The Melbourne Cup is a race full of tradition and now one of international eminence and this year I will experience this euphoric occasion and fulfil one of my life's ambitions! It is the richest handicap in the world and sits at the pinnacle of the Australian racing calendar where the anticipation of history being created generates its own electric atmosphere. It has produced many legends and heroic victories, but also interstate rivalry, gambling, conspiracy, fatal accidents and now a foreign invasion that has made Melbourne Cup Day one of Australia’s most important and legendary sports events. Being amongst the 100,000 plus inveterate gamblers to experience the day that puts Australia firmly in the international sporting spotlight represents my ultimate horse racing thrill!
In 2003 a record crowd of 122,736 watched the race though in 2006 a crowd of 129,089 watched Efficient win the VRC Derby.
A race embedded in the country's psyche
Australia is undergoing a major personality change and for some, a source of sadness but the Melbourne Cup has managed to transcend that process, and remain so embedded in the country's psyche that it continues to course through the veins of both new and old settlers. The race is diversifying also, and year on year this captures even more international acclaim!
A race that stops the nation
It truly is a race that stops the nation and so popular that the Melbourne Cup Day is a local holiday in the state of Victoria and in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), where it is celebrated each year on the first Tuesday of November at 3pm (Race 7). Can you imagine the UK having a public holiday to honour a horse race?
24 runners expected to start
The Melbourne Cup field is restricted to 24 runners, there is not a provision for emergencies because the TAB in Australia (the name given to monopoly totalisator organisation) only cater for a maximum of 24 numbers with its software. The draw is held on the Saturday 4th November at 7pm (three days before the race) with the final field completed at around 7.30pm. This is always an exciting time as the horse's name is drawn from a barrel and then the connections select a miniature Melbourne Cup, where under the base, is a barrier number. Nobody wants stall 18 – no horse has won from that gate since 1925. The draw statistics tells us very little with both stall 1 and stall 17 being successful though our recent trends suggest drawn 9 or higher is no bad thing.
Here are some useful trends:
13/13: Had raced within the last 4 weeks
13/13: Raced at Moonee Valley (5), Caulfield (3), Flemington (3) or Geelong (2) last time
13/13: Had won a Group class race before
12/13: Winners from stall 5 or higher
12/13: Won 8 or fewer races before
11/13: Winning distance – 2 lengths or less
10/13: Had raced within the last 2 weeks
10/13: Aged 5yo or older
..9/13: Drawn in stall 9 or higher
..9/13: Aged 6yo or older
..9/13: Won by an Australian-based horse
..9/13: Had raced at Flemington Park before (6 won there)
..9/13: Placed in the top 3 last time out
..8/13: Returned 12/1 or shorter in the betting
..8/13: Won by a 6yo
..6/13: Had won over 1m7f or further before
..4/13: Had won just once before
..4/13: Won last time out
..3/13: Winning favourites
..3/13: Had raced in a previous Melbourne Cup
..2/13: French-trained winners
..0/13: English/Irish winners
The average winning SP in the last 13 runnings is 19/1
Significance of the weights
So clearly, we are looking for a horse that has ran in the past four weeks, one that last raced at Moonee Valley, Caulfield, Flemington or Geelong and one that has won a Group race before but what about the weights? The weights look really significant and must not be ignored. The average weight carried to victory was 8st 7lbs and the average weight for second place was 8st 8lbs and 8st 10lbs for third place. Of the first four places over the past seven years (so 28 places in total) only two carried more than 9st.
Dermot K Weld cracks the code
The race has undergone several alterations in recent years, the most visible being the entry of many foreign-trained horses. Initially the overseas runners struggled to cope with the rigours of travelling to the other side of the world, quarantine, running out of season and then winning, but a certain Irishman changed all that! Dermot K. Weld cracked the code and was successful in 1993 with Vintage Crop (ridden by the brilliant Michael Kinane) and then again in 2002 with Media Puzzle (Damien Oliver's second of his three winners in the race). Apart from the raw material we are not sure what the template was but he showed it was possible to break the exclusive possession of the Australian trainers.
And then there was Katsuhiko...
With the defence breached the Japanese trainer Katsuhiko Sumii was first to follow the Weld lead, in 2006 he not only trained the winner Delta Blues but also the second place and race favourite Pop Rock. Since 2010 there has been a significant sea-change with three other winners from outside Australia as well as a bigger European influence generally. It really is worth looking at the results post 2010 in a little detail to help us find the 2017 winner.
A brief look at the last seven winners
2010: AMERICAIN won the 150th version when ridden by Gerald Mosse (first French jockey to win the race) and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre so becoming the first French-trained horse to win the Melbourne Cup. He returned to Australia in 2011 after running four times in France and duly won the Moonee Valley Cup which rightly made him favourite for the 2011 contest, and despite carrying top-weight ran well to finish fourth.
2011: DUNADEN won next when ridden by Christophe Lemaire and trained by Mikel Delzangles, so a second successive French-trained winner. This one had prepared for the race by winning the Geelong Cup. Incredibly this horse was purchased for just 1,500euros as a foal at the Arqana mixed December sale in France in 2006.
2012: GREEN MOON was trained by Lambourn trainer Harry Dunlop until leaving as a 4yo to join Robert Hickmott. He started life in April 2010 winning an uncompetitive class 5 maiden at Leicester in two seconds slower than an earlier 56-70 handicap so there were no clues at that time, but he did beat a subsequent Dubai World Cup winner in a Newbury handicap shortly after. Regarding his Melbourne Cup win the consensus confirmed he was given an extraordinary ride by Brett Prebble that was more than key to the victory!
2013: FIORENTE (out of Monsun) had been trained by Sir Michael Stoute before the horse was trained more effectively by Gai Waterhouse in Sydney. Fiorente had advertised his claims in 2012 when second to Green Moon. Some believed the trainer had overcooked her charge with five runs in 65 days in races varying from 7f to 2m but she was proved right and collected her first win in the race whilst becoming the first Australian female trainer to triumph. Fiorente became the first favourite to win the race since Makybe Diva in 2005. Gai managed to train the great entire Fiorente to do something that only three male horses before him had done in winning the Melbourne Cup after placing in the great race the previous year. Two of the three horses to achieve this feat before Fiorente were all-time immortal champions Carbine and Phar Lap. It is also worth pointing out to train a horse to win a 1600m WFA race and a 3200m handicap race in the space of seven weeks was a truly remarkable feat.
2014: PROTECTIONIST (another Monsun colt) was ridden by Ryan Moore and trained in Germany. He was bred by Christoph Berglar and owned by him in conjunction with an Australian syndicate, and trained by Andreas Wohler, so becoming the first German-trained to win the race. Ironically, after changing trainers to Kris Lees he then failed to win another race down under in eight attempts but was returned to Wohler in June 2016 who then won three of his next four races.
2015: PRINCE OF PENZANCE was bred in New Zealand but sired by Pentire (GB) and became only the fourth horse to win at 100/1. The Darren Weir trained gelding has spent his career to date racing solely in Australia and though a 7yo has just 15 runs on the clock, he did not race as a 2 or 3yo. This one provided the first female jockey win in the race in Michelle Payne.
2016: ALMANDIN (yet another out of Monsun) had been trained by two different German trainers until leaving to join Robert Hickmott as a 4yo and won the race in a thriller by a head though jockey Kerrin McEvoy told us he was never off the bridle. As we go to post the 7yo has not had a run in 2017 and with just 9 career-starts must be considered for this year's race. Currently available at 25/1 with Ladbrokes.
The European influence confirmed
So the above confirms the European influence and a good place to start when looking at the race next month. In the last seven years, six of the winners were out of European sires and one from the USA (no Australian sires). That said, three of those were out of Monsun and one imagines Almandin will represent him again this year. To view last year's race, click link:
The 2017 Melbourne Cup promises to be another heart-stopping contest so are the days of home rule finally over? Our best guess is yes though Victorian trainer Robert Hickmott might disagree. He has trained two of the last five winners (Green Moon and Almandin) and the latter is the early favourite with bookmakers to go back-to-back in the race for the first time since the mighty Makybe Diva's unprecedented treble between 2003 and 2005.
Since 2012 the prize money equates to $6,200,000 whilst the trophies are valued at $175,000. The first 10 past the post receive prize money with the winner receiving $3.6m and the 10th place $125,000. Officially the distribution is in the ratio of 85% to the owner, 10% to the trainer and 5% to the jockey, the reality is somewhat different...
Melbourne and its mutable climate
Finally, for those who are aware of Melbourne and its micro-climate will appreciate the area can literally have four seasons in a day rendering ante-post betting chancing to luck. Before we place a bet we like our selection to be racing on optimum ground and the only time one knows that in Melbourne is half an hour before the race...
Eight Group 1 races at the Melbourne Cup Carnival
The event was organised for the first time in 1861. It is run over 3,200 metres, so a fraction short of 2 miles (1.98839 miles to be exact), and open to 3yos and upwards. It is run at Flemington situated on low alluvial flats next to the Maribyrnong River and an inner suburb just 4km north-west of the city centre. It is a left-handed track that has a circumference of 2.31kms (1.44m) and a final straight of 450m for race distances over 1.2kms. The course has a crowd capacity of over 120,000 and contains three grandstands. It is home to 13 Group 1 feature races each year with 8 of these taking place during the Melbourne Cup Carnival.
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