THIS year’s $7 million Lexus Melbourne Cup will see an even spread of local and internationally-trained stayers clash over the iconic Flemington two-mile journey.
The forecast is for showers on Monday (5-10mm) and light rain on Tuesday (1-5mm) but the Flemington track was quite firm on Saturday so a Soft 6 is probably the worst-case scenario, with a Good 4 or Soft 5 more likely.
The rail will be out 2m after being in the true position on Derby day. It was possible to win from anywhere that day so hopefully we see an even playing surface again. Jockeys steered to the inside part of the track in the straight-course events but the middle section may see more action this time around.
Comprehensive runner-by-runner guide and $100 betting strategy below.
1. BEST SOLUTION (Barrier: 6)
Best Solution’s narrow victory in the Caulfield Cup was his fourth in a row and his third Group 1 win on the bounce. The muddling way in which the Caulfield Cup was run makes it a difficult race to assess but he showed good determination to hold off Homesman after going for home about 600m out. The bin Suroor-trained galloper has never raced beyond 2400m, which is obviously some query, but fitness certainly won’t be an issue given he’s raced eight times this year — all at 2400m. He’s drawn to settle in the first five or six from the favourable alley.
Why he can win: He’s racing in career-best form, winning five of his eight starts this year. Although they walked in the middle stages of the Caulfield Cup, he exerted a fair bit of energy early after missing the kick from barrier 15 and was still able to sustain a long sprint at the end of 2400m.
Why he can’t: No form beyond 2400m. The Caulfield Cup was run about 50L slower than the Caulfield 2400m record, so it was always going to be difficult for the backmarkers to make ground on Best Solution after Cosgrave pinched a margin turning for home. Makybe Diva (2005) is the only horse since Think Big (1975) to carry more than 57kg to Cup victory.
2. THE CLIFFSOFMOHER (9)
Aidan O’Brien-trained galloper who ran an eye-catching fourth at his Australian debut in the G1 Caulfield Stakes, clocking the quickest final 600m, 400m and 200m splits in a fast-run affair. He backed that up with a third in the Caulfield Cup, finishing 1.85L off Best Solution. While his last-start effort was sound, it’s a bit concerning how much he wanted to lay in over the concluding stages and if he repeats those antics here, it’s hard to see him running a strong two miles. His 1.75L victory in the G2 Mooresbridge Stakes (2011m) at Naas earlier this year reads well given Yucatan finished third in that event.
Why he can win: Both of his runs in Australia have been encouraging and he comes into this with a strong fitness base. Owner Lloyd Williams has made this race his own in modern times.
Why he can’t: His racing manners were ordinary in the Caulfield Cup, wanting to duck in behind the leaders in the straight. It’s very difficult to win a race like the Melbourne Cup if you over-race or hang at various stages, particularly at the business end.
3. MAGIC CIRCLE (17)
This son of Makfi resumed from a six-month spell to take out the Chester Cup (3749m) by 6L, before repeating the dose in the G3 Henry II Stakes (3264m) at Sandown (UK). Prince Of Arran, an impressive winner of the G3 Lexus (2500m) on Derby day, finished 9L off Magic Circle at Chester, so that form looks solid. The Williams-trained galloper hasn’t raced since May and there are conflicting reports about his work at Werribee but his record over two miles is superior to a vast majority of his rivals here.
Why he can win: Has won his last two starts by a combined margin of 12L, smashing Prince Of Arran at Chester and Red Verdon at Sandown. His record on paper suggests he’s a typically dour UK stayer but he’s really put a space on his rivals over the final furlong at his last couple of starts.
Why he can’t: Hasn’t raced since May which is a bit of a concern for a horse whose best form is at 3200m+. A firm track would be against him.
4. CHESTNUT COAT (4)
This Japanese galloper was wide early in the Caulfield Cup last start before finding a spot just forward of midfield. He was left flat-footed when the pace quickened at the 600m and drifted through the field before just plugging home in the straight for 13th, beaten 10.4L. It was an ordinary Australian debut but his fifth in the G1 Tenno Sho Spring (3200m) three-back is solid form for this. He was beaten just 1.8L in that highly-regarded two-mile race and finished 1.5L clear of G1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) runner-up Tosen Basil.
Why he can win: His Tenno Sho run over this distance was full of merit. The stop-start nature of the Caulfield Cup didn’t suit him so you could forgive his effort there. Drawing barrier four means he should enjoy a lovely run just off the pace.
Why he can’t: Although the race wasn’t run to suit, his Caulfield Cup effort was plain and he certainly didn’t attack the line — clocking a pedestrian 13.02 seconds for his final furlong.
5. MUNTAHAA (13)
Muntahaa’s victory in the Ebor Handicap (2816m) last start was dominant, charging from midfield to salute by a widening 3.25L. It’s worth noting that the time for the race was the quickest since Caulfield Cup winner All The Good’s Ebor victory in 2008. Prior to that, the Gosden-trained galloper finished fourth to Best Solution over 2414m at Newmarket, beaten 4.5L. Jockey Jim Crowley has had three rides in Australia for two wins and a second on Qafila in the G2 Wakeful Stakes — he’s in super form.
Why he can win: Was awesome winning the Ebor Handicap in slick time last start which is the race Heartbreak City won before finishing a narrow second to Almandin in this race two years ago.
Why he can’t: Well-beaten by Best Solution two-back, albeit over 2414m. He’s a horse who mixes his form and can often follow a good run with an ordinary one.
6. SOUND CHECK (16)
Mike Moroney-trained import who was beaten a long way in the Caulfield Cup at his Australian debut. The 10.25L margin is somewhat forgivable though given he dropped right back to the tail in a very slowly-run race. His last 100m was satisfactory and he’ll relish the extra distance here and the likelihood of a more genuine tempo. Two-back he was just 0.3L off Best Solution over 2400m at Hoppegarten and his overall form this year has been terrific, posting back-to-back victories over 2800m and 3200m in April/May.
Why he can win: Nothing really went right for him in the Caulfield Cup but he looks much better suited here. He’s had five runs at 2800m and beyond for three wins and a close-up second.
Why he can’t: His lead-up run in the Caulfield Cup told us very little and certainly wasn’t the ideal Melbourne Cup trial.
7. WHO SHOT THE BARMAN (18)
Waller-trained veteran who made his debut back when Moses was playing full-forward for Jerusalem. This will be his fourth Melbourne Cup after finishing third in 2014, 11th in 2015 and fifth in 2016. His last-start fourth in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) was his best this preparation, working home from 11th at the 400m to finish 2.4L off Ventura Storm. While victory would certainly shock, he’s one to consider for wider exotics on the strength of his G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) win earlier this year.
Why he can win: Won the G1 Sydney Cup earlier this year and his most recent effort was his best since that victory. The booking of big-race rider Ben Melham is a positive.
Why he can’t: He’s very old. No horse has ever won the Melbourne Cup as a 10-year-old.
8. ACE HIGH (22)
There’s no sugar-coating it, Ace High was terribly disappointing in the Caulfield Cup last start and you couldn’t possibly back him here based solely on that run. He rolled to the front and slowed the pace to a crawl but was almost the first horse beaten when the tempo suddenly lifted at the 600m. Other than a slow recovery, the son of High Chaparral showed no abnormalities when vetted post-race. If you can forgive that run, there was plenty to like about his win in the G2 Hill Stakes (2000m) prior when clearing out over the final 150m. That Randwick victory was his first since winning the G1 Victoria Derby (2500m) in dominant fashion here last spring.
Why he can win: Won the Victoria Derby by 2L and was unlucky not to win the ATC Derby (2400m) as well when just nosed out by Levendi. He has an adaptable racing pattern so the wide draw isn’t a major concern.
Why he can’t: Awful in the Caulfield Cup after enjoying a soft run up on the pace. Although visually impressive winning the Hill Stakes two-back, the horses he beat in It’s Somewhat and Egg Tart have not franked the form at all.
9. MARMELO (10)
Marmelo finished ninth in this race last year when a $7 equal-favourite. It was a disappointing effort given the run he had in transit but his form since has been outstanding. The son of Duke Of Marmalade finished a close second to gun two-miler Vazirabad over 3000m back in May before recording back-to-back wins at York and Longchamp. At his most recent run he placed second in the G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) at Deauville, finishing 3.5L clear of the third-placegetter. That race was the event Protectionist won on his way to a devastating victory in the 2014 Melbourne Cup. Marmelo will carry the same weight as he did last year and is a little older and a little wiser.
Why he can win: He was poor in last year’s Melbourne Cup when well-fancied but he’s done everything right since. His form around Vazirabad reads very well for this and his work at Werribee has been most encouraging. The horse who knocked him off last start in Holdthasigreen has since won a Group 1 in France over 3000m.
Why he can’t: Ordinary in this race last year after winning the Prix Kergorlay.
10. AVILIUS (11)
This Cummings-trained import won his first four starts in Australia before bumping into a pretty handy mare by the name of Winx last start. His Cox Plate effort was solid rather than spectacular, grinding home for fourth, beaten 7.75L. While Avilius didn’t exactly savage the line, he was stepping back from 2500m to 2040m in what was openly described by his trainer as a warm-up run for the Cup. His win in the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) — which was a truer staying test than the Caulfield Cup — was strong, albeit narrow, and he should appreciate being back at Flemington.
Why he can win: He really hasn’t put a foot wrong since arriving in Australia and the Cox Plate run should have him at peak fitness for this following starts over 1600m, 1900m, 2000m and 2500m. Trainer James Cummings learnt from the Melbourne Cup master in Bart and should know exactly what it takes to win this race.
Why he can’t: He might be a year too early given he’s only raced beyond 2040m twice in his career. Even the lightly-raced Rekindling had four 2400m+ runs under his belt when he won last year’s Cup.
11. YUCATAN (23)
Recorded a scintillating victory in the Herbert Power (2400m) last start, with James McDonald easing him down abruptly over the final 100m. The final winning margin was 1.25L but it could have easily been 4L or greater. The O’Brien-trained son of Galileo certainly didn’t have things all his own way there either, going back early before sustaining a wide run around the field in a race run at a solid tempo. His European form is mixed and he’s never raced beyond 2419m so there is a query on whether he can repeat the brilliant level he reached last start.
Why he can win: Melbourne Cup trials don’t get much better than his Herbert Power performance, smashing the clock and his opposition. That was his first run in Australia so there could be even further improvement to come second-up.
Why he can’t: Sensational last start but he is a bit temperamental and was pretty plain two starts ago on the back of an impressive win. Can he sprint as quickly as he did last start at the end of 3200m? The distance is a query given we’ve never seen him beyond 2419m. Barrier 23 is no luxury either.
12. AUVRAY (1)
This Freedman-trained galloper isn’t a great beginner so he’s likely to end up buried back on the fence from the inside alley. Two starts ago he hit the line solidly for sixth in The Metropolitan (2400m), finishing 1.7L off Patrick Erin. He struck a heavy track at Randwick last start and was very plain, labouring home to finish 8.5L off the winner. The veteran stayer finished fourth in this year’s Sydney Cup, with Sir Charles Road, Zacada and Who Shot Thebarman beating him home.
Why he can win: Rock-hard fit coming off runs over 2300m, 2400m and 2600m.
Why he can’t win: A myriad of reasons. But simply put, he’s just not good enough.
13. FINCHE (15)
French import who was poised to strike at the top of the straight in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) last start before the fitter Waterhouse pairing of Runaway and Northwest Passage drew clear. Finche, who was carrying 59kg, still worked to the line okay and will strip fitter for this. He was an impressive winner over 2500m at Deauville two-back, beating Tiberian by 1.75L. That galloper ran okay for seventh in last year’s Melbourne Cup after covering additional ground.
Why he can win: There was plenty to like about his victory two starts ago and his Australian debut in the Geelong Cup was solid given the winner had a 5kg weight advantage on him. He’s only lightly-raced and open to further improvement.
Why he can’t: He’s never raced beyond 2500m. Northwest Passage, who beat Finche by 0.75L last start, was only average in Saturday’s Lexus Stakes (2500m) at Flemington.
14. RED CARDINAL (5)
Weir-trained son of Montjeu who finished 11th in this event last year as a $16 chance. He’s had five starts since for one minor placing, which came over 2600m on a heavy track at Randwick two starts ago. His last-start performance in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) was plain at best but he should appreciate the extra distance here given he’s a two-time winner over 3200m. The blinkers go on for the first time and he’s well-drawn in barrier five with Oliver doing the steering.
Why he can win: Has won two from three over this trip. The Weir factor always looms large, even though Red Cardinal’s form this campaign has been only fair.
Why he can’t win: Beaten 11.25L in this race last year when in much better form. Ventura Storm beat him by a long way last start.
15. VENGEUR MASQUE (2)
This Monsun gelding won the G3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m) last spring but has done very little since, with zero placings from six starts this year. He worked to the line okay in the Caulfield Cup last start after losing his spot when the pace quickened at the 600m, eventually finishing 4.75L off the winner Best Solution. His effort in the Bart Cummings (2500m) was plain but his overall record here is sound (6:1-2-0).
Why he can win: He ran the sixth-fastest final furlong in the Caulfield Cup and should appreciate the extra journey here.
Why he can’t win: Hasn’t placed in six runs this year and just isn’t going well enough to figure.
16. VENTURA STORM (7)
Lindsay Park galloper who finished 21st in this race last year, beaten 30.15L. He also struggled in the Sydney Cup back in April, finishing 8L off Who Shot Thebarman — so his 3200m form is pretty underwhelming. However, he does come into this race in strong form, having taken out the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) at his most recent run. That victory followed an unlucky 10th in the Caulfield Cup when stuck in behind runners at a vital stage. The son of Zoffany was just 1.85L off Winx in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) four starts ago.
Why he can win: Has put together a solid block of form, which is something he has struggled with in the past. Zahra should give him every possible chance from barrier seven.
Why he can’t win: His two runs over this distance have been very ordinary. Others look to be coming out of stronger form races than the Moonee Valley Cup where he beat Trap For Fools and Libran.
17. A PRINCE OF ARRAN (20)
A Prince Of Arran is on the quick back-up after taking out the Lexus Stakes (2500m) on Saturday — a victory that secured his place in this field. Jockey Michael Walker admitted post-race that he probably got to the front a bit too early but the horse was strong enough to fight off the challengers, most notably Brimham Rocks who finished half-a-length away. That win followed a terrific third to Yucatan in the Herbert Power (2400m) after being held-up for clear running at the top of the straight. The son of Shirocco has raced over this distance six times for one win and two placings.
Why he can win: His two efforts in Australia have been very good and he gets in relatively light here with 53kg. He was G2-placed over this distance four-back before finishing second to one-time Melbourne Cup favourite Withhold in the Northumberland Plate (3269m).
Why he can’t win: Lexus winners have not fared well in this race in recent times, with Cismontane (2017), Oceanographer (2016) and Excess Knowledge (2015) all battling in the Cup. He was good in the Herbert Power, but Yucatan was better.
18. NAKEETA (3)
This Iain Jardine-trained stayer ran home nicely for fifth in this race last year at $41. Unfortunately he’s done nothing since to suggest he can improve on that placing, stepping out six times for zero placings. Muntahaa beat him by 7.25L in the Ebor Hanidcap (2816m) three-back, so it’s hard to see him turning the tables on that galloper. Nakeeta’s last-start performance in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) when beaten 14.25L does not bode well for this.
Why he can win: Ran home from 14th at the 400m to finish fifth in this event last year and carries the same weight (53kg) here.
Why he can’t win: Beaten 14.25L in the Moonee Valley Cup last start and his overall form this year has been well below average.
19. SIR CHARLES ROAD (14)
Kiwi galloper who beat Ventura Storm over 2600m at Randwick last preparation before finishing third in the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m). His form this campaign has been solid but the fact that he was beaten by Red Alto in the Bendigo Cup (2400m) last start doesn’t read overly well from a Melbourne Cup perspective. A bit of sting out of the track would help his cause.
Why he can win: Rarely puts in a poor one and is quite adaptable in terms of his racing pattern. He ran well over this trip in the Sydney Cup earlier this year.
Why he can’t win: Class is the major query. He always tries his heart out but isn’t blessed with the same turn-of-foot as many of these. The Bendigo Cup doesn’t look the right form reference for this.
20. ZACADA (24)
Zacada ran out of his skin to finish a close second to Who Shot Thebarman in the Sydney Cup (3200m) earlier this year but he’s been poor in four runs since. He settled in the last few in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) last start and failed to improve his position at any stage, finishing 12th, beaten 7L. Damian Lane will have to produce a genuine miracle from barrier 24.
Why he can win: His Sydney Cup run over this distance was very good (and very surprising given he was sent out at $91!).
Why he can’t win: Hasn’t done a thing in four runs since and was spanked by Runaway in the Geelong Cup last start.
21. RUNAWAY (12)
Waterhouse and Bott-trained on-pacer who looks the likely leader from barrier 12. He ran his rivals ragged to take out the Listed VRC St Leger (2800m) here back in April before finishing third in the G1 SA Derby (2500m). He was tipped out for a spell following his poor showing in the Listed Andrew Ramsden (3200m) but his form since returning has been most consistent, albeit against inferior opposition to what he meets here. The son of Manhattan Rain pulled out plenty to win the Geelong Cup (2400m) last start — a race that has produced three Melbourne Cup winners since 2000.
Why he can win: If you take out his failure in the Andrew Ramsden, his form at 2000m and beyond is rock-solid. He maps to lead and if the track is favouring on-pacers, he could take a bit of catching.
Why he can’t win: The VRC St Leger has turned out to be a very ordinary form race, with runner-up Rezealient and third-placegetter Wolfe Tone recording just one win between them since. With that in mind, Runaway is yet to really prove himself beyond 2400m.
22. YOUNGSTAR (8)
This Waller-trained daughter of High Chaparral is the only mare in the 24-horse field. She had genuine excuses when seventh in the Caulfield Cup last start, getting a mile back in a very slowly-run affair. She finished 4.55L off Best Solution but clocked the fastest final furlong in the race. Two-back she finished second to her superstar stablemate Winx in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), beaten just one length. Her form this preparation has been terrific without winning and she’s drawn favourably here in barrier eight. Youngstar has never raced beyond 2400m, which is an obvious query, but she gives the impression that she’ll handle the longer trip.
Why she can win: Her Caulfield Cup run was much better than it looks on paper and all four of her efforts this preparation have been full of merit. The expansive Flemington track suits her style of racing, as she showed with an outstanding second to Winx two-back. Has no weight on her back.
Why she can’t win: Has never raced beyond 2400m and the Caulfield Cup was the first time she’s stretched beyond 2200m. Although she hit the line nicely last start, it probably wasn’t the best grounding for a Melbourne Cup given it was little more than a dash home.
23. CROSS COUNTER (19)
This lightly-raced Appleby galloper has stepped out seven times, missing a top-two finish only once. He was last seen finishing second in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2400m) at York on August 22, following dominant back-to-back victories over 2414m at Goodwood and Ascot. He broke the Goodwood course record when taking out the G3 Gordon Stakes two-back, finishing 4.5L clear of the runner-up and 12.5L ahead of third. This will be the first time beyond 2414m but he’s an improving stayer with a decent turn-of-foot. Charlie Appleby-trained runners have to be respected in everything over here.
Why he can win: Comes here in outstanding form and arguably should have won his last three starts. He finished 1.5L clear of Kew Gardens last start, with that galloper then winning the G1 Doncaster St Leger Stakes (2921m) in dominant fashion at his next outing.
Why he can’t: Inexperience. He’s raced less than 10 times and has never raced beyond 2414m. This is also his first time travelling beyond the UK, which is a genuine query given some horses just don’t acclimatise to Australian conditions as well as others.
24. ROSTROPOVICH (21)
This son of Frankel was beaten a long way in the Cox Plate but the run was better than it looks on paper. He had to do a bit of work in the early stages to get up outside of the leader D’argento and was under pressure before the home turn. The proven weight-for-age performers put paid to him easily but he battled on okay in the straight to finish a length clear of the early leader, and a length off Avilius. That trip was certainly short of his best and he should take great benefit from that run. Four-back he finished a 0.5L second to early Melbourne Cup fancy Latrobe in the G1 Irish Derby (2414m) at the Curragh.
Why he can win: Comes here with a similar profile to last year’s winner Rekindling: O’Brien-trained (Aidan), light weight, and a solid grounding at 2400m+ this year. His Cox Plate run should hold him in good stead for this.
Why he can’t: Although O’Brien has put plenty of miles into Rostropovich’s legs this year, the entire is still yet to race beyond 2414m.
Yucatan is the horse to beat if he repeats his Herbert Power performance but barrier 23 has made his task a little more difficult. The $16 on offer for Marmelo is hard to ignore on the strength of his form this year. He was plain when well-fancied in this race last year but he comes back a more mature horse and no doubt his trainer Hugh Morrison would’ve learnt a lot during his time out here last spring. Cross Counter and Muntahaa round out an international first four.
1. Marmelo (9)
2. Yucatan (11)
3. Cross Counter (23)
4. Muntahaa (5)
$100 BETTING STRATEGY
Marmelo is obviously the main betting play but if Yucatan wins, we at least get something out of the race. No damage done if Cross Counter or Muntahaa salute.
$50 on Marmelo (9) at $16
$30 on Yucatan (11) at $5.50
$10 on Cross Counter (23) at $10
$10 on Muntahaa (5) at $13