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Your Complete Guide to the 2018 Melbourne Cup, by Andrew Hawkins

November 5, 2018

Better late than never! The “Andrew Hawkins Racing” banner comes out of hibernation for the once a year Melbourne Cup preview, with all the information you need to find the winner on the first Tuesday in November.

This year’s preview doesn’t have some of the bells and whistles it has had in the past, as I have begun my new role with Sky Racing and have been primarily focused on that (as well as moving back to Australia after five years in Hong Kong).

Still, there is an in-depth write-up on each of the 24 runners contesting the race that stops the nation, Tuesday’s AUD$7m Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m).

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

For those interested, this is how I see the pace playing out in Tuesday’s race, courtesy of the speed map function from our friends at Racing And Sports. Click to enlarge.

Here are my thoughts on all 24 runners in Tuesday’s Cup.

1. Best Solution
2. The Cliffsofmoher
3. Magic Circle
4. Chestnut Coat
5. Muntahaa
6. Sound Check
7. Who Shot Thebarman
8. Ace High
9. Marmelo
10. Avilius
11. Yucatan
12. Auvray
13. Finche
14. Red Cardinal
15. Vengeur Masque
16. Ventura Storm
17. A Prince Of Arran
18. Nakeeta
19. Sir Charles Road
20. Zacada
21. Runaway
22. Youngstar
23. Cross Counter
24. Rostropovich
Selections


 

1. BEST SOLUTION (6)

Jockey: Pat Cosgrave
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor
Odds with tab.com.au: $13
Predicted finishing position: 7th

Best Solution will have to create history if he is to win the Melbourne Cup this year. It is difficult enough that he is aiming to become just the 12th horse to win the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double in the 150 years in which both races have existed, but he would be the first horse to win both races as top-weight.

Not that it means as much as it once did. These days, while both races are still handicaps, the spread is greatly reduced, meaning that it is easier for these better-credentialled horses to win.

Still, the difficulty of winning both the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup is well-established. The last horse to win both was Ethereal in 2001, who emerged from nowhere to cut down the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Give The Slip. Bin Suroor has Best Solution this year.

For bin Suroor, who has trained for the Godolphin outfit of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum for almost three decades, the Melbourne Cup has been something of a bogey race. From 21 starters, he’s had three seconds (Central Park in 1999, Give The Slip in 2001, Crime Scene in 2009) and a third (Beekeeper in 2002), while the likes of Faithful Son (1998) and Mamool (2003) have been beaten as well-backed commodities.

It is commonly said that Sheikh Mohammed has a special trophy cabinet reserved for the two trophies the Dubai ruler most wants to win – the Kentucky Derby and the Melbourne Cup.

In Best Solution, they have a live chance of ending the hoodoo.

A son of Kodiac, a sire that generally produces precocious, speedy types, Best Solution showed plenty of promise early, taking the G3 Autumn Stakes (1609m) at Newmarket at his fifth start before ending his juvenile season with a second to Waldgeist in the G1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud (2000m) in November, 2016. (Side note: 2017 Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling was last in that same race.)

Looking far from happy when tested in two runs on dirt at Meydan to commence his three-year-old campaign, he returned to form when back in England, taking the Listed Lingfield Derby Trial (2334m) before finishing eighth to Wings Of Eagles in the G1 Investec Derby (2433m) at Epsom.

He would only win once again as a three-year-old, taking the G3 St Simon Stakes (2414m) at Newbury just on 12 months ago, but he showed that Germany could prove an ideal hunting ground with a couple of nice runs at Group 1 level.

Winning a 2435m handicap from four starts at Meydan over the winter, the Dubai sojourn did little to suggest that he would eventually start top-weight in the Melbourne Cup come the end of the year. However, upon his return to Europe, he looked a far more complete package.

He won the G2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes (2414m) at Newmarket comfortably before heading across to Germany for a pair of Group 1 wins, in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (2400m) at Hoppegarten before taking their premier weight-for-age contest, the Grosser Preis von Baden (2400m) at Baden-Baden.

That set him up perfectly for the Caulfield Cup. Despite being stuck deep early, he ended up in the right position on the back of a muddling tempo. He was able to adapt once the race changed complexion at the 600m, taking off early, and it was a strong effort to hold off Homesman.

If the track comes up soft, it is likely to be similar to the track he faced at Caulfield, which he handled with aplomb.

If there is an issue, it is the 3200m. He’s never tried it, so he can’t be ruled out confidently, and the way he ran at Caulfield suggests he shouldn’t find it too much of an issue. On pedigree, though, there’s enough of a query to suggest that the added 800m could prove a mountain to climb.

For jockey Pat Cosgrave, it is a first Melbourne Cup mount. However, that’s of little concern – he had never ridden in Australia a month ago, but has already won the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) on Benbatl in addition to the Caulfield Cup.

He’s a winning chance, no doubt, but there are others who make more appeal in here. Still, he’ll end up in the right spot in the run so he can’t be dismissed.

Watch Best Solution win the 2018 Caulfield Cup.


 

2. THE CLIFFSOFMOHER (9)

Jockey: Ryan Moore
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Odds with tab.com.au: $16
Predicted finishing position: 3rd

It once seemed unfathomable that a runner-up in the Derby, England’s blue riband event, would come to Australia to race. Out of the question, they’d be too good.

Yet The Cliffsofmoher becomes the second horse in two years to run in a Melbourne Cup the year after finishing second at Epsom; US Army Ranger, second to Harzand in the 2016 Derby, finished 18th at Flemington. The pair followed 2010 runner-up At First Sight, who was bought by Lloyd Williams after his longshot second to Workforce; he finished 10th in the 2011 Melbourne Cup.

The Cliffsofmoher, who had the slightly silly name change from his European racing name of Cliffs Of Moher due to a clash, enters in far better form than either US Army Ranger or At First Sight and shapes as a realistic danger on Tuesday.

Winner of a 1408m maiden at Leopardstown from two races as a juvenile, The Cliffsofmoher returned at three in May last year to win the Listed Dee Stakes (2075m) at Chester. It looked the win of a horse who would be able to progress, but he was unable to win from six further starts as a three-year-old. This included his aforementioned second in the G1 Derby (2433m) to stablemate Wings Of Eagles (with two-time G1 Champion Stakes winner Cracksman in third), as well as fourths in both the G1 Coral-Eclipse Stakes (2001m) and the G1 Juddmonte International (2112m), both behind Ulysses.

At the end of the season, his form tapered off as he ran poorly in both the English and Irish Champion Stakes, as well as the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and he was put away.

Upon his return in Ireland as a four-year-old in April this year, it looked like he was set to be another one-hit wonder who could not go on when he finished last of five in the G3 Alleged Stakes (2012m) on bottomless ground at Naas; stablemate Yucatan also struggled, finishing one place ahead of him.

He quickly bounced back to form though with a win over that same Naas course and distance in the G2 Mooresbridge Stakes, beating Success Days (who, three weeks earlier, had finished last on a firm Randwick track in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes behind Winx) and Yucatan.

That was his most recent win, but in six further starts this season, he has not finished worse than fourth. He went on to finish second in the G1 Tatts Gold Cup (2112m) behind stablemate Lancaster Bomber, who controlled the race throughout, before running twice in four days at Royal Ascot; he disappointed when a well-beaten fourth to Poet’s Word in the G1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes (2012m), while he was closest at the finish when third to Crystal Ocean in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes (2405m).

His final European run of the season came when he was third to star three-year-olds Roaring Lion and Saxon Warrior in the G1 Eclipse Stakes (2012m) at Sandown, running on well but proving no match.

While it was not made public that an Australian campaign was being considered, it appears that was the plan from July onwards.
He arrived in Australia on the first shipment in late September and ran straight out of quarantine in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m). Ending up last in a race dominated from the front, he made up significant ground late, sprinting strongly to take fourth late. It was a good first effort that saw him backed into second favourite for the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) a week later.

In the Cup, he settled midfield one-off, moving through the field significantly on the turn. At the 200m, he loomed as a potential challenger, but he hit his peak at the 100m and had to settle for third behind Best Solution and Homesman.

What is interesting is the differing opinions over his Caulfield Cup run, with some saying it was the perfect Melbourne Cup trial and others not wanting to touch him at two miles.

Personally, I thought it was a good effort. He had to sustain a long run after they put the sprint on early, and for him to make up as much ground as he did was impressive. He ran a race-fastest last 600m, and if he’d been able to wait a little longer before being forced to sprint, I think he could have got over the top of his rivals. He was also laying in late too, which I find more concerning than the fact he died on his run 100m out at Caulfield.

If he can be held together well into the straight here before he is produced with his run, he will flash late and get very close.

The query is obviously 3200m, having never raced beyond a mile and a half and not having won beyond a mile and a quarter. It was the same conundrum that faced his stable companion Johannes Vermeer last year, but he still ran a bold race in defeat.

I am expecting a similar effort from The Cliffsofmoher on Tuesday. The prospect of rain is not a concern either.

For trainer Aidan O’Brien, so close last year with Johannes Vermeer when pipped by his son Joseph’s Rekindling, it is a chance to add a Melbourne Cup victory to nearly every big race worldwide. Arcs, Derbies, Oaks, Guineas, St Legers, Breeders’ Cup races – you name it, there’s a big chance the Irish maestro’s already won it. He has had two placings from nine Melbourne Cup attempts, but there is certainly a sense that it is just a matter of time before he adds Australia’s greatest race to his resume.

Coolmore’s retained rider Ryan Moore, considered by most to be the world’s best jockey, will aim to win his second Melbourne Cup aboard The Cliffsofmoher. He guided Protectionist to a huge win in 2014.

The celebrations will be muted if the notoriously guarded Moore takes the spoils, unlike what Magic Circle’s owner Marwan Koukash has planned. Chalk and cheese … but either could easily be celebrating at 3:05pm on Tuesday.

The Cliffsofmoher’s a player and should be left out only at your peril.

Watch The Cliffsofmoher finish second in the 2017 Investec Derby.


 

3. MAGIC CIRCLE (17)

Jockey: Corey Brown
Trainer: Ian Williams
Odds with tab.com.au: $7.50
Predicted finishing position: 1st

In 1965, English model Jean Shrimpton caused uproar when she turned up at Flemington wearing a dress that ended five inches – FIVE – above the knee. It is credited as being the first variation of the miniskirt and is commonly seen as the time that the Swinging Sixties arrived down under.

Fifty-three years later, there could be another English fashion scandal at Flemington if Magic Circle manages to take the Cup on Tuesday – one that would have sent all of those scandalised women into a fit, a pique.

Maverick owner Dr Marwan Koukash, who has long coveted a Melbourne Cup win, has said that he will accept the famed three-handed loving cup trophy wearing a G-string … wearing only a G-string.

He paraded the intended thong – maroon, for those of you playing at home – in a press conference at Werribee on Sunday morning.

This is not the first time that he has attempted such a stunt. When Magic Circle won the Chester Cup in May, Koukash said that he wanted to accept the trophy wearing only his tie. Faced with the threat of a lifetime ban from his home track, though, he lifted the trophy fully-clothed.

Flemington officials have appeared more light-hearted, although whether they will allow him to head through the members’ area in only a G-string remains to be seen.

So what is the likelihood of the first ever English victory in the Cup coming with Magic Circle?

In my opinion, it’s very possible. In fact, dare I say, I think it’s likely.

The development of Magic Circle this season has been something to behold. He emerged on the scene as a three-year-old in 2015, winning four of his five starts in lower-class handicaps between a mile and a half and two miles to suggest that he had a future as a stayer.

Trained by Ralph Beckett, he was on the cusp of progressing into a very handy stayer at four and five, but he just couldn’t deliver. Sold at last year’s Tattersalls Autumn Horses-In-Training Sale for 70,000 guineas (about AUD$132,000), he was bought by Koukash and trainer Ian Williams to aim at the Chester Cup.

Stepping out around the tight English circuit first-up, Magic Circle turned the 3749m contest into a one-act affair. His eventual winning margin was six lengths, and it took all of the power of Chester’s security to keep Koukash clothed.

That was impressive enough, but his second start for the year in the G3 Henry II Stakes (3264m) was downright arrogant. He dispatched of his rivals in a matter of strides, with handy gallopers Red Verdon (second) and Weekender (third) left in his wake. It was a win that had Melbourne Cup written all over it.

He has not raced since, a deliberate plan to keep him fresh for Tuesday’s race. What is surprising is that a mere Group 3 winner has been given such a high impost of 56kg, although his win at Sandown suggested he had plenty of points in hand.

As a winner of six of his 12 starts on soft ground, the threat of rain should not prove any concern. In fact, the sting out of the track should only suit him, really.

For Williams, this will be his second Cup runner. His first, Munsef, was also Koukash’s first runner, with the honest gelding finishing 12th in 2009 behind Shocking.

Koukash has since been represented by Mount Athos, who finished fifth under a questionable Ryan Moore ride in 2012 before running a bold third in 2013.

Taking the ride is Corey Brown, who was booked for the race months ago – a big call for the defending champion. His win on Rekindling last year was his second Cup victory, having scored aboard Shocking in 2009. He would join an illustrious group of riders – Glen Boss, Damien Oliver, Harry White and Jim Johnson are the only four jockeys since 1960 to have scored three or more Cup wins.

Be scared, be prepared, be ready to celebrate because the party will be wild if Magic Circle wins. He’s my top selection this year.

Watch Magic Circle win the 2018 Henry II Stakes.

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4. CHESTNUT COAT (4)

Jockey: Yuga Kawada
Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi
Odds with tab.com.au: $34
Predicted finishing position: 19th

When Delta Blues and Pop Rock raced right away from their opposition when finishing one-two in the 2006 Melbourne Cup, a year after Eye Popper produced one of the biggest Caulfield Cup runs imaginable, it seemed only a matter of time before the Japanese were turning up in droves every year and plundering the Melbourne spring.

The Japanese horses were simply superior, it was said, even their C-graders. But due to myriad reasons – the 2007 equine influenza outbreak that originated in Japan, a strong and rich domestic programme, the emergence of other targets around the world – the anticipated influx simply hasn’t happened.

Horses with little chance like Tokai Trick and Hokko Brave have represented Japan this decade, while Curren Mirotic – a decent stayer once upon a time – arrived as a nine-year-old, well past his best.

In fact, in the 12 years since that famous quinella, there have only been two legitimate chances from the land of the rising sun – 2014 Caulfield Cup winner Admire Rakti, who finished last under less-than-stellar circumstances, and 2015 favourite Fame Game, who had no chance from back and wide in a slowly-run Melbourne Cup.

Which brings us to Chestnut Coat, a galloper who looks some way off the best in his homeland. A winner of four of his 18 starts between 1800m and 2400m, it has only been at his last four starts that he has stepped up to stakes company.

He debuted against better opposition in the G2 Nikkei Sho (2500m) at Nakayama in March, producing a grinding effort to finish second to the well-exposed Ganko.

The one piece of form that his backers will highlight as a suggestion he is a leading Melbourne Cup contender came at his next start when fifth, beaten a length and three quarters, in Japan’s premier marathon, the G1 Tenno Sho Spring (3200m) at Kyoto in April.

The first five across the line broke clear of the rest and the others had superior credentials to Chestnut Coat: winner Rainbow Line had G1 placings behind top-liners Kitasan Black, Satono Crown and Satono Diamond; runner-up Cheval Grand had taken the G1 Japan Cup (2400m) last November; third-placed was runner-up in Japan’s St Leger, the G1 Kikuka Sho (3000m), last October; and while fourth-placed Mikki Rocket had similar formlines to Chestnut Coat, he did win the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) at his next start, holding off Hong Kong star Werther.

What he did show that day though is that he has a limited turn of foot, something he needs to be competitive in Australia.

He showed this last time out in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m). He was well-placed in the muddling affair, tracking eventual winner Best Solution with fourth Duretto to his inside. Third The Cliffsofmoher was on his back too, so he had few excuses for his dismal 13th, beaten over 10 lengths. Perhaps the softer ground underfoot could have been an issue, but he’s unlikely to get ground much firmer on Tuesday.

He would need to improve drastically to be any hope, and while the trip might bring out some improvement, I think he’s one to take on. On the positive side, he has drawn a good gate and he will get the perfectly run handy or just ahead of midfield.

Trainer Yoshito Yahagi – a man renowned for his many coloured hats – finally gets a crack at the Melbourne Cup with Chestnut Coat. He had a leading player in Bande in 2014, but the awkwardly-built bay was withdrawn before the Caulfield Cup and did not race again.

Yuga Kawada, one of Japan’s best jockeys, takes his first Cup ride here. He has scored big-race wins aboard some of the top gallopers in Japan in recent years, including the G1 Yasuda Kinen (1600m) on Maurice, the G1 Tokyo Yushun (2400m), the Japanese Derby, on Makahiki, the G1 Takarazuka Kinen (2200m) on Lovely Day and both the G1 Takamatsunomiya Kinen (1200m) and the G1 Sprinters’ Stakes (1200m) this year on Fine Needle.

The 33-year-old rider has shown some benefit from a stint in Europe over the northern summer, when he was based with Newmarket trainer Roger Varian. However, like many Japanese riders, he still looks out of his depth when placed against the best the world has to offer, like Ryan Moore and Hugh Bowman.

He does have a habit of popping up when he’s been written off, but here, I think it’s safe to overlook him.

Watch Chestnut Coat finish fifth in the 2018 Tenno Sho (Spring).


 

5. MUNTAHAA (13)

Jockey: Jim Crowley
Trainer: John Gosden
Odds with tab.com.au: $11
Predicted finishing position: 8th

Of every runner in this year’s Melbourne Cup, the one horse I’ve struggled to assess the most has been Muntahaa.

Winner of England’s most prestigious staying handicap at his most recent start, the Ebor (2816m), he enters with solid credentials for a race of this nature. And that’s before you watch his Ebor win, which had to be seen to be believed.

Travelling far better than any of his rivals inside the final two furlongs, he exploded away when asked for his effort by jockey Jim Crowley, showing a turn of foot rarely seen on English race tracks. He eventually crossed the line three and a quarter lengths ahead of his stablemate Weekender in a sublime performance.

If it were just looking at that effort alone, he’d be the top selection by far and away, but taking into account his whole body of work across his career, it makes me far less eager to jump aboard.

A moody and often quirky character, his career has been shaped by inconsistency.

As a three-year-old, he showed that he clearly had some class with a six-length 2414m maiden win over Marmelo (which followed a runner-up finish to this season’s leading middle-distance horse Poet’s Word in a 2012m maiden). He also finished third in the G2 King Edward VII Stakes (2414m) at Royal Ascot, won the Listed Chester Stakes (2696m) before finishing a well-beaten fourth in the G1 St Leger (2917m).

That inconsistency only ramped up at four. A winner of the G3 John Porter Stakes (2418m) at Newbury second-up, he was beaten 29 lengths, 11 lengths and 20 lengths in a trio of Group 2 races, with his temperament getting the better of him. That prompted a gelding operation, as he was put away for the year.

Returning two stone lighter, he was just fair first-up when fourth to Idaho in the G3 Ormonde Stakes (2691m) at Chester. Dropped back significantly to 2000m at Royal Ascot, he finished off very strongly for third in the Listed Wolferton Handicap – a race in which Melbourne Cup favourite Yucatan finished last.

He was pretty plain in his next start when fourth to Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution in the G2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes (2414m) at Newmarket, certainly not suggesting that he had his Ebor run up his sleeve.

Comments from stable staff during the week, as well as from Crowley, have suggested that he can play up and that he is not the most straightforward type. His unreliable form suggests that is most certainly the case and that’s not the sort of horse you want to be dealing with in front of a large Flemington crowd.

In the end, I’ve relegated him due to his poor temperament. He could easily win and I wouldn’t be shocked in the slightest, but there are others I prefer personally and – among the top eight or so – it is those marginal factors which have to come into play. There are other queries too, like the 3200m (minor, the way he won the Ebor it should be no problem) and the potential wet track (seemed to handle it fine as a three-year-old), but it is most certainly his mindset that is the real concern.

In his corner is trainer John Gosden, who has had a truly remarkable 2018. He has dominated the European flat season with the likes of champion filly Enable, the mercurial Cracksman, leading three-year-old Roaring Lion and top stayer Stradivarius. He has the magic touch this season, and it would be no surprise if the handler were to produce another magical training effort by getting Muntahaa to win the Melbourne Cup.

Gosden has had only one Melbourne Cup runner before; Gatewood was 12th in 2014.

Owner Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum, though, has tasted Melbourne Cup success twice before; his blue and white Shadwell Stud silks were carried to victory by At Talaq in 1986 and Jeune in 1994.

For Crowley, it is his first Melbourne Cup ride. The Englishman only had his first Australian mounts last week, winning two from two at Bendigo last Wednesday.

Will he be celebrating a Melbourne Cup win? It’s hard to say. It’s definitely not out of the realms of possibility, but he is one horse that I will be trying to beat. Place chance best for mine.

Watch Muntahaa win the 2018 Ebor Handicap.

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6. SOUND CHECK (16)

Jockey: Jordan Childs
Trainer: Michael Moroney
Odds with tab.com.au: $34
Predicted finishing position: 21st

German import Sound Check, now in the care of Australian-based Kiwi trainer Michael Moroney, is set to go off as one of the outsiders on Tuesday – and deservedly so.

A winner of seven of his 17 starts, it has been the last year or so that he has started to hit his straps. A Listed winner over 2800m at Baden-Baden in September last year, he has come into his own as a five-year-old, winning the Listed Altano-Rennen (2800m) first-up to begin his campaign with a flourish.

The race that stamped the brother to top German galloper Scalo as a potential Melbourne Cup horse was the G2 Oleander-Rennen (3200m) at Berlin’s Hoppegarten track in May. It was his first attempt at two miles and, although he goes down in the history books as the winner of that contest, he was actually second across the line.

First past the post Nearly Caught was demoted for interference, having caused Sound Check – at least in the eyes of the stewards – to check off heels and switch across to his outside. It was a controversial decision and one that doesn’t really hold water. Nevertheless, it assisted his Melbourne Cup claims in that it all but assured he would get a weight which would qualify him for the final 24.

A start later, he flashed home off a slow tempo to finish third, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the G3 Grosser Preis von Lotto Hamburg (2000m) behind honest galloper Devastar and the pride of Poland, Va Bank. If anything, that was probably the run in which he most looked a horse suited to Australian conditions, but the strength of that form leaves something to be desired.

For Sound Check’s backers, it was his final German start – a neck defeat to Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution in the G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin (2400m) at Hoppegarten in August – that offers some hope that he could get into the finish here.

However, the margin probably understates the dominance of Best Solution’s victory that day as he had to duck and weave off heels before sprinting through late to score.

Switched from Peter Schiergen to Michael Moroney upon his arrival in Australia, the son of Lando stepped out as a 50/1 chance in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m). The way the Caulfield Cup was run, he had no chance from last, but he was badly outpaced on the corner and never really came into contention. He was around horses like Youngstar, Gallic Chieftain and Ventura Storm and all three finished off far better.

Moroney does know what it takes to win a Melbourne Cup, having prepared Brew to win in 2000 – in fact, he filled two of the first three placings that year, with Second Coming finishing third. He last finished in the placings with third-placed Xcellent in 2005.

For jockey Jordan Childs, it is a first Melbourne Cup ride; his father, the champion New Zealand rider Greg, finished third in the 1990 Cup aboard Mr Brooker.

Sound Check has won three times on a soft track and looks to have no problems if the surface is wet; class is the issue for him.

It is unlikely to be a fairytale first Melbourne Cup victory at his first attempt for Childs, but he is likely to have plenty of opportunities to find the winners’ circle in the years to come.

Watch Sound Check win (on protest) the 2018 Oleander-Rennen.


 

7. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN (18)

Jockey: Ben Melham
Trainer: Chris Waller
Odds with tab.com.au: $41
Predicted finishing position: 13th

Once upon a time, Who Shot Thebarman was popular merely because of his quirky name. For many once-a-year punters, that will still be the case here, but for racing fans, the 10-year-old has become a paragon of honesty and consistency.

The former Kiwi galloper who first came across the Tasman in 2014, running third to Protectionist in that year’s Melbourne Cup, has not let age weary him. In fact, he continues to run well to this day, something seen with his last-start fourth when making up significant ground behind Ventura Storm in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (3200m).

Remarkably, the only real issue he has had since coming to Australia was the elevated temperature that ruled him out of last year’s Melbourne Cup. That’s extraordinary for a horse as hardy and as tough as he is.

Talking about his form in recent weeks is almost pointless, because he is a horse that rarely runs a bad race when it comes to his grand final.

As Who Shot Thebarman prepares to line up in his fourth Melbourne Cup, he has two major statistics against him in his quest for an unlikely victory.

He is the oldest horse to contest a Melbourne Cup since 11-year-old Magistrate finished 17th in 1982. There have been 10-year-olds since, but they were European 10-year-olds under Australian conditions – who, by an odd quirk, are actually nine-year-olds.

No horse older than eight has won a Melbourne Cup, and even then, you have to go all the way back to Catalogue in 1938 to find an eight-year-old winner of the Cup.

He also has drawn the dreaded barrier 18. Since post positions were first used in the Melbourne Cup in 1924, no horse has won from that spot. It is the only gate without a victory.

It is unheard of for a horse to win the Melbourne Cup without having won the race before, especially at his age. However, he did win the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) in April at his fifth attempt, having finished ninth in 2014, second in 2015, fourth in 2016 and second in 2017.

His Melbourne Cup record is pretty solid, too: third in 2014, 11th in 2015 (having struck trouble mid-stretch) and fifth in 2016.

History is firmly against a Who Shot Thebarman victory, but it is doubtful there would be a more popular result than if the warhorse defied all expectations.

Trainer Chris Waller, now better known as the trainer of Australia’s champion mare Winx, is yet to have a Melbourne Cup winner. The Kiwi expat is renowned for his handling of stayers, though, and it seems merely a matter of time before he adds the tag “Melbourne Cup-winning trainer” to his resume. He has three chances this year: Who Shot Thebarman, emerging mare Youngstar and new recruit Finche.

For jockey Ben Melham, he is attempting to go one better this year after finishing second last year aboard the Aidan O’Brien-trained Johannes Vermeer. He has emerged as a big-race jockey over the past 18 months or so and he is a positive booking for the veteran.

I think a top 10 finish would be a terrific effort for Who Shot Thebarman and well within reach for him, but I struggle to see him getting into the placings. Still, if he wins, I’ll be cheering.

Watch Who Shot Thebarman win the 2018 Sydney Cup.


 

8. ACE HIGH (22)

Jockey: Tye Angland
Trainer: David Payne
Odds with tab.com.au: $71
Predicted finishing position: 16th

Despite the natural connection between the Victoria Derby and the Melbourne Cup, with the three-year-old classic an obvious stepping stone to the staying feature, Ace High is set to become just the second Derby winner this decade to return to contest the Melbourne Cup as a four-year-old. The other, 2014 Derby victor Preferment, finished 20th in the 2015 Cup.

Ace High had long looked a Derby horse, ever since he stepped out as an early two-year-old at Rosehill. His two-year-old season culminated with a fourth in the G1 Champagne Stakes (1600m) to The Mission, before he broke his maiden at Kembla Grange in July 2017.

Wins in the G3 Gloaming Stakes (1800m) and the G1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m) stamped him as the horse to beat in last year’s Victoria Derby, a tag he justified when he won the first-day feature by two lengths.

He didn’t find the winners’ circle as an autumn three-year-old, but a number of his efforts – particularly a fourth behind Kementari, Pierata and Trapeze Artist in the G1 Randwick Guineas (1600m) and his narrow defeat to Levendi in the G1 Australian Derby (2400m), when the pair raced six lengths clear of their rivals – only cemented the view that he could develop into a high-class Cups contender.

Ace High was progressing exactly as you’d hope for a local Cups horse this season, stepping out in four races at Randwick. He didn’t do much fresh behind Winx in the race now named in her honour, the G1 Winx Stakes (1400m), but he improved dramatically second-up to finish second in the G2 Chelmsford Stakes (1600m). Another fair run behind Winx followed in the G1 George Main Stakes (1600m), before he stamped himself as right on track for the Caulfield Cup with his win in the G2 Hill Stakes (2000m).

And then, it all fell apart on Caulfield Cup day. Stirred up pre-race, like a teenage boy at a Hooters restaurant, he was in trouble a long time before he’d got behind the gates. In a slowly-run race, he ended up on the speed and he was a spent force on the turn, weakening out to finish 15th.

He’s obviously handled big days before just fine, but that coltiness is a legitimate concern. If he’s worked up like that again, he’s a million to one, especially with a need to settle at 3200m for the first time.

He’s also got a poor record on soft tracks, but that has probably been exaggerated by the races in which he has run on wet going. He may be better on top of the ground, but he’s not necessarily hampered too much by rain-affected going.

Ace High represents the Rosehill stable of David Payne, a two-time champion trainer in South Africa who has had plenty of success since moving to Sydney in 2002. Payne prepared another Derby winner – 2014 Australian Derby victor Criterion – to finish third in the 2015 Melbourne Cup, his only Cup runner to date.

For prominent Sydney rider Tye Angland, it is a second Melbourne Cup mount. He finished 11th aboard Opinion in 2014.

Expect Ace High to take a trail here behind the speed, and if he gets a good tempo, he’s one horse who could really do anything. It’s hard to see him winning though and, this year, he’s probably a fringe place chance at the very best.

Watch Ace High win the 2017 Victoria Derby.

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9. MARMELO (10)

Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Trainer: Hughie Morrison
Odds with tab.com.au: $16
Predicted finishing position: 4th

Last year’s beaten favourite Marmelo returns to Flemington as something of a wildcard this year.

Partnered by Hugh Bowman last year, coming off a strong sixth in the Caulfield Cup, the Hughie Morrison-trained Marmelo weakened from near the speed to finish ninth, beaten almost 10 lengths.

In hindsight, it was a disappointing effort, but Morrison has learnt from the experience and Marmelo enters the Melbourne Cup this year fresh, having not run since mid-August.

Last year, Marmelo entered with some strong staying form, including a win in the G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) at Deauville – a race that had produced three Melbourne Cup winners already this decade in American (2010), Dunaden (2011) and Protectionist (2014) – as well as a second to Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic in the G2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil (2800m)

The theme has continued this year with good form once more. And again, despite being British, Marmelo has continued to head across the English Channel, with three of his four starts coming in France. (In fact, nine of his 16 career starts have been in France.)

Beginning his season with a narrow defeat at the hands of leading French stayer Vazirabad in the G2 Prix Vicomtesse Vigier (3000m), wins in the Listed Grand Cup (2770m) at York and this year’s Prix Maurice de Nieuil followed.

At his last start in the Prix Kergorlay, the race he won last year, he simply couldn’t reel in Holdthasigreen, who produced a strong staying effort in a weirdly-run race.

Bowman takes his eighth ride in the Melbourne Cup aboard Marmelo. Amazingly, for a rider who has won many major races and titles, including a number of Sydney premierships and the title of World’s Best Jockey in 2017, he is yet to place in Australia’s greatest contest; his best finish was fifth aboard Who Shot Thebarman in 2016.

Coming in fresh looks a good move and a repeat of his first-up effort in the Caulfield Cup last year will see him go close. He’s drawn to enjoy a perfect run just on the back of the speed and he’s sure to be in contention at some point in the straight. Winning chance.

Watch Marmelo win the 2018 Prix Maurice de Nieuil.

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10. AVILIUS (11)

Jockey: Glyn Schofield
Trainer: James Cummings
Odds with tab.com.au: $13
Predicted finishing position: 10th

When talking about the romance of the turf, there is a heavy emphasis on the narrative being expressed, those great little stories that speak to the heart when it comes to racing.

In terms of the Melbourne Cup, there are few greater tales than that of the Cummings family and the great race. On Tuesday, another historic chapter could be written in that story.

Avilius is trained by James Cummings, grandson of the late Bart Cummings, the name most synonymous with the Melbourne Cup. Bart, as he is simply known in Australia, won an incredibly 12 Melbourne Cups over 43 years, with the likes of Light Fingers (1965), Galilee (1966), Think Big (1974, 1975), Let’s Elope (1991) and Saintly (1996). His last was with Viewed in 2008.

He was not the first Cummings to train a Melbourne Cup winner, either. His father Jim started the family tradition when preparing Comic Court to score in 1950.

James, only 30 years old, now heads up the Australian arm of the world’s leading thoroughbred operation, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s Godolphin. There are many expectations for the person in that position, but chief amongst them is to attempt to give the Dubai ruler his first win in the Melbourne Cup, one of two races he covets above all others (the other is the Kentucky Derby).

Adding to the narrative is that Avilius won the race named after James’ grandfather, the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m), at Flemington last month to qualify for the Melbourne Cup. What a story.

It remains to be seen whether Avilius is the right type, though. Formerly trained in France by Andre Fabre, the son of Pivotal was a Listed winner from seven starts. He was also three times placed at Group 2 level as a three-year-old, finishing third to Melbourne Cup runner Finche in the Prix Eugene Adam (2000m) at Maisons-Laffitte, third to Eminent in the Prix Guillaume d’Ornano (2000m) and second to Cracksman in the G2 Prix Niel (2400m).

Gelded and sent down under to join Godolphin’s Australian stable, he began his Australian career with a flourish, charging home to win a Benchmark 91 handicap over 1600m at Randwick in early August. It was clear a good campaign was to come, but it was difficult to predict how high he would reach.

He followed up that first-up win with another closing effort to win the G3 Premier Cup (1900m), looked simply superior when winning the G3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m) and then looked slightly vulnerable at the trip but still prevailed to take the Bart Cummings.

At his last start in the G1 Cox Plate (2040m), he had a soft run beyond midfield, saving ground into the turn before finishing a decent fourth to Winx. It was exactly what you would want to see from a Melbourne Cup-bound runner.

Now, he has to prove that the 3200m is a trip he wants. The jury is still out.

He was gritty to the line in the Bart Cummings, but that trip looked to see him out. Same with his effort in the Prix Niel last year. To the eye, he looks a horse who will struggle at 3200m; for that reason, I will be trying to take him on.

This will be Cummings’ third Melbourne Cup runner. In 2014, his grandfather’s last Melbourne Cup runner was also his first when veteran Precedence ran sixth. Last year, he had his first representative in his own right when Hartnell laboured into 20th behind Rekindling.

Taking the ride is Glyn Schofield, a former South African rider who spent a number of years in Hong Kong before relocating to Sydney. His best finish from five rides was a third aboard Mourilyan in 2009.

For mine, the query at the trip ensures he’s a place chance at the very best. He’s worth including in all exotics, but I personally won’t be including him as a winning chance. For the sake of the narrative, though, an Avilius win would be something special.

Watch Avilius win the 2018 Bart Cummings.


 

11. YUCATAN (23)

Jockey: James McDonald
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Odds with tab.com.au: $5.50
Predicted finishing position: 6th

Yucatan has emerged from seemingly nowhere to start as Melbourne Cup favourite as he aims to give the world’s leading trainer Aidan O’Brien his first victory in Australia’s greatest race.

Having backed him in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot earlier this year – where he finished last of 16 – it’s been something to see him emerge on the scene as a dominant force.

Ever since his two-year-old days, he’d shown that he had the talent to win a big race. As a juvenile, he finished second in the G2 Beresford Stakes (1609m) at the Curragh to eventual Irish Derby and St Leger winner Capri, before again finishing in the runner-up’s stall in the G1 Racing Post Trophy (1609m) at Doncaster.

Restricted to only two runs at three through injury, he placed in both the G3 Ballysax Stakes (2011m) behind Rekindling and the G3 Leopardstown Derby Trial (2011m). On both occasions, Capri was behind him.

He was inconsistent early this season; two fair efforts at Naas behind Capri and The Cliffsofmoher over a mile and a quarter were followed by two poor efforts when a distant last in both the G1 Coronation Cup (2419m) at Epsom and the Listed Wolferton Handicap (2000m) at Royal Ascot.

Yucatan then bounced back to win the G3 International Stakes (2011m) at the Curragh before finishing third in the G3 Ballyroan Stakes (2414m) at Leopardstown. Hardly earth-shattering form.

All of that makes his first-up run in the G2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) at Caulfield even more impressive. Restrained to near the tail, he ended up pushing forward as they were heading along the back and up the hill at Caulfield – a tough place to be making a mid-race move by any measure. However, despite the wide run, he was cruising and he dashed away on the turn. At one point in the straight, he would have been seven lengths clear and he probably could have won by such a margin if James McDonald didn’t ease him right down.

It’s fair to say it was one of the best Melbourne Cup trials you could ever hope to see, but was it too good to be true? The form has stood up out of the race with second Brimham Rocks and third A Prince Of Arran running one-two, in reverse order, in the G3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) on Saturday and the figures all suggest the win was as brilliant as it looked.

The queries become the distance and the track. On pedigree, the distance could prove a challenge. By Galileo out of the champion mare Six Perfections, a multiple G1 winner including the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Mile, she has produced Planet Five, a G2 winner over 1000m, and Faufiler, a G3 winner at 1900m. Getting back into the family, it’s hard to see where the stamina will come from.

As for the track, while he has won on a soft track, he’d probably be better if the track remained good. Not to say he can’t win if it is soft, but he’d have a better chance on top of the ground.

Over the last 25 years, since the first internationals contested the race, five favourites have won, although Fiorente (2013) is the only market fancy to salute in the last decade; Makybe Diva (2004 & 2005), Jezabeel (1998) and Might And Power (1997) were the others.

Given the average starting price of favourites was $5.39 over the last quarter of a century, that suggests they should be winning 18% of the time. Obviously, in the last 25 years, they are striking just above average at 20%. However, that’s only been 10% the last decade, so probability suggests another favourite is due at some point.

The question then becomes, is he the right favourite? Does he deserve to be the price he is?

In my mind, he deserves favouritism, but he is just one of a number of chances. At some of the prices available, it’s probably better to try and beat him rather than taking the price. Therefore, while I rate him as a legitimate winning chance, I have him just outside my top four.

For Coolmore trainer O’Brien, who has had two placings from nine attempts, Yucatan rates as his best chance yet for Melbourne Cup glory. It would also be a remarkable story for jockey James McDonald, who is – in my mind – the best jockey riding in Australia today. The Kiwi rider lost his retainership with Coolmore’s arch-rivals Godolphin and was outed for 18 months after backing a horse he rode. The punishment didn’t really fit the crime, but he copped it on the chin and has returned hungrier and better in the six months he has been back in the saddle.

It won’t be long before he lifts a Melbourne Cup, having finished second on Fiorente in 2012. Will it be this year? There’s a chance, no doubt.

Watch Yucatan win the 2018 Herbert Power Stakes.

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12. AUVRAY (1)

Jockey: Tommy Berry
Trainer: Richard Freedman
Odds with tab.com.au: $81
Predicted finishing position: 23rd

For an outsider, Auvray is a trailblazer in a number of ways – and not so much himself, but more for the people around him.

After many years as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Richard Freedman will have his first Melbourne Cup runner as a trainer in his own right with Auvray.

That’s not to say that he hasn’t been involved with Melbourne Cup runners – and winners – before. He played a pivotal role in the success of the FBI – the Freedman Brothers Incorporated – in the late 1980s into the 1990s, so while his brother Lee is listed as a five-time Melbourne Cup-winning trainer, Richard was a key cog in the wins of Tawriffic (1989), Subzero (1992), Doriemus (1995) and Makybe Diva (2004 and 2005).

It is also interesting to note that Auvray is the first Melbourne Cup runner for the China Horse Club. Set up by Malaysian businessman Teo Ah Khing as an exclusive club for wealthy Chinese racing enthusiasts, they have collectively raced a number of top horses in their short existence.

Their red and yellow colours were carried by Justify when he won the Belmont Stakes in New York earlier this year, with the colt becoming just the 13th Triple Crown winner in American history following his victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes.

The China Horse Club has been making in-roads right across the racing world, so it is just another milestone for them with a first Cup runner.

Unfortunately for them, the likelihood of their red and yellow silks taking the prize on Tuesday looks minimal with a horse who quite simply doesn’t look good enough.

Bought out of France in late 2014 as a multiple Group winner from 11 starts, Auvray took a long time to hit his straps in Australia. I remember seeing him at an early barrier trial session where he went crazy, eventually being withdrawn at the gates due to his temperament.

He ran OK in his first Australian preparation with trainer John Thompson in early 2016, finishing on the heels of the placegetters in two of his four starts, but when he was switched to Melbourne’s premier handler Darren Weir, he couldn’t get out of his own way.

He started 2017 in his third new barn in 12 months, joining Freedman. He mixed his form badly, with signs of his horror temperament coming to the fore again, but somehow Freedman managed to bring out his best.

Auvray finally broke through for a first Australian win at Randwick in August last year, albeit a Benchmark 89 over 2400m – a long way off Group company – but since then, he has continued to improve and build into a somewhat consistent galloper.

He finished the 2017/18 season as a two-time Group 3 winner, having taken the Colin Stephen Quality (2400m) at Randwick in September and the Sky High Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill in March. He capped his term with a fourth, beaten only a length and a quarter, in the G1 Sydney Cup at this trip in April.

From four starts this preparation, he’s run OK without ever looking a Melbourne Cup type. He ran home well for second in the G3 Newcastle Cup (2300m) three back while he found the line strongly for sixth in the G1 The Metropolitan (2400m) at Randwick two starts ago.

Last time out, he seemed to labour on the wet track in the ATC St Leger (2600m) and so it is an effort best overlooked with regards to his form. However, if he gets another wet track here, he’s unlikely to be suited.

Sydney jockey Tommy Berry takes the ride. One of the most talented jockeys in the country, most noted for his partnership with recently-retired sprinter Chautauqua, his best result from four Cup rides was a fourth aboard Trip To Paris in 2015.

It appears highly unlikely that he will be able to improve his record this year, with Auvray looking to be making up the numbers. Happy to watch.

Watch Auvray win the 2018 Sky High Stakes.

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13. FINCHE (15)

Jockey: Zac Purton
Trainer: Chris Waller
Odds with tab.com.au: $26
Predicted finishing position: 11th

One of the wildcards in this year’s Melbourne Cup is Finche, a former French galloper having just his second start for Sydney’s leading trainer Chris Waller.

Sporting the Juddmonte colours carried by such notable names as Frankel, Dancing Brave, Workforce, Arrogate, Danehill and Enable, he is only the second Cup runner for prominent Saudi owner Khalid Abdullah. The first, Snow Sky, finished 23rd in 2015.

Finche’s first eight starts were for trainer Andre Fabre. Racing four times at three, he won a Deauville maiden over a mile and the G2 Prix Eugene Adam (2000m) at Maisons-Laffitte, while he also managed a third to Cracksman in the G2 Prix Niel (2400m). He ended his three-year-old campaign at one-all against Avilius, who he meets again here.

Returning at four, he was disappointing in two runs at 2000m and 2100m, suggesting that he no longer had the brilliance at those trips to prove competitive at the highest level.

Stepped up to 2400m for the G2 Grand Prix de Chantilly, though, he again looked plain, finishing over five lengths from Waldgeist in fifth. The soft ground was cited as a potential reason for his disappointing effort on that occasion.

At his last start for Fabre, he bounced back to form with an impressive win in the G3 Prix de Reux (2500m) at Deauville, beating last year’s Melbourne Cup seventh Tiberian.

Sent to Australia where he joined the Waller yard, he was given a lead-up run in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m). Settling a little further back than he had done in France, although still ahead of midfield, he fought on well to the line to finish third, beaten a length and a half by Runaway.

A concern for Finche stepping up to 3200m is his propensity to overrace. He will need to settle if he is to see out the trip. He was better at it in his final starts in France, but he did get keen again at Geelong. Perhaps he was just fresh, but that is something to keep an eye on here.

The soft track could also be a concern too. However, he does look to have some upside yet and so he bears close watching here.

Jumping aboard is Hong Kong’s champion rider Zac Purton, fresh off a Group 3 win at Sha Tin on Sunday. Purton has not had the best success in Cups past, partnering two consecutive favourites in 2014 (Admire Rakti) and 2015 (Fame Game) only for both to fail for different reasons. He did manage to get into the placings for the first time last year though, producing a terrific ride aboard Max Dynamite to grab third.

For Waller, Finche is one of three runners as he attempts to win his first Melbourne Cup, with Youngstar and Who Shot Thebarman also set to go around. In fact, it was Who Shot Thebarman who gave him his best result to date, finishing third in 2014.

The man most renowned as the trainer of Winx is probably Australia’s best handler of stayers (although the Hayes/Dabernig stable could easily, and probably fairly, dispute that). However, Finche might need a little more time to acclimatise before he figures amongst the big leagues.

Still, he is one horse capable of anything here and he could get into the placings without surprising. One to include in all exotics.

Watch Finche win the 2018 Prix de Reux.


 

14. RED CARDINAL (5)

Jockey: Damien Oliver
Trainer: Darren Weir
Odds with tab.com.au: $41
Predicted finishing position: 22nd

Last year, Red Cardinal was the eventual tip from this preview. This year, he languishes near the bottom of the rankings, a reflection on his efforts since he has transferred to Victoria’s leading trainer Darren Weir.

It’s been a disappointing season for Red Cardinal after he arrived in Australia with such high hopes. A Group 1 placegetter in Germany, his wins in the G2 Oleander-Rennen (3200m) at Berlin’s Hoppegarten racecourse and the G2 Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) at Belmont Park in New York cemented him as a leading player last year when trained by Andreas Wohler.

However, he both ended up in an awkward spot and injured himself in the run, finishing 11th behind Rekindling. Perhaps he wasn’t as good as he appeared. Either way, it was a frustrating result for his connections and for those of us who backed him.

Red Cardinal was switched to the Weir stable and given plenty of time to recuperate from the knee injury he suffered at Flemington last year. He was set to race in the autumn, but instead was put away again to give him the best chance to aim at another Melbourne Cup tilt.

He ran as expected in his first couple of runs – last of 16 in the G2 Lawrence Stakes (1400m) and eighth in the G2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600m) – but the expected improvement once he got up in trip didn’t come.

He was fair in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m), coming from last to finish 11th, before heading up to Sydney for the ATC ST Leger (2600m). While the wet track may not have been in his favour, he still peaked on his run before finishing third to Big Blue – a jumper who would be 500/1 for a Melbourne Cup.

Last week, he raced closer in the run but weakened to finish 11th in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m).

In his favour, he does get blinkers on for the first time. That could sharpen him up and could see him find a couple of lengths, as long as he doesn’t overrace from his anticipated rearward position.

However, on everything he has shown this preparation, it is impossible to have him here. That said, there’s been a little support for him since the barrier draw, firming in from 100/1 into 40/1, so maybe some have managed to find him. Not for me though.

He is the sole representative for Victoria’s leading trainer Darren Weir this year. Weir has caused an upset before, famously preparing the Michelle Payne-ridden Prince Of Penzance to win at 100/1 in 2015.

Remarkably, Damien Oliver takes his 28th Melbourne Cup ride aboard Red Cardinal. He’s won the race three times, aboard Doriemus (1995), Media Puzzle (2002) and Fiorente (2013), while he’s also finished second three times, atop Paris Lane (1994), Pop Rock (2006) and Purple Moon (2007).

He sits just behind Harry White and Bobbie Lewis, who jointly hold the record with four Cup wins apiece.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that Oliver will equal White and Lewis this year. I’m happy to leave him out this time around.

Watch Red Cardinal win the 2017 Belmont Gold Cup.


 

15. VENGEUR MASQUE (2)

Jockey: Patrick Moloney
Trainer: Michael Moroney
Odds with tab.com.au: $61
Predicted finishing position: 18th

It’s a case of third time lucky for Vengeur Masque, finally qualifying for a Melbourne Cup after just missing out in both 2016 and 2017.

In fact, both times he was the 25th horse in the order of entry, making this year’s qualification that much sweeter.

Originally trained by 2011 Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Mikel Delzangles, Vengeur Masque won twice as a three-year-old in 2015 over 2400m at Saint-Cloud and 2500m at Compiegne. Sent to England to contest the final classic of the season, the G1 St Leger (2917m), he could only manage fifth as a controversial finish was fought out between Simple Verse and Bondi Beach.

It was 10 months before he was seen again, this time stepping out for his new trainer Michael Moroney in restricted company at Sandown in August, 2016. He quickly proved a shrewd purchase, finishing fourth in the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) to eventual Melbourne Cup winner Almandin, eighth in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) to Jameka and second, beaten 10 lengths by Francis Of Assisi, in the G3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m).

He almost earned automatic qualification for the 2017 Caulfield Cup, just falling short to Tally in the Listed Mornington Cup (2400m). That may not have been a bad thing, though, as Vengeur Masque was able to produce a strong on-speed effort to win the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) instead. Many years, that would be enough to qualify for the Melbourne Cup, but not in 2017.

After just falling short of winning the last berth in the Melbourne Cup with his second in the G3 Lexus Stakes (2500m), he instead backed up in the G3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m), winning comfortably and stamping himself as a likely Cup runner in 2018.

He has been just fair this spring, staying on well for fourth in the Listed Heatherlie Handicap (1700m) at Caulfield, making ground from last for 10th in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) at that same track, producing an even effort for fifth in the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) before another fair effort when ninth in the Caulfield Cup at his latest start.

While it is great to see Vengeur Masque finally earning his chance to tackle the Melbourne Cup, it is hard to see him finishing in front of some of these. He’s not going to run a terrible race, but it is hard to get a gauge on how he is truly going this spring.

The distance appears no concern for him and he should enjoy a lovely run from gate two. The forecast rain would not be a hindrance, either.

Moroney does know what it takes to win a Melbourne Cup, having prepared Brew to win in 2000 – in fact, he filled two of the first three placings that year, with Second Coming finishing third. He last finished in the placings with third-placed Xcellent in 2005.

Just like with Sound Check, Moroney has relied on a younger jockey, with Patrick Moloney getting the call-up for the ride on Vengeur Masque. It is Moloney’s first Cup ride.

It will be a memorable experience for the 24-year-old, but it is hard to see him scoring a first Group 1 win here. A top 10 finish would be a huge result for Vengeur Masque, and that’s probably going to be his best hope. Not a factor.

Watch Vengeur Masque win the 2017 Queen Elizabeth Stakes.


 

16. VENTURA STORM (7)

Jockey: Mark Zahra
Trainer: David & Ben Hayes & Tom Dabernig
Odds with tab.com.au: $26
Predicted finishing position: 14th

Moonee Valley Cup winner Ventura Storm presents a bit of a quandary here. He has performed below par in his two runs at 3200m, but he has shown that he is in form and ready to fire on Tuesday.

In the 12 months since he finished 21st in last year’s Melbourne Cup, Ventura Storm has been kept busy, racing 11 times in both the autumn and the spring.

He went winless in the autumn but ran good races for third in the G1 Australian Cup (2000m) behind Harlem and second in the G2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m) behind Sir Charles Road. However, in between those two runs were two poor efforts in both the G1 Ranvet Stakes (2000m) and the G1 Tancred Stakes (2400m), with the Zoffany gelding demonstrating that he needs so much to go right in his races.

This spring, he began with an eye-catching seventh in the Listed Heatherlie Handicap (1700m) at Caulfield before disappointing somewhat in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) at that same track. He did run a solid fourth to Winx in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), a better effort than his second to the same mare in the same race last year, and he made up ground against the tempo in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m). In hindsight, the Moonee Valley Cup should have proved an ideal race for him – and it did.

Not only did he win the G2 contest comfortably, but he set a new course record for the 2500m. He should be suited by a return to Flemington now, where he has produced some of his best races. If it does come up wet on Tuesday, he’s one who shouldn’t be too concerned on the surface.

Trainer David Hayes has won the Melbourne Cup before with Jeune in 1994, but this year would represent a real family triumph if he were to score. He now trains in partnership with his son Ben and his nephew Tom Dabernig, with the trio having plenty of success since beginning their partnership in August last year. Their biggest wins include the Caulfield Cup with Boom Time, the Lightning Stakes and Newmarket Handicap with former Hong Kong galloper Redkirk Warrior and the Australian Cup with Harlem.

Remarkably, for such a prominent face in the Melbourne jockeys’ room, it is only rider Mark Zahra’s second Melbourne Cup mount. He finished 19th aboard Zavite in 2009.

It’s tough to know what to do with Ventura Storm, because on his day, he could do anything. This year, he probably could finish top 10, but it is hard to see him winning. Probably best to take him on.

Watch Ventura Storm win the 2018 Moonee Valley Cup.


 

17. A PRINCE OF ARRAN (20)

Jockey: Michael Walker
Trainer: Charlie Fellowes
Odds with tab.com.au: $17
Predicted finishing position: 9th

One of the last horses to qualify for the Melbourne Cup with his win in the G3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) on Derby Day, A Prince Of Arran enters Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup as a live hope after a globetrotting year.

Perhaps the writing was on the wall early that Prince Of Arran, as he is named in England, would be an ideal type for Australia. He had form over a mile early in his career, even finishing midfield in an admittedly weak edition of the G1 Lockinge Stakes (1600m) at Newbury. He has speed and stamina, a potent mix down under.

Placing in the G3 Sagaro Stakes (3218m) at Ascot last year, it has only been this season that he has begun to show the consistency and the temperament required to develop into a Melbourne Cup candidate.

Beginning his season in Dubai, where he won a two-mile handicap and was placed in a 2800m handicap from four starts at Meydan, he returned to England for the Chester Cup (3749m), where he finished sixth, almost nine lengths behind Magic Circle.

From there, he travelled across to New York, where he loomed as a threat but died on his run late when third to Call To Mind in the G2 Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) at Belmont Park. However, he seemed to take benefit from that run when he stepped out three weeks later back in England, finishing second to one-time Melbourne Cup favourite Withhold in the Northumberland Plate (3269m) on the synthetic track at Newcastle.

Given a freshen after that, he impressed in his first run in Australia, finding the line very strongly for third in the G2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) behind Yucatan; while he was only beaten a length and a half, Yucatan was eased down significantly and probably should have won by a fair bit further.

That was a strong form reference for Saturday’s Lexus, though, with the Shirocco gelding living up to expectations with his victory over Brimham Rocks, who’d finished second in the Herbert Power.

On Saturday, he raced up with ease and looked to be going very powerfully at the 200m. Brimham Rocks did race up and look a danger, but A Prince Of Arran was holding him at the line; if anything, he was coming away again, a solid pointer for Tuesday’s 3200m affair.

The concern would be if the track came up wet on Tuesday. Trainer Charlie Fellowes has consistently stated that his horse does not like soft ground, so a wetter surface would be far from ideal for him.

That said, it was a strong win in the Lexus and he is one horse who should relish getting up to 3200m, particularly as they are run in Australia. He can quicken, he can relax and he should get every chance to finish around the mark.

For Fellowes, it would be a fairytale victory. Only 32, Fellowes has held his licence for five years. He stated as early as February that his dream was to get this horse to the Melbourne Cup, and the likeable Englishman proved endearing to many with his emotion after winning the Lexus.

Kiwi jockey Michael Walker maintains the mount. He has ridden in four Melbourne Cups, finishing third aboard Criterion in 2015.

England has never won a Melbourne Cup, but in A Prince Of Arran, they have a genuine contender to take their first.

Watch A Prince Of Arran win the 2018 Lexus Stakes.


 

18. NAKEETA (3)

Jockey: Regan Bayliss
Trainer: Iain Jardine
Odds with tab.com.au: $81
Predicted finishing position: 20th

The pride of Scotland, Nakeeta, returns for a second tilt at the Melbourne Cup, having run a creditable fifth behind Rekindling last year.

Trained by Iain Jardine in the small village of Carrutherstown, near the town of Lockerbie, Nakeeta returns with inferior form this year to what he brought in last year.

In 2017, Nakeeta finished 10th in the Chester Cup (3749m), second in the Listed Grand Cup (2787m) at York, fourth in a 105-rated handicap at Newmarket before taking the Ebor (2787m) at York, arguably England’s most prestigious handicap.

He entered the Melbourne Cup fresh and, given a treat of a ride from Glyn Schofield, closed off strongly for fifth.

This year, he began his year with another 10th in the Chester Cup, this time 16 lengths behind Magic Circle (who he meets 4.5kg better here than that May day).

His form since though has left something to be desired. He finished 14th in the Northumberland Plate (3269m) on the synthetic surface at Newcastle, more than 20 lengths behind runner-up Prince Of Arran. He then ran better when fifth in a 3300m handicap at Newbury, before an average seventh in the Ebor behind Muntahaa. He gets only a half-kilo back in his favour for a seven-length defeat.

He showed little again in a 2900m Doncaster handicap before heading down under once again. Given a run this time before the Melbourne Cup, he was held-up for a run at a crucial stage in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) but it is doubtful he was going well enough anyway. In the end, he finished 13th, beaten almost 15 lengths by Ventura Storm.

On everything Nakeeta has shown this year, it is going to be remarkably difficult for him to run as well as he did last year. He is likely to get out the back and hope for a suitable set-up.

Young gun Regan Bayliss gets his first Melbourne Cup ride here aboard Nakeeta. There are sure to be plenty of opportunities for him in the future, likely on horses with far better credentials than Nakeeta.

This year, though, it’s a no (or maybe a “nah”) for Nakeeta.

Watch Nakeeta run fifth in the 2017 Melbourne Cup.


 

19. SIR CHARLES ROAD (14)

Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
Trainer: Lance O’Sullivan & Andrew Scott
Odds with tab.com.au: $101
Predicted finishing position: 15th

The last time Lance O’Sullivan was involved with the Melbourne Cup, his horse came to a complete stop – before the gates had opened.

O’Sullivan, among the most prolific riders New Zealand has ever produced, was set to partner Pravda, trained by his brother Paul, in the 2000 Melbourne Cup.

Upon leaving the mounting yard, though, Pravda came to a halt and the mare refused to gallop up to the start. No amount of cajoling from the O’Sullivan brothers could get her to head up to the top of the Flemington straight and she was withdrawn from that year’s Cup.

It was set to become even more painful minutes later as the Michael Moroney-trained Brew skipped away to victory. O’Sullivan had ridden Brew into 10th in the 1999 Melbourne Cup.

O’Sullivan retired from the saddle in 2003, having never won the Melbourne Cup. He’d come so agonisingly close, too; he was just beaten a nose in 1985, when his mount Koiro Corrie May just failed to catch What A Nuisance.

Now, as a co-trainer with Andrew Scott, he returns to Flemington with Sir Charles Road, one of the outsiders for Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup.

Always considered a nifty staying prospect in his homeland, Sir Charles Road won the G3 Manawatu Classic (2000m) at Awapuni as a three-year-old in 2017, also finishing second to popular galloper Gingernuts in the G2 Avondale Guineas (2100m) and sixth in that year’s G1 New Zealand Derby (2400m) behind that same horse.

Last spring, he looked hopelessly out of form but, somehow, O’Sullivan and Scott brought him back to something near his best. He won the G2 City Of Auckland Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie in January and, at his first run across the Tasman, he took the G2 Chairman’s Handicap (2600m) at Randwick in April.

Tested at 3200m twice this year, he finished fifth in the G1 Auckland Cup and third in the G1 Sydney Cup.

This spring, he returned with a down-the-field effort against some of New Zealand’s classier horses in the much-too-short G2 Foxbridge Plate (1200m), before relishing the step up to a mile with a big win under top-weight in an open handicap at Hastings.

Brought to Melbourne for the first time, he produced a good effort with his closing fourth in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) behind Night’s Watch, disappointed when probably ridden too handy in the G3 Coongy Cup (2000m) and then had his chance but ran well when third to Red Alto in the G3 Bendigo Cup (2400m) last Wednesday.

The son of Myboycharlie is one horse who won’t be impeded by a wet track, although he probably wouldn’t want it too wet.

Jockey Dwayne Dunn takes his 13th Melbourne Cup ride here. A mainstay of the Melbourne riding roster, his best result in the Cup has been seventh; he rode both Skybeau (1997) and Araldo (2014) into that position.

It’s going to be a tough ask for Dunn to get a personal best finish here. Sir Charles Road is honest, but he’s looking at a midfield finish at best.

Watch Sir Charles Road win the 2018 Chairman’s Handicap.


 

20. ZACADA (24)

Jockey: Damian Lane
Trainer: Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman
Odds with tab.com.au: $151
Predicted finishing position: 24th

Zacada enters the Melbourne Cup as the rank outsider in the 24-horse field, and deservedly so. However, despite his mammoth price, he’d receive plenty of sentimental cheers if he pulled off the upset.

Owned by Sir Patrick Hogan, the now-retired long-term studmaster at New Zealand’s iconic Cambridge Stud, Zacada represents the changing of the guard in the Kiwi breeding industry.

Hogan is the man who identified champion sires Sir Tristram and his son Zabeel as potential stallion prospects – between them, they’ve produced six Melbourne Cup winners.

In fact, Zacada is set to become the 43rd Melbourne Cup runner for the late Zabeel, and potentially the last too. It’s the end of an era for this remarkable stallion. In a way, that’s the case for Hogan too, who relinquished control of Cambridge Stud last year.

Zacada was one of the last horses to sneak into the Melbourne Cup field. He is out of form this preparation, having failed to impress from near the rear in four runs – 11th in an open handicap over 1600m at Ellerslie behind fellow Cup runner Sir Charles Road, 15th in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) won by Night’s Watch, eighth to Avilius in the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) and a last-start 12th in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m), beaten seven lengths by Runaway.

If there is any hope for him as a Melbourne Cup runner, it is that both of his runs at 3200m this year have been very solid – fourth to Ladies First in the G1 Auckland Cup before a narrow second, beaten a nose by Who Shot Thebarman, in the G1 Sydney Cup.

However, it is already impressive that he’s made it to a Melbourne Cup, given he was struggling in Rating 65 company in New Zealand two years ago. Like every good Zabeel, he’s matured with age and he’s found his best in 2018, capped by a win in the G2 Avondale Cup (2400m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day.

Still, that is nowhere near good enough to win a Melbourne Cup and he will be doing well if he can beat a few runners home.

Trainers Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman are world-class horsemen. Remarkably, this is their first Cup runner as a partnership – quite astonishing given they have had horses like Mongolian Khan, Jon Snow, Bonneval and Lizzie L’Amour pointing at the race in recent years. All didn’t make it for one reason or another.

Baker, on his own, did finish second in the 1990 Melbourne Cup with The Phantom.

For rider Damian Lane, it will be his fourth Melbourne Cup mount. The young ace finished seventh aboard Beautiful Romance in 2016, his best result so far.

Unfortunately, it would be fanciful if he was to improve on that effort this year. Zacada has no hope.

Watch Zacada win the 2018 Avondale Cup.

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21. RUNAWAY (12)

Jockey: Stephen Baster
Trainer: Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott
Odds with tab.com.au: $34
Predicted finishing position: 12th

If one horse this year epitomises the old school Melbourne Cup runner, it is Runaway. A winner of the VRC St Leger (2800m) earlier this year, his form would once have earnt him top billing for the race that stops the nation.

The Listed VRC St Leger, contested by the three-year-olds at Flemington on ANZAC Day, was once considered a leading launching pad to Melbourne Cup glory just over six months later. In fact, 14 St Leger winners have gone on to take the Melbourne Cup, including some of the greats of the turf, including Phar Lap, Grand Flaneur, Poseidon, Comic Court and Delta, while other top gallopers on the honour roll include Tulloch, Tranquil Star and Hydrogen.

Over the last three decades, though, the St Leger has become a diminished force on the calendar, a reminder that Australia simply struggles to breed strong stayers in the modern era.

The last St Leger winner to take the Melbourne Cup was Gurner’s Lane in 1982, while Shivas Revenge in 1991 was the last St Leger winner to finish in the placings on the first Tuesday in November. And while six winners between 1982 and 1991 eventually contested a Melbourne Cup, there have only been seven winners since then who have made it to Australia’s greatest race.

In fact, no St Leger winner has run in the Melbourne Cup since Lazer Sharp in 2007 – he finished 10th to Efficient.

Runaway, who won comprehensively in April, would not have qualified for Tuesday’s feature himself had he not won the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m), a race considered one of the premier lead-ups to the Melbourne Cup. Two horses have completed the Geelong Cup-Melbourne Cup double this decade already in French pair Americain (2010) and Dunaden (2011).

He was gifted the lead at Geelong, but he produced a strong staying effort to score, holding off his stablemate Northwest Passage. It wasn’t the strongest lead-up event this year, particularly once favourite Withhold bled, but it was a good effort that stamped him as a worthy Melbourne Cup entrant.

Unlike most in here, he has actually run over the Flemington 3200m before – he finished 10th in the Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes in May. That day, it looked like he both wasn’t seasoned enough to handle 3200m at that stage and that he had come to the end of his preparation. It is no pointer to whether he will handle 3200m or not on Tuesday.

A son of Manhattan Rain, who finished in the placings in both the Golden Slipper and the Cox Plate in 2009, Runaway is a three-quarter brother to 2011 Australian Oaks winner Absolutely, a mare who looked to have plenty of stamina herself but whose form fell off a cliff as a four-year-old.

On pedigree, it would be hard to see him seeing out 3200m, but he does himself a lot of favours by putting himself in the right spot and racing tractably and that can prove such a crucial asset.

What may be a positive for him as far as the trip goes could also be a negative against this sort of company. He does appear fairly one-dimensional and this looks a race that could easily change complexion very quickly, just like the Caulfield Cup did.

If a horse like Rostropovich fires up and crosses him, or if horses like Best Solution or Yucatan take off early, he may struggle to respond. That would place him under pressure very early and he is likely

That said, though, he doesn’t appear as one-dimensional as his stablemate Cismontane, who led them up last year. He does look the likely leader but it’s unlikely he will lead at a strong tempo.

Stephen Baster will take his 11th ride in the Melbourne Cup. His best result was a third aboard Mahler in 2007.

For the first lady of the Australian turf Gai Waterhouse, it would be a second Melbourne Cup after she took the spoils with Fiorente in 2013. Since then, though, she has added training partner Adrian Bott to the team, with the young handler seeking his first success.

The prospect of a wet track doesn’t look as dismal for Runaway as it does for some of his rivals. His only start on a wet track, he finished fourth in an 1100m maiden as a two-year-old – not a bad effort in hindsight. His pedigree suggests he should handle it, but it could prove a negative if it turns the Cup into a real staying test.

It’s going to be a tall order for Runaway to score these days, he’d have to find a clear personal best to do so and that seems unlikely. However, he’s the type who could easily hang on for some minor money. He’s a place chance and is worth including in all exotics for the placings.

Watch Runaway win the 2018 Geelong Cup.


 

22. YOUNGSTAR (8)

Jockey: Craig Williams
Trainer: Chris Waller
Odds with tab.com.au: $16
Predicted finishing position: 2nd

Carrying the hopes of a nation on her shoulders is four-year-old mare Youngstar, the best Australian chance in this year’s Melbourne Cup.

The well-bred filly hardly looked a potential Melbourne Cup horse when she debuted a year ago at Newcastle, finishing fifth over 1400m, or three weeks later at Canterbury, when she finished fourth of four over 1550m.

However, with experience, she has developed into a talented staying mare, one who looks well-weighted this year with 51.5kg.

She broke her maiden in a 1500m three-year-old fillies contest at Hawkesbury at April, but it was her next start, when she came from last to race right away in a Newcastle Benchmark 68 handicap over 1885m that she truly looked to have potential.

Taken up to Brisbane, she came from a long way back to win the G2 Doomben Roses (2000m) before producing a strong performance to win the G1 Queensland Oaks (2200m), also at Doomben. Given a chance against the boys, she finished third to Dark Dream – now based in Hong Kong – in the G1 Queensland Derby (2200m), coming from near the tail in another very promising effort.

The trick is always whether three-year-old fillies return as well at four when they are thrown in against all-comers. Her first two runs suggested that she was right on track, finishing strongly for sixth in the G2 Tramway Stakes (1400m) at Randwick before not having the best of luck when third in the G2 Shannon Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill.

Arriving in Melbourne for the first time, she faced a task in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), tackling her illustrious stablemate Winx. For a fair length of the straight, though, it looked like Youngstar was going to claim the scalp of Winx for the first time in almost four years. However, the champion mare was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, although Youngstar lost no admirers in defeat.

Sent out third favourite in the Caulfield Cup, she ended up in a hopeless position with the way the race was run. She finished seventh of the 18 runners, almost five lengths behind Best Solution, but that doesn’t paint the entire picture. She clearly ran the fastest last 400m (the only runner to break 24 seconds) and the fastest last 200m and it was a run that suggests that 3200m should suit her.

There is plenty of quality in her pedigree, but also plenty of stamina to suggest that the trip shouldn’t prove an issue. Her second dam User Friendly was a star three-year-old filly in 1992, winning both England’s Oaks at Epsom and the Irish Oaks at the Curragh, as well as the Yorkshire Oaks. Most notably, at least for the purposes of this profile, she was a big winner in the St Leger, while she was only beaten a neck in that year’s Arc.

Also in the pedigree is Two Miles West, a half-brother to her dam Starspangled. He finished second in the Queen’s Vase over two miles at Royal Ascot, while he also contested the 2004 Irish St Leger, won by Vinnie Roe before he ran second to Makybe Diva in that year’s Melbourne Cup.

On pedigree, she should see out the trip no problems. She looks to have a style that is suited to the 3200m and she should be able to sprint strongly no matter where she ends up in the run. Also a positive is that she relishes cut in the ground, so the forecast rain would prove no concern to her.

Trainer Chris Waller, now better known as the trainer of Winx, is yet to have a Melbourne Cup winner. The Kiwi expat is renowned for his handling of stayers, though, and it seems merely a matter of time before he adds the tag “Melbourne Cup-winning trainer” to his resume. He has three chances this year: in addition to Youngstar, he has veteran Who Shot Thebarman and new recruit Finche.

For jockey Craig Williams, Youngstar represents the chance to finally add a Melbourne Cup to his record. He’s won the other three big events on the Australian calendar – the Cox Plate, the Caulfield Cup and the Golden Slipper.

In fact, in 2011, he looked set to become the first rider to win both Cups and the Cox Plate in the same year, having taken the Caulfield Cup on Southern Speed and the Cox Plate on Pinker Pinker. However, a suspension meant that he missed the Melbourne Cup ride on Dunaden, with the French galloper partnered by Christophe Lemaire instead. The significance of a Melbourne Cup win cannot be underestimated.

His best result so far, from 14 attempts, was a third aboard Mount Athos in 2013.

This is his best chance in some time of a Melbourne Cup winner. She’s a legitimate player and she’s right in the mix this year. She’s the best Australian contender and must be considered.

Watch Youngstar win the 2018 Queensland Oaks.

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23. CROSS COUNTER (19)

Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Trainer: Charlie Appleby
Odds with tab.com.au: $9.50
Predicted finishing position: 5th

Probably the best-weighted horse in this year’s Melbourne Cup field is Cross Counter, a European three-year-old aiming to give Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum’s Godolphin operation a first win in the race.

A veteran of only seven starts, he’s had both the grounding in big-field events and showed class in Group company that sets him up in good stead for the hustle and bustle of a Melbourne Cup.

It’s been only 11 months since he made his debut in a 1710m two-year-old novice at Wolverhampton, winning comfortably. It was at his next start in January, a three-year-old novice over 1911m, that he looked a promising horse in the making, careering away to win by eight lengths.

He did not race again until June, finishing second in a 2012m novice at Sandown, running a bold fourth to Baghdad in the King George V Handicap (2414m) at the Royal Ascot meeting.

It was at his next two starts that he stamped his quality, winning a 2414m handicap at Ascot before producing a strong effort near the speed to take the G3 Gordon Stakes (2414m) at the Glorious Goodwood meeting, in a course record time for the mile and a half at Goodwood.

At his last run, he finished a game second to stablemate Old Persian in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2400m) at York. Eventual G1 St Leger (2917m) winner Kew Gardens was third.

Clearly, he’s on an upward spiral and, with only 51kg to carry, he’s a legitimate threat in this year’s contest. Even if the track does come up wet, it shouldn’t prove too much of a concern for him.

The query is the trip. There isn’t a great deal of stamina in his pedigree – in fact, there’s plenty of speed, if anything. Plenty of Teofilo’s sons and daughters have looked terrific at 2400m but have struggled when stepped up in trip.

Throw in the setback he had a couple of weeks ago, where he cut a foreleg and was confined to his box for a number of days, and it hasn’t been an ideal preparation whatsoever. Granted, he looks to be over that issue completely in his recent work, but it is still enough of a cloud to relegate him out of the top four.

Jockey Kerrin McEvoy, who has had so much success in the Godolphin blue over the years, has scored two Melbourne Cup wins aboard Brew (2000) and Almandin (2016) from 15 rides.

Trainer Charlie Appleby has had plenty of success in Australia to date, with wins in the G1 Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) with Jungle Cat, the G3 Bendigo Cup (2400m) and G3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m) with Francis Of Assisi and the the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) with Polarisation, among others. He has only had two Melbourne Cup runners, with Geelong Cup winner Qewy finishing fourth in 2016.

There’s no doubting he’s a legitimate contender and one of the hardest to beat. I have a couple of horses ahead of him, but it wouldn’t shock me if he were to win on Tuesday.

Watch Cross Counter in the 2018 Gordon Stakes.

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24. ROSTROPOVICH (21)

Jockey: Wayne Lordan
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Odds with tab.com.au: $26
Predicted finishing position: 17th

The old saying goes, “if you can’t beat them, join them” – and, to some extent, that is what the world’s leading trainer Aidan O’Brien has done this year.

After O’Brien came agonisingly short of taking his first Melbourne Cup with runner-up Johannes Vermeer last year, he has opted to follow in the footsteps of his son Joseph, who won the 2017 Cup with a European three-year-old in Rekinding.

European three-year-olds are well-treated at the weights, even though they are considered four-year-olds by southern hemisphere time. The right horse coming into this at the end of the European flat season can be lethal, as Rekindling proved last year.

To be fair, the elder O’Brien was the pioneer of the European three-year-old in the Melbourne Cup. He saddled up the first, Mahler, who finished a game on-the-speed third to Efficient in 2007. A year later, his Alessandro Volta finished 20th to Viewed after a bizarre speed battle in lightning-quick sectionals between all three O’Brien runners. The trainer also had Bondi Beach finish 16th in 2015 as a three-year-old.

O’Brien, who has set nearly every record in the modern training game, has long stated that he believes a European three-year-old is a perfect type for the Melbourne Cup. His son proved him right. Now, the quietly-spoken Irish maestro attempts to add Australia’s most famous trophy to his extensive collection with Rostropovich.

Rostropovich will be the first son of Frankel to contest the Melbourne Cup. Frankel is widely considered the greatest horse to have graced the turf, remaining unbeaten in 14 starts, including exceptional wins in the 2,000 Guineas, the Sussex Stakes (twice), the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the Lockinge Stakes, the Queen Anne Stakes, the Juddmonte International and the Champion Stakes. Personally, I rate him as the best horse I’ve been privileged to see in person – I’ve never seen a horse move like he did when he won the 2012 Queen Anne to begin the Royal Ascot carnival.

Ironically, Rostropovich is a half-brother to Zoffany, who was the horse who came closest to ending Frankel’s unbeaten streak when running him to three-quarters of a length in the 2011 St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.

That pedigree hardly screams two miles, especially given that Frankel – a strong-willed type, to say the least – seems to have passed on some of his headstrong nature to his sons and daughters.

Rostropovich has been well-exposed for a European three-year-old, with 13 starts to his name already. He raced five times as a juvenile, winning a seven-furlong (1408m) maiden at Gowran Park and the G2 Futurity Stakes (1408m) at the Curragh from five starts; he was also third in the G1 National Stakes (1408m) at his final start at two on ground that was probably too soft.

This season, he has been inconsistent but he has shown flashes of class that suggest he is very well weighted with only 51kg. He was a big winner of the Listed Dee Stakes (2075m) at Chester in May, a race that was also won by stablemate The Cliffsofmoher – who also lines up here – in 2017.

He finished off strongly when second to Old Persian in the G2 King Edward VII Stakes (2414m) at Royal Ascot and then formed part of a long-shot quinella when second to Latrobe in the G1 Irish Derby (2414m). That race, though, was dominated from the front and he was suited by leading.

It was those tactics the Ballydoyle boys employed in England’s premier summer feature, the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2414m) at Ascot. Unable to settle on the speed, he weakened badly to finish almost 14 lengths behind Poet’s Word.

The bay then bounced back with a win in a weak edition of the G3 Kilternan Stakes (2414m) at Leopardstown before embarking on his trip down under.

First-up in Melbourne, he was set the impossible task of tackling wonder mare Winx as she chased an unprecedented fourth Cox Plate victory. Tracking wide early, he was pushed on by Ryan Moore to vie for the lead at the 1200m. After his tough run, he was entitled to weaken and his fifth, beaten almost nine lengths, over a journey short of his best, was acceptable. The colt finished just a length behind Avilius, but also meets him a kilogram worse at the weights here.

If he settles, then he’s a contender with his light weight. That’s a big if, though, and it remains to be seen if he has the turn of foot, particularly at two miles, to be able to figure. In his corner though is O’Brien, who is bound to win a Melbourne Cup at some point within the next decade.

The prospect of a wet track also looks a negative for Rostropovich; he did win the Futurity on a wet track but he looked far from comfortable on the surface and, every time he’s struck a shifting surface since, he’s struggled.

For mine, he’s a fringe place chance at the very best, but he needs too much to go his way for him to win. Instead, I’ll be opposing him.

Watch Rostropovich finish second in the 2018 Irish Derby.


SELECTIONS

#3 MAGIC CIRCLE
#22 YOUNGSTAR
#2 THE CLIFFSOFMOHER
#9 MARMELO
====================
#23 CROSS COUNTER
#11 YUCATAN

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