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Your Complete Guide to the 2019 Melbourne Cup, by Sky Racing’s Andrew Hawkins

November 3, 2019

NOTE: This preview will also be published, in a condensed version, over at Sky Racing’s website. It is a different format to previous years, but hopefully it makes it easier to read. Enjoy!

The Melbourne Cup is here once again and, as always, the race is on to find the winner before the 24-horse field bursts from the gates at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November.

As Sky Racing’s international presenter, I have been in a fortunate position to have seen the imports and visitors racing all year long while covering the action from abroad. Combined with my lifelong love for the great race, all roads have led to the Flemington 3200m over the past 12 months.

Before we look at each of the horses individually, here are five general talking points worth keeping in mind when it comes to finding the winner on Tuesday.

SPEED MAP

It’s always difficult to figure out where these horses will end up settling first time past the post, and yet it is such a crucial factor in trying to determine who wins the Melbourne Cup each year. It’s even more difficult this year with trainer Aidan O’Brien holding such a key through Magic Wand, Hunting Horn and Il Paradiso. A very rudimentary speed map drawn up on a notepad here suggests those that should enjoy the best trip around are Prince Of Arran, Constantinople, Raymond Tusk, Mer De Glace, Mustajeer and Cross Counter. Of course, as the Caulfield Cup demonstrated, it can also be a curse to be tucked away and most of those listed will want clear galloping room so it could be quite the interesting affair tactically.

WEIGHTS

The Melbourne Cup is still a handicap, but the evolution of the race has seen the weights become far more compressed. Over the last two decades, those down in the weights have been asked to carry more while those up in the weights aren’t given the imposts they once were. The prospect of carrying topweight is not the negative it once was. This is crucial.

FIRST-UP IN AUSTRALIA

Since Vintage Crop won the Melbourne Cup at his first run in Australia in 1993, it had been seen as an advantage to have a run down under first before tackling the Cup. This was touted as gospel, even though the statistics showed that more internationals had finished in the placings without a lead-up run in Australia than by stepping out for the first time. After Cross Counter and Marmelo ran 1-2 fresh off the plane last year, coming 12 months after Rekindling won first time out in Melbourne, maybe that “truth” may finally be put to bed.

EUROPEAN THREE-YEAR-OLDS

The last two winners of the Melbourne Cup, Rekindling and Cross Counter, have won as European three-year-olds. That has resulted in handicapper Greg Carpenter taking a new approach with the two European youngsters in this year’s race, Constantinople and Il Paradiso, with both receiving a higher weight than they would have done in previous years. That said, European three-year-olds have tackled the race without success before – Mahler (3rd, 2007), Alessandro Volta (20th, 2008), Tres Blue (22nd, 2013) and Bondi Beach (16th, 2015) all ran before Rekindling and Cross Counter. The European three-year-olds have generally been weak this season and it may pay to avoid falling into the hype about either Constantinople or Il Paradiso simply because of their age.

WEATHER

The track continued to deteriorate throughout Derby Day, going from a Soft 5 for the opener to end as a Soft 7, bordering on a Heavy 8. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the track will get enough respite to improve markedly. Many of these visitors have made the trip searching for a firm surface, so there might be a few disappointed connections should the track not improve. That said, generally, a European “soft” is deeper than an Australian “soft” and so they should be treated differently. If it is genuinely soft or heavy, the likes of Southern France, Mustajeer, Twilight Payment, Sound and Il Paradiso probably deserve greater respect.

With that being said, here’s a look at each of the 24 runners in this year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup:

1. CROSS COUNTER (5)
Jockey: William Buick
Trainer: Charlie Appleby
Weight: 57.5kg

The Story: Last year’s Melbourne Cup winner as a three-year-old, Cross Counter will be aiming to become the first internationally-trained horse to win back-to-back Melbourne Cups – Vintage Crop (7th, 1994), Americain (4th, 2011) and Dunaden (14th, 2012) all tried and failed. He won the G2 Dubai Gold Cup (3200m) at set weights in March. Beaten in three G1 starts in Europe since – fourth in the Ascot Gold Cup (4000m), third in the Goodwood Cup (3200m) and fourth in the Irish St Leger (2800m) – but has not been suited for various reasons.

Why He Can Win: Horses don’t win the Melbourne Cup in the manner in which he did last year – it was outstanding. Should be suited by a return to Australian conditions, with a more favourable race shape likely to fall his way here. Even with more weight to carry, he does look fairly handicapped when compared to others in the field on the balance of his form. In fact, he almost looks a forgotten contender.

Why He Can’t Win:: Has to carry plenty of weight, especially considering that he carried only 51kg last year. Meets Prince Of Arran worse at the weights compared to last year. Also meets Southern France and Master Of Reality worse at the weights compared to last start, where they finished bunched together. Obviously, it is a difficult task to go back-to-back.

Predicted Finishing Position: 4th

2. MER DE GLACE (2)
Jockey: Damian Lane
Trainer: Hisashi Shimizu
Weight: 56kg

The Story: The land of the rising sun has stood tall this Melbourne spring, finally bringing to fruition the predictions of Japanese domination after Delta Blues and Pop Rock went one-two in the 2006 Melbourne Cup. Mer De Glace was a Group 3 winner at home, having won up to 2200m, but he always looked a horse suited to racing down under. He prevailed in a rough Caulfield Cup, staying away from trouble but still winning with a touch of class. Eleven horses have won the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double, most recently Ethereal in 2001, but no international has managed to capture the famous pair. Four internationals have attempted the heist, with Taufan’s Melody closest when fourth in the second leg in 1998. It could also be historic for rider Damian Lane, who is looking to become the first jockey to win all of Australia’s traditional big four races in one season.

Why He Can Win: On his Japanese racing style, he always looked a horse that would be better suited to Flemington than around the sometimes awkward bends at Caulfield. He was the beneficiary of a good Damian Lane ride to get him around Caulfield, but Flemington should be much more to his liking. He travels so well through his races before unleashing a terrific turn of foot, a real asset for a Melbourne Cup. He should be unleashing late with a powerful burst.

Why He Can’t Win:: There has to be some query about him at 3200m. He goes right up in the weights now and, for a Japanese Group 3 winner, he does look harshly-rated. That said, based on his Caulfield Cup win, he does get in well and the penalty he was given looked lenient if anything. A soft track may be a negative. Draw two may also prove a negative with his running style.

Predicted Finishing Position: 1st

3. MASTER OF REALITY (1)
Jockey: Frankie Dettori
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Weight: 55.5kg

The Story: Began his career in France with trainer Pascal Bary, winning twice at Saint-Cloud over 2400m from five starts. Bought by owner Lloyd Williams in August last year, having two disappointing outings in Ireland to end his three-year-old career before being gelded and spelled. Caused an upset fresh when winning the G3 Vintage Crop Stakes (2800m) at Navan in May – beating three horses he meets here – while he has finished around the mark in four starts since, including a gutsy on-pace third in the G1 Ascot Gold Cup (4000m) behind Stradivarius. Williams has had plenty of success with six Melbourne Cup winners dating back to 1981, including one with Master Of Reality’s trainer Joseph O’Brien in 2017, but superstar jockey Frankie Dettori is yet to break his Melbourne Cup hoodoo, having finished second on Central Park (1999) and Max Dynamite (2015).

Why He Can Win: Owner Lloyd Williams wants to win the Melbourne Cup more than any other race and his horses are primed for this event. Joseph O’Brien is proving a gun trainer at such a young age – so much so that he may even surpass the feats of his legendary father in time – and Frankie Dettori is riding as well as ever at the age of 48, having what he has labelled “my best year ever”. The trip is no concern.

Why He Can’t Win:: He’s too one-paced and simply won’t see out the trip as fast as some others. He’s likely to press forward from the inside gate and he’s unlikely to be able to match the sprint of those coming at him from the 600m. Looks harshly-weighted compared to others around him. Frankie Dettori doesn’t seem the greatest fit for this horse.

Predicted Finishing Position: 20th

4. MIRAGE DANCER (13)
Jockey: Ben Melham
Trainer: Trent Busuttin & Natalie Young
Weight: 55.5kg

The Story: English import who has raced in stakes grade at all bar two of his starts since a winning debut as a two-year-old in October 2016. Only raced four times as a three-year-old but had form around Australian G1 performers Benbatl and Cliffs Of Moher. His four-year-old form was stellar, with a win in the G3 Glorious Stakes (2400m) and a second to Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution in the G2 Princess Of Wales’s Stakes (2400m) among the highlights. Bled when starting well in the market in the G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) at Sha Tin last year and given a long, long spell. Had four starts in England this year, including a win in the Listed Tapster Stakes (2400m) at Goodwood and three placings in Group races, before he was purchased by Australian connections. Ran very well at his first start down under for third in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m).

Why He Can Win: He’s incredibly consistent and usually puts his best foot forward. Like a lot of the Frankels, he just keeps galloping all day long and – if those physical issues stay away – then he is unlikely to lay down. Trainers Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young haven’t had too many imports through their yard, but they have proven among the better handlers of stayers down under.

Why He Can’t Win:: The 3200m looks a major query. He’s a real concern in a race with pressure, which could eventuate here. His internal issues could emerge once again at any time.

Predicted Finishing Position: 19th

5. SOUTHERN FRANCE (14)
Jockey: Mark Zahra
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace
Weight: 55.5kg

The Story: A talented galloper on his day, Southern France is also quite an enigma who doesn’t always show his best form. Placed in both the G2 Queen’s Vase (2800m) during Royal Ascot and the G1 St Leger (2900m) at Doncaster as a three-year-old – both behind his former stablemate Kew Gardens – he ended last season with a seventh as favourite in the Cesarewitch Handicap (3600m). While that might appear disappointing on paper, a number of gallopers have used a similar effort in the Cesarewitch to build a nice career in races like the Melbourne Cup – most notably Red Cadeaux. This season, he has mixed his form, once again demonstrating his Jekyll and Hyde tendencies. He was outstanding when second to Stradivarius in the G2 Yorkshire Cup (2800m) before disappointing in his next three starts. However, he was good when defeating Downdraft in the G3 Irish St Leger Trial (2800m) at the Curragh before fading into third in the G1 Irish St Leger itself at the same course and distance last time out.

Why He Can Win: On his day, he looks to have all the talent in the world. He has a similar profile to other horses that have made the trip in the past, most notably Red Cadeaux before his first trip. Reports from Werribee suggest that he has been working a treat in recent days.

Why He Can’t Win:: Which Southern France will show up? While he’s consistent, he also doesn’t appear the most genuine of gallopers. He’s also one of the larger imports to have made the trip and, as a gross type, going into this race first-up in Australia must be of some concern. He is known to get hot and bothered, so he’s one to keep an eye on in the mounting yard – any pre-race antics would be a negative.

Predicted Finishing Position: 12th

6. HUNTING HORN (11)
Jockey: Seamie Heffernan
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Weight: 55kg

The Story: When Hunting Horn won at Royal Ascot as a three-year-old, taking the G3 Hampton Court Stakes (2000m) in a canter last year, he looked a horse destined for bigger and better things. Maybe not the very top tier, but at least a horse who’d be able to make his presence felt in Group 1 races consistently. Well…he’s made his presence felt, but not in a positive way. He’s now had 12 starts at G1 level for one placing and has generally been used as a pacemaker for his more fancied stablemates, like Magical. He hasn’t been disgraced in some of the world’s top races, but he also hasn’t really been in the mix either. After trips to the United States, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates outside Europe in the last 18 months, Coolmore decided to chance their hand at Australia with the son of Camelot. It paid off instantly with the galloper taking the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m), his first win since June last year.

Why He Can Win: His victory at Royal Ascot last year showed that he had a touch of class, even if it has all gone wrong since. He’s well-travelled and nothing much upsets him these days. The Moonee Valley Cup form has already been franked with Downdraft winning the Hotham. Wasn’t beaten too far in races like the Eclipse, the King George and the Irish Champion Stakes, despite being given no hope. Well-weighted on 55kg, it seems.

Why He Can’t Win:: He has to be a real doubt of seeing out the 3200m. He does have a touch of class, but being used as a pacemaker for most of this year isn’t the most ideal grounding for a Melbourne Cup. The Moonee Valley Cup was probably the weakest of all of the local lead-ups and it was hard to get a true guide given it was such a muddling affair.

Predicted Finishing Position: 13th

7. LATROBE (22)
Jockey: James McDonald
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Weight: 55kg

The Story: Unlike many of the Joseph O’Brien-trained gallopers stepping out for Lloyd Williams down under, this son of Camelot was actually purchased as a yearling by Williams to be based in Ireland. Showing promise early in his career, he developed quickly, taking the G1 Irish Derby (2400m) over Rostropovich at just his fifth start. He was seen down here last year, but instead of heading towards the Melbourne Cup, he was pointed to the G1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) on the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, running home to just miss out. After a disappointing effort in Hong Kong, he wasn’t seen again until April. This season, he’s been tried over a range of distances between 2000m and 2800m, looking more of a grinder this year but also looking as though the 2800m was a bridge too far. His sole win came in the G3 Ballyroan Stakes (2400m), while he faded into sixth last time out in the G1 Irish St Leger (2800m).

Why He Can Win: As with the other Lloyd Williams-owned gallopers, he deserves respect on that basis alone. The booking of James McDonald is a big tick in itself, as there are few better riders in the southern hemisphere and it is only a matter of time before he adds a Melbourne Cup. His Mackinnon effort shows that he has enough of a liking for Flemington.

Why He Can’t Win:: Was last year his best chance of sneaking a Melbourne Cup win with a light weight? He looks too unreliable to be a solid prospect here, especially with a hefty enough weight, and he failed with every chance in the Irish St Leger. The step up to 3200m doesn’t look certain to suit either.

Predicted Finishing Position: 18th

8. MUSTAJEER (6)
Jockey: Damien Oliver
Trainer: Kris Lees
Weight: 55kg

The Story: Mustajeer is set to make Australia his new home, having joined the Newcastle yard of Kris Lees from Ireland’s Ger Lyons. In fact, Lees is the Medicean gelding’s fourth trainer, after Barry Hills, Owen Burrows and Lyons. Mustajeer showed promise early in his career, including a stakes placing at three, but he lost his way after he was gelded, prompting the switch to Lyons late in his four-year-old year. For Lyons, he quickly improved, finishing fourth in last year’s Ebor (2800m) before recording a tremendous win in the Listed Finale Stakes (2400m) at Naas. Early this year, he was around the mark without winning, proving outpaced behind Magical twice over 2000m while also finishing around the mark against the likes of Master Of Reality, Southern France, Twilight Payment and Latrobe. However, it was his win in the first million-pound Ebor in August that really cemented him as a Melbourne Cup contender. Bought pre-race by Australian Bloodstock – already Melbourne Cup winners with Protectionist in 2014 – he lived up to their lofty expectations with a strong victory. First-up for Lees, he finished off powerfully for sixth in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m).

Why He Can Win: Few men know what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup quite like Damien Oliver, who is a three-time winner with Doriemus (1995), Media Puzzle (2002) and Fiorente (2013). The Ebor was worth a million pounds for the first time this year and it attracted probably the best field it has in quite some time. He looks to have had the proper grounding for a Melbourne Cup and his new owners Australian Bloodstock, particularly their principals Luke Murrell and Jamie Lovett, have proven time and time again they have an eye for the right horse for Australian conditions. His Caulfield Cup run was exactly what you would have hoped to see. Perfectly drawn here too.

Why He Can’t Win:: Has much of that same form around the likes of Master Of Reality, Twilight Payment, Southern France and Latrobe, and while he looks more suited than the majority of them, it must be some concern how much they’ve traded wins and spots. Meets Raymond Tusk worse at the weights here, having enjoyed a far more charmed run in the Ebor. Trainer Kris Lees is likely to still be learning about his new stable charge, with Ger Lyons no longer involved. Horses leaving Lyons’ care are always better being watched for some time afterwards.

Predicted Finishing Position: 8th

9. ROSTROPOVICH (12)
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
Trainer: David & Ben Hayes & Tom Dabernig
Weight: 55kg

The Story: Having performed well during a long season at three, including a G1 placing in the Irish Derby (2400m) behind Latrobe, Rostropovich ran valiantly in two starts in Australia last spring. His fifth to Winx in the G1 Cox Plate (2040m) can best be described as fair, while his fifth to Cross Counter in the Melbourne Cup was a nice performance. He ended his season with a midfield finish in the G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m). Given plenty of time off, he switched from Aidan O’Brien’s Tipperary base to the Lindsay Park stronghold in Victoria in preparation of a spring campaign this year. It shaped promisingly after a trial win and a good return in the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) behind longshot winner Gatting, but his two runs since – ninth in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) and 16th in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) – inspire little confidence heading into his second Cup tilt.

Why He Can Win: Ran fifth last year when still looking far from the finished product. The Lindsay Park team will finally have a better handle of him having now had him all year and David Hayes is a master at having these horses peak on Cup day.

Why He Can’t Win:: On what he’s shown in his three starts this preparation, how could you have him? Faded meekly after a handy run in the Caulfield Cup, and while he may appreciate being ridden quieter, it was a trail behind the leaders that saw him finish fifth last year. Horses rarely improve enough to win having finished outside the top four at their first attempt at the Melbourne Cup.

Predicted Finishing Position: 22nd

10. TWILIGHT PAYMENT (19)
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Weight: 55kg

The Story: Intriguingly, Twilight Payment steps out for trainer Joseph O’Brien for just the second time, having joined the young handler after having been in the care of Jim Bolger since his debut in May, 2016. That said, Bolger’s wife Jackie remains in the ownership. A horse who has long shown promise, ever since finishing second to Order Of St George as a three-year-old at just his fifth start, Twilight Payment has been a stalwart of the Irish staying ranks. He doesn’t win out of turn – in fact, until May this year, he’d only won three times – but he’d always run an honest race. He is coming off his best season yet, including wins in the Listed Saval Beg Stakes (2800m) at Leopardstown and the G2 Curragh Cup (2800m) at the Curragh. However, last start, he was disappointing when seventh in the G1 Irish St Leger (2800m).

Why He Can Win: Joseph O’Brien has already proven capable of winning a Melbourne Cup with Rekindling in 2017. His consistency over a number of seasons reads well in the form book. He has form tied through so many of the principals here, as well as some of the better stayers in Europe in recent years.

Why He Can’t Win:: Needs so much to go right to be in the finish. His consistency in small fields comes from the fact that he generally races handy, something that he’s not going to be able to do here. Was well beaten by many of these in the Irish St Leger last start. Just doesn’t appeal as a type for Australian conditions at all.

Predicted Finishing Position: 23rd

11. FINCHE (4)
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Trainer: Chris Waller
Weight: 54kg

The Story: Arrived from France with good credentials and quickly stamped himself as a stayer of the future with his third in last year’s G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) and his fourth in the Melbourne Cup two weeks later. Off the scene for 10 months, he stepped out from trainer Chris Waller’s Rosehill base for the first time when a solid fifth in the G2 Chelmsford Stakes (1600m) at Randwick. Sent off at what, in hindsight, appears ridiculous odds when winning the G3 Kingston Town Stakes (2000m) as a double-figure hope next start, before just being run down in the shadows of the post in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) at Flemington in early October. Last time out, he was all over the place in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m), weakening late for fifth to Mer De Glace.

Why He Can Win: If you’d asked for one horse last year that was likely to be back in 12 months to tackle this race, it was Finche. He’s looked one of the better Melbourne Cup hopes for a year. Clearly loves Flemington, having had two starts at the track for a fourth in last year’s Cup and his second in the Turnbull. Kerrin McEvoy has made the Cup his own in recent years, winning it in 2016 with Almandin and last year on Cross Counter to go with his win on Brew in 2000. Trainer Chris Waller is arguably the country’s leading trainer of stayers and has been having a charmed run of late.

Why He Can’t Win:: It’s rare that horses are unplaced in the Melbourne Cup at their first attempt and then return to win it a year later – Brew was the last to achieve that feat in 2000. Faded pretty tamely at Caulfield when asked the question over the concluding stages.

Predicted Finishing Position: 7th

12. PRINCE OF ARRAN (8)
Jockey: Michael Walker
Trainer: Charlie Fellowes
Weight: 54kg

The Story: Becomes the first horse in history ever to contest the Melbourne Cup under two different names, having raced as “A Prince Of Arran” last year. Incredibly, he’s still a maiden on turf in the UK – he’s had 16 starts on turf for four seconds, but his only wins in the UK have come on synthetic surfaces. That said, he’s clearly a happy chappy in Australia, having stepped out five times in Group-class staying handicaps and not missing a place. Last year, a third in the G2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) and a win in the G2 Hotham Handicap (2500m) qualified him for the Cup, in which he finished a game third to Cross Counter. He’s barely had time to breathe since, finishing midfield in the G1 Hong Kong Vase (2400m) before a Dubai campaign in which he was unplaced in two runs. Back in the UK, he was disappointing in both the G3 Glorious Stakes (2400m) and the Ebor (2800m) but improved to take third in the G3 September Stakes (2400m), again on the all-weather at Kempton. A good second in the Herbert Power was followed by a last-start win in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) that suggests he is right on song for Tuesday.

Why He Can Win: Take any horse to a new environment and there is a chance that something will click. That said, there is nothing quite like Prince Of Arran and his affinity for Australia. For whatever reason, he simply loves it down here. He doesn’t have to do the quick back-up this year like he did last year and Geelong Cup winners have done well in this race in recent years. If anything, he is probably the one horse who is best handicapped in here.

Why He Can’t Win:: Similar statistic to Finche, although horses who placed at their first attempt do have a better record – Fiorente in 2013 the last to place first time around before winning at his second attempt. Does he lack the upside of some of the horses in this field? While it’s clear he loves travelling and especially loves it in Australia, his form before he made the journey was nothing special. In fact, it was pretty poor.

Predicted Finishing Position: 5th

13. RAYMOND TUSK (3)
Jockey: Jamie Spencer
Trainer: Richard Hannon
Weight: 54kg

The Story: It would be one of the most popular wins if Raymond Tusk were to take the 2019 Melbourne Cup, for he races for a large group of English owners, most of whom have made the trip down under. While that might sound fairly normal, syndication is a rarity in England, with his owners Middleham Park one of the leaders in the field when it comes to making racehorse ownership accessible. In Raymond Tusk, named after a character from the American House Of Cards, the journey has already taken them to Italy and Qatar, with Australia next on the agenda. A winner of a 1600m maiden at Newbury, a 2200m Listed event at Newbury and a 2400m Group 2 at San Siro in Milan from his first seven starts, all at three, he hasn’t won yet as a four-year-old, although he’s run some great races. The form around Dee Ex Bee from the G3 Sagaro Stakes (3200m) and Crystal Ocean from the G3 Aston Park Stakes (2400m) looks really solid now, while he was the real eye-catcher from his last-start fourth to Mustajeer in the first million-pound Ebor (2800m).

Why He Can Win: Although he only has a short, sharp turn of foot, it can be lethal if unleashed at the right time. His form reads well, even without winning this year, while the Ebor effort for mine pointed to a big effort in the Melbourne Cup. Looks set to be suited by Australian conditions.

Why He Can’t Win:: The races he’s won hardly scream Melbourne Cup winner. He only has a short turn of foot and that can be difficult at Flemington, although Jamie Spencer is one of the best in the world at riding horses with short bursts of speed. Not sure an inside draw suits either, would have preferred him drawn middle of the line.

Predicted Finishing Position: 2nd

14. DOWNDRAFT (15)
Jockey: John Allen
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
Weight: 53.5kg

The Story: Downdraft only confirmed his place in the Melbourne Cup with his win in the G3 Hotham Handicap (2500m) at Flemington on Saturday, but it was the final piece in a long plan that stretches back to April last year. Having raced for some of Joseph O’Brien’s owners through his first three starts at Dundalk, he was purchased by OTI Racing early last year with the Melbourne Cup a long-term goal. While his form may not be as flashy as some of the other imports coming across from Ireland, he has some ticks to his name which others don’t: he’s shown the ability to win over 2000m and prove competitive over a mile; he’s raced in plenty of big-field handicaps, as well as in stakes company; he’s been given plenty of time to find his feet before hitting his purple patch now. Listed wins in the Lenebane Stakes (2400m) at Roscommon and the Her Majesty’s Plate (2800m) at Down Royal, as well as a second to Southern France in the G3 Irish St Leger Trial (2800m) at the Curragh, primed him for his Australian assault. Ran fine in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) first-up before a tremendous Hotham victory which puts him right in the mix for the first Tuesday in November.

Why He Can Win: Even if it wasn’t the strongest Hotham, to win with 59kg in the manner that he did was outstanding. No horse has carried 59kg to win the Hotham since 1957. Since the turn of the century, those that have carried a big weight (56.5kg or more) in the Hotham and backed up in the Melbourne Cup have a great record: Prince Of Arran (3rd), Excess Knowledge (7th), Signoff (4th), Kelinni (4th), Maybe Better (3rd) and Brew (1st). Drops 5.5kg and looks right on song. Peaking at the right time and he’s had the handicap grounding in the UK and Ireland that often bodes well for a race like the Cup.

Why He Can’t Win:: Has to step out three times in 10 days – it’s extremely rare for an Irish horse to do it (although a horse named One Cool Poet won three times in five days at the Galway Festival this year). The Hotham form looks somewhat questionable and he has to back up having carried a big weight there in a testing event.

Predicted Finishing Position: 3rd

15. MAGIC WAND (24)
Jockey: Ryan Moore
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Weight: 53.5kg

The Story: The cry of “always the bridesmaid, never the bride” seems so apt when it comes to Magic Wand. The daughter of Galileo was a winner of two of her first five starts by big margins, in both the Listed Cheshire Oaks (2300m) at Chester and the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes (2400m) during the Royal Ascot meeting. Since then, though, she’s had 14 starts in six different countries on four continents and she hasn’t managed to win. She’s run well – six times, she’s been second in G1 events, including the Arlington Million (2000m) and the Irish Champion Stakes (2000m) in recent months – but she just hasn’t been able to win. She ran well enough for fourth in the G1 Cox Plate (2040m) to Lys Gracieux, battling on after leading. However, she steps beyond 2400m for the first time here.

Why She Can Win: She brings a hint of class and you’d rarely see a mare of her calibre sneak in with 53.5kg, particularly not in this day and age. She does have tactical speed and she does look as though she could be suited to Australian conditions if given the chance to adapt. Her trainer Aidan O’Brien is one of the world’s best, while jockey Ryan Moore has already won a Melbourne Cup with Protectionist in 2014.

Why She Can’t Win:: Trainer Aidan O’Brien has been reluctant to step her out to 2400m again because he felt that trip saw her out, so stepping her out to 3200m seems a real bridge too far. The draw looks really tough for her. She’s likely to go forward from the outside gate and it’s hard to see her not doing too much work, even if she does manage to see out the trip.

Predicted Finishing Position: 14th

16. NEUFBOSC (23)
Jockey: Luke Nolen
Trainer: David & Ben Hayes & Tom Dabernig
Weight: 53.5kg

The Story: Formerly trained in France by Pia Brandt, Neufbosc had eight starts in Europe for three wins, including the G3 Prix Du Lys over the Longchamp 2400m, while he was G1-placed behind Kew Gardens in the Grand Prix de Paris at the same course and distance. He made a name for himself as a bold front-runner but quite one-paced as well. Has been ridden colder in Australia but hasn’t shown any hint of form in five starts for Lindsay Park.

Why He Can Win: Could improve up to 3200m. Should appreciate a more positive ride here. David Hayes knows what it takes to prepare a Melbourne Cup winner, having scored with Jeune in 1994.

Why He Can’t Win:: Hasn’t shown anything near enough to think that he could be competitive here. Gate 23 only makes his job tougher.

Predicted Finishing Position: 24th

17. SOUND (10)
Jockey: James Winks
Trainer: Michael Moroney
Weight: 53.5kg

The Story: Bought from Germany last year, having won seven from 16 starts. He was progressive in Germany, winning the G2 Oleander-Rennen (3200m) and finishing second to subsequent Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution in the G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin (2400m) at his final start in Europe. Well beaten in both the Caulfield Cup and the Melbourne Cup last year. Still yet to place in eight starts in Australia. He’s been better in two starts this spring, finishing a luckless 10th in the Caulfield Cup last start.

Why He Can Win: His form this spring is better than it looks on paper. He’s coming into form at the right time and should be peaking third-up here to 3200m. No issues with the trip at all. Trainer Mike Moroney won a Melbourne Cup with Brew in 2000.

Why He Can’t Win:: Yet to show enough in Australia to think that he could trouble the judge. Could probably outrun his odds, but doesn’t look a likely top 10 finisher.

Predicted Finishing Position: 21st

18. SURPRISE BABY (20)
Jockey: Jordan Childs
Trainer: Paul Preusker
Weight: 53.5kg

The Story: A son of the 2009 Melbourne Cup winner Shocking, Surprise Baby is the leading local hope. He is aiming to become the first son of a Cup winner to take the race himself since 1984 victor Black Knight followed in the footsteps of his sire, 1971 winner Silver Knight, in saluting at Flemington. It was only in October last year that Surprise Baby debuted in a 1200m maiden at his home track of Horsham, winning by three-quarters of a length. A second 1200m win at the track followed in a Benchmark 64 handicap, while he’d added a first city win over 1600m at Moonee Valley by the end of January. However, he stamped his credentials as a potential star of the future when he won the G2 Adelaide Cup (3200m) at just his sixth start – almost unfathomable. He failed by a nose to gain ballot exemption for this race at start eight in the Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes (2800m) in March, going down to Steel Prince, but his two runs this time in have confirmed that he’s still on an upward spiral. Last time out, he was a terrific winner of the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) and looks poised to try and restore Australian pride in the Melbourne Cup.

Why He Can Win: The Bart Cummings in recent years has been a good form reference for this race and he was one of the more impressive winners in recent times. It’s so rare for an Australian horse to enter with his sort of profile and still look to have upside, too. Looks set to peak here.

Why He Can’t Win:: The local stayers are a weak bunch and he looks to be the best of a bad lot. While Paul Preusker taking on the world from his Horsham base makes for a traditional us vs the world story, it is also a David v Goliath battle that is – as you’d expect – heavily stacked in Goliath’s favour. Gate 20 won’t make his task easy.

Predicted Finishing Position: 6th

19. CONSTANTINOPLE (7)
Jockey: Joao Moreira
Trainer: David & Ben Hayes & Tom Dabernig
Weight: 52.5kg

The Story: Irish import, formerly with Aidan O’Brien, now with David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig. Had three starts in strong maiden company as a two-year-old, finally breaking his duck in a Thurles 1600m maiden at his last juvenile outing. Five starts in Europe this season resulted in a win second-up in the G3 Gallinule Stakes (2000m) – a race won by Adelaide the same year he won the Cox Plate in 2014 – but what has become more notable has been the way in which he’s thrown away a number of victories. Finished second in three consecutive starts, looking the winner before being outgunned in both the King George V Handicap (2400m) at Royal Ascot and the G3 Gordon Stakes (2400m) at Glorious Goodwood. His last English run, he was simply no match for the subsequent St Leger winner Logician in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2400m) at York, the same race in which Cross Counter was second last year. Sold to Australian interests, he stepped out in the Caulfield Cup for the first time down under, having absolutely no luck at all before rattling home to finish fourth. His brother, Bondi Beach, contested three Melbourne Cups without success.

Why He Can Win: For years, the easiest way to find the Melbourne Cup winner was to look for the “flashing light” run in the Caulfield Cup. While plenty of horses were luckless, he was the one that stood out. With a clear passage, it’s possible – if not likely – he would have troubled Mer De Glace and so that form must be respected. Obviously, David Hayes has won a Melbourne Cup before with an import – Jeune in 1994 – while Hong Kong-based Brazilian Joao Moreira, the “Magic Man”, is rightfully considered one of the world’s premier riders. Gets the perfect draw here.

Why He Can’t Win:: This horse is a thinker. He has talent, but for mine, he lacks the fortitude and the mindset to win a Melbourne Cup. He’s quirky, as all the gear on him shows, and it is going to require so much to go right for him to take the win. He’s thrown away victory so many times this season already and, even though he was luckless in the Caulfield Cup, he has developed a habit of finding trouble or just struggling to pick up. He isn’t as well-weighted as either of the two three-year-olds who’ve won this race in the last two years and, as mentioned before, the European three-year-olds this year generally look a subpar bunch. While Joao Moreira is one of the world’s great jockeys, he is yet to show Australia his magic. In fact, he is still best remembered down under as the last jockey to lose aboard Winx before she went on her magnificent win streak.

Predicted Finishing Position: 15th

20. IL PARADISO (17)
Jockey: Wayne Lordan
Trainer: Aidan O’Brien
Weight: 52.5kg

The Story: Lightly-raced Irish three-year-old, having only had eight starts since his debut in September last year. Placed at all three starts as a juvenile. Broke his maiden at his first start as a three-year-old (defeating Harpo Marx, a son of 2012 Coolmore Stud Stakes winner Nechita) over 2400m at Leopardstown. Poor when ridden cold in a pace-dominated G1 Irish Derby (2400m) behind stablemate Sovereign. Stepped up to 3200m for a big win at his handicap debut, scoring by 12 lengths. Second time out at the trip, finished only a length off champion stayer Stradivarius in the G2 Lonsdale Cup (3300m) but receiving plenty of weight. Didn’t show much in the G1 St Leger (2900m) last time out. Likely to race handy.

Why He Can Win: He still has upside and he looks rather unexposed. His trainer Aidan O’Brien is a master, winning so many of the world’s great races, and it looks only a matter of time before he adds a Melbourne Cup to his resume.

Why He Can’t Win:: He is quite reminiscent of Alessandro Volta, who was unsuited to Australian conditions. It’s hard to see him having the turn of foot necessary to compete here. Looked to be flattered by the margin behind Stradivarius given the race shape and also the weight he conceded to the champion. Likely presses forward from gate 17, but difficult to see how he enjoys a winning trip.

Predicted Finishing Position: 17th

21. STEEL PRINCE (16)
Jockey: Brett Prebble
Trainer: Anthony Freedman
Weight: 52.5kg

The Story: Irish import (winner of one race, a Limerick 2300m event, from four starts for Patrick Prendergast) who has now been in Australia for almost two years. Progressed steadily in nine Victorian starts before finishing second to Sydney Cup winner Shraaoh over 2800m on this day last year. Joining Anthony Freedman at the start of this year, he won five races in a row, culminating with victory in the Listed Andrew Ramsden Stakes (2800m) and securing his spot in this year’s Melbourne Cup. Good fresh, just fair in two runs since, including a last-start seventh in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m).

Why He Can Win: Having secured his berth in this race in May, the stable has been able to give him a quiet preparation leading into the Cup. He’s clearly going to be peaking here and he has showed his liking for Flemington. Anthony Freedman may not officially have a Melbourne Cup to his name, but with his brothers, he was intimately involved in the Cup wins of Tawrrific (1989), Subzero (1992), Doriemus (1995) and Makybe Diva (2004, 2005). Jockey Brett Prebble knows what it takes too, having won aboard Green Moon in 2012. Gets in well at the weights.

Why He Can’t Win:: Not too sure how he’s going at the moment. Hard to know whether he’s the same as the Steel Prince we saw in the Andrew Ramsden. In years gone by, a horse with his profile would have had 50kg.

Predicted Finishing Position: 10th

22. THE CHOSEN ONE (18)
Jockey: Tim Clark
Trainer: Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman
Weight: 52kg

The Story: There are few shrewder trainers in the southern hemisphere than Murray Baker, while his co-trainer Andrew Forsman is one of the rising stars of the game. It was only 13 months ago that he made a winning debut over 1400m at Waverley in New Zealand, but within a month, he was already a stakes winner, taking the Listed Zacinto Stakes (1600m) at Riccarton. He was only fair when coming through the New Zealand classics, but another stakes win in the G3 Manawatu Classic (2000m) at Awapuni set him up for a Sydney campaign. His efforts to finish fourth in the G1 ATC Derby (2400m) before winning the G3 Frank Packer Plate (2000m) marked him as a horse to watch for the future. This preparation, he has had five runs in Melbourne, highlighted by a win over Prince Of Arran in the G2 Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) at Caulfield. He ended up a long way back in both the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and the G3 Hotham Handicap (2500m), finishing off fairly in both for ninth and fifth respectively.

Why He Can Win: Murray Baker hasn’t had a Melbourne Cup winner, but he did finish second with The Phantom in 1990 and he is known as an astute handler of stayers. He’s had a very traditional preparation and looks to be one of the closest adherents to the Bart Cummings philosophy of 10,000 metres and a race on the Saturday before.

Why He Can’t Win:: No horse has ever won from barrier 18. The trip looks a query and he’s likely to get back and be attempting to run on against horses more suited to the 3200m. Hard to see him getting into the race from his draw.

Predicted Finishing Position: 16th

23. VOW AND DECLARE (21)
Jockey: Craig Williams
Trainer: Danny O’Brien
Weight: 52kg

The Story: Twelve months ago, Vow And Declare scored his first stakes win in the Listed Connoisseur Stakes (1800m) on Oaks Day, coming at his fifth start after breaking his maiden over 2381m at Warrnambool the start before. So often, horses winning these sorts of races fade into obscurity, but for Vow And Declare, he’s continued to improve right into Melbourne Cup contention. In the winter, he finished second in the G1 Queensland Derby (2400m) to Mr Quickie before producing a terrific staying effort to absolutely dominate the G3 Tatt’s Cup (3000m), leaving one-time Melbourne Cup fourth Big Duke in his wake. He’s only had two starts this spring, a very light campaign traditionally, but he has been terrific in both outings, finishing hard for fourth in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) before a fast-finishing second in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) last time out.

Why He Can Win: Has had an unorthodox preparation for an Australian galloper but has also been the one that has been the most eye-catching through the traditional lead-ups. Yet to race at 3200m but his win at 3000m earlier this year gives hope that he should see it out. Craig Williams remains one of the best riders yet to win a Melbourne Cup.

Why He Can’t Win:: It has been quite some time since the Australian stayers have been able to match those from overseas, freak wins like Prince Of Penzance aside. A high-pressure 3200m remains some query. The gate isn’t ideal.

Predicted Finishing Position: 9th

24. YOUNGSTAR (9)
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Trainer: Chris Waller
Weight: 52kg

The Story: Last year’s G1 Queensland Oaks (2400m) winner, Youngstar made a splash in her two Flemington runs last spring, finishing second to Winx in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) before finishing an acceptable sixth in the Melbourne Cup itself. She looked a shadow of herself during the Sydney autumn and the Brisbane winter, which raised concerns that she wasn’t the same. And while she probably hasn’t hit the same heights this spring, she still hasn’t been bad in races that haven’t been run to suit either. In particular, she arguably should have won last time out in the ATC St Leger (2600m), and that came after she made ground late in a very slowly-run affair in the G2 Hill Stakes (2000m).

Why She Can Win: Chris Waller is as good a trainer of stayers as you will find in Australia and he has given Youngstar a fairly traditional campaign. She’s been building up well and should be peaking here. She showed last year that she wasn’t far off being a contender in this spot.

Why She Can’t Win:: She doesn’t appear to be going as well this preparation as she was 12 months ago. Looked to be at her absolute peak entering last year’s Melbourne Cup and, although it was a good run for sixth, it’s hard to see her improving on that effort 12 months later. She’s gone up in the weights as well – even though it is only a half-kilo, she doesn’t appear as well weighted this time around.

Predicted Finishing Position: 11th

SELECTIONS

2. MER DE GLACE
13. RAYMOND TUSK
14. DOWNDRAFT
1. CROSS COUNTER

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