Whether it’s just another race in your punting life or it’s that time once a year that you enter the sweepstake at work, the 158th edition of the Melbourne Cup is almost upon us. You might be someone who rushes off a bit earlier than usual to watch it at home or at the pub, or maybe you end up hanging around the workplace a little bit longer that you’d usually like to; whatever your choice it’s certainly the race that so many of us get into every year; 24 runners on the Flemington course over 3,200 metres, battling it out for a total prize fund of AUD7.75m.
Again, it’s a field dominated by the overseas raiders; Irish father and son Aidan and Joseph O’Brien train seven of the field between them (Joseph with four and Aidan with three). Last year’s winner, Cross Counter returns to Melbourne after a good European summer, where he kept decent Group 1 company. Well handicapped last year with 51kg, this year sees him return as top weight with a significant 6.5kg increase, which may prove too much.
The favourite at the time of writing is another overseas entry, Japan’s Mer De Glace. Second in the weights with 56kg, he has put together six consecutive wins, including the Group 1 Caulfield Cup over 2,400 metres just over a fortnight ago. The victorious jockey Damian Lane, attempts history as a win would see him become the first rider to win the Golden Slipper, Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in the same year. 2,400 metres is as far as Mer De Glace has ever gone, so the distance here has to be a concern; that said, Cross Counter was in the same situation last year….
Behind Mer De Glace in the Caulfield, was Constantinople. Unlucky in running, he finished fast to take fourth place on that day and that has helped him line up with a favourable weight of 52.5kg. A decent draw of stall seven sees him with a good chance, again, if he can stay the trip.
Third in the betting is Chris Waller’s Finche. Fourth in last year’s instalment, he has the same weight (54kg) as that outing. His form has been decent and the son of European superstar Frankel has a good draw with stall four. Sure to be there or thereabouts at the end, my concern is his ability to change gear and find that bit extra in a tight race.
Also on 54kg is last year’s third placed horse, Prince Of Arran. Another who looks good in the weights versus Cross Counter, five Australian starts has seen him placed five times, all in Group company. Drawn nicely in stall eight, again, the issue may be the soft ground, but otherwise, he looks nicely positioned.
The local hope Vow And Declare, is ridden by Craig Williams and trained by Flemington based Danny O’Brien. Positives are the trip (he has won over 3,000 metres) and weight (52kg) but an unfavourable draw of twenty one will mean he concedes distance and will probably be coming from a fair way back to try and clinch the victory.
Further down the betting page is the British trained Raymond Tusk, ridden by the classy Jamie Spencer and trained by Richard Hannon Jr. He has shown good staying form in England over and is nicely handicapped at 53kg – barrier three is also a positive. A concern would be his ability to perform over softer ground, but if that can be managed, he seems a good each way pick.
No horse has ever won this race from barrier eighteen and this year that unenviable task goes to the horse trained by Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman out of Cambridge, The Chosen One. It’s hard to see this Kiwi entry challenging, even with 52kg’s including Tim Clark on board. Your dollar each way probably has a better home elsewhere.
As always, this race is a tough one to pick and there are plenty with chances; the great unknown for many of those is the distance and that, along with the handicap is what makes this such an intriguing spectacle. So get comfortable wherever you are and try and enjoy it and hopefully your pick will give you a run for your money.
1 – Prince Of Arran
2 – Finche
3 – Constantinople
4 – Cross Counter
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