Melbourne Cup 2015 Review

4 November 2015

Normally each year you can look in hindsight and find a reason for a horse winning the Melbourne Cup, and then bash yourself for not having a few dollars on it. As wise as we so often are in hindsight, only a total loon could find the answer this year. Even Prince Of Penzance’s second place in his final preparation race 10 days before the Melbourne Cup, all that told us was there was a far superior alternative.

As much as Prince Of Penzance ran well in the Moonee Valley Cup, he was walloped into second by The United States, and in track record time. Also, the MV Cup itself, it’s been notoriously a poor guide for 25 years now. Is it any wonder “No hope” was the common conclusion given to Prince Of Penzance for the Melbourne Cup? If not explicitly, it was certainly by acquiescence. Not one single commentator or racing expert could even have Prince Of Penzance as their “rough” chance. He shared the title of rank outsider with one other horse at $101.

Why did Prince Of Penzance win the Melbourne Cup? Quite simply he was the right horse at the right time in the right Cup. Put him in most other Cups and the trainer’s best hope of a top 10 would be the most likely result – if he’s lucky.

Michelle Payne wins the 2015 Melbourne Cup on Prince Of Penzance (c) Mark Knight

Michelle Payne wins the 2015 Melbourne Cup on Prince of Penzance, becoming the first female jockey to ever win Australia’s greatest race. A beautiful depiction here by Herald-Sun cartoonist Mark Knight.

The four key reasons to Prince Of Penzance’s victory:

1) The most advantageous reason was the ridiculously slow pace of the race. On good ground, they ran 7 seconds outside the race record. They ran the last 400m in 22.6 seconds, which was a second faster than the winners of the much shorter Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate. As a sit and sprint, no horse from beyond midfield could win the race.

2) Outside 10 metres wide in the home straight, the track was soft. Even with a fast tempo, back-markers would still have been at a big disadvantage having to swoop wide. This soft ground was caused by that part of the track used for training gallops the week prior, and then it rained on the Saturday, causing the section to absorb more moisture. While it sounds like calamitous stupidity, the track managers were unlucky. There’s always practice gallops and more rain arrived than expected.

3) Several potential challengers suffered interference, notably Criterion and Gust Of Wind. Max Dynamite caused the main interference, when veering out and pushing Gust Of Wind onto a bunch of other horses. Big Orange drifted in to block Our Ivanhowe a potential run, while the minor shifting of Excess Knowledge out and Trip To Paris in combined to squeeze Criterion (briefly halting his progress), Who Shot Thebarman (already peaked on his run) and Snow Sky (already tiring).

4) Last and not least, the brilliant ride by Michelle Payne. Sitting on the fence behind Criterion and Max Dynamite, with 1000 metres to go, she elected to leave the fence and search for a run wider. By the 800 metres mark, she was outside of Max Dynamite and following the run of Trip To Paris, who sat outside Criterion for the trip. From there it was race over. Sky Hunter, who was outside TTP, tired upon entering the straight, which allowed Prince Of Penzance clear passage past TTP. Max Dynamite was still stuck behind horses, only getting clear with 250 metres to go, after checking past the heels of both TTP and POP.

What else did we learn?

The Caulfield Cup again proved a poor form race. Trip To Paris (2nd in it) finished fourth in the Melbourne Cup, Our Ivanhowe (3rd) 10th, Gust Of Wind (4th) 6th, Snow Sky (5th) 23rd and Fame Game (6th) 13th. The CC winner Mongolian Cup did not run in the MC due to illness.

The Geelong Cup continued to be a rubbish form race in recent years. Almoonqith (1st) finished 18th.

The Ascot Gold Cup (English race over 4000m) winner again failed to win the 3200m Melbourne Cup (5th). The sprint that Trip To Paris showed in the Caulfield Cup was sadly missing. He had a great run, loomed up like the winner and could not go on. He’s the one big disappointment of the race. Other Europeans that failed to sprint were Big Orange (led into the straight), Snow Sky and Quest For More.

International runners without a lead-up run in Australia mostly failed. The best result was Max Dynamite in second and Big Orange in fifth. Then you look at Bondi Beach 16th, Kingfisher 19th and Sky Hunter 22nd. It would be unfair to include Red Cadeaux, who despite not looking a winning chance, sustained an injury and did not finish the race.

Even in a slow Cup, it seems several decent chances didn’t run the trip: Preferment, Our Ivanhowe, The United States, Sky Hunter, Hartnell, Bondi Beach and Almoonqith.

Mostly it was a Cup to avoid drawing too many concrete conclusions. The slow pace and the uneven track hurt Fame Game and any other horse out wide; interference hurt Criterion, Gust Of Wind, Quest For More and Who Shot Thebarman. Others down the list including Preferment (20th) and Hokko Brave (17th) had no hope anyway despite the interference, because they were so far back.

Still a memorable Cup

Winning a few dollars is only a bonus. The real enjoyment comes from watching the race as a spectacle and enjoying the result. We got one hell of a result this year and a tremendous story with the first female jockey winning the Cup, on a $101 outsider, strapped by her adorable Down Syndrome affected brother Stevie Payne, and trained by your quintessential Australian bush trainer in Darren Weir.

Then there was also the plight of Red Cadeaux, that upon seeing his strapper run onto the track, my heart sunk expecting the worse. It halted the enjoyment of watching Michelle Payne’s celebrations on Prince Of Penzance. Thankfully it all worked out fine with the fetlock injury not life threatening, and then I could to relive the celebrations on TV recording that evening. Payne’s a class act with so much poise and professionalism, Weir so humble and likeable, and, of course, not to forget Prince Of Penzance, so brave as all the horses are, and the true hero of the day. It was victory to saviour.

Finishing Order

01. PRINCE OF PENZANCE T: Darren Weir J: Ms Michelle Payne
02. MAX DYNAMITE T: Willie Mullins J: Frankie Dettori
03. CRITERION T: David Hayes & Tom Dabernig J: Michael Walker
04. TRIP TO PARIS T: Ed Dunlop J: Tommy Berry
05. BIG ORANGE T: Michael Bell J: James Spencer
06. GUST OF WIND T: John Sargent J: Chad Schofield
07. EXCESS KNOWLEDGE T: Gai Waterhouse J: Kerrin McEvoy
08. THE OFFER T: Gai Waterhouse J: Damien Oliver
09. QUEST FOR MORE T: Roger Charlton J: Damian Lane
10. OUR IVANHOWE T: Lee & Anthony Freedman J:Ben Melham
11. WHO SHOT THEBARMAN T: Chris Waller J: Blake Shinn
12. SERTORIUS T: Jamie Edwards J: Craig Newitt
13. FAME GAME T: Yoshitada Munakata J: Zac Purton
14. THE UNITED STATES T: Robert Hickmott J: Joao Moreira
15. HARTNELL T: John O’Shea J: James McDonald
16. BONDI BEACH T: Aidan O’Brien J: Brett Prebble
17. HOKKO BRAVE T: Yasutoshi Matsunaga J: Craig Williams
18. ALMOONQITH T: David Hayes & Tom Dabernig J: Dwayne Dunn
19. KINGFISHER T: Aidan O’Brien J: Colm O’Donoghue
20. PREFERMENT T: Chris Waller J: Hugh Bowman
21. GRAND MARSHAL T: Chris Waller J: Jim Cassidy
22. SKY HUNTER T: Saeed bin Suroor J: William Buick
23. SNOW SKY T: Sir Michael Stoute J: Ryan Moore
DNF: RED CADEAUX T: Ed Dunlop J: Gerald Mosse

Melbourne Cup 2015 Preview

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Melbourne Cup 2015 Preview

2 November 2015

For apparently such a tough Melbourne Cup this year, it’s ironic that it will have one of the shortest priced favourites in recent years. Based on ratings, form, weight and conditions, Fame Game from Japan simply wins. The Japanese stayers are the best in the world, and Fame Game’s last race over 3200 was a close second to the phenomenal Gold Ship in the Tenno Sho. That was two starts back in May. The start before that was a win over 3400 metres.

Just as obvious in second place is Ireland’s Trip To Paris. Normally he’d be a disqualification by being an Ascot Gold Cup winner over 4000 metres. Typically these horses are plodders, lacking the required acceleration to win a Melbourne Cup. That was until his second in the Caulfield Cup, in which his closing sectionals were the fastest of the race. Fame Game was second fastest, which might have been fastest if not for being blocked for runs.

Either way, both Fame Game and Trip To Paris possess the other key criteria for international runners: a previous start in Australia. Both have settled in. Other than Vintage Crop in 1993, who was helped by a bog track and a rubbish field, no international has won the Cup without a lead-up run. Several have come second, including Red Cadeaux 3 times, so at best treat them as place chances.

Another irony this year is that the Caulfield Cup is the form race. Even though pundits keep saying it is, recent years it has been poor. The last CC placing to win a Melbourne Cup was Delta Blues in 2006, and the last CC runner at all to win a MC was the outsider Viewed in 2008. Because the Melbourne Cup has become so tough for lower tier locals to enter, the Caulfield Cup has become their target. Top tier locals prefer to avoid it so to avoid a penalty if winning it, while most internationals that use it are more interested in it as a preparation run, not as a target to win.

In compiling my picks, I generally try to eliminate those that either can’t or are unlikely to win. I use criteria of record over the distance, form, class and, for internationals, previous start in Australia. With the full internationalisation of the race, running the distance has become critical. Weight is not so much an issue these days given the compressed scale. It only matters now right at the bottom, that any lightweights with lower credentials will be helped, particularly if in spectacular form. Mares have a poor record overall in the race, so am generally wary of them unless they are big, strong types or are known to handle big fields. Horses that have run and failed in previous Cups are also ignored. There’s none in that category this year.

01) Snow Sky 58kg (GB)

Without Fame Game or Trip To Paris in the race, Snow Sky would be one of the favourites. He’s giving FG 1kg and TTP 3kg, both performed as good or better in the Caulfield Cup, so mathematically, he doesn’t add up. Consequently all the betting money has bypassed him for FG and TTP. He’s worth a place bet or small one for the win at the juicy odds on offer (currently $41). You just never know. He also must break the hoodoo of no British horse winning the Cup yet.

02) Criterion 57.5 (AUS)

Twenty years ago, maybe even 15 years ago, you’d be all over Criterion. He’s the class local in the race, which was often enough to win the Melbourne Cup in an era that was not the true staying test that it is now. While he’s won a derby at 2400m, he’s never tried 3200, so he’s a distance doubt. If the Cup is not too fast, he’s in it. Otherwise I expect him to run out of steam the last two hundred metres. He shapes like So You Think in 2010, which finished third.

03) Fame Game 57 (JPN)

Another reason to accept the Caulfield Cup form this year is that FG used it as a training run. It’s almost irrelevant whether it’s a strong form race. All it tells us is that FG has settled in Australia. He’s reminiscent of last year’s winner Protectionist, which ran on nicely in a lead-up race before blitzing the Cup.

04) Our Ivanhowe 56 (AUS/IMP)

International horse now trained in Australia. Third in the Caulfield Cup. He looked like the winner and then ran out of steam. Does he run the distance? His history suggests not.

05) Big Orange 55.5 (GB)

Great name! He hasn’t run here, so must risk him. He has won over the distance, so that’s a plus if you like the name.

06) Hartnell 55.5 (AUS/IMP)

Locally trained import. Distance and form doubt.

07) Hokko Brave 55.5 (JPN)

Fame Game has his measure both here and in Japan. He also hasn’t won a race in two years.

08) Max Dynamite 55 (FRA)

Another great name! Now racing in Ireland, he’s an interesting runner, being primarily a hurdler. He destroyed Trip To Paris in his previous run. That was on a bog track so there are explanations both ways. Flemington will be a good track, and with his profile as a plodding hurdler, at best he’s running on late.

09) Red Cadeaux 55 (GB)

Three times second here, including the past two years. His first run, in 2011, he was beaten by a nostril flap. Since then the distances of defeat have increased as has his age (now a European 9 year old). This year it’s a stronger field too.

10) Trip To Paris 55 (IRE)

If Fame Game fails, TTP wins. There’s nothing really between these two other than FG’s world rating is higher and he’s Japanese. Not that I’m racially stereotyping! TTP is the stablemate of Red Cadeaux, so you know the trainer can produce.

11) Who Shot Thebarman 54.5 (AUS)

Third last year and going about as well this year. It’s a stronger field, and he just failed to win in autumn’s Sydney Cup – a race of much lower standard.

12) Sky Hunter 54 (GB)

Godolphin have been trying to win for two decades. We haven’t seen him run in Australia, so can’t have him. Also doubts about the grade of races he’s been winning, and he’s a distance doubt.

13) The Offer 54 (AUS/IMP)

Would need it to bucket down, and that would be buckets of concrete dropping on the other horses. No hope.

14) Grand Marshal 53.5 (AUS/IMP)

Just beat Who Shot Thebarman in that Sydney Cup, and they ran similarly in the Caulfield Cup.

15) Preferment 53.5 (AUS)

Probably the best local hope with a delicious weight and good form. Won the VRC Derby (2500m) last spring, so would emulate Efficient (2007) and Phar Lap (1930) in completing the double. The only doubt is the distance. He’s never been tried, so go on hope and also the trainer.

16) Quest For More 53.5 (IRE)

Flopped in lead-up run in Australia. Goodbye.

17) Almoonqith 53 (AUS/IMP)

Won Geelong Cup. It’s been a good form race for good horses. Recent years they’ve avoided it, preferring to enter Australia pre-qualified and use other races for preparation. Huge doubts on the quality of the field he beat, so therefore on him.

18) Kingfisher 53 (IRE)

Apparently got travel sickness. With poor recent form at home and no lead-up run in Australia, goodbye.

19) Prince Of Penzance 53 (AUS)

No hope.

20) Bondi Beach 52.5 (IRE)

So inexperienced with just 5 career runs. Must be huge doubts he can handle the occasion; hasn’t had a lead-up run either. He was apparently bought more as 2016 Cup horse.

21) Sertorius 52.5 (AUS)

No hope.

22) The United States 52.5 (AUS/IMP)

Ran well to win the Moonee Valley Cup. It’s been a dud form reference since 1990, so doubts on class. At best, a lightweight place chance.

23) Excess Knowledge 51 (AUS)

Lexus Cup winner on Saturday. Horses need to be really good, and win dominantly, to double-up and win the Melbourne Cup. The last was Shocking in 2009. EK is no Shocking and only just won to qualify.

24) Gust Of Wind 51 (AUS)

A mare that ran on ok in the Caulfield Cup to finish fourth. An Oaks winner, so might run the distance. Most likely she won’t.


Summary

The only decision is Fame Game or Trip To Paris. FG is ridiculously short on fixed odds at $3 compared to $9 for TTP. On floating TAB odds tomorrow, he should be a bit better value with TTP a bit worse. Maybe you risk FG, split your bet or do a big quinella (FG and TTP first and second in any order). Into third I’m thinking either Preferment or Criterion so will box them with FG and TTP into a trifecta and a first-four. Others with a chance to run really well include Snow Sky, Big Orange, Max Dynamite, Red Cadeaux and The United States so will add them as the third placed horse in an exotic trifecta with FG and TPP as first or second.

Remember: It’s only gambling if you lose!

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