The Melbourne Cup is again dominated by overseas raiders chasing a share of the $7.3 million in prize money.
Like every year finding the winner is tough. Here’s a look at the 24 runners and my top four tips for the great race.
Best: Best Solution. Dangers: Muntahaa, Yucatan, Youngstar.
1 – BEST SOLUTION
Why he can: European import that made his Australian debut with a stunning win in the Caulfield Cup. Was wide most of the way took off at the 1000m hit the front early and was very brave to hold out Homesman and The Cliffsofmoher. That was his third G1 in a row after two in Germany.
Why he can’t: Impossible to knock on form. The only thing against him is history with Makybe Diva (58kgs) the only horse to win the Cup, carrying 57kgs or more, in the last 40 years.
2 – CLIFFSOFMOHER
Why he can: Prepared by masterful Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien. His two Australian runs have been solid. Followed a fourth to Benbatl in the G1 Caulfield Stakes with fast finishing third, to Best Solution, in the Caulfield Cup. Fitter for two runs and should appreciate the bigger track at Flemington.
Why he can’t: He looked a chance of running them down at Caulfield, but his run ended. Having first start beyond 2400m and yet to win past 2100m so two-miles is a query.
3 – MAGIC CIRCLE
Why he can: Won his last two starts in England. Showed a good turn of foot to win the Chester Cup (3749m) and followed that with a six length win in the G3 Henry II Stakes (3264m). Arrived in good order and has won over 3269m with 58kgs, so the distance won’t pose a problem.
Why he can’t: He hasn’t started since May, so big ask 3200m with 56kgs and barrier 17 not ideal. He has a bit to overcome, but we know these Europeans are capable.
4 – CHESTNUT COAT
Why he can: He is Group 2 placed in Japan and two-time winner at 2400m. He’s fitter for first Australian start when 13th in the Caulfield Cup, when he had tough wide run.
Why he can’t: Would need to make massive improvement on his Caulfield Cup run and doubt he is up to this level.
5 – MUNTAHAA
Why he can: This six-year-old English stayer couldn’t have been more impressive winning the Ebor Hcp (2816m) at his last start on August 25. He jumped from the outside gate, tracked wide before slotting in three off the fence. Had the race in his keeping at the 200m and when let down went away to win by 3.25 lengths with 61kgs. Prior to that he was fourth to Best Solution.
Why he can’t: Another stepping up to 3200m for the first time, but hard to find negatives.
6 – SOUND CHECK
Why he can: German import now with Mike Moroney at Flemington. He’s a Group 2 winner at 3200m and better for first Australian run, when 12th in the Caulfield Cup.
Why he can’t: He raced near the rear of the field at Caulfield and was hard ridden on the home turn. Did not make up much ground so would need to make a huge form reversal.
7 – WHO SHOT THEBARMAN
Why he can: Finished third in this race in 2014 and this will be his fourth attempt at winning the Cup. He is a grand campaigner and showed there is still life in the old boy with an eye-catching fourth to Ventura Storm in the MV Cup (2500m). Won the Sydney Cup (3200m) earlier this year as a nine-year-old. Huge odds and one for exotics.
Why he can’t: He’s into double figures now as a 10yo so there is a doubt about him matching it against some of these younger Europeans, but plenty will be cheering him on.
8 – ACE HIGH
Why he can: Won the Victoria Derby (2500m) last year. Two starts back won the G2 Hill Stakes at Randwick in dominant fashion. The raced handy in a fast run Caulfield Cup and was gone on the home turn. He can improve on the bigger track.
Why he can’t: Was very disappointing at Caulfield. He did win over 2500m as a three-year-old, but that does not always translate to “stayer” as horses’ age. There is a big doubt about him finishing off strongly at the end of 3200m.
9 – MARMELO
Why he can: British stayer returns after finishing ninth in last year’s Cup, when he started favourite. Has had a similar lead-in to the Cup and latest was second in the G2 Kergolay (3000m) in France. Consistent stayer, Hugh Bowman to ride, nice gate, so there is plenty of positives.
Why he can’t: Two seconds and two wins since last year’s Cup so impossible to knock form. Last run was in August and may not have the fitness levels of some rivals.
10 – AVILIUS
Why he can: Imported Godolphin stayer that has worked his way through the grades in quick fashion. Won a Benchmark 91 in August and followed that with three more wins, including the G2 Bart Cummings (2500m), this track, two starts back. Most recent run he did best work late when fourth to Winx in the Cox Plate.
Why he can’t: This is his toughest test. Opposition he beat in the Bart Cummings haven’t set the world on fire and another that is tackling 3200m or the first time.
11 – YUCATAN
Why he can: Another O’Brien runner that took favouritism for the Cup after a dominant win in Caulfield’s Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) beating Cup rival Prince Of Arran. He was trapped wide at Caulfield and made a mid-race move and then dashed to the front at the 600m and was eased down to score by 1.25 lengths. Nicely weighted and the in-form James McDonald to ride.
Why he can’t: He has drawn barrier 23 and with his racing pattern will probably go back in the field and is a risk of getting trapped deep. The last horse to win from the wide gate was Van der Hum in 1976. History also shows that the Herbert Power has not been a great lead-up to the Cup, with Roghan Josh (1999) the last horse to complete the double.
12 – AUVRAY
Why he can: Two-time winner over 3000m in France best win in Australia was Sky High Stakes (2000m) at Rosehill earlier this year and was 4th in the Sydney Cup. Two starts back ran a nice race for 6th to Patrick Erin in the G1 Metropolitan (2400m) and latest struggled in heavy going when 6th in the St Leger (2600m) at Randwick. Tough stayer, very fit, drawn the rails.
Why he can’t: Doubt whether he is up to these, just falls short against the elite.
13 – FINCHE
Why he can: Lightly raced import now with Chris Waller. He was having his first run since August when third to Runaway in the Geelong Cup. He tracked three and four wide from the 600m and kept grinding away to the line. Sure to be fitter for the run, winner in France over 2500m and is a dour type and gave the impression he will run this trip right out.
Why he can’t: He has only had nine starts and may not be seasoned enough. His Geelong run was solid, but he did show he still has a bit to learn.
14 – RED CARDINAL
Why he can: Two-time winner over this distance when he raced in Europe. Finished 11th in last year’s Cup and hasn’t set the world on fire since. Best effort was third in the St Leger at Randwick two starts back.
Why he can’t: Had every chance in the Moonee Valley Cup last start and was disappointing.
15 – VENGEUR MASQUE
Why he can: Followed third to Avilius in the Bart Cummings with last start 9th to Best Solution in the Caulfield Cup. From barrier two he will take up a forward position. He’s had four runs this prep’ so will be rock hard fit for this.
Why he can’t: Would have liked to see him hit the line better in recent runs. Needs to be doing a lot more to be a chance against this quality opposition.
16 – VENTURA STORM
Why he can: He has had his share of issues, but a breathing op’ and gelding seems to have him firing. He was near the rear in the Caulfield Cup and although not a winning threat he made up plenty of ground late. He backed that up with a hard fought win in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m). Nicely drawn in seven and capable of getting a sweet run in transit.
Why he can’t: Winning form is impossible to knock, but his MV Cup win was his first since coming from Europe in 2016. Last horse to do the Valley and Melbourne Cup double was Kingston Rule in 1990.
17 – A PRINCE OF ARRAN
Why he can: Versatile English Raider that forced his way into the race winning last Saturday’s Lexus Stakes (2500m). Prior to that chased home Yucatan when third in the Herbert Power (2400m) and is a winner over this trip in Europe. Has a good turn of foot, drops 4.5kgs and should be peaking now.
Why he can’t: Barrier 20 is a definite negative, but he is capable of going forward or trying to slot in around midfield. The other concern is a three-day back-up, after racving on a firm track, as he usually has about a month between runs when racing in Europe.
18 – NAKEETA
Why he can: Finished fifth in this race last year. Better for one run in the MV Cup when well back.
Why he can’t: He was disappointing at the Valley and is not going near as well as he was last year.
19 – SIR CHARLES ROAD
Why he can: Won the Group 3 Chairman’s Hcp (2600m) at Randwick and was third to Who Shot Thebarman in the Sydney Cup (3200m). Three Australian runs, this prep’, have been fair and most recent went down in a close finish when third in the Bendigo Cup (2400m).
Why he can’t: Bendigo Cup placing not an ideal form line for the great race. Not racing well enough.
20 – ZACADA
Why he can: Showed he will run out a strong two miles with a second to Who Shot Thebarman in the Sydney Cup.
Why he can’t: Drawn the outside barrier and recent form is poor.
21 – RUNAWAY
Why he can: Won the St Leger this track (Listed, 2800m) earlier this year. Led all of the way to score strong win in the Geelong Cup (2400m) at his last start. Trained by Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott and will lead or race on speed if gets sot sectionals could prove hard to run down.
Why he can’t: Class rise is main concern and is also a risk of getting in a speed battle with some other on-pace runners.
22 – YOUNGSTAR
Why she can: She is the only mare in the race and scored career best win in the Qld Oaks (2200m) in June. Ran a great second to Winx in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m) and then was 7th to Best Solution in the Caulfield Cup. She wasn’t at home around Caulfield and made a long, wide run from the 600m. Did not threaten the placegetters, but showed enough to suggest 3200m, back at Flemington, will be to her liking.
Why she can’t: Difficult to knock her, but like many runners she is yet to be tried at the distance. Did Kerrin McEvoy jump off her to ride Cross Counter?
23 – CROSS COUNTER
Why he can: Lightly raced British stayer that has been in the money in six of seven starts, winning four. Won the G3 Gordon Stakes (2414m) at Goodwood and was then a close second at York in G2 over 2400m. He ground away at York and just failed to nab the stablemate, which suggests the 3200m will not be a problem. Gets in with just 51kgs which is a 6kg drop on his latest run.
Why he can’t: Had a setback and missed some work due to a cut to his foreleg. Wears bandages in front for the first time, which raises concerns. He has drawn barrier 19 so he will need luck to try and slot in.
24 – ROSTROPOVICH
Why he can: Showed speed in the Cox Plate and weakened for 5th to Winx. Won previous start over 2414 in Ireland and was 2nd in the G1 Irish Derby earlier in the year. Sure to be improved and another with the O’Brien polish.
Why he can’t: Will have to go forward from barrier 21 and every chance of getting trapped wide, or getting gassed trying to get across closer to the fence.