dour than many other imports, hence why they held him off to run first-up in the Naturalism Stakes.

His two runs at an extended trip, though, have been terrific. He flashed home for second in the Bart Cummings, giving the winner Let’s Make Adeal 6kg, before another game staying effort when third to Mongolian Khan and Trip To Paris in the Caulfield Cup. That day, he was forced to take off with Mongolian Khan, but he stayed on fairly resolutely, although no match for the winner.

Given he was only third-up there, he is entitled to further improvement, he looks as though an Australian 3,200m will suit him and I expect he’ll be one of the horses looming at the top of the straight.

Of the Caulfield Cup placegetters, I prefer Our Ivanhowe to Trip To Paris, but I still, I think both are just place chances here really. I’m still not entirely sure it is the best form guide for this race, and I think the market has it wrong by indicating it is the sole form race.

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5. BIG ORANGE (23)Big Orange
Duke Of Marmalade x Miss Brown To You (Fasliyev), 5yo bay gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Michael Bell
Jockey: Jamie Spencer
Weight: 55.5kg
Career stats: 13:5-1-0
Win/place percentages: 38%/46%
Last 5 starts: 47117
Distances won at: 1 (3,219m), 1 (2,816m), 1 (2,696m), 1 (2,414m), 1 (2,012m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Goodwood Cup (3,200m), Goodwood, 30 July 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $51
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $51
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $51
Summary of his chances: One-dimensional stayer who has emerged from out of the blue to record two on-pace wins in English staying races. Not the right type for the race. Pass.
Predicted finish: 20th

English stayer who has emerged as one of the stars of a fairly weak staying crop in Europe.

As a three-year-old, he ran fourth in the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot behind Hartnell before taking a couple of weak Listed affairs.

Earlier this season, he was getting lapped early on, leading and finding nothing, but sprung a shock when he led all the way in the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket. He showed it was no fluke with a gritty Goodwood Cup win over Quest For More and Trip To Paris, but again was lapped in the Lonsdale Cup.

I’m not sure if he has the pace to lead – if Prince Of Penzance goes forward he might not be able to get across – but the barrier gives them one option, and that is to try and make the running.

He seems really quite dour and one-paced, not the sort of horse I would want to touch with a barge pole. He needs English races run absolutely to perfection, dominating from the front at just the right tempo.

But English races are very different to Australian races. English races are run moderately early, slowly building up throughout and reaching top gear at the finish. Australian races are fairly quick at the start as riders jostle for positions, then they steady noticeably. It tends to be a very stop-start scenario until the top of the straight, when the sprint goes on.

This type of race shape seems totally unsuitable for Big Orange so I’m prepared to dismiss entirely.

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6. HARTNELL (17)Hartnell
Authorized x Debonnaire (Anabaa), 5yo bay gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: John O’Shea
Jockey: James McDonald
Weight: 55.5kg
Career stats: 20:7-4-1
Win/place percentages: 35%/60%
Last 5 starts: 14×465
Distances won at: 1 (3,219m), 1 (2,615m), 1 (2,400m), 1 (2,012m), 1 (2,000m), 2 (1,609m)
Biggest win: Group 1 The BMW (2,400m), Rosehill, 28 March 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $31
Summary of his chances: He has been progressing a lot better than many give him credit for. Perfect Melbourne Cup preparation and looms as a chance.
Predicted finish: 4th

Once one of the early favourites for the Melbourne Cup after his terrific autumn, a quiet spring has seen him drift in the market and he is rather unfancied – and quite unfairly, in my opinion.

Arriving with Godolphin’s Australian arm and trainer John O’Shea earlier this year, he quickly caught the eye flashing home for second behind stablemate Contributer in the Chipping Norton Stakes. Comprehensive wins in the Sky High Stakes and The BMW followed, before a lacklustre effort in the Sydney Cup.

This spring, he’s been ticking along nicely from a Melbourne Cup perspective, although perhaps he hasn’t reached the heights that some expected from him. A first-up fourth to Kermadec in the Chelmsford when wide was very solid, before running some good sectionals late when sixth to Preferment in the Turnbull.

Last start in the Cox Plate, he held his ground in a fifth to runaway winner Winx. He was beaten 10 lengths, but it was a far better performance than it looked on paper and an ideal lead-up for the Melbourne Cup.

That’s been the story of his preparation, though – it has been clear there has been one goal and everything has been geared towards that goal.

Plenty believe that he won’t stay, using his Sydney Cup run as an example. Given he pulled up sore that day and was forced to lead, which is probably not entirely ideal for him, it was a complete forgive run and one that must be ignored.

Of more concern regarding his staying prowess is his Queen’s Vase win at Royal Ascot last year. That day, he wobbled all over the place under pressure and looked to be in deep trouble but somehow clung on. I’ve always been of the belief, though, that an English two miles and an Australian two miles are completely different, though, and an English two miles exposes stamina far more than an Australian two miles.

I think the Australian 3,200m will be fine, that we will see his best run this preparation from him and that he will be in the race for a long, long way.

He is the best value chance in the race and, to me, it wouldn’t shock if he is the longest priced winner since Viewed in 2008.

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7. HOKKO BRAVE (20)Hokko Brave
Marvelous Sunday x Hokko Memory (Dancing Brave), 8yo bay horse

Bred in: Japan
Nationality: Japan
Trainer: Yasutoshi Matsunaga
Jockey: Craig Williams
Weight: 55.5kg
Career stats: 30:5-5-5
Win/place percentages: 17%/50%
Last 5 starts: 05x36x0
Distances won at: 1 (2,600m), 2 (2,400m), 2 (2,200m)
Biggest win: October Stakes (2,400m), Tokyo (Fuchu), 5 October 2013
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $34
Summary of his chances: Second stringer of the Japanese contingent. Looks to be past his best and will be hard pressed to turn around his form link through Fame Game. Not for me.
Predicted finish: 18th

The second stringer of the Japanese contingent is Hokko Brave, a horse that has never won a Group race and yet finds himself in the middle of the weights due to a number of good runs in big races.

He arrives in Melbourne probably two years past his peak. In November 2013 he finished 12th in the Japan Cup, but only beaten three and a half lengths by Gentildonna. Near him that day were horses like Simenon, who was coming off a fourth to Fiorente in the Melbourne Cup three weeks earlier, and Japan’s favourite crazy Gold Ship.

His third in the Tenno Sho behind Fenomeno and Win Variation last year was just as good as Fame Game’s effort this year, while he wasn’t disgraced this year either when only a length and a half behind Fame Game in the same race.

Last start, he raced wide at Caulfield but still had very little when asked by Craig Williams, not showing any dash but plugging away.

He has been one of the star trackworkers at Werribee, with one photographer suggesting that his work has been as good as that of Lord Kanaloa before the 2013 Hong Kong Sprint. Lord Kanaloa, of course, won that race, his swansong, by five lengths.

Still, it is almost impossible to imagine that he can turn around his form on Fame Game, given the margins between the horses have been pretty similar the two times they have met this year.

Personally, I’m happy to look elsewhere.

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8. MAX DYNAMITE (2)Max Dynamite
Great Journey x Mascara (Monsun), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: France
Nationality: Ireland
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
Weight: 55kg
Career stats: 18:3-3-2
Win/place percentages: 17%/44%
Last 5 starts: 97221
Distances won at: 1 (3,299m), 1 (3,219m), 1 (2,200m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3,219m), York, 21 August 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $15
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $14
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $14
Summary of his chances: Hurdler who has come good on the flat. Needs to prove his Lonsdale Cup win was no fluke but a repeat would see him right in the mix here, particularly with rain.
Predicted finish: 6th

Australians, for some reason, get offended at the thought of hurdlers winning the Melbourne Cup. In Australia, the jumps industry is in large part kept alive by problematic horses or horses who have lost form. It is a second life.

But in Europe, jumps racing is on level pegging with flat racing, and in many parts is far more popular. To them, the idea is far from foreign.

On Tuesday, Max Dynamite could become the next hurdler to win the Melbourne Cup.

The terrifically named Max Dynamite began his career in France with John van Handenhove and raced in a number of the better three-year-old middle distance races – not hopeless, but not really going anywhere either.

In walks trainer Willie Mullins, probably the best dual-purpose trainer on the planet, with owner Rich Ricci, a controversial London-based investment banker of American heritage. Ricci owns some of jumps racing’s biggest names – the machine Faugheen, winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham this year, as well as star mare Annie Power and the next big chaser Douvan.

Ricci hoped he would have another Cheltenham aspirant in Max Dynamite – and that might still be a possibility. Indeed, when asked if Max Dynamite was good enough to win a Melbourne Cup, Ricci responded, “Well, he is good enough to win a County Hurdle at Cheltenham.” With the owner, it is possible to believe that the Melbourne Cup is ultimately a really rich preparation race to his main goal at the National Hunt mecca next year.

He finished fourth in this year’s County Hurdle to stablemate Wicklow Brave, before a couple of poor performances in Ireland, falling at Fairyhouse before finishing a well-beaten seventh at Punchestown.

He reverted to the flat for a second to Quest For More in the Northumberland Plate, showing a great turn of foot, before once again heading over the hurdles for a second in the Galway Hurdle at the famous festival in the west of Ireland.

It was his last start, however, which brings him right into reckoning here. The turn of foot he showed to win the Lonsdale Cup, with the likes of Trip To Paris and Big Orange behind him, was simply electric. It was what you would expect to see from an Australian sprinter over a short dash, not a hurdler.

Now he needs to back it up and prove that it wasn’t a one-off performance. It’s very possible, too, he shapes as though he’s only getting better with age.

Also of some concern is that he probably needs some give in the ground to be at his best. While some rain is forecast for Monday, it should be a fairly firm surface on Tuesday – ideal for most, but potentially a little too quick for Max Dynamite.

Here, he gets the services of the flamboyant Frankie Dettori, the Italian maestro who has been at the top of the riding ranks for 25 years. He has been in sublime form this season and has always yearned to win the Melbourne Cup, especially as he has often been a dartboard for the disgruntled Australian punter wanting to blast international riders.

Dettori came closest 16 years ago on Central Park. Can another American connection in Ricci give him the prize?

He’s a definite chance, although he is definitely promoted to near the head of the pecking order should any rain arrive.

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9. RED CADEAUX (8)Red Cadeaux
Cadeaux Genereux x Artisia (Peintre Celebre), 10yo chestnut gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Ed Dunlop
Jockey: Gerald Mosse
Weight: 55kg
Career stats: 53:7-13-7
Win/place percentages: 13%/51%
Last 5 starts: 52073
Distances won at: 2 (2,816m), 1 (2,460m), 1 (2,430m), 2 (2,414m), 1 (2,400m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Hong Kong Vase (2,400m), Sha Tin,
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 2nd in 2011, 2013, 2014 (four attempts)
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $26
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $31
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $31
Summary of his chances: May not have won but three second placings show his affinity for the race. Has been a shadow of himself recently and couldn’t have him this year, but must be included on all exotics tickets in the placings.
Predicted finish: 15th

What more can be written about this evergreen old warrior? He is back for his fifth and most likely last attempt at winning the Melbourne Cup, a race in which he has finished second three times.

Not since Shadow King, who ran in the Melbourne Cup six times in seven years between 1929 and 1935 for two seconds, two thirds, a fourth and a sixth, has a horse had such a link with the Melbourne Cup without having taken home the prize.

He has raced in seven countries in a five-year round-the-world odyssey, and has made a home in Australia where he is one of the most popular gallopers around.

Now a European nine-year-old – officially 10 years old by Australian time – the Hong Kong-owned galloper is on his swansong tour which will culminate in the Hong Kong Vase in December. That is, unless he wins on Tuesday.

This season, he had an autumn visit to Australia for the first time, finishing fifth to Spillway in the Australian Cup before a superb second to Criterion in Sydney’s richest race, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

On the way back to England, he ran down the track behind Blazing Speed in the QE II Cup, and as has become quite the norm, he hasn’t fired in two runs on home soil. He finished 43 lengths last behind Snow Sky in the Hardwicke Stakes, before running an improved race but still finishing a long way from Agent Murphy in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes.

I have had him in my top four the last two years and he has not let me down. However, this year I simply cannot find a way to include him in the chances, based on his exposed form and the fact I think he is facing the best field he has met to date.

Of course, there is every chance he proves me wrong this year too – his Flemington 3,200m record is too good to dismiss. So while I only see him as a fringe place chance at the very best, just based on his record I will be including him in the placings in all exotics. I couldn’t have him beating me by running a place.

The fairytale result would be a Red Cadeaux win. Can the fairytale become a reality? It’s very unlikely, but with Red Cadeaux nothing seems impossible these days.

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10. TRIP TO PARIS (14)Trip To Paris
Champs Elysees x La Grande Zoa (Fantastic Light), 5yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Ed Dunlop
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Weight: 55kg
Career stats: 13:5-1-0
Win/place percentages: 32%/53%
Last 5 starts: 21352
Distances won at: 1 (4,023m), 1 (3,756m), 1 (3,219m), 2 (2,414m), 1 (1,408m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup (4,023m), Ascot, 18 June 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $9
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $9
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $7.50
Summary of his chances: Top effort in the Caulfield Cup and ran far better than I expected. The Melbourne Cup always looked a better fit for him but not sure he will be able to sprint as strongly second-up. Place chance again.
Predicted finish: 14th

Caulfield Cup runner-up who has been one of the best-backed horses outside the favourite Fame Game.

To be honest, he has shocked me with his remarkable progress this season. He stepped out beyond 18 furlongs in the Chester Cup in May, finding the front near the finish, and a lot of my British friends insisted he would be a Melbourne Cup horse. I laughed at them, thinking he’d be too slow and not good enough

He already made a fool of me by winning the Ascot Gold Cup, although arguably he should have been beaten by Kingfisher. He then produced a big run when third in the Goodwood Cup where his was probably the best performance, despite being beaten a half-length by Big Orange and Quest For More.

At his final start before making the trip down under, he flopped in the Lonsdale Cup won by Max Dynamite, an odd race because there were so many below-par performances.

Given my doubts over the strength of the European staying form and my belief that he would be too dour for a mile and a half, I took a big set against him in the Caulfield Cup. How wrong I was.

From a seemingly awkward position on the turn, Trip To Paris charged home on the inside, looking the likely winner inside the 100m mark before Mongolian Khan staved him off to win.

So what do we make of that run? Can he reproduce it at Flemington? The Melbourne Cup had always looked a better fit for Trip To Paris, but it would be natural to expect that after a long season and an arduous trip, he could regress off that run.

Still, in his corner is trainer Ed Dunlop, one of the world’s best travellers of racehorses, and the vibes coming out of the camp are extremely positive that he can go one better.

What is also a big plus is that he does have a turn of foot at the end of a staying contest, which is a rarity in European long-distance gallopers.

That said, I have my doubts on the Caulfield Cup as the form race for the Melbourne Cup, so naturally I have to oppose him on a win line.

As one wily judge said in recent days, those horses powering home in the Caulfield Cup were always a goldmine in the Melbourne Cup – not because you would want to be on them, but because you would want to bet against them.

He is not without a place chance, but I couldn’t have him to win.

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11. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN (6)Who Shot Thebarman
Yamanin Vital x Ears Carol (Carolingian), 7yo bay gelding

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Blake Shinn
Weight: 54.5kg
Career stats: 24:8-3-1
Win/place percentages: 33%/50%
Last 5 starts: 2×7587
Distances won at: 1 (3,200m), 1 (2,520m), 1 (2,500m), 1 (2,400m), 2 (2,000m), 2 (1,600m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Auckland Cup (3,200m), Ellerslie, 5 March 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 3rd in 2014 (one attempt)
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $17
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $17
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $17
Summary of his chances: Last year’s third placegetter is progressing well. He loves the 3,200m but think he strikes a stronger race and have a few ahead of him. Place chance again.
Predicted finish: 12th

One of the most popular gallopers in training, simply due to his quirky name, Who Shot Thebarman returns to the Melbourne Cup after finishing third behind Protectionist at his first attempt last year.

And it has been clear all year that only one race has mattered. That race comes up on Tuesday.

The former New Zealander returned with a slashing fifth in the Chipping Norton Stakes over a mile in the autumn, progressing nicely through the Sky High Stakes, The BMW and the Sydney Cup without winning. In fact, it’s astounding he didn’t win the Sydney Cup, having shot clear at the 200m before being collared by stablemate Grand Marshal.

This preparation has been geared towards one goal, the Melbourne Cup, in the knowledge that he was all but guaranteed a run. His first three runs in the Chelmsford Stakes, Hill Stakes and Turnbull Stakes were all solid, as he was hitting the line powerfully.

Last time out in the Caulfield Cup, he produced one of the better Melbourne Cup trials as he powered home into seventh. All eyes were on Fame Game to his inside, but there was nothing wrong with Who Shot Thebarman’s run and he was one of the best of the closers out wide.

His stats don’t lie – he loves the 3,200m. Four starts at the trip have produced a win in the Auckland Cup last year, a failure in the 2014 Sydney Cup, a terrific third in the Melbourne Cup and a probably-should-have-won second in the 2015 Sydney Cup.

He also looks likely to get a more suitable set-up this year than last year, with less pace on up front but a more solid staying test.

This year, he carries a half-kilo less than last year, but he also strikes a far tougher field. He is one of many horses who could win the race, but given the relative strength of form I have a few ahead of him this time around. I think he could make it into the placings again, but I struggle to see him winning the race.

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12. SKY HUNTER (7)Sky Hunter
Motivator x Pearl Kite (Silver Hawk), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain/United Arab Emirates
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor
Jockey: William Buick
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 11:6-1-1
Win/place percentages: 55%/73%
Last 5 starts: 6xD1x1x2
Distances won at: 1 (2,414m), 1 (2,410m), 1 (2,400m), 1 (2,100m), 1 (2,000m), 1 (1,950m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Dubai City Of Gold (2,410m), Meydan, 7 March 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $41
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $41
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $41
Summary of his chances: Somewhat of an unknown quantity, but this looks the culmination of a 12 month plan to target the Melbourne Cup. Had an injury scare during the week but looks one of the chances. More a place chance though.
Predicted finish: 9th

The unknown quantity in this year’s Melbourne Cup, Sky Hunter looks the type capable of anything.

Formerly with Andre Fabre, Sky Hunter began his career in France where he won four from five, building up form around horses now racing in lesser grades in Sydney and Melbourne like Kapour and Paederos. His best effort was a third in the Prix Du Jockey Club to Intello.

Transferred to Godolphin’s primary trainer Saeed Bin Suroor, he was dreadful at his first two starts in England last year before coming good with a Listed win at Ayr and a nine-length demolition job in the St Simon Stakes at Newbury.

Like many Godolphin horses, he wintered with the sun on his back in Dubai, having just the one start for his career peak to date, a victory in the Dubai City Of Gold. That was his only start until late September, when he returned to action in the Arc Trial behind The Corsican – a sound enough performance.

Now, he looks in desperate need of a further trip.

He has a turn of foot, he seems to like fast ground and he seems fairly tactically versatile – all major positives when it comes to the Melbourne Cup.

I am still smarting somewhat from William Buick’s ride in 2011, when he took our top selection, Godolphin’s Lost In The Moment, up the inside – the slowest ground that day. It was a miracle the horse finished fifth and if he had come outside horses I am adamant to this day he would have finished in the placings. Hopefully for Sky Hunter backers, he doesn’t make the same mistake again.

Godolphin have done very well with horses of a similar profile before. Of the two Dubai City Of Gold winners they have brought to Melbourne, one ran second – Give The Slip in 2001 – while the other, Campanologist, lost his chance when he got stirred up at the start.

He’s clearly a very impressive stayer, he has a turn of foot and he still looks to have plenty of upside. He is impossible to line up but I expect him to run a very bold race.

Can he win? Sure. Is he overs? Definitely. But what is likely to happen? In all likelihood, he will run a big race without winning – whether that is in second or in 10th.

I have him ninth but would have had him higher if not for the injury scare. He’s in the mix, but for me, I’ll be playing him for the place in all exotics rather than for the win.

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13. THE OFFER (13)The Offer
Montjeu x Valdara (Darshaan), 7yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 27:8-2-3
Win/place percentages: 27%/46%
Last 5 starts: 15541
Distances won at: 1 (3,200m), 1 (2,615m), 1 (2,600m), 1 (2,414m), 2 (2,400m), 1 (2,200m), 1 (1,600m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Sydney Cup (3,200m), Randwick, 19 April 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $51
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $51
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $34
Summary of his chances: One-time favourite would be suited if it does come up wet but looks hard to have despite his Bendigo Cup win.
Predicted finish: 21st

Once upon a time – and a very long time ago it seems – The Offer was an early favourite for the Melbourne Cup.

It was April 2014, days after he had destroyed his rivals by four lengths in what looked a strong Sydney Cup, and The Offer looked the next staying star after an autumn that had also included runaway wins in the Manion Cup and the Chairman’s Handicap in Sydney.

But when the Irish import returned last spring, he didn’t look the same horse. He was never beaten far, but he had niggling issues and just didn’t look the same horse, so was spelled after finishing 11th to Admire Rakti in the Caulfield Cup.

He was given plenty of time off and didn’t return until well into June, finishing eighth in a Listed race at the Gold Coast under 61kg.

After another let-up, he returned to win the Hawkesbury Gold Cup in late August, carrying 61kg against a moderate field, before fifths in the Wyong and Newcastle Cups behind Beyond Thankful. He was given a short freshen-up, before finishing fourth to Ruling Dynasty in the City Tattersalls Cup at Randwick.

Then, once again, it all came together last Wednesday when he won the Bendigo Cup, and now backs up off a six-day break into the Melbourne Cup.

To be fair, until his Bendigo Cup success last Wednesday, he had again not been beaten far but he had looked a shadow of the horse he once was. To perform at his best, he needs give in the ground, which he has rarely had since the autumn of 2014. With possible rain around on Tuesday, that elevates his chances slightly.

Still, I’m not convinced Bendigo Cup form is the right form for this race – sure, Divan is a nice horse on the way up and it wouldn’t surprise to see him in the Melbourne Cup next year, while Kirramosa is an Oaks winner. And he did have to carry 59kg with most of the field on the minimum.

But there are other horses who look to have more upside and others who appear to be in better form.

Even with Gai Waterhouse’s magic touch, it would surprise to see him in the winner’s circle. A wet surface would give him a slight chance of making the top 10, but prepared to risk him.

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14. GRAND MARSHAL (15)Grand Marshal
Dansili x Margarula (Doyoun), 6yo brown gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Jim Cassidy
Weight: 53.5kg
Career stats: 25:7-5-2
Win/place percentages: 28%/56%
Last 5 starts: 1×0750
Distances won at: 1 (3,200m), 1 (2,800m), 1 (2,414m), 1 (2,200m), 1 (2,100m), 1 (2,000m), 1 (1,609m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Sydney Cup (3,200m), Randwick, 11 April 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $41
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $41
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $51
Summary of his chances: Sydney Cup winner would have been favourite for the Melbourne Cup three decades ago. His Caulfield Cup run was a hidden gem, he had to check off heels late and was finding the line strong before that. Biggest upset chance.
Predicted finish: 10th

Grand Marshal already looked a horse likely to attract attention as an under the radar outsider with a live chance, but the horse will have even more significance now as the final Cup ride and one of the final rides ever for the legendary, if not controversial, jockey Jimmy Cassidy.

Cassidy, a Hall of Fame rider, has won two Melbourne Cups on Kiwi (1983) and Might And Power (1997). Both were at opposite ends of the spectrum – Kiwi came from last at the turn, Might And Power led all the way – but both showed him to be one of the greatest horsemen New Zealand has produced.

The 52-year-old jumps on a galloper that, back in 1983, probably would have been sent out as one of the favourites in Grand Marshal.

This time last year, Grand Marshal – once a British stayer named Magog – was winning the Cup consolation, the 2,800m race earlier on the card. At every preparation, he has taken time to find his feet and it was the same in the autumn, showing little until he reached his main targets.

In the autumn, there was one goal, the Sydney Cup. He stormed home for third five days before in the Chairman’s Handicap behind Tremec and proved himself to be a genuine two-miler when he flew down the outside to grab stablemate Who Shot Thebarman near the post to win the Sydney feature.

This preparation has been very similar, showing him on track for his one goal – the Melbourne Cup. At three runs in Sydney, he didn’t do much first-up in the Chelmsford Stakes, then he flew home in the Hill Stakes before he came from last to be nearest at the finish in the Craven Plate.

Last start in the Caulfield Cup he actually produced a fairly nice Melbourne Cup trial, saving ground but hitting the line strongly late before steadying off heels in the concluding stages.

He is likely to outrun his odds. Hard to see him winning, although not impossible, and he is a must include in the placings in all exotics. And if anyone can produce a grand send-off on the biggest stage, it would be the man they call The Pumper.


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15. PREFERMENT (11)Preferment
Zabeel x Better Alternative (Flying Spur), 4yo bay horse

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Weight: 53.5kg
Career stats: 15:3-4-1
Win/place percentages: 20%/53%
Last 5 starts: 8×0119
Distances won at: 1 (2,500m), 2 (2,000m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Victoria Derby (2,500m), Flemington, 1 November 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $9
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $10
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $9
Summary of his chances: Victoria Derby and Turnbull Stakes winner loves Flemington and looks a stayer with plenty of upside. Will relish getting to 3,200m and he is one of the main chances.
Predicted finish: 2nd

Last year’s Victoria Derby winner as a maiden, who has surprised many by returning lengths better as a four-year-old. In fact, his classic crop has looked fairly strong – Australian Derby winner Mongolian Khan added the Caulfield Cup, while Queensland Oaks winner (and Preferment’s stablemate) Winx took out the Cox Plate.

A son of the legendary Zabeel, who died in late September, he looked every bit a dour three-year-old last spring, entering the Victoria Derby having not won a race. He had gone close to winning the Geelong Classic, but just couldn’t wind up in time.

The bigger straight at Flemington helped, though, and he got home in the final strides over Bondeiger and Nozomi. It looked a fairly average race form-wise and was destined for the trash.

However, the immature three-year-old returned better in the autumn, albeit not winning. He was outpaced in the Hobartville over 1,400m and the Randwick Guineas over 1,600m, both times behind Hallowed Crown, but he showed that he had a touch of class with his second to Volkstok’n’barrell in the Rosehill Guineas. His autumn came to a disappointing end when he was well beaten in the Australian Derby, with rider Damien Oliver reporting that he didn’t handle the soft conditions.

At four, though, he has looked a completely different horse. He still gets a long way back in his races, but he seems to accelerate quicker and actually has more of an idea of what he is doing.

He was beaten a long way first up, the mile proving too short, but he beat a classy field second-up when taking out the Hill Stakes at Randwick. He proved at his next start it was no fluke when he flew over the top of his rivals in the Turnbull Stakes, his second Group One win, maintaining his unbeaten Flemington record in the process.

Last start, he was well back in the Cox Plate, finishing 12 lengths behind Winx, but it was his third run at 10 furlongs in a row and I think he would have been better stepping up to the 2,400m of the Caulfield Cup. However, his connections wanted to avoid a penalty, leading them to the Cox Plate – and who could blame them?

Given the way the race was run, it’s definitely a run to forget and he is better assessed on his wins in the Turnbull and the Victoria Derby – both at Flemington, both showcasing his credentials.

The Victoria Derby at three, Melbourne Cup at four hoodoo, which extended all the way back to the incomparable Phar Lap in 1929/30, was finally broken by another son of Zabeel, Efficient, in 2006/07. If anything, Efficient looked more brilliant than Preferment and definitely seemed to ooze more class – watching his Victoria Derby told you he was a superstar. However, Preferment has made more improvement than Efficient from three to four and also has had a far better campaign.

The concern is that Preferment peaked too early in his preparation, winning in mid-September and early October when his goal is in early November. Many times, horses struggle after hitting such highs early, which is why his Cox Plate run was actually a positive – it was a natural regression that allows him then to progress heading into the Melbourne Cup.

In any case, it is a fairly minor concern, really. He obviously loves the open expanses of Flemington, he looks like he will eat up a solid 3,200m and gets in well at the weights.

Furthermore, it seems that everything trainer Chris Waller touches at the moment turns to gold, and this definitely appears his best chance of picking up a maiden Melbourne Cup.

He’s a major chance.

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16. QUEST FOR MORE (21)Quest For More
Teofilo x No Quest (Rainbow Quest), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Roger Charlton
Jockey: Damian Lane
Weight: 53.5kg
Career stats: 19:6-4-3
Win/place percentages: 32%/68%
Last 5 starts: 21120
Distances won at: 1 (3,237m), 1 (3,219m), 1 (2,816m), 1 (2,414m), 1 (2,380m), 1 (1,670m)
Biggest win: Northumberland Plate (3,237m), Newcastle, 27 June 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $126
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $126
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $101
Summary of his chances: Raced wide on the speed at Geelong but pretty meek regardless. Not convinced he’s the right type for the race. Pass.
Predicted finish: 22nd

English stayer who won England’s most prestigious two-mile handicap, the Northumberland Plate, at Newcastle in June – the last time it is run on turf, with Newcastle switching to a synthetic surface.
Until the Northumberland Plate, he had been racing in relatively minor handicaps, working his way through the grades.

The Northumberland Plate success was by far his biggest victory, though, as he beat rival Max Dynamite by a length and a quarter. He was clearly superior to Max Dynamite that day and meets him 1.5kg better for beating him comfortably.

He then went to Goodwood for the Goodwood Cup where he was just beaten by Big Orange in a three-way photo, with Trip To Paris also prominent.

First-up in almost three months he was set a huge task under topweight in the Geelong Cup, racing three and four deep most of the way and having nothing when asked at the top of the straight. Still, he faded meekly and had very little to offer.

While I’m convinced his Geelong Cup performance was not the real Quest For More, I’m also of the belief he was given too much weight in the Melbourne Cup in the first place.

I think 52kg would have been a more realistic mark for him, and even still, I’m not convinced he has the turn of foot to figure here.

Jockey Damian Lane is one of the rising stars of the Melbourne scene, having performed well when on a three-month contract in Hong Kong earlier this year. This is his first Melbourne Cup ride.

Still, while I think it will be a great experience for him, I think he’ll probably be seeing plenty of horses in front of him when he crosses the line.

Not for me.

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17. ALMOONQITH (10)Almoonqith
Dynaformer x Bohemian Lady (Carson City), 6yo bay horse

Bred in: United States
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: David Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 21:5-3-1
Win/place percentages: 24%/43%
Last 5 starts: 50671
Distances won at: 1 (2,810m), 1 (2,400m), 2 (1,800m), 1 (1,600m)
Biggest win: Group 3 Geelong Cup (2,400m), Geelong, 21 October 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $14
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $14
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $15
Summary of his chances: Looked every bit a Melbourne Cup winner with his powerful finish to win the Geelong Cup. Coming good at the right type and can give David Hayes his second Melbourne Cup.
Predicted finish: 1st

More than two decades after David Hayes won his first – and to date, only – Melbourne Cup with Jeune, the champion trainer gets the chance to add a second with two runners this year.

And while Criterion looks to have a class edge, it is Geelong Cup winner Almoonqith who looms as his best chance – and it will be a case of back to the future as he is owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stud, who also owned 1994 Melbourne Cup winner Jeune.

Almoonqith began his career in France under Jean-Claude Rouget, winning on a synthetic track on debut from five starts.

Sent to the Dubai yard of legendary South African handler Mike De Kock in early 2014, he rose through the ranks in the Middle East, finally showing his true potential when stepped up to 2,800m in the Group Three Nad Al Sheba Trophy earlier this year.

He then finished sixth in the Dubai Gold Cup on World Cup night behind the late Brown Panther in a race dominated from the front, before De Kock suggested he would be the ideal horse for the Melbourne Cup and that he should go to Australia. He was sent to David Hayes and Tom Dabernig – and a historic partnership was reborn.

The Hayes-Hamdan link stretches back almost 30 years to 1986, when David’s father Colin won the Melbourne Cup with his galloper At Talaq – all stemming from a chance meeting in Kentucky. Since then, Hamdan’s Shadwell outfit has been one of the biggest supporters of the Hayes family, with big race winners galore – Almaarad, Mahaasin, Fraar, Jeune, Nadeem, Tawqeet, to name but a few.

However, as Hayes made the shift from his family’s traditional Lindsay Park base in South Australia to his new set up in Euroa in country Victoria, he experienced a very quiet couple of seasons. It was to be expected, of course – new systems and processes take time and owners, fickle as they come, want to see results on the board.

Now that Euroa is up and running properly, though, it has become a factory for winners – they are rolling off the presses thick and fast. And once again, Hayes and nephew Tom Dabernig are at the top of the tree in Australian racing and their supporters are by their side once again.

Almoonqith has had what appears to be the ideal preparation for the Melbourne Cup, invoking that famous “sense of timing” that Bart Cummings was so renowned for.

A barnstorming fifth to The United States in a Moonee Valley handicap over 1,500m in late August was followed by a somewhat dour 10th to Digitalism when stepping up to 2,040m at the same track two weeks later.

However, he showed he was bang on target with a slashing sixth in the Naturalism Stakes behind Magnapal, easily recording the best sectionals late and evoking memories of 2006 Caulfield Cup winner Tawqeet.

On the strength of that run, he was well supported in The Metropolitan in Sydney, but he got a long way out of his ground in a race dominated from the front and found the line well enough to finish seventh.

Last start, he was ridden closer in the Geelong Cup, settling midfield, and what a difference! He powered home to win the Geelong Cup, defeating 2013 Caulfield Cup runner-up Dandino – who has been in fine form this preparation – and looking every bit a Melbourne Cup winner in the process.

The Geelong Cup is easily dismissed as a substandard lead-up race, below the quality of the Caulfield Cup, but he won what appeared a strong edition this year more impressively than either Americain or Dunaden did before they went on to win the Melbourne Cup.

In fact, since 2005, seven Geelong Cup winners have run in the Melbourne Cup – three have won (Media Puzzle, Americain, Dunaden), while two have finished second (On A Jeune, Bauer).

He’s a legitimate contender and a leading player.

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18. KINGFISHER (9)Kingfisher
Galileo x Mystical Lady (Halling), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Ireland/Australia
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Colm O’Donoghue
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 15:3-2-2
Win/place percentages: 20%/47%
Last 5 starts: 41238
Distances won at: 1 (2,816m), 1 (2,080m), 1 (1,609m)
Biggest win: Listed Saval Beg Stakes (2,816m), Leopardstown, 5 June 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $41
Summary of his chances: One time pacemaker for star stablemate Australia. Unlucky in the Ascot Gold Cup but disappointing in two starts since. Surely not going well enough and not convinced he’s the right type.
Predicted finish: 19th

Kingfisher is one of two runners for Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien, and marks a long-awaited return for the trainer after seven years.

It’s hard to believe it is seven years since one of the most extraordinary tactical errors in Melbourne Cup history. In 2008, O’Brien had three runners – second favourite, Irish St Leger winner Septimus, as well as Doncaster Cup winner Honolulu and Irish Derby third Alessandro Volta.

In incredible scenes, the three O’Brien runners went all guns blazing out in front, setting a ridiculous pace that was impossible to sustain. The first 1,000m was judged to be as fast as the Listed three-year-old sprint on the same day, a suicidal tempo, and in the end all three finished near the back, a long way from Viewed.

O’Brien was hauled before the stewards, called back after he had left the track, and was given a major grilling. He left a bruised and battered man, and the scars were evident whenever he would talk about the Melbourne Cup. But slowly, he has thawed. Last year, he returned to Australia for the first time and won the Cox Plate with Adelaide, while this year’s race had long been the target with eventual third Highland Reel.

O’Donoghue combines with O’Brien again, the very likeable rider having finished third at his only ride since on Jakkalberry in 2012.

Kingfisher has been a horse long touted for the Melbourne Cup, ever since he finished second to stablemate Australia in the Irish Derby last year.

He was already fairly well exposed before that, winning the Dee Stakes at Chester but looking a little dour otherwise. His main role in both the English and Irish Derbies last season, as well as in the Juddmonte International Stakes and the Irish Champion Stakes after that, was to act as a pacemaker for Australia, ensuring it was a solid gallop without being anything too dramatic.

For the most part, he did his job – Australia won three of the four races, only getting nabbed late by The Grey Gatsby in the Irish Champion. With the star colt retired to stud this year, Kingfisher has been able to be tested on his own merits, with mixed results.

He won the Saval Beg Stakes at his seasonal reappearance, although that was a weak race and none of his rivals would be considered Melbourne Cup quality. Then came his most impressive performance of the season, when he was luckless in the Ascot Gold Cup behind Trip To Paris and should have won with clear running. That form was franked when Trip To Paris beat all bar Mongolian Khan in the Caulfield Cup.

Two subsequent runs have been nothing short of disappointing, both behind star stablemate Order Of St George. A 16-length third in the Irish St Leger Trial was somewhat forgivable, given it came on soft ground which he clearly despises, but his 43-length eighth in the Irish St Leger proper on good ground was terrible and not the sort of run you would want heading into a Melbourne Cup.

While some shrewd judges – most prominently Tom Segal from Racing Post’s Pricewise column – have long suggested he was the best play in the race, personally I’m happy to let them take him.

To me, he doesn’t look to have the turn of foot required to win the race, nor does he look classy enough to figure. And he looks the type that needs everything to go right in his races, something he definitely won’t get here.

Looks the clear second stringer for Ballydoyle, so I’m happy to let him go around without me.

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19. PRINCE OF PENZANCE (1)Prince Of Penzance
Pentire x Royal Successor (Mr Prospector), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Michelle Payne
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 23:6-6-2
Win/place percentages: 26%/61%
Last 5 starts: 85582
Distances won at: 1 (2,500m), 2 (2,000m), 2 (1,600m), 1 (1,300m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2,500m), Moonee Valley, 25 October 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $67
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $81
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $81
Summary of his chances: Finally gets a shot at the big time after poking around the edges. He’s honest, genuine and consistent, but looks outclassed here. Not for me.
Predicted finish: 23rd

Last year’s Moonee Valley Cup winner, he finally gets a ticket to the big dance after spending a fair amount of time on the fringes.

Prepared by Darren Weir, who has two country bases but has been the leading Melbourne metropolitan trainer the last two years, Prince Of Penzance has worked his way through the grades slowly, like many of Weir’s horses.

He looked a Queensland Derby prospect as a three-year-old, but a minor injury saw him stay in Victoria.

He won a Listed race as a four-year-old, but it was last spring that he finally hit his straps and began to fulfill his potential.

A win in the Moonee Valley Cup was followed by a second in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and a third in the Zipping Classic, proving that he had a future in these sorts of staying affairs.

He did not race again until the Memsie Stakes in late August, when he flashed home for eighth over an unsuitable 1,400m behind Boban. He flew home again in the Gold Nugget at Ballarat behind Freshwater Storm, held his place in a slowly run JRA Cup behind Escado and made ground from an impossible position behind Amralah in the Herbert Power.

Last start, after settling near the tail at every run this preparation, the blinkers went on and he went forward, almost stealing a second Moonee Valley Cup before The United States nabbed him late.

He is honest as the day is long, no superstar but generally consistent once he gets up to a staying trip. Consider this – from 11 runs at 2,000m and beyond, he has three wins, four seconds, a third and a fourth.

While he’s tactically versatile, he looked better being put into the race rather than trying to make ground from behind and it looks as though that is the way he should be ridden on Tuesday.

He looms as a pace factor in a Melbourne Cup that doesn’t look to have a lot of speed. It wouldn’t surprise to see him leading them up the first time around, but if he’s still in front the second time around it would be a tremendous shock.

Given his honesty, he can probably outrun his odds and my expectations. But to see him challenging for the placings would be a real surprise and I just can’t see it happening.

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20. BONDI BEACH (18)Bondi Beach
Galileo x One Moment In Time (Danehill), 4yo bay horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Ireland/Australia
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Brett Prebble
Weight: 52.5kg
Career stats: 5:2-3-0
Win/place percentages: 40%/100%
Last 5 starts: 12122
Distances won at: 1 (2,816m), 1 (2,414m)
Biggest win: Group 3 Curragh Cup (2,816m), The Curragh, 28 June 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $21
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $21
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $21
Summary of his chances: Sydney and Melbourne icon combining? Ironic. It would take a remarkable training effort, but off his St Leger performance he looms as a strong chance.
Predicted finish: 3rd

Surely there would be some irony in an Irish galloper named after a Sydney icon stealing Melbourne’s biggest sporting event?

Well, much of the irony is gone now that the man that built much of Melbourne, Lloyd Williams, has bought into the ownership. But still, a horse called Bondi Beach winning the Melbourne Cup…two Australian icons for the price of one!

A horse that only debuted at Leopardstown in May, winning a maiden by a short head, he has made lightning progression quickly as many three-year-olds can. A second to highly rated Radanpour followed, before he took the Curragh Cup at his third start. That day, he nosed out stablemate Order Of St George, who has since won two features in tremendous style, including the Irish St Leger by 11 lengths against some of the best stayers in Europe.

He then stepped up to take on some of England’s better three-year-olds, finishing second in the Great Voltigeur to dual Derby placegetter Storm The Stars before one of the most controversial seconds of the year in the St Leger behind Simple Verse.

The saga has already devoured plenty of column inches – I wrote a blog for the South China Morning Post about it in September – but to cut a long story short, Bondi Beach was bumped from pillar to post during much of the final five furlongs. He was originally awarded the race by stewards who relegated Simple Verse, but a further hearing gave the race back to Simple Verse. Confusing.

What has become apparent is that Bondi Beach is more of a streetfighter than a brilliant type, a horse you would take into war because he’ll fight for you. However, given he has not passed the winner at his last two, there is some concern over whether he is overly genuine. He has also demonstrated that he is not the most straightforward type and has been a bit all over the place to date. That’s not unusual for a lightly raced type, but it is not necessarily something you would want from a Melbourne Cup horse.

What will help him is the booking of Brett Prebble, one of the strongest riders around. He has a knack for getting everything out of a horse and waking up some of the most ungenuine types, something he faces weekly in Class Five races at Happy Valley and Sha Tin.

Can a horse with only five runs under his belt actually win the Melbourne Cup? The race is generally seen as a battle between hardy, weary stayers, not young guns on the rise.

The two most inexperienced horses to contest the Melbourne Cup in the past 20 years have been veterans of seven starts – Nothin’ Leica Dane in 1995 and Mahler in 2007. Both finished in the placings, but both also had less weight to carry – Nothin’ Leica Dane, an Australian three-year-old, had a featherweight of 47.5kg, while Mahler, who has the most similar profile to Bondi Beach as a European three-year-old, had 50.5kg.

Still, even with 52.5kg, Bondi Beach looks well treated. Sure, there are concerns, but he looks the right type for the race and given I believe he should have won the St Leger, he’s a horse of quality getting in light. He looks to have scope to improve and has apparently taken the trip like an old stager – he has thrived since arriving.

It would be some training effort from Aidan O’Brien, but he is one of the world’s top horsemen for a reason and if anyone can achieve the feat, it would be the quietly spoken Irishman.

The biggest concern has come with the barrier draw – 18 is concerned the gate of death in the Melbourne Cup, as the only gate not to have produced a winner of the race.

Nevertheless, he’s a definite winning chance and one of the more interesting runners in a Melbourne Cup full of intrigue.

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21. SERTORIUS (5)Sertorius
Galileo x Pretty Penny (Encosta De Lago), 8yo bay gelding

Bred in: Australia
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Jamie Edwards
Jockey: Craig Newitt
Weight: 52.5kg
Career stats: 41:10-10-4
Win/place percentages: 24%/59%
Last 5 starts: 1×0069
Distances won at: 2 (2,400m), 2 (2,000m), 1 (1,700m), 2 (1,600m), 1 (1,533m), 1 (1,300m), 1 (1,200m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Zipping Classic (2,400m), Caulfield, 16 November 2013
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $301
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $301
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $101
Summary of his chances: Looks a rung below these even at his best, and he doesn’t look to be at his best. Pass.
Predicted finish: 24th

A throwback to yesteryear when the “Aussie battler” dominated the Melbourne Cup narrative.

Jamie Edwards has trained for almost two decades, has had one Group One winner during that time – 2007 South Australian Derby winner Lazer Sharp – and trains out of Geelong.

It’s not every day that the chance to have a runner in the Melbourne Cup comes along, but on Tuesday, his name will be alongside some of the world’s elite trainers – Sir Michael Stoute, Aidan O’Brien, Saeed bin Suroor, Ed Dunlop, Willie Mullins, Chris Waller, Gai Waterhouse, David Hayes, John O’Shea among others – in the racebook for Australia’s greatest race.

Edwards sends out Sertorius, an eight-year-old who appears past his peak but continues to race genuinely enough.

A winner of the Bendigo Cup and Zipping Classic during a watershed spring in 2013, he has been placed at Group One level over 1,400m in the Futurity Stakes and 3,200m in the Sydney Cup.

Earlier this year, he looked in career best form when second to Suavito in the Blamey Stakes before grinding out a win in the Easter Cup, but this preparation he has looked slightly disappointing.

He hit the line nicely enough in the Memsie behind Boban, was pretty plain in the Underwood Stakes behind Mourinho, and stuck on one-paced behind Amralah in the Herbert Power Stakes.

Last start, he got a long way back in the Geelong Cup and hit the line fairly, but still a long way behind Almoonqith.

Even at his best, though, he looks a rung below this group and I’m not convinced he’s a genuine two-mile horse.

On his last run, it would be almost impossible to see him turning the tables on Almoonqith, even if he meets him 1.5kg better at the weights here.

While it would be a great story, have to risk him.

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22. THE UNITED STATES (3)The United States
Galileo x Beauty Is Truth (Pivotal), 6yo chestnut horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Robert Hickmott
Jockey: Joao Moreira
Weight: 52.5kg
Career stats: 15:5-2-1
Win/place percentages: 42%/67%
Last 5 starts: 12261
Distances won at: 1 (2,500m), 1 (2,012m), 1 (1,810m), 1 (1,500m), 1 (1,408m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Moonee Valley Cup (2,500m), Moonee Valley, 24 October 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $21
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $19
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $20
Summary of his chances: Snuck into the field after stablemate Amralah was scratched. Very strong Moonee Valley Cup win and he looks a natural stayer in the making. Chance.
Predicted finish: 7th

The striking chestnut is slightly lucky to be lining up in the race after stablemate Amralah was controversially withdrawn due to what owner Lloyd Williams described as “negligent” vet treatment. It was disappointing, too, as Amralah looked the best chance for the Melbourne tycoon to add a fifth Melbourne Cup win after Just A Dash (1981), What A Nuisance (1985), Efficient (2007) and Green Moon (2012).

Still, The United States is a more than able replacement. A strong winner of the Moonee Valley Cup last start, he has been improving at every start and still looks fairly unexposed, particularly over staying trips.

Formerly trained by Aidan O’Brien and owned by the Coolmore team, he was a winner of three from four, including a Group Three success, before being sold to Australia.

He stepped out for the first time in Melbourne in March 2014, settling handy in a Listed race at Flemington over 1,400m before plodding away for fourth.

He performed better at his next start though, in the spring last year, going back towards the tail before charging home for third behind Mourinho in a 1,500m race at Moonee Valley – the same one he would win 12 months later.

A failure at his one autumn start this season, in the Victoria Handicap, saw him put away for a spring campaign.

First-up this preparation, he highlighted his credentials with a barnstorming win at Moonee Valley in a 1,500m open handicap. He stepped up to a mile, again at Moonee Valley, but was just nabbed by stablemate Chance To Dance, before failing to secure a Caulfield Cup start by a head in the Naturalism behind Magnapal.

He was slightly disappointing in a race dominated from the front behind Escado in the JRA Cup, but showed that all he needs is a solid tempo at which to run at with his Moonee Valley Cup triumph.

His best performances to date have been around the tight confines of Moonee Valley, but he is yet to race beyond 1,400m at Flemington and a staying race with pace on at the bigger circuit should be right up his alley.

He gets one of the world’s best jockeys aboard, Brazilian Joao Moreira, who has broken all records in Singapore and Hong Kong and continues to raise the bar. He has had only the one ride in the Melbourne Cup, finishing fourth on Signoff last year, and he is a major positive for the horse – although he might need to weave some of his magic from gate three.

The United States definitely looks an emerging stayer and this race should be right up his alley. No horse has completed the Moonee Valley Cup-Melbourne Cup double since Kingston Rule 25 years ago, but this horse looks a fringe chance of completing the feat.

He has claims, without a doubt.

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23. EXCESS KNOWLEDGE (24)Excess Knowledge
Monsun x Quenched (Dansili), 6yo brown horse

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Weight: 51kg
Career stats: 18:5-5-2
Win/place percentages: 28%/67%
Last 5 starts: 57221
Distances won at: 1 (2,500m), 1 (1,621m), 1 (1,600m), 1 (1,500m), 1 (1,300m)
Biggest win: Group Three Lexus Stakes (2,500m), Flemington, 31 October 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $26
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $31
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $34
Summary of his chances: Tough win on Saturday and has been going well this preparation. Probably more a place chance but wouldn’t totally shock to see him win.
Predicted finish: 8th

Finally snared his spot in the Melbourne Cup with a win in the Lexus Stakes on Saturday, surviving a protest to ensure he lines up on Tuesday.

It was the culmination of a sound preparation solely geared at the Melbourne Cup. In fact, that’s been his one and only aim since he arrived in Australia, after being bought from Europe by a group called The Cup Club. The name says it all.

Placed in the Gordon Stakes at three in the UK when trained by John Gosden, he joined Gai Waterhouse’s stable in early 2014. He was lightly raced throughout 2014, having only five starts for a win and two placings. However, he returned a much better galloper in the autumn this year, winning the Bert Lillye Memorial at Kembla Grange and the Doncaster Prelude at Rosehill.

This spring, he resumed with a solid enough fifth behind Mourinho and The Cleaner in the Lawrence Stakes before a disappointing effort behind Magnapal in the Heatherlie. He ran home nicely enough when stepping up sharply in trip in the Harry White Classic behind Black Tomahawk and again caught the eye when second to Amralah in the Herbert Power.

Everything pointed to him as the most likely Lexus winner and he didn’t disappoint his backers, recording a tough win against the rails bias to score. He did shift in on runner-up Zanteca but she had her chance and although an objection was lodged, it was rightly dismissed.

He still does a few little things wrong, including laying in as he did in the Lexus. He also looks as though he will be better again in 12 months.

He is by late German sire Monsun, who has sired the last two Melbourne Cup winners in Fiorente and Protectionist, and should relish an Australian 3,200m.

There are shades of Brew in 2000 with Excess Knowledge. That year, a youthful Kerrin McEvoy, fresh out of his apprenticeship, partnered Brew – who had won what is now the Lexus on the Saturday – from the outside stall and managed to get him home. As he joked on Twitter on Saturday night, “I’ve done it before, what’s not to say I can do it again?”

Excess Knowledge looks more of a place chance but Lexus winners have a good overall record in the Melbourne Cup and it wouldn’t shock to see him in front on Tuesday. Personally, though, playing him for the place.

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24. GUST OF WIND (19)Gust Of Wind
Darci Brahma x Starrystarrynight (Sadler’s Wells), 4yo bay mare

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: John Sargent
Jockey: Chad Schofield
Weight: 51kg
Career stats: 9:3-0-0
Win/place percentages: 33%/33%
Last 5 starts: 1×9804
Distances won at: 1 (2,400m), 1 (1,600m), 1 (1,400m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Australian Oaks (2,400m), Randwick, 11 April 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Saturday October 31): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Sunday November 1): $34
Sportsbet fixed odds (as at 10pm, Monday November 2): $34
Summary of her chances: Australian Oaks winner was the last horse to beat Cox Plate winner Winx. Going well but think the 3,200m will find her out.
Predicted finish: 16th

It seems only yesterday – indeed, it was February – that a maiden at Scone in the Hunter Valley got tongues wagging and set social media alight.

That day, a filly having her second start, her first for John Sargent, was sent out favourite. However, she was very slow out of the gates, and despite being hard ridden, just went in one direction – backwards. At her worst, she was 25 lengths off the leader and going nowhere. She was still last, albeit within striking range, at the 200m. Somehow, remarkably, she got up to win, and the masses – led by caller Luke Marlow – went berserk.

Beginning her career with David Hayes, she had one start as an early two-year-old in December 2013 but obviously had some issues as she was not seen again until February this year. It was then that she produced that stirring victory at Scone that put her name up in lights, and she has not been out of the spotlight since.

A win at Hawkesbury was followed by a closing fourth in the Adrian Knox Stakes, but it was her Australian Oaks success that catapulted her into Cups calculation. Given a gun ride by Tye Angland, she saved ground and proved the best stayer late, holding off Winx – who has not been beaten since and won last week’s Cox Plate in runaway fashion.

This preparation, she has been ticking over nicely without winning. She made late ground in the Warwick Stakes behind Royal Descent, before having little ground in both the Makybe Diva Stakes and the Turnbull Stakes but recording strong late sectionals both times. It was hard to determine where she was at ahead of the Caulfield Cup, but she settled handy and finished strongly to take fourth behind Mongolian Khan.

The biggest query for her is the 3,200m, and it looks a legitimate concern. She does have plenty of stamina on the dam’s side, but her sire Darci Brahma was a sprinter-miler, although with some staying blood in his family.

A positive is the booking of Chad Schofield, one of the most promising riders around who is currently making great strides in Hong Kong. It looks a matter of time before 21-year-old Schofield adds a Melbourne Cup to his already impressive resume.

Still, I think while she is going well, the 3,200m will probably see her out. Wouldn’t shock if she found her way into the top four or five but not one I will be including.

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Thanks to our friends over at, I was able to draw up this speed map of how I think the runners will settle as they pass the winning post the first time. Those out three wide may be able to slot in, or may be forced to go forward or back, but it’s a general idea:

Speed Map Melbourne Cup

Big Orange is a natural leader but I would not be surprised if he doesn’t have the natural speed to cross. Snow Sky is also likely to go forward, even though he didn’t lead in the Caulfield Cup. Prince Of Penzance usually gets back in his races but led in the Moonee Valley Cup with the blinkers on and from the gate, it would seem logical for Michelle Payne to push up.

The four horses that look like they may have trouble finding a position, unless it is strung out early, are Hokko Brave, Excess Knowledge, Bondi Beach and Our Ivanhowe.

Bondi Beach is lightly raced so his tactical versatility is unknown, but perhaps he could press forward. So too Excess Knowledge, with trainer Gai Waterhouse keen to have her runners put into the race.

There are other potential stumbling blocks here. Gerald Mosse is known for his penchant for keeping horses out wide so there is every possibility Red Cadeaux, from gate eight, could find himself three wide, which could allow Zac Purton on Fame Game to settle closer.

There has also been a change of tactics notified as of Tuesday afternoon, after this speed map was produced, that Kingfisher is likely to settle in the first eight.

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After last year, the pressure is on again to find the winner. Not that we had the winner on top – we were with fourth placegetter Signoff – but our analysis of the race was pretty accurate, so here’s hoping it happens again.

It does appear an impossible Melbourne Cup this year, though. It’s very, very tough and it doesn’t get any easier with more analysis.

The market has determined that the Caulfield Cup is the form race for this year’s Melbourne Cup, but I have a different view.

I thought the Geelong Cup was strong enough and that the performance by the winner, ALMOONQITH, had Melbourne Cup written all over it. He has had an ideal preparation and an Australian 3,200m should suit perfectly. He is drawn to get a nice trail and I am expecting him to be right in contention at the famous Flemington clock tower.

The biggest danger is PREFERMENT, who has always looked a stayer in the making but has added a bit of class to his profile this preparation. The Cox Plate run was a complete forgive, as he was looking for further, and he is the first Victoria Derby winner since Efficient who has looked a suitable type for the Melbourne Cup.

BONDI BEACH is definitely in the reckoning as Aidan O’Brien makes his return from Cup wilderness. Yes, there are concerns about how genuine the horse is, but with 52.5kg he will get every conceivable chance and he has the right jockey aboard in Brett Prebble.

The jury is still out on HARTNELL, and while many think that he is racing below his best this preparation, I think he has been ticking along nicely and as long as he doesn’t have to lead, he looks the best value selection in the race.

Next best FAME GAME, who is the obvious choice on paper but is way too short now in one of the most open Melbourne Cups I have seen, while MAX DYNAMITE has an explosive turn of foot but may need give in the ground to show his best.

The chances definitely don’t end there though, with Moonee Valley Cup winner THE UNITED STATES, Lexus Stakes winner EXCESS KNOWLEDGE and even Sydney Cup winner GRAND MARSHAL in the mix.

And of course, there is still the unknown factor of SKY HUNTER, who has been judiciously raced to have him ready for this and Godolphin horses with a similar profile have inevitably run well.

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Hawk’s Saturday Selections – 2015 Derby Day

October 31, 2015

The biggest four days on the Australian racing calendar are here with the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington upon us.

Today is the day for the purists, Derby Day, with every race a black type affair and four Group One races on the card.

As always, this blog’s most popular post annually will be up later tonight – my 2015 Melbourne Cup preview. It is a tome that is already longer than War And Peace, and given I disagree quite a bit with the market this year it will make for interesting reading. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are my selections for Derby Day.















Race 8 – GROUP ONE MYER CLASSIC (1,600m)




Hawk’s Spring Selections – Cox Plate Analysis and Selections

October 24, 2015

The second of the big three is upon us – arguably Australia’s best race, the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

It is a fascinating contest – three internationals (and one quasi-international), 11 Group One winners, a couple of cult heroes, the old school tale of the battlers taking on the leviathans. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Cox Plate.

This year’s card looks strong with a number of betting opportunities, while the Cox Plate may potentially provide the highlight of the spring.

Unlike the Caulfield Cup, I’ve been set on my Cox Plate selection for months and see no reason to change now. Here are my thoughts on Australasia’s weight-for-age championship.

Race 9 – GROUP ONE COX PLATE (2,040m)

Definitely one of the more interesting Cox Plates of recent times. Many are proclaiming it the best ever, and while I think there are a few that have been better in the last 25 years – 1992 comes to mind, so too 2002 – this is one of the most fascinating, and definitely one of the more difficult Cox Plates to dissect.

I have been on HIGHLAND REEL since the first markets were posted on the Cox Plate and the bookies priced him up at $51. It was an absurd price then, and it looks an even more absurd price now. At that stage, he was a Prix du Jockey Club runner-up behind New Bay and he had just won the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood the week before. With his Australian bloodlines and given Adelaide’s win for the same connections last year, he always shaped as a likely visitor and within a week he was into $21.

Less than two weeks later, he took the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in a canter after dominating from the front. It was a race Adelaide won last year, so immediately comparisons were drawn. I was in Chicago that day and while it was wet when the race was run, the rain didn’t start until they were behind the gates and so the ground was fairly firm – just like he’ll strike at Moonee Valley. Also, he sweated up badly, but the humidity just before the race was intense and so it would have been surprising if he wasn’t lathered up.

Last start, he finished fifth, four lengths behind Arc winner Golden Horn, in a controversial Irish Champion Stakes. I have seen a number of descriptions calling it a “flop” and a “disappointment” – it definitely wasn’t a flop, he ran well enough, and a replica of that run will see him winning here.

He should get a nice run from barrier four, just off the speed but within striking distance of the leaders. He has proven in recent runs that he can be tactically versatile, so wherever he ends up in the run he should be able to produce. Ryan Moore will need to ensure he’s not boxed in on the home turn, but with clear running he’s the likely winner.

The main danger is Caulfield Stakes winner CRITERION, who also has Golden Horn form. He has been on his globetrotting ways this year, winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick comfortably before a third to Blazing Speed in the QE II Cup in Hong Kong, a fifth to Free Eagle in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and a sixth behind Arabian Queen and Golden Horn in the Juddmonte. He showed he was ready for the Cox Plate with his last start win at Caulfield, a race that has already produced the Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan. Surprisingly for a horse that won the Todman Stakes as a two-year-old and the Rosehill Guineas and Australian Derby double as a three-year-old, he looks to be improving with age and he looms as the biggest threat.

I think GAILO CHOP has been slightly underestimated by bookmakers. The French galloper was a dominant winner last time out in a Group Three at Maisons-Laiffite, but it is his early season performance behind Solow that stands up well here. On that run, he looks evenly matched with AROD. He would be better suited if there was rain around, but I think he is just fine on top of the ground and he can potentially get a nice run just off the speed. The major concern with him is that he’s a little quirky and can get worked up a little bit. You will have a good idea of your fate with him early on – if he settles, he’ll be somewhere in the mix.

At odds, I also think COMPLACENT can surprise a few here. He has been racing well this preparation, with wins in the Chelmsford Stakes and Craven Plate and a placing in the Hill Stakes. His last start win over Hauraki was a mighty, typically game effort. Hauraki disappointed in the Caulfield Cup and so there’s obviously a concern there, and his formlines probably don’t stack up as well as some of these. That said, in what is likely to be a scrappy 2,040m contest, his stamina may come into play and I could see him making it into the placings at odds. He’s an exotic play.

The third international, AROD, deserves respect, although I think he is slightly one-dimensional. He has run his best races when he has been able to make all and it would be shocking to see him leading THE CLEANER here. I also think there’s still some query over his ability to see out a strong 10 furlongs, especially in this sort of a setup. Yes, he ran fourth in the Epsom Derby, but perhaps that was just a matter of having brilliance that many of his rivals didn’t have. There are question marks around his 10-furlong runs to date, too, so I think he shapes as one to oppose.

Of the rest, I love WINX as a horse – she has the best turn of foot in Australia – but I think from barrier one she may strike traffic issues. She’ll be saving ground but I’m not sure that really suits her, would prefer her sweeping around them with her potent turn of foot. As for stablemate KERMADEC, I don’t doubt his ability to see out the trip but I think he’d need a soft 2,040m in order to come over the top of them – something he won’t get here. Happy to oppose.

PREFERMENT and HARTNELL are racing well but are Melbourne Cup-bound, so you would want to see enough from them to suggest they’ll be competitive 10 days from now.

THE CLEANER is in career best form and is always tough to pass, although I’m not sure the Underwood Stakes form is the right guide for this (that said, it did produce Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan).


Here are the rest of my thoughts for Moonee Valley today:

Race 1 – INGLIS BANNER (1,000m)


Race 2 – CITY JEEP HANDICAP (955m)












Race 8 – GROUP TWO CRYSTAL MILE (1,600m)


Race 10 – GROUP THREE G1X.COM.AU STAKES (1,600m)


Hawk’s Saturday Selections – Caulfield Cup Analysis And Selections

October 17, 2015

The spring reaches the first of its climaxes today with the running of the Caulfield Cup, the first of the “big four” in Australian racing this season.

For the next 16 days, racing is the number one sports topic in Australia as all roads lead to Flemington and the first Tuesday in November for the Melbourne Cup.

Throw in next Saturday’s Cox Plate and the extravaganza that is Derby Day and it is a time of great excitement for the racing enthusiast.

In my weekly The Griffin blog for the South China Morning Post, I have commented on Hong Kong’s reaction to the Caulfield Cup and how it has attracted more attention than Champions Day – both of which are available for betting here.

After days of analysis and changing opinions, I have finally settled on my Caulfield Cup selections. So, here is my look at the first of Australia’s big features.


I think it’s fair to say it’s a solid Caulfield Cup, there is plenty of depth, but to call it the best ever on the account of two in-form horses like Complacent and Magic Hurricane missing a start is a bit rich. Still, there are a number of nice horses in the race and plenty that seem to be striking form at the right time, too.

It is a race that looks to have very little speed on paper, although there will be something that is bound to push forward. Still, it should be no better than an even tempo. SNOW SKY should race on the lead from gate three, with ROYAL DESCENT from the outside pushing across to race outside him. The query is MAGNAPAL – does Dean Yendall take advantage of carrying only 50kg and push forward? Behind them, I expect to see RISING ROMANCE in the box seat with MONGOLIAN KHAN his outside, while I also think VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL will be forwardly positioned too.

I’m loathe to tip a favourite in a big race – there is usually so much value outside the favourites in these features – but this year, contrary to many, I think there’s terrific value to be had about the favourite MONGOLIAN KHAN. I think he’s better than a 20% chance of winning the race, so the $5 on offer is delicious and I’m happy to keep jumping in.

He is all class, this horse. The first winner of the New Zealand Derby/Australian Derby double since the mighty Bonecrusher in 1986, he has a potent mix of speed and stamina that makes him lethal at these trips. Importantly, he’s finding form at the right time – his seventh in the Makybe Diva Stakes was perfect for a returning stayer, he recorded the fastest last sectionals in an pace-dominated Underwood Stakes and his slashing third last weekend in the Caulfield Stakes was exactly what you would want to see from a Caulfield Cup horse.

Compared to the Melbourne Cup, where Derby winners have a shocking record, the form tends to stand up well at Caulfield – and last year’s three-year-old staying form has actually stood up this spring, with Victoria Derby winner Preferment taking out the Hill Stakes and the Turnbull Stakes and a horse like HAURAKI looking to have returned well.

Trainer Murray Baker is arguably New Zealand’s finest horseman and knows what it takes to prepare a Caulfield Cup chance, even if he is yet to win the race – he finished second with Nom du Jeu (2008) and Harris Tweed (2010) and twice third with The Phantom (1989, 1993), and Mongolian Khan looms as a better horse than that trio.

If there are chinks in his armour, it is the weight – 55kg is not exactly ideal for a four-year-old, but he’s earned the weight and he looks a strong enough horse to handle it – and the fact he is backing up for the first time in his career, coming off a track that was rated by some jockeys as a road last weekend. Still, they are minor chinks and he looks the winner on paper.

The best value in the race outside the favourite lies with ROYAL DESCENT. One of Australia’s most consistent horses, she’s only won the one Group One – the Australian Oaks – but has placed in eight races at the highest level since. She appears to be racing in career-best form currently, coming off a half-length second to Kermadec in the George Main Stakes and a nose second behind stablemate Preferment in the Turnbull Stakes. Crucially, the map looks suitable for her – plenty have pointed to the outside barrier as a hurdle for her, but it might actually be an advantage. It forces jockey Glen Boss to push forward, to look for a spot either on the lead or outside the lead, and it is those tactics which will see her in the mix for a long way.

Some point to the distance as a concern, and perhaps her best trip is a mile, but she’s stepped out two times at 2,400m for her 10-length Australian Oaks romp (where she left three Oaks winners in her wake, too) and a fifth in the Caulfield Cup two years ago when she loomed up to win but just died on her run late. The ground was quite firm that day, as it will be again today, but there’s no doubt she’s a stronger mare now and with a pretty kind weight, 53.5kg, she should be right there when the whips are cracking.

SNOW SKY is the first Australian runner for Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte operation, who have raced some of Europe’s best horses in recent times – think Frankel, Workforce, Dancing Brave, Danehill, Quest For Fame, Kingman, Commander In Chief, Flintshire – the list goes on and on. Snow Sky is unlikely to ever join that list, but he’s an honest horse who is well placed in Australia.

He was placed in the St Leger last year before having his first crack at international company in the Hong Kong Vase. It was a run that must be overlooked, he got well back off a slow tempo – one of the slowest races run in Hong Kong last season – and just couldn’t sprint with them. He won the Yorkshire Cup earlier this year sitting off the speed in a six-horse field, but his most impressive performance by far came in the Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot when jockey Pat Smullen took the race by the scruff of the neck and led all the way. That looks the best way to ride him and Damien Oliver is likely to adopt similar tactics today.

Top weight, 58kg, is a slight concern, although horses at the head of the weights have it far easier now with a smaller spread than they once did. The Caulfield Cup looks a far more suitable race for him than the Melbourne Cup, so I’m expecting him to be one of the first into the straight today – it is just whether he can hold off the late finish of Mongolian Khan.

Throwing in RISING ROMANCE for fourth, given she should get a gun run here and the fact that her run in the Turnbull Stakes needs to be thrown out. She was progressing well before that and she has that touch of class. She looked home last year before Admire Rakti swooped late and it would not surprise to see her in the finish again this year.

For exotics, I’ll be throwing in GRAND MARSHAL at big odds – he has been ticking over nicely in Sydney and looks bang on target for the Melbourne Cup but can produce a good trial here. Don’t be surprised to see him in the mix at the end.

Next best are the Japanese pair, FAME GAME and HOKKO BRAVE – not expecting to see either of them winning today but think it is very possible one or both, more likely Fame Game, will produce the annual “flashing light” performance looking towards Flemington. Two of the biggest performances in the Caulfield Cup in the past decade have been from Sunday Racing-owned horses, Eye Popper (2nd, 2005) and Delta Blues (3rd, 2006), and while only one scored at Flemington, still expecting something very similar from Sunday Racing-owned Fame Game.

In an open race, not entirely ruling out Godolphin’s HAURAKI either – he looked to find form again last start, and obviously meets Mongolian Khan well at the weights for his Australian Derby second. I’m just worried about where he will get to in the run, and I’m also not convinced he goes as well the Melbourne direction as he does in Sydney. Still, he’s probably one to include in all exotics.


Here are the rest of my thoughts for Caulfield today:

Race 1 – YELLOWGLEN PLATE (1,400m)


Race 2 – LISTED GOTHIC STAKES (1,400m)



2 – KURO











Race 10 – LISTED ALINGHI STAKES (1,100m)


Hawk’s Spring Selections – Epsom Handicap Day/Turnbull Stakes Day

October 3, 2015

UPDATE: Flemington selections have now been posted. Good luck!

With spring racing starting to heat up, our selections make a return in the lead-up to Australian racing’s big three – the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup.

Expect big write-ups on all three races, especially the mammoth Melbourne Cup preview as per usual, while I will also be providing selections for Caulfield Guineas day, Caulfield Cup day, Cox Plate day and all four days of the Melbourne Cup carnival.

Check back tomorrow morning for selections for Turnbull Stakes day from Flemington, as well as my selections for arguably the world’s greatest race, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe from Longchamp.

Today at Randwick sees the pinnacle of the Sydney spring with the running of three Group One races – the Epsom Handicap (or more the Epsom Plate with a ridiculous two-kilogram spread in the weights), the Flight Stakes and the Metropolitan. There are also the first two-year-old races of the season, while there are also a number of races on the all-stakes card that will provide a guide to some of the big Melbourne features in coming weeks.

For what it’s worth, also hoping to see an Eagles victory in the AFL Grand Final, a Cowboys win in the NRL Grand Final and a Wallabies demolition job over the English – but a win on the punt would suffice instead.

Here are today’s Turnbull Stakes day and Arc selections:







Race 4 – LISTED UCI STAKES (1,800m)









15 – SATYA




18 – FOUND
13 – NEW BAY

Here are my selections for Epsom day:


Race 1 – LISTED BREEDERS’ PLATE (1,000m)













4 – WINX





Hawk’s 2015 Dubai World Cup Night Analysis and Selections

March 28, 2015

The world’s richest race meeting, the Dubai World Cup, is upon us again, and all eyes will be on Meydan tonight as runners from all over the world converge.

It’s been a big week of doing form ahead of this all-important meeting, especially as Meydan makes the switch back from Tapeta to dirt.

I was privileged to join William Hill’s Luke Elder and Timeform’s Calum Madell to chat about the card on Wednesday night. Have a watch here:


I also wrote a story in my weekly blog for the South China Morning Post about how different punters across the world assess myriad global formlines ahead of the Dubai meeting, including a suggested bet for different totes. Have a read here.

Here are my selections (with short analysis) for tonight’s Dubai World Cup meeting (avoiding the first race, the Kahayla Classic for purebred Arabians):

Race 2 – GROUP 2 GODOLPHIN MILE (1600m)

Some quarters have tried to argue this is the strongest Godolphin Mile in years, but I think if you were to throw the last three winners in this race – Variety Club (2014), Soft Falling Rain (2013) or African Story (2012) – they would win easily. So it’s a race I’m not really too keen on.

TAMARKUZ has been simply outstanding, albeit against fairly weak fields, since stepping up to the mile on the Meydan dirt. To be fair, he’s drawn well at each start and has been able to jump out and dictate fairly comfortably. He’s drawn the inside again so should be able to jump out and lead once more, but he might face more pressure this time. Still, he’s the form horse, he’s proven and he is almost a selection by default.

Looking for dangers, the one I’d be keen to back is PRAYER FOR RELIEF, now with Mike De Kock after a storied American career. He has attracted the “non-winner” tag with plenty of seconds, thirds and fourths, but for the most part he comes from the strongest American formlines and he steps back in class here. The awkward draw, though, will make it difficult, hence why I don’t have him on top. Worth a play though if he remains around 12/1 or above.

At odds, could see GRAPHIC run a big race first time on dirt, while another first timer on dirt SLOANE AVENUE is bred to handle the surface and would be another higher up in my numbers if not for the awkward draw. Next best is the inconsistent American BRADESTER, while I could also have something small on former Australian galloper FREE WHEELING at gigantic odds.



Race 3 – GROUP 2 DUBAI GOLD CUP (3200m)

This looks an unpredictable race with a number of different formlines and a number of horses who look unlikely to stay the trip, so it’s a tough race to assess.

AHZEEMAH is a top horse on his day, but definitely mixes his form. He was too bad to be true in the Nad Al Sheba Trophy, beaten 50 lengths, and one must make a decision whether to take him on that run or not. I’ve decided to draw a line through it, and if he runs to his Goodwood Cup second or even his second in this race two years ago ¬– both behind Cavalryman – he will go very close to winning here. Expect a far better performance and at 8/1 he’s worth a throw at the stumps.

BROWN PANTHER has been one of the most consistent stayers over the last two seasons, winning the Goodwood Cup and the Irish St Leger and recording a number of placings. He returns first up off a rare flop in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but I think a mile and a half is too sharp for him these days. Back up to two miles here, he’ll roll forward and be in this for a long, long way.

The emerging talent in the race is French galloper BATHYRHON, a winner of the Prix Gladiateur and second in the Prix Du Cadran at the end of last year. He did run last of four in the Prix Kergorlay to Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, but was only beaten three and a half lengths – less than Protectionist’s winning Melbourne Cup margin. Take into account he was in the worst ground on the inside and it wasn’t a terrible run by any means. It appears that firm ground is best for him, although he will never have struck ground as firm as he encounters here. He’s a definite chance.

Next best Nad Al Sheba Trophy first and third ALMOONQITH and STAR EMPIRE.



Race 4 – GROUP 2 UAE DERBY (1900m)

A race that can sometimes be quite disappointing, it looks a terrific edition this year and for the first time in a number of years it looks like it could be a solid Kentucky Derby lead-up race, if MUBTAAHIJ or MAFTOOL salute.

Those two come through the local lead-ups and have created quite the rivalry so far, but I’m looking outside of these, instead siding with Japanese three-year-old GOLDEN BAROWS. By American super sire Tapit, his win in the Hyacinth Stakes in Tokyo was electrifying, coming from a long way back to easily waltz by his rivals. There is some concern about his ability to stay the trip, and of course there’s the query about the deeper dirt surface, but I think ability wise he’ll prove hard to beat.

Mubtaahij does look the logical danger, having won the UAE 2000 Guineas Trial and the Al Bastakiya and having just gone down in a ding-dong battle with Maftool in the UAE 2000 Guineas itself. He is shaping as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender and does loom as the best of the locals here.

Next best are DEAR DOMUS, who was well beaten by Golden Barows in the Hyacinth Stakes but has the pedigree to suggest he’ll relish the step up in trip, and SIR FEVER, the Uruguayan Triple Crown champion who was easily defeated by Mubtaahij in the Al Bastakiya but gets blinkers on here and will improve.

I’m happy to take on Godolphin’s Maftool, with big concerns about his ability to stay a strong 1900m.



Race 5 – GROUP 1 AL QUOZ SPRINT (1000m)

A ridiculously open race, with plenty of conflicting formlines and a number of chances.

Despite having some “bias”, so to speak, towards the Hong Kong horses, I’m not convinced our horses are well suited this year. I don’t think BUNDLE OF JOY is good enough, last year’s winner AMBER SKY is obviously good enough but has had a torrid season and may get involved in a speed battle with the likes of American speedster DISTINCTIV PASSION so is worth taking on, and as for PENIAPHOBIA…well, I think he’s potentially the best horse in the race but I’m not sure about him over five furlongs. I’m particularly concerned that he might get run off his feet in the middle stages and will struggle to pick up until the race is all over.

Still, I think Peniaphobia is a strong chance if all works out for him. He is under the odds now, though, so instead I’ll side with the very consistent AHTOUG. He finished second in both the Meydan Sprint and the Al Quoz Sprint last year, and is again coming off a second in the Meydan Sprint last time out. He’s drawn in the perfect spot to get a trail behind the speed and should be in the mix late.

We’ll go with Peniaphobia second ahead of VIA AFRICA, a South African Group 1 winner who was somewhat disappointing first-up in the Meydan Sprint. Still, it was her first run since May last year and I’m expecting her to have taken great improvement for the effort. Expect her to feature somewhere.

Next best MIRZA, who is a well-exposed eight-year-old but had some nice form towards the end of last season and can put in a big run at odds, and CASPAR NETSCHER.



Race 6 – GROUP 1 GOLDEN SHAHEEN (1200m)

Back on dirt this time around, this is shaping up as a clash between the United States – who won seven of the final 10 runnings of the race at the old Nad Al Sheba course – and Hong Kong, which has unexpectedly emerged as a stronghold for dirt sprinters.

Perhaps it is my Hong Kong bias shining through, but I believe this is the best opportunity of the Bauhinia flag flying high tonight. And I do think RICH TAPESTRY looms as the one to beat. He finished second in this race last year to compatriot Sterling City, albeit on the Tapeta, but he then went to the United States where he won the Santa Anita Sprint Championship. That day, he beat SECRET CIRCLE on his home turf, and did it comfortably. He’s drawn to get the perfect run, he flies fresh (not uncommon for a bleeder like him) and his preparation has been alright. There was a slight hitch when he flew out to Dubai, losing a bit of weight and coming up slightly dehydrated, but he looks to have bounced back well and I expect him to feature heavily.

If LUCKY NINE was tackling this surface at his prime, I’d be extremely confident he would win. He has run on the dirt in Hong Kong twice, winning in Class 3 before backing up a week later to run second to Hong Kong Sprint runner-up Entrapment in Class 1. This was in 2010, though, but he simply hasn’t had the opportunity to run on it since. In that time, he’s won seven Group 1 races, he’s travelled all over the world, he ran third in the Golden Shaheen on the Tapeta, and now he returns to tackle the dirt. His form is mixed, but he was a strong third in the Chairman’s Sprint Prize last time out and that would make him competitive here. There’s been some concern about his high head carriage in trackwork during the week, but photos from his Hong Kong trackwork suggest this is fairly normal for him. If he can run to his best he will figure.

The American trio – Secret Circle, SALUTOS AMIGOS and BIG MACHER – form a formidable team, with 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Secret Circle looking the best of them. I’m not convinced about the form around Salutos Amigos, while Big Macher is speedy but too inconsistent for mine. If there’s to be an upset it could come from a former American, COOL COWBOY.

Still, I’m happy to stick with the Hongkongers here.



Race 7 – GROUP 1 DUBAI TURF (1800m)

The less said about this race, the better. After last year’s top edition, with Just A Way blitzing Vercingetorix and the likes of Dank, MSHAWISH, Logotype, Tokei Halo, Blazing Speed and The Fugue behind, it’s quite amazing to see how far it has fallen this year. In fact, it’s hard to make a case for any of these, but there has to be a winner.

By default, I’ve ended up with THE GREY GATSBY. He was one of the top European three-year-olds last year, winning the Prix du Jockey Club and the Irish Champion Stakes, and on ratings is clearly the top ranked horse. And while the trip may be too short for him and he might not have the race run to suit, he finds himself on top just by being the best horse. As you can tell, I’m very enthusiastic about him and the race in general…

EURO CHARLINE does interest me, although I doubt she’s good enough to win. She’s the epitome of globalisation – as I said in my SCMP blog, The Griffin, “by an Irish-bred French Group One-winning sire, she’s owned by America’s Team Valor, trained by Marco Botti – English-based but a member of an Italian training dynasty – and will be ridden by Hong Kong-based Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira.” She improved at the back end of her three-year-old season before injury curtailed an American campaign, but if she returns even stronger she could figure at odds.

SOLOW has been well backed into favouritism, but I remain unconvinced by his form. He’s been very good in France but has beaten very little and I think he’s now under the odds. With that in mind, happy to bet around him.

Next best Balanchine winner CLADOCERA, who reminds me a bit of 2013 winner Sajjhaa, and Mackinnon Stakes third FARRAAJ.

10 – SOLOW


Race 8 – GROUP 1 SHEEMA CLASSIC (2410m)

From the most disappointing race of the night, we go to the strongest and most fascinating race of the night. The quality of horseflesh is superb, and it is made fascinating by a completely perplexing speed map. It’s almost impossible to figure out where the speed will come from, and so there must be some expectation that there will be a couple of surprises when they settle down – maybe DESIGNS ON ROME will find himself closer. I expect the two French gallopers, DOLNIYA and FLINTSHIRE, to be handy too, which will play to both of them.

While the man on the street might believe Japanese filly HARP STAR will need a solid tempo to unleash her blistering turn of foot, I think a soft tempo wouldn’t work against her as it would allow her to remain in touch with the leaders. She is the only horse in the race, for mine, with push-button acceleration and if she can remain in touch, I think she’s a huge hope. Tempo and poor rides hindered her in the Arc and the Japan Cup, while she settled closer and struggled in the lead-up race, the Kyoto Kinen. Still, Gentildonna was able to improve off an average run to win last year and I think Harp Star is in the same mould. I’m expecting a big performance.

I think DESIGNS ON ROME is the major danger. He’s been more dour this season, but he’s still won his last three – the Hong Kong Cup, the Centenary Vase and the Hong Kong Gold Cup. He does take a long time to wind up, but there is the possibility he will settle closer under Joao Moreira which might be his best chance of saluting. Some have raised concerns about his ability to stay the 12 furlongs, but the one time he tried it he was at the end of a long season, coming off two gutbusting efforts, and the way the race was run didn’t suit whatsoever. I have no doubts. He’s a big chance.

The way the race will be run will probably suit Dolniya, who beat Flintshire in a prep race on the Chantilly polytrack at the start of March. She looks an improved mare heading into her four-year-old season and I think she’s still quite untapped. Purely for tactical reasons, she goes in.

I’m not convinced about the Breeders’ Cup Turf form, so I rate Flintshire and MAIN SEQUENCE below the others. Flintshire had the perfect run in an Arc in which many had torrid trips or were unsuited, and the Hong Kong Vase he won was ordinary. He’s very one-paced and that will play against him here. That said, I have him ahead of Main Sequence because Flintshire is likely to have the advantage of settling handier and getting the first run on him. As for Main Sequence, his form improved dramatically when he went across to the United States after his form tapered off in the UK. The reasons for that are many and varied – he struck firmer tracks, he was gelded, he raced on lasix, the American turf stayers are poor. And while he has improved, I want to see him take that form elsewhere. For mine, he must be risked.



Race 9 – GROUP 1 DUBAI WORLD CUP (2000m)

The world’s richest race at US$10 million, it hasn’t attracted quite the field that was touted a few weeks back with key defectors including Breeders’ Cup Classic quinella Bayern and Toast Of New York, the world’s highest rated horse so far in 2015 Shared Belief and Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist. Still, it’s an interesting race and it does look a good move to head back to dirt from the old Tapeta track.

And it is fitting that one of the world’s most popular horses, CALIFORNIA CHROME, looks set to take the World Cup. I’m far from a Chromie, but in this race he looks well suited. He’s the class dirt runner, he’s drawn to take advantage and his Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes wins – even his San Antonio second and his Breeders’ Cup Classic third – are far superior to anything produced by the rest of this field, with the exception of EPIPHANEIA…but more about that later. I expect California Chrome to salute here, trumping the decision to return to dirt.

If there’s an upset it could come from HOKKO TARUMAE. The Japanese dirt star finished last on the Tapeta last year but it’s a completely different ball game this time around. Not only does he appear more comfortable on the dirt, but he also has gone to a new level since with strong wins in the Champions Cup (the old Japan Cup Dirt) and the Tokyo Daishoten. He’ll be in front for a long way and looks the most likely fly in the ointment.

Next best LEA, who has stamina queries at the 10 furlongs but will be aiming to give trainer Bill Mott a second World Cup winner after the first victor Cigar, and former American CANDY BOY, now owned by Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov and trained by Doug Watson.

The horse I’m very keen to take on is EPIPHANEIA – I am a massive fan of the horse, but I don’t believe this race is suitable whatsoever. These days, the mile and a quarter looks too short for him and he would have been much better suited in the Sheema Classic – where he would have been if the owners didn’t also have Harp Star. I remain unconvinced that he will relish the dirt – his pedigree stats aren’t strong for the dirt and his action doesn’t look suited to dirt – so he’s a big one to take on, despite the fact I believe he’s the best horse in the race.

5 – LEA

Hawk’s 2015 Golden Slipper Day Preview and Selections

March 21, 2015
Golden Slipper trophy

Rosehill’s biggest card, Golden Slipper day, is upon us yet again as 16 juveniles battle it out for the world’s richest two-year-old prize.

It looks a strong Golden Slipper this year, backed up by four other top Group 1 races.

The programme is obviously different this year, and it is weird not having the traditional Golden Slipper/BMW double header. However, it still shapes as a terrific day of racing and I think it will be seen as a winner.

In particular, it does look a standalone day of quality, rather than just being a lead-up to The Championships.

I have provided selections for all nine races but have given my extended thoughts on the five Group 1 races.

Best of luck!



Race 2 – GROUP 3 EPONA STAKES (1900m)


Race 3 – LISTED THE SEBRING (1200m)


Race 4 – GROUP 1 RANVET STAKES (2000m)

A small field of seven lines up in the Ranvet Stakes, and like many weight-for-age races, this looks like it will be quite the tactical affair with little speed and a number of queries – especially the two international runners.

SILENT ACHIEVER won this race in the final stride last year, reeling in tearaway leader Carlton House, with the likes of It’s A Dundeel and Fiorente well behind her. She’s only won once since, The BMW, but produced arguably her best run when third in the Cox Plate. She has had two good runs to prepare for this, when fifth in the Apollo Stakes and fourth in the Chipping Norton Stakes. In a race with little speed, she should be able to settle just behind likely leader FAST DRAGON, either in the box seat or one-out, one-back, and it would be no shock to see a grinding win similar to what she achieved last year.

CONTRIBUTER – no, not a spelling mistake, with an e – is the favourite, albeit a little easy in early markets, and little wonder after two stellar efforts to win the Apollo Stakes and the Chipping Norton Stakes. This Godolphin import has clearly relished the change in environment and has acclimatised perfectly. He now steps up to 2000m, a trip at which he excelled in the UK and at which he is already a winner in Australia, having won the Coongy Handicap in the spring. He does look the one to beat.

Obviously, DOMINANT is a familiar face to us. It probably pays to forget everything he did prior to the Hong Kong Vase, when he was fourth to Flintshire, as he has typically taken time to find form in his Hong Kong campaigns. His last start third behind Designs On Rome in the Centenary Vase was terrific, even in receipt of 11 pounds from his stablemate. What was most noteworthy from this race’s perspective is that he managed to jump well and race a lot handier than has been his style recently. That may be a positive here, in a race where there does look to be little speed. If he runs up to his third in the Hong Kong Gold Cup last year, when finishing behind the last two Singapore International Cup winners Military Attack and Dan Excel, he’ll be in the mix. That said, it’s probably realistic to expect him to be finding the line well, and I expect he’ll be on a Sydney Cup path after this.

Next best HE’S YOUR MAN.



Another small field over the 2000m, this time for the three-year-olds, but this race oozes class this year and it looks like it will be one of the better Rosehill Guineas in recent times. Lining up are the Randwick Guineas winner, the Victoria Derby winner, the New Zealand Derby first and second, the Spring Champion first and third…and poor POUNAMU.

This race looks to have more speed than the Ranvet Stakes, with the NZ Derby quinella MONGOLIAN KHAN and VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL likely to roll forward along with Gai Waterhouse’s Spring Champion winner HAMPTON COURT. The classiest horse on exposed form is HALLOWED CROWN and he can roll forward too, but in an effort to get him to stay a strong 2000m it wouldn’t surprise to see more conservative tactics adopted.

The two Kiwis look to hold the aces here. Mongolian Khan won the New Zealand Derby with a strong staying performance, fighting back after being headed and finding the line very strongly, while Volkstok’n’barrell died on his run after racing up full of gusto at the top of the straight. In simple terms, Mongolian Khan looked the stronger stayer while Volkstok’n’barrell looked the more brilliant conveyance. They return to 2000m here, a similar distance to where they finished first and third respectively in the Avondale Guineas.

The step back in trip may not be so suitable to Mongolian Khan, but he looks to have plenty of upside and just keeps improving. A winner of six of his seven starts, the son of the all-conquering Holy Roman Emperor has met every challenge that has been asked of him and looks a horse capable of making the leap to open-class Group 1 company. He can win this on his way to winning the Australian Derby.

If there’s a fly in the ointment, it could come from Godolphin’s SWEYNESSE. Rated highly enough by Godolphin to test him in the Cox Plate last spring, where he finished a credible eighth to Adelaide when he was running on strongly late, he looks to have furnished into an even nicer horse over the summer. He flew home to just miss in the Hobartville, and was flying again late in the Randwick Guineas – both times behind Hallowed Crown. The concern again is the pace setup, which looks set to play against him, but if they go at a solid clip he has the ability to come over the top late.

Volkstok’n’barrell is another strong contender, and he will probably find the 2000m more to his liking than the 2400m of the New Zealand Derby. Both he and Mongolian Khan demolished their rivals, with third-placed Sound Proposition more than six lengths from the winner. He will race handy and if he gets a break on Mongolian Khan, he may prove hard to run down.

As mentioned above, Hallowed Crown is the class of the race, but it’s hard to see him staying a strong 2000m. By Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense out of Golden Slipper runner-up Crowned Glory, the pedigree suggests that his stamina may be tested here – although, go back far enough and you’ll find Zabeel in the family. Still, he shapes as a brilliant sprinter-miler in the making who could find his way into the placings on class, but I would be far from surprised if this was his last attempt at 2000m.

And when the Victoria Derby winner PREFERMENT doesn’t even rate a mention anywhere…enough said.


Race 6 – GROUP 1 THE GALAXY (1100m)

This was the toughest of the five Group 1 races to assess for mine, and I changed my selections numerous times before settling on a top four I was content with.

To show how I’ve fluctuated, I had Challenge Stakes winner MIRACLES OF LIFE on top at one stage, but in the end I’ve left her out, fearing that she might end up in no man’s land – either too wide or too far back – from the poor draw.

It’s a race with plenty of speed, with SWEET IDEA, CHLOE IN PARIS, DEEP FIELD, RUBICK and VA PENSIERO all likely to push forward. Indeed, it is a race that looks to set up perfectly well for Godolphin galloper KNOYDART. A backmarker with a booming turn of foot, he was terrific in the Challenge Stakes when coming from last and just missing out in a photo for third with Rubick. He came from nowhere last autumn to run placings in the Oakleigh Plate and the Newmarket Handicap, and I think this is the sort of race he’s been looking for – a fast run 1100m where he’ll have plenty of time to finish over the top.

If the speed is not as strong as expected, though, I’m expecting a big run from the Waterhouse-trained Sweet Idea. She is likely to be involved in the battle for the speed, if not parking just behind it, but she is as tough as teak and her tenacity will see her in this for a long way. She’s a flying machine fresh, and while the trip might not be ideal for her, she still seems to fly well under the radar. I’m happy to have something small on her too.

Rubick was the most obvious of the beaten runners in the Challenge Stakes when he was tightened for room, lost all momentum but picked up again to finish third. He is drawn to get the softest run of all time, which is good – as long as he can get clear running again in the straight. The major concern for mine is that he may not be able to take advantage of the soft draw – his wins have all come when he has led or sat outside the lead, and so sitting pretty behind them may not be his go. He’s a leading player, though.

Next best are the lightly weighted pair Chloe In Paris and KURO, who both get in well at the weights and look to have plenty of upside, while Miracles of Life remains a hope but the draw has cruelled her chances. I’m happy to take on Deep Field from the wide draw, despite the fact I expect he’ll improve after two somewhat disappointing efforts.


Race 7 – GROUP 1 GOLDEN SLIPPER (1200m)

It’s the richest two-year-old race in the world, worth A$3.5m, but in reality the Golden Slipper is a hit-and-miss race every year. Sure, there are good horses that emerge from the race every year, but the overall depth of the race varies wildly.

On paper, last year’s race, won by Mossfun, looks pretty poor now. The year before, Overreach’s Golden Slipper was stronger, but still a long way from exceptional. The 2012 Golden Slipper was better than both, although there was a long tail, but Pierro, Snitzerland and Samaready were all legitimate Group One horses.

It’s hard to tell now the strength of this two-year-old crop, but from what we’ve seen so far, it shapes as similar to 2012 – quite a few potential stars at the top, but a long tail below.

The build-up has been intriguing with Gai Waterhouse’s hot favourite, Todman Stakes winner VANCOUVER, set to start from the outside gate. At Rosehill, the hairpin track (from the chute in the middle of the course) ensures it is about 300m or so until the nasty first bend comes up. As with most Golden Slippers, there are a number of speed influences, although perhaps not as many as one would be accustomed to in this scamper. Still, for jockey Tommy Berry, he will either have to commit early and hope that his horse is as superior to the field as some good judges suggest, or he will have to try and ride a pretty race, searching for cover midfield and hoping to come on strongly. He may be the best horse in the race, he may still prove too good, but at his current quote he’s worth taking on.

So who can beat him? I’m hoping that Gai Waterhouse is beaten by…Gai Waterhouse! Racing’s first lady has been known to do it before, and why not here again? I’ve been on the ENGLISH bandwagon for some time, after a late night conversation with my closest friend ended in analysing Kembla Grange replays. Clearly, I lead an enthralling life…

The Newhaven Park filly – the nickname the Boorowa Belle sounds suitable – was described by her trainer during the week as a “naughty girl” who has had quite a few quirks along the way. One thing is not up for debate, though – she has plenty of ability. She was all over the shop at Kembla Grange, missing the start, green as grass, but powered home for an effortless three-and-a-half length win that could easily have been seven lengths.

The day English stood up as a Golden Slipper contender, though, was not her last-start Reisling Stakes win but almost two weeks before, when she won a trial on soft ground on the steeple grass at Randwick. The time was fast – in fact, she went five-tenths of a second quicker than Vancouver. But it was more the manner of her victory, rather than the time. She could not have been under a harder hold, while Vancouver was made to work for his win.

Trials mean very little, of course. The specifics and dynamics of a trial are very different to raceday. And so it was good to see her take it to the big time when she won the Reisling Stakes, beating one-time Golden Slipper favourite OTTOMAN. She still did plenty wrong, but was better behaved than at Kembla and she hit the line nicely.

On times, she’d have to be dismissed – she ran 1.36 seconds slower than Vancouver in the Todman and came home 0.59 slower. But I think she still has plenty of scope and can improve substantially. If she does improve again, she’ll be right in the mix.

She’s drawn perfectly and will jump from gate five, which should give Blake Shinn options depending on how she jumps and how well she relaxes. And that is a huge advantage over her stablemate and many of the other fancied runners in this race.

For mine, the biggest eyecatcher out of the lead-ups was not Vancouver but Godolphin’s EXOSPHERE, who toyed with his rivals in the Skyline Stakes at Warwick Farm. Another who made the step up from a big-margin Kembla victory to Group company, he looks an imposing juvenile and clearly has plenty of ability. He looks to come from a similar mould to his sire Lonhro, and there are shades of Octagonal again, and he will be the one with the last crack at them. In fact, a run similar to Octagonal’s 1995 Golden Slipper effort is on the cards – but hopefully English is playing the spoiler’s role of Flying Spur.

Vancouver goes in for third, and does look one of the main chances after his Todman Stakes romp. He’s yet to put a foot wrong and the comparisons with Pierro are obvious.

Next best is Silver Slipper winner HEADWATER – he was poor behind Vancouver in the Todman Stakes but it always pays to forgive one poor run and his Silver Slipper effort was outstanding – while his stablemate LAKE GENEVA and impressive Flemington winner READY FOR VICTORY look the best of the rest.



A very competitive affair, not the strongest George Ryder ever seen – far from it – but a fascinating race.

Looking at this race straight up, I thought I’d want to be on either the Japanese or the three-year-olds. And after actually delving into the race, with the exception of Godolphin’s Liverpool City Cup winner IT’S SOMEWHAT, my thoughts have remained the same.

We were trackside last time WORLD ACE raced, when he finished his race off well for fourth behind Hong Kong’s superstar Able Friend in the Hong Kong Mile. Nothing was beating Able Friend that day, he was simply supreme, but with better luck World Ace could and probably should have finished second. That effort puts him around the level of a Gold-Fun or a Glorious Days, and both of them would be competitive here. He returned to competition last year after almost two years on the sidelines, having been an impressive three-year-old – he started favourite in the 2012 Japanese Derby but finished fourth. Since then, he has mixed his form, although his Group 2 Yomiuri Milers Cup win was terrific and his effort for fifth in the Yasuda Kinen behind Just A Way commendable.

The query for him is where he will settle. The horse has a tendency to miss the start and Zac Purton, who rode the horse in Hong Kong last start, says he has a few quirks. If he can jump and put himself in a midfield position, I believe the famous Sunday Racing Co colours can land their second Australian Group 1 after Delta Blues’ 2006 Melbourne Cup win.

The Caulfield Guineas winner SHOOTING TO WIN looms as the main danger. Three-year-olds have a top record in this race, with Pierro the most recent three-year-old winner in 2013, and this does look a fairly strong crop. In fact, these same colours were carried to victory in this race by a three-year-old, with Racing To Win taking out the George Ryder in 2006.

Both runs this preparation, Shooting To Win has looked like the winner at some point in the straight but has been swamped both times. Last start, he cantered up the Randwick rise and Blake Shinn looked to be swinging, only for Hallowed Crown and Sweynesse to come over the top. It was far from a poor effort, but it was disappointing given how much horse he looked to have under him. Whether that was fitness blowing out or whether he just has a short sprint that needs to be managed, I’m not entirely sure, but back to 1500m at his third run in, he looks well suited. He shouldn’t be too far away from the speed and will be the one they’ll have to catch.

It’s Somewhat was very impressive winning the Liverpool City Cup and like his stablemate Contributer looks to have acclimatised perfectly in Australia. He was tried as a stayer in the UK, which I’m not completely convinced was his go, and his best performance was over 10 furlongs when third to Mukhadram and Trading Leather in the Eclipse Stakes. His first-up win in Australia over 1300m suggests he may be at his best up to 2000m here and this is a perfect race for him at this time. He’s another who shouldn’t be too far away from the speed, and a similar turn of foot as last start will see him in the mix.

Next best KERMADEC, who should have finished closer in the Australian Guineas, from HOOKED.


Race 9 – GROUP 3 N E MANION CUP (2400m)



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