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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

One Comment leave one →
  1. Trevor Hawkins permalink
    November 5, 2017 11:47 am

    I notice a few jocks haven you the thumbs up on Facebook. Nice job.

    Sent from my iPad

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