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Your Complete Guide To The 2017 Melbourne Cup, by Andrew Hawkins

November 5, 2017

It’s back! After a year’s hiatus, the most comprehensive free Melbourne Cup preview on the internet returns for 2017, by popular demand.

It’s the race that stops the nation for 200 seconds. It’s a race that has created legends, foiled champions and provided moments of excitement and drama. It is the Melbourne Cup.

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.

If you want to skip the analysis and features and just find out who I am selecting, click here!

This year, 2017, marks a decade since my first Melbourne Cup preview was published. When it was last produced in 2015, we had 100-1 winner Prince Of Penzance marked as likely to finish near the tail, with runner-up Max Dynamite our best result. In fact, we got the pace of the race completely wrong, and that proved the fatal blow.

Last year, we were closer to the mark in a brief preview compiled in Los Angeles while at the Breeders’ Cup, but this time around, hopefully we can find the winner with the return of our major tome.

In recent years, the Melbourne Cup has become an international spectacle, but that also means that finding the winner is that much more difficult. One must know not only the Australian form, but must also master form out of Europe, Asia and the United States – and one must be able to assess the merits of each horse under Australian conditions.

There is no way to assess with absolute certainty whether a horse is capable of improving, or even merely replicating, their form in Australia – it is more than just what they have shown on a racetrack abroad, but also whether they have travelled well and acclimatised.

Still, having followed international form religiously throughout the year, I’m hoping we’ve got a grasp on it enough to have a strong recommendation here.

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 horse), 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. HARTNELL
2. ALMANDIN
3. HUMIDOR
4. TIBERIAN
5. MARMELO
6. RED CARDINAL
7. JOHANNES VERMEER
8. BONDI BEACH
9. MAX DYNAMITE
10. VENTURA STORM
11. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN
12. WICKLOW BRAVE
13. BIG DUKE
14. US ARMY RANGER
15. BOOM TIME
16. GALLANTE
17. LIBRAN
18. NAKEETA
19. SINGLE GAZE
20. WALL OF FIRE
21. THOMAS HOBSON
22. REKINDLING
23. AMELIE’S STAR
24. CISMONTANE
SPEED MAP
SUMMARY
NUMBERS

1. HARTNELL (12)

Authorized x Debonnaire (Anabaa), 7yo bay gelding
Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: James Cummings
Jockey: Damian Lane
Weight: 57.5kg
Career stats: 36:11-11-2
Win/place percentages: 31%/67%
Last 10 starts: 23x2822x1229
Distances won at: 1 (1400m), 1 (1600m), 2 (1609m), 3 (2000m), 1 (2012m), 1 (2400m), 1 (2615m), 1 (3219m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), Flemington, 2 October 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 3rd in 2016 (two attempts)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $13
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $26
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $26
Summary of his chances: Third last year, he looked unlikely to line up before late decision made last week. Think 3200m tests and looks worth risking.
Predicted finish: 13th

When the career of Hartnell comes to its natural conclusion, he will be remembered not for his talent – a dual Group 1 winner and a placegetter in both the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup – but as the perennial whipping boy for wonder mare Winx.

Hartnell has clashed with Australia’s best horse seven times, finishing second on four occasions. This is critical, because whereas last spring was all geared towards a clash with Winx in the Cox Plate, his entire preparation this spring has been geared around avoiding Winx.

He has stayed in Melbourne throughout, he has run in races where she very obviously was not going to be, and it was expected to be the campaign where he finally had glory all of his own.

He looked good early on, winning the G2 Lawrence Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield in mid-August. However, he was then just fair in the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington and the G1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) at Caulfield – he did finish second on both occasions, but as a hot favourite in each, more was expected.

However, he then disappointed when ninth of 11 in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) and it appeared his spring was over. Certainly, the Melbourne Cup was off the radar, with a potential cameo in the G1 Emirates Stakes (2000m) next Saturday a possibility.

All of a sudden, though, it emerged early last week that he would push onto the Melbourne Cup, giving Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and his Godolphin operation a runner in the one race the Dubai ruler wants to win above all others.

There is one important change for Hartnell since last year, though – Godolphin’s new head trainer is James Cummings, grandson of the great race’s most important figure, the late Bart Cummings.

The elder Cummings, who died at the age of 87 two years ago, trained 12 Melbourne Cup winners, from Light Fingers in 1965 to Viewed in 2008.

Hartnell is the first runner for James Cummings in his own right, having been in partnership with his grandfather when Precedence ran sixth for the training duo in 2014.

It is also interesting that James Cummings sends out Hartnell with a preparation underneath him that is so unlike the principles espoused by his grandfather.

To have a horse trained to the minute, the Cummings guide insisted that a horse must have had 10000 metres in his legs, in terms of lead-up runs, before the Cup – something each of Bart’s Cup winners had, except Viewed. A Cup winner also always ran on Derby Day, with Saintly the only outlier in 1996.

Instead, Hartnell is coming in off a 6800-metre preparation, having not stepped out beyond 2000m or since mid-October.

It speaks to the changing nature of the Melbourne Cup in recent years, especially with more European involvement – not just among raiders, but also those that are purchased from the northern hemisphere and campaigned down under.

Hartnell is a third Cup ride for Damian Lane, who also rode for the boys in blue last year when seventh aboard Beautiful Romance.

The fact that Godolphin are not bringing retained rider William Buick straight in from the Breeders’ Cup in California, or even James Doyle across from the United Kingdom, is some concern. That is not an indictment on Lane, though, by any means – he can more than hold his own, but usually the operation would stick to their own retained riders.

I was very keen on Hartnell last year and I thought he was going to win at the top of the straight, before Heartbreak City and Almandin emerged on the outside and left him standing still. He was on fire last spring, and last year’s Cup was probably his best opportunity to take the race.

Despite the fact he is a two-mile winner, I don’t think he sees out a strong 3200m. He’s probably capable of getting into the placings but I don’t think he can win the race, and this year, it’s probably the right time to risk him – particularly with 57.5kg on his back.

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2. ALMANDIN (14)

Monsun x Anatola (Tiger Hill), 7yo bay gelding

Bred in: Germany
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Robert Hickmott
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
Weight: 56.5kg
Career stats: 15:6-4-1
Win/place percentages: 40%/73%
Last 10 starts: 1x665111x214
Distances won at: 1 (2050m), 1 (2212m), 1 (2400m), 2 (2500m), 1 (3200m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m), Flemington, 1 November 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: Won in 2016 (one attempt)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $13
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $7
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $9.50
Summary of his chances: Last year’s Melbourne Cup winner who is shaping as a freak stayer from most things he has shown at a mile and a half and beyond. Very tough to beat.
Predicted finish: 2nd

Almandin will be trying to join a very select group when he bids to win his second Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.

Only five horses have won multiple Melbourne Cups, four of them going back-to-back – Archer (1861, 1862), Rain Lover (1968, 1969), Think Big (1974, 1975) and Makybe Diva (2003, 2004, 2005) – while Peter Pan won non-consecutive Cups in 1932 and 1934.

It is not something that is achieved often, and many good horses have tried to join that elite group. Since 1990, 11 winners have attempted to back up their win the previous year, with Makybe Diva succeeding twice. The other nine have failed.

The impost of history is undoubtedly against Almandin, and that’s not including the 4.5kg he rises in the weights. However, despite his age, he still looks somewhat untapped and, if so, he may still be escaping the handicapper’s full wrath.

Almandin had good form in Germany and France pre-import, including a second to European champion miler Solow and a win over Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist in 2014. However, he did not race for two years before June 2016 and he was given a thorough, well-spaced preparation for his first attempt at 3200m.

This included wins in the Listed Harry White Classic (2400m) at Caulfield and the Group 3 Bart Cummings (2500m) at Flemington before he lined up as the fourth favourite on the first Tuesday in November.

The way last year’s Melbourne Cup was run, it developed into a true stamina test and Almandin was strong to the line in his narrow win over Heartbreak City, dispelling any 3200m queries once and for all.

He was given a decent spell after that, only returning in late August with a second under a big weight over 2040m at Moonee Valley. He then returned to Flemington, where he produced arguably the most impressive Melbourne Cup trial of them all, winning the Listed JRA Trophy (2500m) by two and three quarter lengths untouched. It was a supreme staying effort under 61kg.

He was then heavily backed to defend his Bart Cummings title at the start of October, but he produced a flat effort and finished fourth to Amelie’s Star. That brought out many detractors, even though he would have had to sustain an unthinkable run to win, but that effort was exactly what you would want to see heading towards the Melbourne Cup.

Horses are not machines, and running below his best off such a massive effort surely gives him a greater chance of being able to produce his peak for the grand final. Horses cannot maintain that form time and time again, so the regression into the Bart Cummings hopefully allows a solid progression into the Melbourne Cup.

Owner Lloyd Williams has won five Melbourne Cups, with Just A Dash (1981), What A Nuisance (1985), Efficient (2007), Green Moon (2012) and Almandin last year. He has a quarter of the runners here, but this appears the number one seed.

And then there is the story of jockey Frankie Dettori. The Italian maverick will go down in history as one of the greatest riders to have ever graced the planet, but the Melbourne Cup is one race that continues to elude him.

This has been something of a bogey contest for the 46-year-old. He was part of the first international raid on the Melbourne Cup in 1993, riding English galloper Drum Taps for Lord Huntingdon. He was well-supported, but languished into ninth as Irish stayer Vintage Crop created history with Mick Kinane in the saddle.

Since then, Dettori has had 14 rides for no success. He finished sixth for Queen Elizabeth II on Arabian Story in 1997, placed second aboard Central Park in 1999 and Max Dynamite in 2015 (and received lengthy suspensions both times for causing interference) and rode a number of Godolphin visitors who disappointed, including Pugin (18th in 2002 as $8.50 third favourite) and Mamool (23rd in 2003 as $6.50 favourite).

With the exception of the Kentucky Derby, Dettori has been victorious in most of the world’s major races. The Melbourne Cup, however, remains the one feature above all others that the colourful rider wants to win.

As someone stated during the week, Lloyd Williams is the ultimate romantic when it comes to the Melbourne Cup. The notion of giving Dettori his first Melbourne Cup win would appeal greatly, and given his recent good run of form, putting him on makes complete sense.

If he wins, the scenes will be something to witness. The famous Dettori star jump will finally grace the Flemington enclosure. He will be a media darling and the Australian public – with whom he has a love-hate relationship – will fall for the charm of the larger-than-life character.

The fact is, an Almandin repeat is very likely. He is the horse to beat and it will take a very good horse to be able to topple him this year. And it would be one of the better stories should Frankie Dettori finally score that elusive Melbourne Cup win.

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3. HUMIDOR (13)

Teofilo x Zalika (Zabeel), 5yo bay gelding

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Blake Shinn
Weight: 56kg
Career stats: 21:6-7-2
Win/place percentages: 29%/71%
Last 10 starts: 2212×681352
Distances won at: 3 (1600m), 3 (2000m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m), Flemington, 11 March 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $17
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $8.50
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $11
Summary of his chances: Almost became the giant slayer when just failing to reel in Winx in the Cox Plate. Legitimate stamina concerns but must be given a chance on his form.
Predicted finish: 7th

Humidor was a mere foot, maybe a foot and a half at most, away from becoming the most hated galloper to grace the Australian turf.

He almost spoiled the coronation of Winx at Moonee Valley last weekend, when the champion mare was aiming to join the immortal Kingston Town in winning her third Cox Plate.

When he loomed up, the screams of the crowd – and of the millions of punters tuning in across Australia and around the world – rose another octave, willing Chris Waller’s mare to stave off this wretched pretender.

In the end, he got within a long neck but no closer, allowing Winx to claim her crown as a legend of the sport while also earning a multitude of plaudits for his own slashing performance.

It has been a steady rise for Humidor, who only made his Australian debut on Derby Day last year. Beginning his career with young trainers Johno Benner and Hollie Wynyard in New Zealand, the Teofilo gelding won four of his first 10 starts, including the G3 Manawatu Classic (2000m), while he was just edged out in last year’s G1 Livamol Classic (2040m) by former Hong Kong galloper Willie Cazals.

At his last run for Benner and Wynyard, he was an unlucky ninth in the G1 Cantala Stakes (1600m) – now the Kennedy Mile – on Derby Day, and was then transferred to Darren Weir.

He flourished for Weir, winning the G1 Australian Cup (2000m) at Flemington in his first preparation for the stable.

This spring, he has been brought along slowly, although things looked very promising when his return to Flemington prompted a massive win in the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m), beating Hartnell.

However, he then disappointed when third to Winx in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), again at headquarters, while he finished fifth in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) before his Cox Plate barnstormer.

In running in the Melbourne Cup, Humidor becomes the first horse since Master O’Reilly in 2008 to run in all three of the spring features down under – the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup.

The jury is still out on his staying capabilities. He failed in the G1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) last year and was pummelled by Jameka in the G1 The BMW (2400m) in March. Meanwhile, his Caulfield Cup run was good but no real indication as to whether he is looking for this sort of trip.

Horses who produce the sort of run he did in the Cox Plate generally run well in the Melbourne Cup, however. The most recent was Fiorente, who stuck on for third in the Cox Plate before winning the Melbourne Cup in 2013.

However, Fiorente was also a horse proven over the 3200m. With Humidor, questions remain, and if it is as solid a staying test as it appears on paper, then he might be exposed very late.

Still, class will take him a long way and it is always foolish to dismiss horses with the form he has.

He is also blessed with a trainer-jockey duo with Cup-winning experience. Weir, now arguably Australia’s leading horseman, scored with Prince Of Penzance in 2015, while jockey Blake Shinn produced a gem of a ride to salute on Viewed in 2008.

He has to rate as some sort of winning chance on his form alone. The return to Flemington, too, is a plus. However, the last few metres will be the query. Still, write him off at your own peril.

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4. TIBERIAN (23)

Tiberius Caesar x Toamasina (Marju), 6yo bay horse

Bred in: France
Nationality: France/Australia
Trainer: Alain Couetil
Jockey: Olivier Peslier
Weight: 55.5kg
Career stats: 17:6-4-0
Win/place percentages: 35%/59%
Last 10 starts: 40242×11711
Distances won at: 2 (2400m), 2 (2500m), 1 (2600m), 1 (3000m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville (2500m), Deauville, 27 August 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $21
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $31
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $26
Summary of his chances: One of the great stories of this year’s Melbourne Cup. Enters in terrific form and has all the hallmarks of an ideal Cup horse. Major player.
Predicted finish: 3rd

It is not only knockabout Australians who have a stranglehold on rags-to-riches tales when it comes to the Melbourne Cup. And should Tiberian win, it would add another fascinating – and humorous – chapter to the history of the great race, for the French galloper has already defied the odds through his very existence.

The story of Tiberian begins with a horse named Tiberius Caesar, foaled in 2000. A moderately-bred conveyance, Tiberius Caesar won a Group 3 race at Bremen in Germany early in his career, which convinced his owners both to keep him as a stallion prospect and to chase further riches to enhance his value in the breeding barn.

He travelled all over Europe in search of further stakes success – to Italy, to France, to Sweden, to Norway – but he was retired in 2009 as the winner of just one of his 25 starts, that Bremen contest. In a world where success begets success, Tiberius Caesar was simply not a commercial prospect as a stallion.

As an entire, though, he still had some value, albeit in one of racing’s least desirable roles.

He became the teaser pony at French stud Haras du Logis, preparing mares who were set to be covered by more illustrious stallions – the likes of Derby winner Authorized and multiple G1 winner Manduro. In essence, he does all the groundwork but doesn’t get the prize.

It is, as Haras du Logis manager Julian Ince has stated, a thankless task, an unenviable job, so to reward Tiberius Caesar for his teasing efforts, they gave him a mare of his own – Marju mare Toamasina.

The result was a foal that caught the eye from the get-go, but who would never be any sort of attraction in the sales ring. Still, he was prepared as a racehorse by his owners in the hope that he might pick up a cheque here or there.

It did not look promising early when he struggled on debut in a 2200m three-year-old allowance race at Durtal, a small track between Angers and Le Mans in the west of France, in May 2015. However, he came to hand quickly after that with strong wins at Le Lion d’Angers and Fontainebleau, before finishing runner-up to Vazirabad – now France’s top stayer – in the G2 Prix Chaudenay (3000m) at Longchamp.

When he returned as a four-year-old in 2016, hopes were high that he would develop into a top stayer himself, but he proved a disappointment of sorts. Through six starts in stakes company, he did not win, although he did finish a narrow second three times, including twice to blueblood One Foot In Heaven.

However, there were clearly signs there that he was a potential Melbourne Cup candidate, and during the European winter, he was snapped up by Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock.

The operation, headed by Darren and Liz Dance, has a proven track record when it comes to sourcing international Cups contenders. They had Jakkalberry finish third in the 2012 Melbourne Cup and Dandino finish second in the 2013 Caulfield Cup, but it was in last year’s Melbourne Cup that they came closest when Heartbreak City produced the best beaten run you will ever see in a Melbourne Cup. He finished just a short head behind Almandin, and would likely be lining up here if he had not sadly died in a gallops accident in Ireland earlier this year.

Still, in Tiberian, they have a worthwhile replacement. Originally, Darren Dance suggested that he would be a 2018 Melbourne Cup contender, but after winning four of his five starts in 2017 – the Listed Prix de la Porte de Madrid (2400m), the G3 Prix d’Hedouville (2400m), the G3 Prix de Reux (2500m) and the G2 Grand Prix de Deauville (2500m) – they have decided to have a go this year.

The last two of these were narrow victories, beating Doha Dream by small margins both times, but he still sprinted strongly to score, putting him right in the frame for this year’s Melbourne Cup. Earlier in the season, he also beat subsequent Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic convincingly, so his form does look solid.

Tiberian has many assets that are ideal for a Cup horse: he is tactically versatile, he goes on any surface and he has a turn of foot. He should see out the trip, especially under Australian conditions, and he looks like he is still on an upward spiral.

This represents a new frontier for trainer Alain Couetil, though. He has only travelled horses outside France twice before; both times were to England, and both failures, with Tiberian a 46-length 14th to Order Of St George in last year’s G1 Ascot Gold Cup (4023m) and jumper Uddy finishing 14 lengths behind record-breaker Quevega in the 2014 G2 Mares’ Hurdle (4023m) at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, while Couetil may not be a journeyman, his rider Olivier Peslier certainly is. While it is Peslier’s first Cup ride, it will not be his first ride in Australia. It will be just his second, though, after he rode Malahat to finish seventh to Merchant Navy in the G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes (1200m) on Derby Day.

Yet 44-year-old Peslier is far from a novice. He has been champion jockey in France four times and he has won many of the world’s biggest races. And he has taken a very thorough, methodical approach to his preparation – arriving a week out, taking a ride at Flemington beforehand, and asking for as much advice as possible.

In the end, Peslier has won four from five on Tiberian, so that should count for plenty in itself.

Whatever way you dissect the race, Tiberian has to go in as a leading chance. And in a game where the rich take most of the spoils and the poor are few and far between, who doesn’t want to see the Robin Hood story succeed and the teaser pony get the glory?

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5. MARMELO (16)

Duke Of Marmalade x Capriolla (In The Wings), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain/Australia
Trainer: Hughie Morrison
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Weight: 55kg
Career stats: 11:3-4-1
Win/place percentages: 27%/72%
Last 10 starts: 21232×15216
Distances won at: 1 (2414m), 2 (3000m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m), Deauville, 20 August 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $26
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $9
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $8
Summary of his chances: The eye-catching runner from the Caulfield Cup. Arrived with good French form. Sure to have plenty of admirers but think there are better hopes. Place chance.
Predicted finish: 10th

Every year, one horse emerges out of the Caulfield Cup as the “flashing light” horse – the galloper who has caught the eye storming home and who looks as though they will be better suited to the bigger track at Flemington and the longer distance of the Melbourne Cup.

This year, that horse was Marmelo, who got a long way back in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), pulled wide turning for home, and charged into a dead-heat for sixth behind Boom Time.

Given his credentials were already very solid from a Melbourne Cup perspective, it was enough to see him challenging for favouritism for his grand final.

While he is prepared out of trainer Hughie Morrison’s East Ilsley base in Berkshire, west of London, he has actually raced more across the English Channel in France than he has in his home country.

He showed promise as a stayer last year as a three-year-old, winning a mile and a half maiden at Doncaster at his third start by 10 lengths and placing in long-distance stakes races at Chantilly and Deauville. However, it has been as a four-year-old that he has really come into his own.

His first-up win in the G3 Prix de Barbeville (3000m) at Chantilly, defeating subsequent G1 winner Bateel, was terrific, although it turned into a stamina battle rather than any test of acceleration.

Returning to his native land for his one and only run on English soil this year, he tackled the G2 Yorkshire Cup (2816m) at York in May. He looked the winner at one stage, but could not sprint and finished a plugging fifth, albeit not beaten far by class acts Dartmouth and Simple Verse.

He then finished second in the G2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil (2800m) behind Talismanic, a solid litmus test of French form as the winner has had two runner-up finishes behind Tiberian this season. Talismanic also won the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Sunday morning, franking the form.

At his final run in France, he took the G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) at Deauville. Both Americain in 2010 and Protectionist in 2014 managed to do the Kergorlay-Melbourne Cup double, while Dunaden came through the race in 2011 before his victory.

That day, he raced on speed rather than off the pace as he usually does, although he had shown he could settle handy in the Yorkshire Cup. He was given a peach of a ride by Christophe Soumillon, with the Belgian ace dictating terms in front before steadily increasing the tempo and ensuring that none of his rivals could catch him.

Behind him was Red Cardinal, who he meets 1kg worse here. Marmelo easily had the measure of Red Cardinal, but one was suited and the other was not and so it is not difficult to see the German galloper turning the tables.

On the plus side, he’s already had a run in Australia, that good effort in the Caulfield Cup. He looks to have been thriving in his trackwork and he’ll be primed for Tuesday.

As a negative, though, it remains to be seen whether he has the requisite turn of foot to be able to win. He’s going to be around the mark, but he’s one that we’d be looking to take on based on what we’ve seen. Certainly, he must rank below Tiberian, and for reasons highlighted above, we are backing Red Cardinal to reverse form.

In the saddle on Tuesday is Hugh Bowman, the man who will now be forever indelibly linked with the immortal three-time Cox Plate winner Winx.

Sydney-based Bowman is a “heavier” jockey, having not ridden below 55kg in recent times. That means his Melbourne Cup opportunities have been limited. He has ridden in the last five Cups, though, with his fifth on Who Shot Thebarman last year his best result.

Finishing in the placings here can give Bowman the boost he needs to hold off Ryan Moore in the race to be named World’s Best Jockey. It would cap quite the 2017 for the boy from Dunedoo, who has risen from humble beginnings as an apprentice in Bathurst to become recognised as one of the world’s finest horsemen.

He’s a definite chance of finishing in the placings. Can he win? Well, that remains to be seen. Hopefully not this year.

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6. RED CARDINAL (24)

Montjeu x Notable (Zafonic), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Germany/Australia
Trainer: Andreas Wohler
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Weight: 55kg
Career stats: 10:5-3-1
Win/place percentages: 50%/90%
Last 10 starts: 22x11132x115
Distances won at: 1 (2307m), 1 (2344m), 1 (2414m), 2 (3219m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Oleander-Rennen (3219m), Hoppegarten, 14 May 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $17
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $16
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $17
Summary of his chances: This race has been the target for more than a year. Looks to have been prepared to the minute. Has all the traits one would look for in a Melbourne Cup winner. On-top selection.
Predicted finish: 1st

Andreas Wohler. Australian Bloodstock. Promising stayer.

All of these elements combined to deliver one of the most dominant Melbourne Cup wins of recent years with Protectionist in 2014, and they are back yet again, this time with Red Cardinal.

The Melbourne Cup has been on the agenda for Red Cardinal ever since the son of Montjeu was purchased by Australian Bloodstock in August last year. He was sourced as the winner of three of his five starts at staying trips at Bath, Salisbury and Great Yarmouth – quaint English courses, but not the sorts of tracks where you expect to unearth Melbourne Cup contenders.

However, Australian Bloodstock – under the direction of Jamie Lovett and Luke Murrell – have emerged as a leading player in the burgeoning market for stayers in recent years due to their ability to be able to identify talented horses likely to be suited under Australian conditions.

At his first run for the outfit, and his last run for original trainer David Simcock, Red Cardinal finished third in last year’s G3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2670m).

While he was originally slated to travel to Melbourne for last year’s Cup, it was then decided to hold off with him and give him a year in Germany with Andreas Wohler before travelling to Australia in 2017.

He had one final run for the 2016 season, finishing second to honest mare Nightflower in the G1 Preis Von Europa (2400m) at Cologne, before he was shelved over the winter.

After a seven-month break, he made his return in May’s G2 Oleander-Rennen (3200m) at Hoppegarten, pulling out plenty to score a strong victory. He backed this up with a second two-mile win four weeks later, this time in the United States, winning the G3 Belmont Gold Cup in New York – a race in which Wicklow Brave and Wall Of Fire finished fourth and eighth respectively.

That day, he made a sustained run but also showed a good turn of acceleration, both assets in a Melbourne Cup.

He has only had one run since, that being in the mid-August G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) at Deauville in France. The Kergorlay is a crucial Cup lead-up, having produced Americain, Dunaden and Protectionist in the last seven years alone.

In the Kergorlay, Red Cardinal finished fifth to Marmelo in a seemingly disappointing run. However, the race was controlled from the front, which suited Marmelo, and Red Cardinal struggled to get balanced up around the turns. The race was off and gone by the time he did balance up in the straight and he could never get into the action. It was a run best forgotten.

Unlike Protectionist, who ran in the Herbert Power before the Melbourne Cup, Wohler has elected to go in fresh with Red Cardinal. Much has been written about the fact that no international has won the Melbourne Cup without a lead-up run since Vintage Crop 24 years ago, but what is usually ignored is the fact more international placegetters have not had a lead-up run than have done.

With the changing nature of the Melbourne Cup, it is only a matter of time before another international wins the race with no lead-up run in Australia. Both raiders beaten in close photos in recent years – Heartbreak City and Red Cadeaux – went in fresh, and if both had won, the trend suddenly looks very different.

Also coming into the fray is two-time Melbourne Cup winner Kerrin McEvoy, who rode Brew to victory in the jockey’s first Cup in 2000 before adding a second aboard Almandin last year.

Since taking last year’s Melbourne Cup, McEvoy has arguably ridden better than ever, as good as anyone in the world. He has won seven Group 1 races across four states, while he also took the initial running of the world’s richest turf race, The Everest over 1200m at Randwick, in mid-October.

While part of McEvoy surely wishes he was back aboard Almandin this year, he loses nothing by taking the ride on Red Cardinal. In the German-trained galloper, he gets a well-weighted commodity with an eye-catching turn of foot.

Unfortunately, Red Cardinal did come up with barrier 24, but McEvoy produced a gem aboard Brew from the outside gate and given the hoop’s current form, he can make miracles occur. Besides, the horse was going to be near the rear anyway, so this just ensures that he will be near the tail.

It is going to take a top horse to beat Almandin this year, but Red Cardinal is the horse capable of spoiling the Lloyd Williams show.

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7. JOHANNES VERMEER (3)

Galileo x Inca Princess (Holy Roman Emperor), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Ireland/Australia
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Jockey: Ben Melham
Weight: 54.5kg
Career stats: 14:4-3-3
Win/place percentages: 29%/71%
Last 10 starts: 21x3x4571223
Distances won at: 1 (1400m), 1 (1609m), 1 (1700m), 1 (2011m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Criterium International (1400m), Saint-Cloud, 1 November 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $10
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $10
Summary of his chances: Terrific runs in the Caulfield Stakes and Caulfield Cup. The trip is a query, but has to be around the mark somewhere.
Predicted finish: 5th

If there is one horse among the international raiding brigade that has taken to Australia like a duck to water, it is Johannes Vermeer.

A Group 1-winning juvenile over seven furlongs (about 1400m), Johannes Vermeer is one of the more classy individuals Ballydoyle has sent to Australia in recent years.

A promising two-year-old, Johannes Vermeer won the G3 Juvenile Stakes (1609m) at Leopardstown and the G1 Criterium International (1400m) at Saint-Cloud, while he was also second in the G1 Racing Post Trophy (1609m) at Newmarket.

That raft of juvenile form usually hints at a promising three-year-old campaign, but due to injury, he missed the majority of his classic year, only stepping out once very late in the 2016 season.

This season, though, he’s campaigned right through.

His early season runs are as solid as recent form gets in Europe, even if he was defeated comfortably – fourth, six lengths from Minding, in the G2 Mooresbridge Stakes (2011m) at Naas; fifth, four lengths from Decorated Knight, in the G1 Tattersalls Gold Cup (2112m) at the Curragh; seventh, beaten five lengths by Highland Reel, in the G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (2004m).

He then won the G3 International Stakes (2011m) at the Curragh before he was seemingly outstayed by Spanish Steps in the G3 Ballyroan Stakes (2414m) at Leopardstown.

The form suggested he would either be hit or miss in Australia, and the market suggested it would be a miss first-up in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m). However, he rattled home strongly to just go down by a head to Gailo Chop.

He franked the form by finishing a luckless third to Boom Time in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), closing off strongly again to suggest that he was right on track for Flemington.

The big query with Johannes Vermeer now is the 3200m. He has never tried it, but he has looked more a 2000m-2400m on everything he has shown in Europe.

That said, the Melbourne Cup is rarely a strong two miles and on his Caulfield Cup run, there’s every reason to hope that he’s right in contention.

Off his two Australian runs, he must be ranked highly among the contenders. And it would be fitting if Aidan O’Brien, who just last week broke the late American handler Bobby Frankel’s record for the most G1 wins on the planet in a single season, could add an Australian feature to his tally.

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8. BONDI BEACH (1)

Galileo x One Moment In Time (Danehill), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Robert Hickmott
Jockey: Michael Walker
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 13:4-3-2
Win/place percentages: 31%/69%
Last 10 starts: 220x11x330x00
Distances won at: 1 (2414m), 1 (2514m), 2 (2816m)
Biggest win: G3 Vintage Crop Stakes (2816m), Navan, 15 May 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 13th in 2016 (two attempts)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $71
Summary of his chances: Despite stable confidence, on everything he has shown in Australia, it is hard to fathom that he will improve on two midfield Melbourne Cup finishes.
Predicted finish: 17th

All along, there has been quiet confidence from the stable that Bondi Beach was the one most likely to outrun his odds. From early in the preparation, Nick Williams has said to watch out for Bondi Beach, and that has been the same line from anyone within the camp.

Slight changes have been made to his training regime, and he’s over any physical issues that have hampered his campaign, at least according to the stable.

On form, however, it is hard to recommend him. He has run in two Melbourne Cups now for a 16th in 2015 and a 13th in 2016. His four-year-old form in 2016 was solid, if not spectacular, with two wins in weak stakes races and a placing behind American G1 winner Zhukova and Derby runner-up US Army Ranger at G3 level his best efforts.

First-up this time in, at his first preparation down in Australia, his saddle slipped and so his ninth to stablemate Aloft over the Flemington 2000m under a big weight was quite acceptable. However, his last-start effort behind Almandin was very poor, and hardly what you would want to see heading into a Melbourne Cup.

The concern is that he comes across as quite a nervous horse, easily flustered, and if that’s the case, being drawn inside in a rough affair like the Melbourne Cup does not appeal. That has been something he’s shown numerous times, particularly in his two placings in his three-year-old year when second in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2414m) to Storm The Stars and in a controversial G1 English St Leger (2937m) behind Simple Verse.

If there are queries about his tenacity, though, then there are no such concerns for the man who will be aboard. Michael Walker was such a prodigy, he was considered New Zealand’s best rider by the age of 16 and a rider likely to follow in the footsteps of legends like Jimmy Cassidy and Shane Dye.

However, he succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse, before fighting back to again rise to the top of his game. Then, in 2008, he suffered serious head injuries after falling down a 10-metre bank while pig hunting and looked unlike to survive, let alone make it back to the saddle.

Niggling injuries have plagued Walker ever since, but he has fought back every time, crowning his latest comeback with a victory aboard Mighty Boss in the G1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m) three weeks ago.

He has had three Cup rides, with a third on Criterion two years ago his best result.

Now, Walker is back riding as well as ever, that little bit wiser, and one can hardly think of a better match than the tough Kiwi and the nervous Irish galloper.

The blinkers go on Bondi Beach, too, and with his desire to win questionable at best, perhaps they will sharpen him up. They could have the opposite effect, too, particularly on the inside of 24 runners, so it is a gamble.

On everything he has shown in Australia, he’s one that has to be dismissed. There are simply too many horses with better credentials this time around. However, if improvement does come, it will not be completely out of the blue.

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9. MAX DYNAMITE (2)

Great Journey x Mascara (Monsun), 8yo bay gelding

Bred in: France
Nationality: Ireland
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Zac Purton
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 23:4-4-3
Win/place percentages: 17%/48%
Last 10 starts: F72212x30x91
Distances won at: 1 (2200m), 1 (3219m), 1 (3299m), 1 (3419m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3299m), York, 21 August 2015
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 2nd in 2015 (one attempt)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $16
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $16
Summary of his chances: Only raced four times since second in 2015 Melbourne Cup. Hard to tell if legitimate issues or if trying to play the handicap game. Taking gamble against him.
Predicted finish: 14th

Max Dynamite, runner-up in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, looms as one of the more fascinating runners in 2017, for he is far from a straightforward case.

When trying to assess how any runner is going heading into the Melbourne Cup, one tries to analyse formlines against one another, while trying to measure how a horse is going at that point in time.

With Max Dynamite, that’s proven nearly impossible. He has run only four times in the last two years, and not in races generally considered Melbourne Cup lead-ups.

The Great Journey gelding entered the 2015 Melbourne Cup as a last-start winner of the G2 Lonsdale Cup (3299m). He looked a ripe chance for that Cup, and so it proved as he flashed home to finish second to longshot Prince Of Penzance. Frankie Dettori, who was aboard, knocked over half the field in the process, but it was still a game effort.

When Max Dynamite returned in May 2016, he was expected to continue on his winning ways in the G3 Henry II Stakes (3290m) at Sandown Park, but he could only manage third to Pallasator in a disappointing performance. He was then even more disappointing in the G1 Ascot Gold Cup (4023m), finishing 19 lengths behind Order Of St George, and he was spelled, with the 2016 Melbourne Cup now off the radar.

He was not seen again until Ireland’s famous Galway Festival in August. Despite a year on the sidelines, he was sent out a hot favourite for its feature, the Galway Hurdle – a race in which he finished second in 2015 – with top jumps rider Ruby Walsh in the saddle.

However, he could not quicken and he finished 17 lengths behind winner Tigris River.

Later that month, he was given his final Melbourne Cup lead-up in the most unorthodox of races – a conditions race solely for amateur riders at Killarney in south-western Ireland.

It would be like coming into a Melbourne Cup off a win in provincial New South Wales – it just doesn’t happen these days. He did win by three lengths very comfortably with Patrick Mullins, son of trainer Willie, in the saddle, but it was very odd as a final Cup prep.

The horse he beat at Killarney, Sandymount Duke, has fair form going back to his bumper and early hurdling days. He did push Max Dynamite’s G1-placed ownermate Limini to a half-length in a maiden hurdle, so he’s not hopeless.

Still, it’s a fair leap from a Killarney highweight race, worth AUD$12,631 to the winner, to the Melbourne Cup, worth AUD$3.6 million to the victor. Just a small difference.

Mullins himself has said they were aiming to run in races where he couldn’t attract a penalty, or burden himself with more weight. So one must assess whether they have been foxing the handicapper or whether he simply isn’t going as well as in 2015.

I have jumped back and forth between the two explanations, and in the end, I have settled on the conclusion that he simply isn’t going as well. The Irish may prove too shrewd for me, but it’s hard to believe that he’s still the same horse that was able to finish second in the Melbourne Cup.

He does have help in the saddle, though, with Zac Purton jumping aboard for the first time. One of the leading riders in Hong Kong, Purton has not had much luck in the race that stops the nation. He was aboard two Japanese-trained favourites in Admire Rakti in 2014 and Fame Game in 2015, but both finished well back for different reasons.

It will be a different experience for Purton this year without the weight of expectation, but if Max Dynamite is not going well, it is hard to see the rider achieving a better result this time around.

If he is going well though, and the Irish have pulled a wily trick, then Purton may be set for the crowning achievement to his already remarkable career.

However, we will be taking him on.

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10. VENTURA STORM (6)

Zoffany x Sarawati (Haafhd), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: David & Ben Hayes & Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Glen Boss
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 17:6-2-1
Win/place percentages: 35%/53%
Last 10 starts: 01121x5x7620
Distances won at: 2 (1609m), 1 (1810m), 1 (2225m), 1 (2414m), 1 (2500m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club (2400m), San Siro, 16 October 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $31
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $34
Summary of his chances: Disappointing in Caulfield Cup but solid before that. Should stay all day. Might be a bit too soon for him but fringe place chance at best.
Predicted finish: 12th

Lindsay Park has long been a haven for imports, dating back to the days of 1980 Melbourne Cup winner Beldale Ball. In Ventura Storm, they have another import who looks capable of winning the operation a big feature.

Originally trained by Richard Hannon Jr in the UK and owned by well-regarded syndicators Middleham Park Racing, he ran four times at two, winning a maiden and a novice over a mile before finishing well back in the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (1600m) at Longchamp.

When he returned for his three-year-old campaign in 2016, he was given a target of the G1 Prix du Jockey Club (2100m) at Chantilly. However, he could only finish 12th to Almanzor.

As Ventura Storm stepped up in trip, though, he showed more talent. He won the Listed Glasgow Stakes (2225m) at Hamilton and the G3 Prix de Reux (2500m) at Deauville before he faced his stiffest test in the G1 St Leger (2937m) at Doncaster. He stayed on stoutly but was just edged out by Harbour Law.

At his final run in Europe, he won a first top-level feature with his win in the G1 Gran Premio Del Jockey Club (2414m) at San Siro in Italy.

Sent to Lindsay Park’s David Hayes, as well as son Ben and nephew Tom Dabernig, Ventura Storm showed that he was going to be a Cups contender with an eye-catching fifth to his evergreen stablemate Extra Zero over 2000m in May.

Returning in September in the Listed Heatherlie Handicap (1700m), he again set tongues wagging with a closing seventh behind Hell Or Highwater. He was good in the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) behind Humidor, but it was in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) that he put himself forward as a legitimate Cups player.

He may have been six and a half lengths behind Winx, but the way that he kept on ensured that he had plenty of supporters when he lined up in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) two weeks later.

Unfortunately, a hoof abscess meant that he did not run up to scratch in the Caulfield Cup, finishing six and a half lengths from his stablemate Boom Time.

It is a real shame that Regan Bayliss cannot take the ride through suspension. He is a promising rider though and will surely get his time again, but this would still hurt.

In his place, though, is a man who knows a thing or two about winning this race – Glen Boss, who famously won three Melbourne Cups aboard Makybe Diva in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Boss, who these days is based in Singapore, has had three top-four finishes since the days of the Diva, finishing fourth aboard Zipping in 2006, fourth on Kelinni in 2012 and third on Who Shot Thebarman in 2014.

Ventura Storm is the type who could sneak into the placings if everything fell into place, but he’s a fringe place candidate at best. He’s one to include in exotics if going wider, but he doesn’t look – at this stage – to be completely ready to win one of Australia’s biggest races.

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11. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN (20)

Yamanin Vital x Ears Carol (Carolingian), 9yo bay gelding

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 47:10-7-3
Win/place percentages: 21%/43%
Last 10 starts: 5x3642x94491
Distances won at: 2 (1600m), 2 (2000m), 2 (2400m), 2 (2500m), 1 (2520m), 1 (3200m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Auckland Cup (3200m), Ellerslie, 5 March 2014
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 3rd in 2014 (three attempts)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $41
Summary of his chances: SCRATCHED
Predicted finish: SCRATCHED

One of the most popular gallopers down under, simply due to his name, Who Shot Thebarman will unfortunately miss his fourth Melbourne Cup run due to an elevated temperature.

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12. WICKLOW BRAVE (8)

Beat Hollow x Moraine (Rainbow Quest), 9yo bay gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Ireland
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Stephen Baster
Weight: 54kg
Career stats: 38:10-4-5
Win/place percentages: 26%/50%
Last 10 starts: 10×81424440
Distances won at: 2 (2816m), 7 (3219m), 1 (3419m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Irish St Leger (2816m), The Curragh, 11 September 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 22nd in 2016 (one attempt)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $61
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $51
Summary of his chances: Performed poorly last year and not going any better this time around. Hard to see much improvement.
Predicted finish: 22nd

It is something of a surprise to see Wicklow Brave back here after his failure last year, when he was beaten 24 lengths by Almandin.

Last year, he drew the outside gate and was chased across by Frankie Dettori to get near the speed. He was three deep for most of the race, chasing a relentless tempo, and so it was no surprise he faded badly.

He never looked the right type, even then. Too dour, no real acceleration – it was a surprise he travelled then, and it is more of a surprise he has returned.

This year, he has a much kinder draw in gate eight. However, he also enters in worse form, so it is hard to see him pulling a rabbit out of the hat and somehow getting into the finish here.

Last year, Wicklow Brave had run two good races for fourth in the G2 Goodwood Cup (3219m) and third in the G2 Lonsdale Cup (3299m) before producing a career-best effort to win the G1 Irish St Leger (2816m) over Ascot Gold Cup winners Order Of St George and Trip To Paris.

After his 22nd in the Melbourne Cup, Wicklow Brave took on the best two-mile hurdlers around. He finished eighth to Buveur D’Air in the G1 Champion Hurdle (3298m) at the Cheltenham Festival, but caused something of a shock by sticking on to win the G1 Irish Champion Hurdle (3218m) at Punchestown.

The dual-purpose galloper then returned to the flat, staying on for fourth behind Red Cardinal (but ahead of Wall Of Fire) in the G3 Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) in New York. He looked all over the winner in the G2 Curragh Cup (2816m), only to be run down late by Rekindling, and then was just fair in the G1 Goodwood Cup (3218m), G3 Irish St Leger Trial (2816m) and G1 Irish St Leger (2816m).

The one difference between last year and this year is that he has had a lead-up run in Australia. He did not do much when 12th to Boom Time in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), and one would have hoped to see a little more from him given how some others performed on the day.

Jockey Stephen Baster only picked up the ride late, when his original mount Jon Snow was scratched on Saturday morning. Baster has had seven Melbourne Cup rides, with all bar one finishing beyond midfield – the exception was another Irish-trained galloper in Mahler, who finished third in 2007. Unfortunately, he looks set for another second half of the field finish here.

Trainer Willie Mullins is shrewd and would not be running Wicklow Brave if he didn’t think he was some sort of chance. However, he clearly looks the third string of the Mullins trio. Even with a better run, it is hard to see him improving much on last year, and so we are expecting a similar finish.

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13. BIG DUKE (5)

Raven’s Pass x Hazarayna (Polish Precedent), 6yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Brenton Avdulla
Weight: 53.5kg
Career stats: 19:7-4-3
Win/place percentages: 37%/74%
Last 10 starts: 1113×550214
Distances won at: 1 (1800m), 1 (2011m), 1 (2040m), 2 (2400m), 2 (2600m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m), Randwick, 1 April 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $26
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $19
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $21
Summary of his chances: Improving stayer who has come a long way in 12 months. Luckless in Moonee Valley Cup. Can hit the board.
Predicted finish: 9th

Less than 12 months ago, Big Duke stepped out on Australian soil for the first time in a Benchmark 70 race at Bendigo. He finished fourth over 1500m.

The Raven’s Pass gelding, previously named Swashbuckling, had won one of his four starts in the United Kingdom, at the small track of Wetherby, while he had placed at Newmarket, Epsom and Wolverhampton for trainer Michael Wigham.

Nothing about him that day suggested that he could be in the Melbourne Cup as a live player within a year.

And yet, six wins later, here he is, a contender in the biggest race on the Australian calendar for trainer Darren Weir.

Once Big Duke found his groove, he progressed rapidly – an 1800m BM78 win at Caulfield in December, a 2040m BM78 win at Moonee Valley in January, his first stakes victory in the G3 Launceston Cup (2400m) in February, the G3 N E Manion Cup (2400m) at Rosehill in March and the G2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m) at Randwick in April. It was a meteoric ascent.

At his final start for the autumn in the rescheduled G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) – his one attempt at the distance – Big Duke made up plenty of ground but just couldn’t grab Polarisation and Who Shot Thebarman. It was a good first effort at the trip, though, and one which suggests he can see out the distance when circumstances permit.

This preparation, he has progressed slowly and steadily. He was good in two 1600m runs at Caulfield and Moonee Valley, carrying plenty of weight, while his G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) performance was passable in a race dominated from the front.

He then progressed to the G1 Metropolitan (2400m), finishing second to Foundry, before he scored an easy win in the first running of the ATC St Leger in 16 years.

Last weekend, he had little room at a crucial time and was hard done by in fourth behind Who Shot Thebarman.

He has had the perfect preparation for a Melbourne Cup, with the only real query now whether he has the class to win a Cup. That remains a query, but he enters in good condition.

On what he has shown this preparation, he should be finishing in the top 10 and, with a little bit of luck, he can even find the frame.

Jockey Brenton Avdulla, known in Sydney as “The Gun”, has had only one ride in the Melbourne Cup – he finished 15th on Mourayan in 2013. This year, he has every chance to better that result.

He’s one to include in all exotics.

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14. US ARMY RANGER (22)

Galileo x Moonstone (Dalakhani), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Ireland
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Jockey: Jamie Spencer
Weight: 53.5kg
Career stats: 12:2-3-2
Win/place percentages: 17%/59%
Last 10 starts: 2428×320376
Distances won at: 1 (2011m), 1 (2474m)
Biggest win: Group 3 Chester Vase (2474m), Chester, 5 May 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $61
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $61
Summary of his chances: Once a highly promising galloper, he’s been so disappointing he has switched from Aidan O’Brien to son Joseph to try and spark him to life. No.
Predicted finish: 21st

Youthful trainer Joseph O’Brien is only at the beginning of his life as a trainer after his wildly successful riding career was halted due to weight.

However, the son of Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien faces arguably his toughest task he’s faced in his 18 months as a trainer with US Army Ranger. Once rated as potentially the next Coolmore superstar, the blueblood – by all-conquering Galileo out of 2008 Irish Oaks winner Moonstone – has been nothing but a bitter disappointment and has been switched from father to son in a bid to kickstart his Melbourne Cup tilt.

It all looked so rosy when he won his first two starts for the elder O’Brien in early 2016, taking a maiden at The Curragh followed by the G3 Chester Vase (2474m).

He was sent off favourite for England’s most prestigious race, the G1 Derby (2423m) at Epsom, and unleashed a powerful run from near last to finish second to Harzand – trained by the first international handler to win a Melbourne Cup in Dermot Weld.

Off those credentials alone, he is already one of the most accomplished horses to tackle a Melbourne Cup.

However, it has all been downhill since then. He did not win in three further starts as a three-year-old, his best result a second in the G3 Enterprise Stakes (2414m) behind subsequent American G1 winner Zhukova but ahead of fellow Cup runner Bondi Beach.

This season has all been about stretching him out in trip, seemingly with the intention of turning him into an Ascot Gold Cup horse. His best run came second-up at Chester when just failing by a short head to reel in Western Hymn in the G3 Ormonde Stakes (2691m), with Wall Of Fire back in fourth.

In an odd decision, Aidan O’Brien ran him at Royal Ascot – but not in the Ascot Gold Cup. Instead, he tackled the unlisted Queen Alexandra Stakes, Britain’s longest flat race at 4355m. His lack of stamina was exposed as he finished third to Oriental Fox, with Thomas Hobson in second. He did find the line late but just looked as though he didn’t see the trip out.

He’s since performed poorly in the G1 Goodwood Cup (3218m) and the G3 Enterprise Stakes (2414m) and appears to be arriving in Australia out of sorts.

The booking of Jamie Spencer is an interesting move, as Spencer – like Joseph O’Brien – was once Coolmore’s retained rider.

Spencer has only ridden in the Cup three times, his best result a fifth aboard Big Orange in 2015.

It will take a miracle for the younger O’Brien to get something out of US Army Ranger that his father could not. In a way, it is a case of the apprentice trying to teach the master new tricks.

At 24, Joseph O’Brien has all the hallmarks of a top training career ahead – it wouldn’t surprise if one day, he surpasses all that his father has achieved. There is every chance that a Melbourne Cup will one day sit on his mantelpiece.

It would be truly shocking, though, if it came in 2017. Even if it does happen this year, it is far more likely to come with Rekindling than US Army Ranger.

If he somehow gets US Army Ranger to win the Melbourne Cup, it will rank as one of the greatest training feats produced anywhere in the world. As it stands though, it seems incredibly unlikely.

He is a horse to oppose all day long.

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15. BOOM TIME (9)

Flying Spur x Bit Of A Ride (Snippets), 6yo bay horse

Bred in: Australia
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: David & Ben Hayes & Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Cory Parish
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 32:7-2-7
Win/place percentages: 22%/50%
Last 10 starts: 16510×39341
Distances won at: 1 (1600m), 1 (2000m), 1 (2040m), 1 (2200m), 1 (2400m), 1 (2425m), 1 (2500m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), Caulfield, 21 October 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $101
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $26
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $31
Summary of his chances: Had everything to suit in the Caulfield Cup but still a strong effort. 3200m a major query and not likely to get everything to suit this time. Pass.
Predicted finish: 18th

When the bay foal that eventually became known as Boom Time first stepped foot into the world in October 2011, breeder Kim Loxton might have been forgiven for hoping that he might have a potential two-year-old on his hands.

By 1995 Golden Slipper winner Flying Spur out of a mare by the first ever Magic Millions winner, the swifty Snippets, this particular foal was bred for precocity and speed. Add in that he hails from the Scandinavia family that has produced champion sprinter Black Caviar, as well as Magnus, Wilander and All Too Hard, and it seemed set in stone that he would be a sprinter.

But from the time he debuted as a late two-year-old in Perth for trainer Trevor Andrews, it was apparent that this was no sprinter. He only improved as he stretched out in trip, finally landing a first win in March 2015 in the Listed Melvista Stakes over 2200m – at his 13th start, no less – before finishing third to top filly Delicacy in the G1 WA Derby over 2400m.

He then switched to Melbourne trainer Peter Moody, having three runs for the man most famous for preparing Black Caviar, before Boom Time then found himself at the Lindsay Park operation of David Hayes, son Ben and nephew Tom Dabernig.

He impressed winning over a mile on the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival last year, the first of three wins on the trot over 1600m, 2040m and 2500m that showed he had above-average ability. He added his first stakes win on the eastern seaboard when he won the Listed Mornington Cup Prelude (2000m) at Caulfield in February, and then proved his affinity for the track with a victory in a 2425m open handicap at Caulfield in April.

Still, there was nothing to suggest what was to come this spring – even throughout August and September. He ran well fresh over 1500m at Moonee Valley, disappointed second-up over 1600m at the same track, before showing that he was right on track with a third to Jon Snow in the G3 JRA Cup (2040m).

After finishing fourth in the G2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) at Caulfield behind Lord Fandango, it appeared unlikely Boom Time would run in the Caulfield Cup until Japanese galloper Admire Deus was withdrawn. That opened the way for him to gain a late berth, albeit as a 50-1 outsider, and the rest is history.

He lobbed into the perfect spot sixth on the rail as tearaway leader Sir Isaac Newton set a strong pace. When the pacesetter weakened, jockey Cory Parish had moved away from the rail, avoiding any trouble. However, he then struggled to get a run, with Parish having to switch back to the inside of Single Gaze after failing to get to her outside.

Nevertheless, once clear running appeared, he was able to sprint through, assume the lead and hold off a raft of horses who could not make up enough ground from the back. It was a solid, not spectacular, victory, but his name went into the record books as the winner of the world’s richest mile and a half handicap in 2017.

Now, he steps up to 3200m for the second time. The first was on a heavy track at the end of a long preparation in April, when he finished a 31-length 11th in the Sydney Cup.

It may be a run best forgotten, but still, everything else around him suggests that 3200m is a bridge too far for him.

Besides, class is still a query. It takes a truly exceptional Caulfield Cup winner to back up and win the Melbourne Cup – there is a reason it has only been done 11 times. In the last 30 years, only Let’s Elope (1991), Doriemus (1995), Might And Power (1997) and Ethereal (2001) have managed the feat.

It is hard to see Boom Time amongst that group of horses, and with the handicap as compressed as it is these days, he would need everything to fall right for him to become the 12th winner of the Cups double.

Parish and Team Hayes make for something of an odd pairing. Three Melbourne Cup winners have come out of Lindsay Park – Beldale Ball (1980) and At Talaq (1986) scored for Colin Hayes, while David Hayes won with Jeune in 1994. However, it is journeyman Parish’s first Melbourne Cup ride, the 28-year-old Kiwi jockey only bringing up his first Group race win in the Caulfield Cup.

It would be a fairytale of sorts if he could land the Melbourne Cup, but he might have to wait a little longer to add another Group 1 to his resume.

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16. GALLANTE (18)

Montjeu x Crazy Volume (Machiavellian), 7yo bay gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Robert Hickmott
Jockey: Michael Dee
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 19:4-1-3
Win/place percentages: 21%/42%
Last 10 starts: 69x031x270x07
Distances won at: 1 (1600m), 1 (2000m), 1 (2400m), 1 (3200m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Sydney Cup (3200m), Randwick, 9 April 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: 20th in 2016 (first attempt)
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $101
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $126
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $81
Summary of his chances: Needs torrential rain to be any hope. Given it’s not going to come, can be safely discounted.
Predicted finish: 23rd

No other runner in the 24-strong Melbourne Cup field is relying as much on the weather gods as former French galloper Gallante.

Purchased as a Group 1 winner out of France, where he had won the G1 Grand Prix de Paris (2400m), he arrived with form around the likes of Cox Plate winner Adelaide and Caulfield Stakes victor Gailo Chop.

Much was expected of him, but with 13 starts across two and a half years, he has generally been disappointing.

In reality, he has only produced three runs of any real note in Australia – his third to Libran in the G3 N E Manion Cup (2400m) at Rosehill in March 2016, his win in the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) three weeks later, and his first-up second to Caulfield Cup winner Jameka in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield last September.

What was notable, though, was that the last two were on softer tracks. Therefore, Team Williams will be doing a rain dance in the hope that the biblical flood of Noah will hit Flemington before 3pm on Tuesday.

The likelihood of that seems minute, with Saturday night’s forecast suggesting only the chance of a millimetre of rain on Tuesday morning.

With a good track expected, Gallante could start on Monday night and still struggle to beat home his stablemates. If you have drawn Gallante in the office sweep, perhaps your best hope is that he finishes last.

This preparation, he was woeful in the Naturalism fresh but he ran OK in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) on softer ground. He will probably need it softer than it was that day though if he is to be any chance.

From gate 18 – ironically, the only barrier to have never produced a winner – Gallante will likely stride forward. It is tough to see him getting in and he will probably just be a pest to likely leader Cismontane.

On the plus side, it will continue a breakout spring for Kiwi rider Michael Dee. The 21-year-old has won two G1 races, the Metropolitan on Gallante’s stablemate Foundry and the Kennedy Mile on Saturday aboard Shillelagh, and gets his first Cup ride here.

Nonetheless, he definitely ranks at the rear of the six Lloyd Williams runners and, quite frankly, it’s tough to have him in front of anything else in the race. Pass.

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17. LIBRAN (7)

Lawman x True Crystal (Sadler’s Wells), 7yo bay or brown gelding

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 29:9-3-1
Win/place percentages: 31%/45%
Last 10 starts: 8746Fx61652
Distances won at: 1 (1435m), 1 (1999m), 2 (2000m), 1 (2012m), 1 (2400m), 2 (2414m), 1 (2600m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m), Randwick, 2 April 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $101
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $41
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $51
Summary of his chances: Hard to catch these days. Too one-paced for this. Taking him on.
Predicted finish: 20th

Libran has become such a fixture of the Sydney staying ranks so quickly – and a notable member of Chris Waller’s vast team – that it seems hard to believe that this is his first Melbourne Cup.

The galloper was originally raced by Harry Herbert’s Highclere operation in the UK, winning five of his 12 starts and placing fourth in the Duke Of Edinburgh Handicap (2414m) at Royal Ascot when trained by Alan Swinbank.

Switched to Chris Waller in late 2015, he had one run at the Melbourne Cup Carnival before he was spelled ahead of the Sydney autumn.

It was the autumn of 2016 where he came into his own with three straight wins in the Listed Randwick City Stakes (2000m), the G3 N E Manion Cup (2400m) and the G2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m). The run came to an end when he met defeat at the hands of Gallante in the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) last April.

He did not race again until February and he was only fair in the autumn. This spring, however, his form has been patchy. He won the G3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m) second-up, finding the line very strongly, before even efforts only in the G1 Metropolitan (2400m) and ATC St Leger (2600m).

Last weekend, in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m), he finished strongly alongside his stablemate Who Shot Thebarman, but the veteran was packing too much power.

As one of two Waller runners, Libran is sure to attract some once-a-year punters who recognise him as the man who trains Winx.

Even still, Libran simply doesn’t look to have the class to measure up. He could easily run better than the 21st I have him pegged at, but I can find no reason to put him ahead of those higher up the pecking order. He simply lacks any brilliance, especially against this calibre of horse.

Jockey Dwayne Dunn has had a dozen rides in the Melbourne Cup, with two sevenths – aboard Skybeau in 1997 and Araldo in 2014 – his best results. Unfortunately for Dunn, his record looks unlikely to be improved in 2017.

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18. NAKEETA (19)

Sixties Icon x Easy Red (Hunting Lion), 7yo bay gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Iain Jardine
Jockey: Glyn Schofield
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 31:5-8-3
Win/place percentages: 16%/51%
Last 10 starts: 042202×0241
Distances won at: 1 (2012m), 1 (2213m), 1 (2787m), 2 (2816m)
Biggest win: Ebor Handicap (2787m), York, 26 August 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $31
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $26
Summary of his chances: First Melbourne Cup runner for Scotland. Typical staying handicapper who won the Ebor last start. Ebor types tend to perform well, but think he might be more dour than most. Risking.
Predicted finish: 19th

Nakeeta represents a new frontier for Australia’s greatest race, as he is the first Scottish-trained horse to make the trip to Melbourne for the Cup.

And given the English have been trying – and failing – for 24 years to win the Melbourne Cup, a victory for Scotland at the first attempt would be a feat of defiance to make William Wallace proud.

Trained by Iain Jardine in the small village of Carrutherstown, near the town of Lockerbie, Nakeeta is a no-fuss gelding who has long showed that he could potentially be a horse for some of England’s big staying handicaps.

Originally trained by former England striker Mick Channon, who racked up 46 caps for his country on the football pitch before he turned his hand to racehorse training, he showed little in five starts and so was switched to Jardine at the start of 2014.

He toiled away in lowly handicaps in 2014 and 2015, winning four of his 15 starts at tracks like Pontefract and Hamilton. However, the first sign that he might be a handicapper of some promise came with his short-head second to No Heretic in the 2016 Chester Cup (3755m), with last year’s Melbourne Cup runner-up Heartbreak City in behind.

He disappointed in other staying handicaps like the Northumberland Plate at Newcastle (10th to Antiquarium) and the Cesarewitch at Newmarket (16th to Sweet Selection), but there were good runs in between those efforts too.

He was poor first-up in this year’s Chester Cup behind Montaly, but his three runs since have been as good as ever. He was a strong second to Dal Harraild in the Listed Grand Cup (2787m) at York, a fair fourth to Jaameh at Newmarket before taking the Ebor last time out.

To be fair, he’s a fairly plain galloper – there’s nothing special about him, he has no X-factor like some of his rivals – but he’s hardy and bombproof and well versed in the rough and tumble that is expected from a Melbourne Cup.

Nakeeta will be ridden by South African jockey Glyn Schofield, who has been based in Sydney for almost a decade. Schofield has had four Melbourne Cup rides, his best result coming with a third on Mourilyan in 2009.

The Ebor form can be hit and miss – it has produced placegettters like Give The Slip, Purple Moon and Heartbreak City, as well as a Caulfield Cup winner in All The Good, but the likes of Moyenne Corniche and Mutual Regard have been failures in Melbourne.

There are probably more comparisons between the latter two and Nakeeta, and for that reason, I think he might be worth opposing here.

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19. SINGLE GAZE (11)

Not A Single Doubt x Redaluca’s Gaze (Intergaze), 5yo chestnut mare

Bred in: Australia
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Nick Olive
Jockey: Kathy O’Hara
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 27:5-6-3
Win/place percentages: 19%/52%
Last 10 starts: 12612×05442
Distances won at: 1 (1100m), 2 (1600m), 1 (2000m), 1 (2200m)
Biggest win: Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes (2000m), Rosehill, 26 March 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $101
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $34
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $34
Summary of her chances: My favourite horse in the field. Incredible effort in the Caulfield Cup, but the Melbourne Cup is another task altogether. It may be a bridge too far. Sadly, opposing.
Predicted finish: 16th

If there is one horse where my heart and my head are at loggerheads – no, at war – it is with Single Gaze.

The pride and joy of Canberra, there is no horse in this field that I want to see win more than Single Gaze. I have long been a fan of trainer Nick Olive and jockey Kathy O’Hara, and to see the two combine to win a Melbourne Cup would be a fairytale result.

My heart is cheering for the popular mare. My detached, logical head, however, says she has no chance.

But Single Gaze has made a habit out of proving her detractors wrong. It is one of the traits that makes the attractive chestnut filly so likeable.

Like her Caulfield Cup conqueror Boom Time, Single Gaze was earmarked as a sprinter from the moment she was born; by Not A Single Doubt, a stallion who has mostly produced speedy stock, she is a half-sister to a stakes-winning two-year-old.

Unlike Boom Time, though, Single Gaze lived up to expectations early. She won on debut as a two-year-old at Rosehill in November 2014 – at 80-1, no less, beginning her habit of making fools of her doubters.

She finished third in that season’s Magic Millions Classic (1200m), second in the Listed Black Opal Stakes (1200m) to subsequent G1 winner Takedown and even lined up in the G1 Golden Slipper (1200m), the world’s richest juvenile race and the ultimate test of precocity.

As a three-year-old, though, there were early hints that she might have more to her armour than pure speed. She was second in the Magic Millions Guineas over 1400m in January 2016 and continued her progression through the autumn, taking the Listed Keith Nolan Classic (1600m) at Kembla Grange before scoring a first Group 1 win in the Vinery Stud Stakes over 2000m at Rosehill.

And then, her career almost came to an abrupt end when she fell heavily in the G1 Australian Oaks (2400m). It was a nasty incident, but thankfully, both horse and rider O’Hara emerged unscathed.

Resilient as ever, she bounced back to return for an autumn four-year-old campaign. Once she hit top form again, she added the Listed Tails Stakes (1600m) and the G2 P J O’Shea Stakes (2200m) at Doomben to her record, as well as runner-up finishes in the G2 Hollindale Stakes (1800m) and G2 Brisbane Cup (2200m).

This preparation, she may not have won but she has demonstrated the hall marks that have made her so popular – her tenacity, honesty and talent.

She has had what, on paper, is the ideal Melbourne Cup preparation, improving with each run this spring: 10th in the G1 Memsie Stakes (1400m), fifth in the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m), fourth in the G1 Underwood Stakes (2000m) and fourth in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m), before her last-start second in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m).

The enormity of that Caulfield Cup run cannot be understated. She lobbed into what appeared an ideal spot in second, but she ended up having to do all the donkey work, carting the field up to tearaway leader Sir Isaac Newton. She was left vulnerable – a sitting shot – upon straightening, and yet only Boom Time could get past.

There is always a worry coming off such a tough run that she will have been bottomed out, but she has had two and a half weeks to get over the effort.

She’s never been beyond 2400m, so it’s impossible to judge her credentials at 3200m. One of the first lessons I was taught by my former editor Alan Aitken when I arrived in Hong Kong was not to hang a horse for something they are yet to do.

However, my gut instinct tells me two things – that the Caulfield Cup form is not the formline to follow this year, and that Single Gaze will struggle in a European-style two-mile test, which it is likely to be this year.

She’s so genuine that she could stick on for a top 10 finish, but it is hard to see her getting into the placings in a Melbourne Cup.

Perhaps she is one to throw into trifectas and first-fours underneath, just in case she defies her doubters yet again. However, sadly, she is one I’ll be opposing.

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20. WALL OF FIRE (15)

Canford Cliffs x Bright Sapphire (Galileo), 5yo bay horse

Bred in: Ireland
Nationality: Great Britain
Trainer: Hugo Palmer
Jockey: Craig Williams
Weight: 53kg
Career stats: 14:4-3-0
Win/place percentages: 29%/50%
Last 10 starts: 1011×622482
Distances won at: 1 (1207m), 1 (2098m), 1 (2816m), 1 (2937m)
Biggest win: Mallard Handicap (2937m), Doncaster, 9 September 2016
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $13
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $12
Summary of his chances: Has struggled at 3200m on flat tracks in Dubai and New York. Tough ask to see him winning, but could threaten the placings.
Predicted finish: 8th

Usually, with European raiders coming to Australia, the issue is whether they have enough speed for the different style of racing down under.

With Wall Of Fire, the question is flipped: does he have enough stamina to see out the 3200m of the Melbourne Cup?

The son of brilliant miler Canford Cliffs sees out a strong 2800m, but whenever he has stepped beyond that trip, he has found himself in trouble.

He was a juvenile winner over 1200m, a rarity among English visitors for the Cup, while he progressed quickly through staying handicaps into Group company this season.

He has been tested twice at 3200m this year. In March, he plugged away for a nine-length sixth to France’s leading stayer Vazirabad in the G2 Dubai Gold Cup in March – behind last year’s Cup runners Beautiful Romance (seventh) and Big Orange (10th) but ahead of Heartbreak City (second) and 2015 Caulfield Cup runner-up Trip To Paris.

After two solid runs back in England, he travelled to New York for his second two-mile test in the G3 Belmont Gold Cup in June. He took off early and was set a task, but still weakened into eighth behind Red Cardinal, with Wicklow Brave finishing fourth.

Both of Wall Of Fire’s attempts at 3200m have come on flat, counter-clockwise tracks and have been similar to what he tackles in the Melbourne Cup. That leads to some cause for concern and, in itself, it is a reason why I have excluded him from my top four.

On the other hand, his last two runs have caught the eye to such an extent that he can’t be excluded underneath in trifectas and first fours.

He made nice ground for second in the G3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes (2670m) to three-year-old Defoe, while at his first run in Australia, he closed off powerfully for second in the G2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m).

That form has held up, with winner Lord Fandango and fourth-placed Boom Time switching places in the Caulfield Cup a week later and third Gallic Chieftain finishing a narrow second in the Geelong Cup.

Melbourne’s champion rider Craig Williams seeks his first Cup win aboard Wall Of Fire. His best results have come on English visitors – he was third aboard Mount Athos in 2013, while he finished fourth on Qewy last year. In all fairness, he probably should have a Melbourne Cup win by now, except he missed the winning ride on Dunaden through suspension in 2011.

For trainer Hugo Palmer, who won England’s 2000 Guineas last year with Galileo Gold, this would represent his biggest feature win outside of his native country. Palmer himself stated that, given that his wife Vanessa is Australian, it would mean a great deal to win the Melbourne Cup.

He gives the impression that he could be the man to finally give England its first Melbourne Cup, after years of heartbreak.

However, I am thinking that the stretch from Flemington’s famous clock tower to the winning post might find out Wall Of Fire, so I believe it won’t be this year. He remains a place chance though.

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21. THOMAS HOBSON (21)

Halling x La Spezia (Danehill Dancer), 8yo bay gelding

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: France
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Joao Moreira
Weight: 52kg
Career stats: 24:9-4-2
Win/place percentages: 38%/63%
Last 10 starts: 3x9P0171272
Distances won at: 2 (2012m), 2 (2414m), 2 (3218m), 1 (4014m), 1 (4023m), 1 (4224m)
Biggest win: Ascot Stakes (4014m), Ascot, 20 June 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $101
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $15
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $20
Summary of his chances: Only gained a start at the last minute. Long-term plan to get him here. Draw makes it tough. Fringe win contender.
Predicted finish: 6th

The final runner to gain a start in the 24-horse field, Thomas Hobson has long been aimed at the Melbourne Cup.

Another dual purpose horse, like his stablemates Wicklow Brave and Max Dynamite, Thomas Hobson only returned to the flat on the first day of Royal Ascot, recording a six-length win in the Ascot Stakes (4023m). He travelled so strongly that day and never looked likely to be beaten, and given it was the race that Simenon won in 2012 before he finished fourth in the 2013 Melbourne Cup, it immediately began discussions about his Melbourne Cup prospects.

He backed up in Britain’s longest flat race, the Queen Alexandra Stakes (4355m), on the final day of Royal Ascot but could only manage second to Oriental Fox, with US Army Ranger in third.

Since then, he disappointed in seventh in the G2 Lonsdale Cup (3299m) at York before finishing a game second in the G2 Doncaster Cup (3599m) last time out. On both occasions, he swept up to lead but could not sustain his run and petered out late – something that jockey Joao Moreira will have to keep in mind

He’s the type who you would want to hold on to until just before the clock tower, if possible, as long as he is still on the bridle well into the straight. And that is some concern – perhaps he is too dour for Australian conditions.

In his favour, he does get Hong Kong’s champion jockey Moreira aboard. The Brazilian has set records few ever imagined possible in Hong Kong, making one of the world’s strongest jockey rosters look plain with his dominance over the last three seasons.
Known as the “Magic Man”, Moreira has had three Melbourne Cup rides for his agonising second last year aboard Heartbreak City and a fourth in 2014 aboard Signoff.

It would be quite something to see the odd trio of Mullins, Moreira and owner Rich Ricci take the Melbourne Cup. With Thomas Hobson, they have an undeniable chance, although the draw has made life difficult. It will require some of Moreira’s magic to extricate a journey and then to utilise his short turn of foot in the most effective way.

If he can put it all together, then he is very clearly a live winning chance. He just needs a few things to fall his way.

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22. REKINDLING (4)

High Chaparral x Sitara (Salse), 4yo bay horse

Bred in: Great Britain
Nationality: Ireland
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Jockey: Corey Brown
Weight: 51.5kg
Career stats: 9:3-2-0
Win/place percentages: 33%/56%
Last 10 starts: -210×140124
Distances won at: 1 (1609m), 1 (2011m), 1 (2816m)
Biggest win: Group 2 Curragh Cup (2816m), The Curragh, 2 July 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $51
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $16
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $15
Summary of his chances: European three-year-old who gets in well at the weights. Curragh Cup win impressive enough to suggest he’s a nice stayer, but he’s still maturing and may find it a tough ask. Place at best.
Predicted finish: 11th

Rekindling lines up as just the third European three-year-old – which, under the Australian rules of racing, technically makes him a four-year-old – to tackle the Melbourne Cup.

Mahler finished third to Efficient in 2007, while Bondi Beach was a distant 16th in 2015, with both prepared by Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien. In 2017, Rekindling joins that group in the hands of Aidan’s son Joseph.

Unlike US Army Ranger, who is having his first run for Joseph O’Brien, Rekindling has been with the 24-year-old jockey-turned-handler for the entirety of his three-year-old season. Also, whereas owner Lloyd Williams has only bought into US Army Ranger recently, Rekindling was purchased by Williams as a foal.

Previously prepared by the now-retired David Wachman, Rekindling was second on debut as a two-year-old at Galway to eventual classic winner Capri before scoring impressively at Gowran Park over a mile. His juvenile season ended with a poor showing in the G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud (2000m) in France.

Transferred to O’Brien over the winter, the High Chaparral colt joined his sire as a winner of the G3 Ballysax Stakes (2012m) at Leopardstown in April. He then ran a solid fourth to Permian in the G2 Dante Stakes (2062m), but was terrible in the G1 Epsom Derby (2423m), finishing 18 lengths behind Wings Of Eagles.

Stepped up in trip to 2816m for the G2 Curragh Cup – a race won by Vintage Crop in 1993 before his successful Melbourne Cup tilt, as well as by Red Cadeaux in 2011 before he failed by the narrowest of margins down under – Rekindling showed a deft turn of foot against the older horses, ducking and weaving between runners to just grab Wicklow Brave in the shadows of the post.

Of all of his runs to date, that is the one that suggests he might measure up as a Melbourne Cup contender.

He then finished almost five lengths behind Europe’s champion stayer Order Of St George in the G3 Irish St Leger Trial (2816m) on ground that was probably too soft – and given Order Of St George’s exploits since in the G1 Irish St Leger (2816m) and the G2 British Champions Long Distance Cup (3208m), and even his fourth to Enable in the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (2400m), the form looks very solid indeed.

His last run was, in all likelihood, his intended grand final – the G1 St Leger (2921m) at Doncaster, the final classic of the season in England.

Last turning for home, Rekindling tracked into the race strongly but was unable to get completely clear until just after the 400m mark. When he got clear, he just held his ground, but it was still a solid staying effort as he finished fourth to Irish Derby winner Capri.

The St Leger was a race in which both Mahler and Bondi Beach finished second – in the case of the latter, he was actually awarded the race on protest before he was demoted by Britain’s regulatory body two weeks later.

The concern with Rekindling is not so much that this may be too soon mentally – he looks fairly straightforward and switched on. However, physically, the rough, hustle-bustle nature of a Melbourne Cup might be some concern.

While he has put on weight since he has been in Australia, he is still not overly big. In gallops with new stablemate US Army Ranger at Werribee, he has looked like a pony in comparison.

In his favour, he does have Corey Brown in the saddle. Brown won the Melbourne Cup aboard Shocking in 2009, while he has also finished in the placings on four occasions, including a heartbreaking second aboard Bauer in 2008. He has also only missed the top 10 once, from seven rides, in the last 11 years.

As a European three-year-old, he does get in well at the weights, which always deserves consideration under handicap conditions. But this does come at the end of a fairly long season, too, so there are enough concerns to suggest he has a tough task ahead of him.

However, he does have talent, so he is one worth considering for exotics.

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23. AMELIE’S STAR (10)

Testa Rossa x Zazita (Zabeel), 6yo bay mare

Bred in: Australia
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Darren Weir
Jockey: Dean Yendall
Weight: 51kg
Career stats: 18:6-2-2
Win/place percentages: 33%/56%
Last 10 starts: 4214×839410
Distances won at: 1 (1600m), 1 (1800m), 1 (2100m), 2 (2400m), 1 (2500m)
Biggest win: Group 3 The Bart Cummings (2500m), Flemington, 7 October 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $101
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $17
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $21
Summary of her chances: Flying the flag for the Australian breeding industry. Strong win in the Bart Cummings and looms as a player if she can recapture that form.
Predicted finish: 4th

In an era where the last rites have been administered for Australian-bred stayers, it is heartening to see three stayers foaled down under lining up for their shot at Melbourne Cup glory.

It may seem strange to celebrate the fact there are only three representatives of Australia’s breeding industry in a field of 24, especially in a race that is run on Australian soil. However, in recent years, they have been few and far between: one in 2016 (Jameka), one in 2015 (Sertorius), two in 2014 (Fawkner and Unchain My Heart).

Maybe it is just an aberration, given there were five Australian-bred runners in 2013. However, 2013 seems to have been the outlier.

In 2017, Caulfield Cup quinella Boom Time and Single Gaze are joined on the Australian-bred boat by Amelie’s Star, a daughter of Testa Rossa out of Zabeel mare Ultima Vita, with all three attempting to become the first Australian-bred winner since Shocking in 2009.

Testa Rossa is more known for producing sprinter-milers, like G1 Al Quoz Sprint (1000m) and G1 Nunthorpe Stakes (1000m) winner Ortensia and Magic Millions (1200m) victor Unencumbered. He himself was a gun sprinter-miler, best known for some fabulous battles with Redoute’s Choice as well as for winning multiple Group 1 races from 1000m to 1600m.

However, the stamina lies on the dam’s side, with Zazita a half-sister to Full At Last, a VRC St Leger winner and ninth in the 1988 Melbourne Cup to Empire Rose. That potent mix of speed and stamina seems to have worked wonders with Amelie’s Star.

The mare was not an early maturer by any means. Beginning her career with Black Caviar’s trainer Peter Moody, she was beaten out of sight on debut in January 2015 at Kembla Grange. However, she improved with racing, eventually snagging her first win at start five in an 1800m Hawkesbury maiden. She did it easily, too, winning by eight lengths.

Amelie’s Star then won twice at Warwick Farm after that, including another eight-length romp over 2400m, before she scored her first stakes success in the G3 Colin Stephen Quality (2400m) at Rosehill, winning by three and a quarter lengths.

After that, however, she was not seen for 18 months until she stepped out at Adelaide’s Morphettville track in April. In the hands of new trainer Darren Weir, she was a pleasing fourth on her return, progressing two starts later to win the G2 Queen Of The South Stakes (1600m) at Morphettville. At her last run for the preparation, she was fourth in the G1 Doomben Cup (2000m).

This time in, she has run well at every start – all except her last run, when there were excuses. It has been a very typical Australian campaign for her, except that she didn’t start on Derby Day.

She progressed well through races over 1400m and 1700m, catching the eye when making late ground for fourth in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) behind Harlem.

However, it was her win in the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) that earned her a berth in the Melbourne Cup and stamped her as a leading contender. That day, she tracked a solid tempo before pulling clear late. Behind her that day was Almandin, as well as Lexus Stakes placegetters Vengeur Masque and Pentathlon.

The Bart Cummings has proven a reliable form reference over the past decade. In fact, from the four horses to contest both the Bart Cummings and the Melbourne Cup in the same year since 2007, there has been one winner, one third and two fifths. Not a bad record at all.

Last start, she was ridden upside down in the Caulfield Cup and the effort had forgive and forget written all over it. With a better draw here, she should be able to settle a little further back and hopefully get every chance to see out the two miles strongly.

It would be some scene if jockey Dean Yendall were to win a Melbourne Cup. He’s best described as the ultimate larrikin, a little rough around the edges but a very talented rider.

As a natural lightweight, he tends to pick up some of these rides when they become available, but in Amelie’s Star, he has his first serious chance of Melbourne Cup glory.

The trip is the concern, but everything points to Amelie’s Star being a leading contender in the race that stops the nation.

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24. CISMONTANE (17)

High Chaparral x Viviane (Volksraad), 5yo bay gelding

Bred in: New Zealand
Nationality: Australia
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott
Jockey: Beau Mertens
Weight: 50kg
Career stats: 19:5-5-4
Win/place percentages: 26%/74%
Last 10 starts: 2325210331
Distances won at: 3 (1600m), 2 (2500m)
Biggest win: Group 3 Lexus Stakes (2500m), Flemington, 4 November 2017
Best Melbourne Cup effort: First attempt
TAB Fixed Odds (Opening Market, 29 August): $201
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 10pm, Saturday 4 November): $41
TAB Fixed Odds (as at 8am, Tuesday 7 November): $61
Summary of his chances: Looked beaten, but somehow kept finding to take the Lexus on Saturday. This is much tougher. Expect him to lead for most of the race, but not at the finish.
Predicted finish: 15th

One of the more unlikely Cup stories came to fruition when Cismontane won the G3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) on Saturday.

A galloper that could not win in restricted company at New South Wales provincial tracks like Newcastle and Kembla Grange earlier this year, he has continued to steadily improve throughout the year to the point where he is now the final horse to have qualified for the world’s richest handicap.

Bought for NZ$200,000 at New Zealand’s Karaka Premier Yearling Sale in 2014, there may have been dreams and ambitions then that this may be a Melbourne Cup candidate one day. His dam Viviane was a half-sister to New Zealand’s Champion Stayer from 2000-01 in Smiling Like, as well as to Mr Eurostar, who finished fourth to Subzero in the 1992 Melbourne Cup.

However, Cismontane showed little on debut at Newcastle, finishing a five-length ninth over 1200m in July 2015.

He did not race for another year, stepping out again on his second-last day as a three-year-old. That produced a win over a mile at Kembla Grange. However, he found city class too taxing at that stage and was well-beaten at his next two runs.

Returning in January this year, he looked a more furnished galloper, winning twice over a mile at Hawkesbury before finishing second twice at Warwick Farm.

Given a short let-up, he began his current campaign in June in a Class 3 at Kembla Grange with no indication that it would culminate in a Melbourne Cup berth.

He only gained his first staying win by a narrow margin at Moonee Valley on 26 August, scoring by a nose over 2500m.

He then failed behind Almandin in the Listed JRA Trophy (2500m), but his last three runs up in grade have been superb. He was third to Big Duke in the revived ATC St Leger (2600m) and third to Who Shot Thebarman in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) before his gritty win on Saturday in the Lexus.

On Saturday, Cismontane led at solid fractions mid-race, slowly building the tempo throughout. He looked beaten on the turn, certain to drop out, but somehow he kept finding and at the line he had a narrow margin over Geelong Cup winner Vengeur Masque.

He now faces his toughest test by panels, in a race that is likely to feature far more pressure than he received on Saturday. However, he does get in with only 50kg on his back, so he is certainly a horse that will give any of his supporters a run for their money.

He will be trying to give racing’s first lady Gai Waterhouse her second Melbourne Cup, after she won with Fiorente in 2013. However, her co-trainer Adrian Bott is seeking his first Cup win; the pair had their first Cup runner last year when 2015 Lexus winner Excess Knowledge finished 16th.

It is also a first Cup ride for 20-year-old Beau Mertens, who has only been riding for three years and is still an apprentice. He has been one of the most successful young guns Melbourne has seen in recent years, only just falling short in his quest to win the senior jockeys’ premiership in Melbourne last season when second to Craig Williams.

It will be a big thrill for Mertens to have a Melbourne Cup ride so early, especially given this horse is likely to be in front for a long way. However, expect him to be beaten upon straightening, and while he will try to fight on, it’s hard to see him sticking on for a placing.

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SPEED MAP

Thanks to our friends over at Racing And Sports, 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. Click on the speed map to open it up to full size:

 

Melbourne Cup Speed MapBased on what we saw in the Lexus Stakes, Cismontane’s best chance is to go forward and to roll on the lead. He is likely to be joined for company by Gallante, who has drawn deep and looks to have no other choice but to push on towards the front.

Tiberian has gone both forward and back in his races, but given there is likely to be a genuine tempo, there is every chance Olivier Peslier could push forward and hope to get a spot one-off, one-back. He would probably be better served by trying to find cover, though.

Single Gaze generally races handy and from the gate, she could end up into a lovely trailing position, similar to where she found herself in the Caulfield Cup – but with no tearaway leader this time – while James Cummings suggested that Hartnell could settle in a handy spot as well.

Red Cardinal would be expected to go back towards the tail from barrier 24, although he could end up a little bit closer but deeper out. Nakeeta will also likely end up a long way back from gate 19.

Thomas Hobson is the one who may be worst served by the draw. If he ends up too far back, he risks losing touch with the field, which would end his chances. He has demonstrated on numerous occasions that he has a short, sharp turn of acceleration, as opposed to being able to sustain a run for any great period of time. Therefore, Joao Moreira may have to produce the magic he is renowned for if the Brazilian rider is to go one better in 2017.

The big query is Marmelo. He has proven to be tactically versatile and what Hugh Bowman decides to do on the Kergorlay winner may end up determining the pace of the race. If he does go back, though, he should be able to get cover three deep and that may prove his best option.

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SUMMARY

After our failure two years ago, we are definitely hoping to atone upon our return. Just like two years ago, this Cup is wide open – it may not have the same strength or depth that was apparent in 2015, but there are plenty of winning chances and plenty of cases to be made for a number of horses.

There is no doubt that the favourite ALMANDIN is the horse to beat. His second-up victory was as good a win as you’ll see on the Melbourne Cup trail, and the regression into his third start was ideal with this race in mind. At the $7 available on Saturday night, he could end up being a very juicy price as he aims to join that very exclusive group of multiple Melbourne Cup winners.

However, we are still happy to stick with RED CARDINAL, even though he is first-up in Australia. He has been our selection for quite some time, and his work since he has arrived in Australia has been impressive. He will settle back in the field anyway, so the outside gate is no concern, and he should get a pace shape that will allow him to display his deft turn of foot. Jockey Kerrin McEvoy is flying and, after scoring on Almandin last year, hopefully he can go back-to-back.

Another galloper who has not raced in Australia yet, TIBERIAN, seems to be flying under the radar. Like Red Cardinal, he has drawn awkwardly too but he has been consistently strong this season and is tactically versatile. The formlines around him are solid, so it seems odd that he is as big a price as he is currently. Expect a big run from him.

AMELIE’S STAR’s Bart Cummings win was so impressive that she has to go into the top four, especially when completely overlooking the Caulfield Cup effort.

Next best JOHANNES VERMEER, who just falls out of the top four with the query over the 3200m, and THOMAS HOBSON, with Cox Plate runner-up HUMIDOR best of the rest but also a concern at the trip.

Good luck!

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NUMBERS

6 – RED CARDINAL
2 – ALMANDIN
4 – TIBERIAN
23 – AMELIE’S STAR
===================
7 – JOHANNES VERMEER
21 – THOMAS HOBSON

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
2. CRITERION
3. FAME GAME
4. OUR IVANHOWE
5. BIG ORANGE
6. HARTNELL
7. HOKKO BRAVE
8. MAX DYNAMITE
9. RED CADEAUX
10. TRIP TO PARIS
11. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN
12. SKY HUNTER
13. THE OFFER
14. GRAND MARSHAL
15. PREFERMENT
16. QUEST FOR MORE
17. ALMOONQITH
18. KINGFISHER
19. PRINCE OF PENZANCE
20. BONDI BEACH
21. SERTORIUS
22. THE UNITED STATES
23. EXCESS KNOWLEDGE
24. GUST OF WIND
SPEED MAP
SUMMARY
NUMBERS

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.

Ring-a-ding-ding.

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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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SPEED MAP

Thanks to our friends over at RacingFans.com.au, 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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SUMMARY

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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NUMBERS

17 – ALMOONQITH
15 – PREFERMENT
20 – BONDI BEACH
6 – HARTNELL
————————-
3 – FAME GAME
8 – MAX DYNAMITE

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 1 – GROUP THREE CARBINE CLUB STAKES (1,600m)

3 – BASSETT
5 – MONTAUK
9 – TIVACI
4 – MAHUTA

Race 2 – GROUP TWO WAKEFUL STAKES (2,000m)

2 – DAWNIE PERFECT
5 – BELUGA BLUE
1 – MY POPPETTE
10 – MUZYKA

Race 3 – GROUP THREE GUVERA STAKES (1,400m)

12 – ARTLEE
8 – RED EXCITEMENT
3 – DISPOSITION
15 – SAN DIEGO

Race 4 – GROUP ONE COOLMORE STUD STAKES (1,200m)

1 – EXOSPHERE
6 – COUNTERATTACK
3 – SUPER ONE
4 – KEEN ARRAY

Race 5 – GROUP THREE LEXUS STAKES (2,500m)

7 – RULING DYNASTY
5 – CHANCE TO DANCE
4 – ELHAAME
3 – EXCESS KNOWLEDGE

Race 6 – GROUP ONE MACKINNON STAKES (2,000m)

7 – GAILO CHOP
4 – PORNICHET
5 – CONTRIBUTER
14 – RISING ROMANCE

Race 7 – GROUP ONE VICTORIA DERBY (2,500m)

3 – KIA ORA KOUTOU
9 – ETYMOLOGY
10 – JADEER
7 – TARZINO

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

14 – AZKADELLIA
15 – STAY WITH ME
7 – LA PASSE
1 – ROYAL DESCENT

Race 9 – GROUP TWO TAB.COM.AU STAKES (1,200m)

6 – DELECTATION
14 – KAEPERNICK
3 – DOTHRAKI
8 – KNOYDART

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).

13 – HIGHLAND REEL
1 – CRITERION
10 – GAILO CHOP
9 – COMPLACENT

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

Race 1 – INGLIS BANNER (1,000m)

11 – PEARL CONGENIAL
12 – TWIST TOPS
9 – SWEET SHERRY
3 – CREDIBLE WITNESS

Race 2 – CITY JEEP HANDICAP (955m)

2 – DIAMOND OASIS
6 – TAWTEEN
4 – VATICAN
1 – UNANIMOUSLY

Race 3 – GROUP TWO MOONEE VALLEY FILLIES CLASSIC (1,600m)

1 – MY POPPETTE
6 – SEMPRE LIBERA
4 – SEEKING ASYLUM
9 – SILENT SEDITION

Race 4 – GROUP THREE TELSTRA PHONEWORDS STAKES (1,200m)

10 – ATLANTIC CITY
3 – MAWAHIBB
1 – HOLLER
2 – DEMONSTRATE

Race 5 – LISTED WILLIAM CROCKETT STAKES (1,200m)

10 – VALLEY SWEETHEART
3 – HAYBAH
1 – SERENE MAJESTY
4 – HARLEM RIVER

Race 6 – GROUP TWO MOONEE VALLEY GOLD CUP (2,500m)

1 – PRECEDENCE
3 – PRINCE OF PENZANCE
7 – THE UNITED STATES
10 – BONDEIGER

Race 7 – GROUP TWO MOONEE VALLEY VASE (2,040m)

8 – TALLY
11 – JAMEKA
10 – PASADENA GIRL
4 – TARZINO

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

11 – TURN ME LOOSE
6 – BOW CREEK
1 – LUCKY HUSSLER
3 – STRAWBERRY BOY

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

12 – AZKADELLIA
2 – GIRL GUIDE
5 – CORONATION SHALLAN
10 – BALLET SUITE

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.

Race 9 – GROUP ONE CAULFIELD CUP (2,400m)

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.

6 – MONGOLIAN KHAN
10 – ROYAL DESCENT
2 – SNOW SKY
14 – RISING ROMANCE
——–
9 – GRAND MARSHAL
3 – FAME GAME

Here are the rest of my thoughts for Caulfield today:

Race 1 – YELLOWGLEN PLATE (1,400m)

6 – HELL OR HIGHWATER
3 – AIR APPARENT
7 – PURRPUSFUL
4 – ITALY

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

6 – SANTA ANA LANE
2 – METALLIC CROWN
1 – TAKEDOWN
3 – HOLLER

Race 3 – GROUP TWO CAULFIELD SPRINT (1,000m)

2 – KURO
6 – KINGLIKE
1 – BALL OF MUSCLE
5 – HEADWATER

Race 4 – GROUP THREE ETHEREAL STAKES (2,000m)

2 – AMBIENCE
3 – HONESTA
10 – DAWN OF HOPE
9 – DAWNIE PERFECT

Race 5 – GROUP THREE CAULFIELD CLASSIC (2,000m)

6 – TIVACI
5 – ECLAIR ATTACK
13 – SACRED EYE
10 – RAGNAAR

Race 6 – GROUP THREE DAVID JONES CUP (2,000m)

2 – DIBAYANI
6 – SADLER’S LAKE
1 – STRATUM STAR
5 – FENWAY

Race 7 – GROUP THREE MOONGA STAKES (1,400m)

8 – UNDER THE LOUVRE
3 – CHARLIE BOY
4 – VASHKA
9 – SETINUM

Race 8 – GROUP TWO TRISTARC STAKES (1,400m)

2 – CATKINS
4 – SOLICIT
6 – SABATINI
5 – HAZARD

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

5 – BROOK ROAD
4 – FONTITON
6 – THE MESSINA NYMPH
1 – AFLEET ESPRIT

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 1 – LISTED MARIBYRNONG TRIAL STAKES (1,000m)

3 – MANUEL
5 – WIMBORNE
1 – BROOKWATER
9 – SWEET SHERRY

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

8 – FAATINAH
4 – ICEFLOW
11 – DYNAMIC DAY
2 – TOP ME UP

Race 3 – GROUP TWO GILGAI STAKES (1,200m)

1 – CHAUTAUQUA
3 – CHARLIE BOY
6 – KNOYDART
2 – DELECTATION

Race 4 – LISTED UCI STAKES (1,800m)

9 – TIVACI
12 – IRON BOSS
16 – ZAPURBLY
3 – AYERS ROCK

Race 5 – GROUP TWO EDWARD MANIFOLD STAKES (1,600m)

9 – BADAWIYA
4 – DON’T DOUBT MAMMA
7 – SAILING BY
6 – BENGAL CAT

Race 6 – GROUP THREE THE BART CUMMINGS (2,500m)

2 – PRECEDENCE
10 – BOLD SNIPER
5 – FOUNDRY
12 – KAPOUR

Race 7 – GROUP ONE TURNBULL STAKES (2,000m)

11 – AMRALAH
3 – HARTNELL
8 – WHO SHOT THEBARMAN
5 – VOLKSTOK’N’BARRELL

Race 8 – GROUP TWO BLAZER STAKES (1,400m)

4 – GIRL GUIDE
7 – JESSY BELLE
5 – ATLANTIS DREAM
15 – SATYA

Race 9 – LISTED PARIS LANE STAKES (1,400m)

2 – TURN ME LOOSE
15 – LORD ASPEN
11 – WORTHY CAUSE
10 – YESTERDAY’S SONGS

LONGCHAMP

18 – FOUND
9 – TREVE
1 – FLINTSHIRE
13 – NEW BAY

Here are my selections for Epsom day:

RANDWICK

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

4 – COHESION
1 – CAPITALIST
8 – PRIZED ICON
5 – DETECTIVE

Race 2 – LISTED GIMCRACK STAKES (1,000m)

13 – SLUMBER PARTY
4 – CALLIOPE
14 – TWIST TOPS
3 – ANGHARAD

Race 3 – LISTED DULCIFY QUALITY (1,600m)

1 – WUDANG MOUNTAIN
5 – AMBIENCE
6 – MORE THAN FABULOUS
4 – LAUCALA

Race 4 – GROUP TWO ROMAN CONSUL STAKES (1,200m)

2 – EXOSPHERE
1 – LE CHEF
9 – SPILL THE BEANS
5 – JAPONISME

Race 5 – GROUP TWO PREMIERE STAKES (1,200m)

1 – TERRAVISTA
2 – REBEL DANE
3 – TIGER TEES
5 – HOT SNITZEL

Race 6 – GROUP THREE CRAVEN PLATE (2,000m)

10 – RULING DYNASTY
1 – COMPLACENT
9 – HAURAKI
2 – MORIARTY

Race 7 – GROUP ONE EPSOM HANDICAP (1,600m)

4 – WINX
2 – LUCIA VALENTINA
9 – KIRRAMOSA
10 – SWEYNESSE

Race 8 – GROUP ONE FLIGHT STAKES (1,600m)

1 – SPEAK FONDLY
4 – HONESTA
7 – SEMPRE LIBERA
8 – OCEAN TEMPEST

Race 9 – GROUP ONE THE METROPOLITAN (2,400m)

7 – ALMOONQITH
2 – JUNOOB
9 – CHANCE TO DANCE
1 – BEATEN UP

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.

1 – TAMARKUZ
8 – PRAYER FOR RELIEF
15 – GRAPHIC
9 – SLOANE AVENUE

 

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.

15 – AHZEEMAH
14 – BROWN PANTHER
8 – BATHYRHON
9 – ALMOONQITH

 

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.

7 – GOLDEN BAROWS
1 – MUBTAAHIJ
10 – DEAR DOMUS
4 – SIR FEVER

 

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.

13 – AHTOUG
16 – PENIAPHOBIA
4 – VIA AFRICA
8 – MIRZA

 

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.

4 – RICH TAPESTRY
8 – LUCKY NINE
7 – SECRET CIRCLE
5 – SALUTOS AMIGOS

 

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.

6 – THE GREY GATSBY
1 – EURO CHARLINE
10 – SOLOW
8 – CLADOCERA

 

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.

9 – HARP STAR
7 – DESIGNS ON ROME
2 – DOLNIYA
4 – FLINTSHIRE

 

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.

9 – CALIFORNIA CHROME
2 – HOKKO TARUMAE
5 – LEA
6 – CANDY BOY

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