Melbourne Cup 2017 – Preview and Review!

6 November 2017

With Winx such the dominant headline maker throughout the spring, the Melbourne Cup has suddenly crept up on us. There hasn’t been much thought about it – until now with the final jostling for positions in the race. On first inspection of the field, it was a case of “who” for about half the field. After a few preview shows and reading the newspaper,  suddenly the horses are like old friends and excitement is mounting.

Almandin out-lasts Heartbreak City to win the 2016 Melbourne Cup

Almandin out-lasts Heartbreak City to win the 2016 Melbourne Cup

Time for my annual selections, and hopefully they’re much better since I started posting them on this blog. Ironically they’ve been poor, even despite a few outsiders winning like Green Moon in 2012 and Prince of Penzance in 2015. My last two big wins were 2010 and 2011 with Americain and Dunaden. When I say big, I mean BIG!

Also, the Melbourne Cup is evolving. The international horses have firmly taken hold, whereas before 2010, they’d be regarded as scratchings. Even then, 2010 and 2011 were both French horses, while Protectionist in 2014 was German, so it’s fair enough to be skeptical of British horses. Even the Irish ones are in a significant drought, with Media Puzzle in 2002 the last winner. Also it’s worthwhile to be skeptical of international horses that haven’t had a preparation run in Australia. Since Vintage Crop in 1993, almost 100 first-timers have run and failed, mostly abysmally. Fifteen placings by 12 individual horses is the closest they’ve come.

Speaking of skepticism, the Caulfield Cup continues its poor guide to the Cup. Whereas once it was a pivotal guide, now it’s almost useless. The last Melbourne Cup winner to even run in it was Delta Blues in 2006, who finished third. It’s become almost a b-grade race full of horses that can’t get into the Melbourne Cup (due to proliferation of international runners), while horses targeting the Melbourne Cup don’t want to risk a penalty for winning the Caulfield Cup. Consequently organisers are removing that condition, and will raise prize money to make it a stronger stand-alone race of its own. It’s only possible value these days is noting the preparation run of any international horses.

The Field & Current Odds

1) Hartnell $26

Third last year when in much better form so easy to ignore. He’s a class horse, and they’re trying a new approach to run him fresher in the Cup, so a win wouldn’t surprise.

Result: Didn’t quite run it out last year, and in weaker form this year, was beaten a long way out. 20th

2) Almandin $9

Last year’s winner and returned to the spring with a solid win, then a poor run. Also up 5.5kg on his original handicap weight last year (4.5kg up on race weight). Repeat winners are rare so will risk it.

Result: The weight and history told. 12th

3) Humidor $10

Second to Winx in the Cox Plate and the class local horse. Running the 3200 metres is a query and he’s very temperamental and prone to over-racing. That’s enough to ignore him.

Result: Failed at distance as expected. 19th

4) Tiberian $26

The son of a “teaser”. These are horses that get mares “into the mood” before the stallion arrives to do his job. Studs give the teasers a few shots at the end of the season to keep them interested, and occasionally something is produced than can run. It would be remarkable if that could be a Melbourne Cup winner. Tiberian has solid form so I might have something “small” on him. Otherwise, as an international that hasn’t run here, better to ignore.

Result: Started a long run 1400 metres from home, cruised up heading into the straight and only battled to the line. Disappointing. 7th

5) Marmelo $8

An international than ran home well in the Caulfield Cup. That proves he’s settled in, and with his obvious class and Hugh Bowman, Australia’s best jockey on board, is one of the ones to beat.

Result: A nice run just off the lead and then could only battle to the line. Another disappointment. 9th

6) Red Cardinal $18

Last start flopped; before that great. Had he a preparation run here, he’d be favourite. Do you want to risk it? He could be the one that finally breaks the fist-timer international hoodoo. Has last year’s winning jockey Kerrin McEvoy on board. He should cope with the widest barrier of 24, having done so (if I recall accurately) in 2000 with Brew. The widest is not too bad as it gives you a choice to drop back. If you’re a few horses in, then those out wide can dictate your settling position.

Result: Got into a good position and then, like Tiberian and Marmelo, battle to the line. 11th

7) Johannes Vermeer $10

I always liked this until a few others overtook him. I might still return. Third in the Caulfield Cup if that matters and solid in previous runs, with his only doubt being untested over the distance. These days, a distance doubt is a big doubt.

Result: Sprinted clear and looked the winner to be pipped 50 metres out. The jockey said the horse was going so fast he was surprised anything else could go better. 2nd

8) Bondi Beach $61

Previous Melboune Cup runs 16th and 13th. Says it all.

Result: Failed twice before, failed again. 22nd

9) Max Dynamite $15

Second two years ago and arguably should have won. Was then injured and has only run 4 times, in low grade races, since. He’s a leap of faith.

Result: Couldn’t sprint with the other two. A fabulous effort nonetheless for such a horse light on runs and up in age. 3rd

10) Ventura Storm $34

Disappointing in the Caulfield Cup. Pass.

Result: Disappointing in the Melbourne Cup. Couldn’t run the distance and out-classed. 21st

11) Who Shot Thebarman

Scratched

12) Wicklow Brave $61

Failed last year and in poorer form.

Result: Got some money this time by sneaking into the top 10. Again it proves one of the golden Melbourne Cup rules of failed before means fail again. 10th

13) Big Duke $19

Probably out-classed.

Result: Over-achieved. Class did tell ultimately. 4th

14) US Army Ranger $61

International runner in poor recent form and no preparation run. No.

Result: Never a factor as expected. 18th

15) Boom Time $31

Caulfield Cup winner at $31. Says a lot about the horse and the race.

Result: Failed to run the trip and out-classed. 15th

16) Gallante $101

Previous Cup failure and out-classed.

Result: The first one beaten. 23rd

17) Libran $41

Seems out-classed. A place hope at absolute best.

Result: Ran well enough to grab some prize money. 8th

18) Nakeeta $34

A Scottish horse, so would be a great irony if it could win for Britain before an English horse does. Won “Britain’s Melbourne Cup” – the Ebor in York – which only rarely is a good guide to the Melbourne, and that’s when the winner wins impressively. Not this year. Nakeeta only snuck in. Because the Ebor is a handicap, it’s often regarded as a poor race and good horses generally ignore it.

Result: Ran on late after being left behind in the sprint. A good result overall. 5th

19) Single Gaze $41

A mare that stuck on well for second in the Caulfield Cup. Wary of both mares and the Caulfield Cup, so will pass.

Result: The jockey said the horse was flattened, was shuffled back four pairs than preferred, and never recovered. That’s always the fear with mares. 17th

20) Wall Of Fire $12

With unsuccessful attempts at both of his 3200 races, only a doubt at the distance here. An international that finished second in his preparation run in the Herbert Power, and drops 5kg for the Melbourne Cup. It’s the pattern Protectionist’s year in 2014, except he was German and Wall Of Fire is English. If it’s a slower pace, I can imagine Wall Of Fire sprinting clear, otherwise his run will end 200 metres out, or sooner.

Result: Even though he clearly didn’t run the trip, a bit better was expected. 16th

21) Thomas Hobson $20

An international without a preparation run and seems a plodder with recent runs up 4355 metres. These types typically get out-sprinted.

Result: From the same stable as Max Dynamite and Wicklow Brave, so the trainer definitely knows his stuff, and collectively the three horses won over $700,000 in prize money. Otherwise, he was always a plodder and got left behind in the sprint. Another 800 metres and he might just catch them. 6th

22) Rekindling $14

Another international without a preparation run, and he’s a 3yo too. They often struggle with the big field and hustle and bustle of a Melbourne Cup. In fact, many internationals do, which is why a preparation run is so important.

Rekindling (pink cap) wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup ahead of stablemate Johannes Vermeer.

Rekindling (pink cap) wins the 2017 Melbourne Cup ahead of stablemate Johannes Vermeer.

Result: Obviously coped with the big field and the weight difference to the older horses told in the end. In retrospect, with his good form in Europe and the lower weight, was obviously up there as one of the leading internationals. The problem is you don’t know. No preparation run and a 3yo, historically it means failure. 1st

23) Amelie’s Star $21

A mare that ran poorly in the Caulfied Cup. Yes, despite the heroics of Makybe Diva between 2003 and 2005, mares have a poor record in the Cup.

Result: Failed at distance and out-classed. 14th

24) Cismontane $51

Or “kiss my arse” as always hearing the name evokes. Yes, kiss my arse for its chances too. A Gai Waterhouse horse, and she’ll tell you it will win in a canter. Will most likely lead until being swamped heading into the straight.

Result: Despite being out-classsed, stuck on well enough. 13th

Summary

I’m locked into Marmelo. Although, if it fails, I’ll swear off the Caulfield Cup as any sort of a guide. Then it’s a toss up between Red Cardinal and Wall Of Fire. The former arguably has the best credentials and is an international without a preparation run, while the latter is only just behind on credentials and has a distance doubt. Red Cardinal will be at juicier odds so that most likely will sway me. In fourth I’ll stick with Johannes Vermeer. For an outsider, I’ll go Libran.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!


Result

So an international horse without a preparation run in Australia wins the Melbourne Cup. It’s only the second time since the first time in 1993. Overall, it was a sterile, bland Cup. Rekindling wasn’t heavily favoured even by those “in the know”, while conspicuously quiet post race. If the second and third placed horses, Johannes Vermeer or Max Dynamite, had won, things might have been different. Without trainer Joseph O’Brien beating his father Aidan O’Brien to winning the Cup, there wasn’t even an interesting story from this year’s race. The only Cup more underwhelming than this one was 2012 with Green Moon.

Melbourne Cup 2017 Race Results

Melbourne Cup 2017 Race Results. Image: news.com.au

Despite a first-up international winning, the lesson still is to largely ignore such horses. While Max Dynamite followed his second from 2 years ago, the rest mostly failed, with the next best Nakeeta in fifth. Favoured horses such as Red Cardinal and Wall Of Fire finished 11th and 16th respectively. Each year, while one or two will race well, it’s a lottery to know the exact one. The second lesson is distance. At least half the field failed to run it out. Third lesson is class. Other than Big Duke in fourth, the outsiders ran as expected. Then there’s the Caulfield Cup. While Johannes Vermeer finished third in it, again it failed to produce the winner… nor the third placed horse, nor fourth, nor fifth… all the way up to eighth. Marmelo was the next best in ninth.

Johannes Vermeer will be one to watch next year. Near winners do have a good record the following year as they are often a bit stronger and tougher and haven’t suffered a weight penalty. Unlike the winner, in this case Almandin, which is typically penalised around 4 kgs for the following year The question for Johannes Vermeer is whether a precocious lightweight will emerge. That’s why he was beaten this year.

mc17-03a

Often the more interesting fillies are the two-legged variety. Image: news.com.au

Personally it was a wipeout. Johannes Vermeer needed to win for me as I never bet place. With the likes of Marmelo, Red Cardinal, Tiberian and Wall Of Fire all failing, all my multiples went up in flames. Oh well, there’s always next year… and the year after… and the year after!

 

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Melbourne Cup 2016 – The Verdict

31 October 2016

Preview (scroll down for the Review)

For anyone that’s read my Melbourne Cup preview for the past few years, they’d probably think “this guy is clueless”. In a sense that’s true, because for the few years this blog has been running the predictions have been poor. While last year can be forgiven considering a 100/1 shot won, which would have been missed by anyone using rational thought, and Admire Rakti was beset by a heart problem during the 2014 race that Protectionist won, Sea Moon was a poor pick in 2013 when comparing its form against the eventual winner Fiorente, and 2012 (Green Moon) was wipeout. Before that it was hit with Dunaden (2011) and Americain (2010).

About last year’s Cup, it was a slowly run race, which not only helped Prince Of Penzance win, it hurt the chances so many others, including Fame Game from Japan, the favourite. For some trainers and even one horse, 2016 is a year of redemption.

To repeat my usual guidelines:
1) Look for horses with form at, or near, the distance of 3200m
2) Look for horses in recent form
3) Look for horses with enough class
4) Look for horses that have, or are likely to, run well  in Australia
5) Ignore horses that have failed in the Cup before

Eight horses are back from the 2015 Cup, which is an unusually high number. Theoretically, if you follow rule 5, a third of the field is disqualified.

There’s also another rule, or trend, developing: The Caulfield Cup is a rubbish form reference. No Melbourne Cup winner has come through it since Delta Blue’s third in 2006, and the last Caulfield Cup winner to win the Melbourne Cup was Ethereal in 2001. Before that was Let’s Elope in 1991. Incidentally, both were mares with a light weight. It’s become so poor because many horses either skip the race, leaving it for lower grade horses or those using it as a hit out. Only four from this year’s race will even contest the Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup field of 2016

Melbourne Cup field of 2016

I’ll award each horse Yes, Maybe or No for their chance to win. (I) denotes an international visitor, (R) denotes a return runner.

01 Big Orange $14 (IR)

The best credentialled international visitor, and  fifth last year. The connections rued the slow pace last year, which is ironic considering Big Orange made the pace. They admit the error of going too slow, which saw them out-sprinted at the end. There won’t be the same mistake this year. Big Orange is a grinder so he needs a fast pace and keep sticking on. I imagine the race pattern could be similar to 2006 when Delta Blues ran ahead off a strong pace and was unable to be caught. Yes

02 Our Ivanhowe $51 (R)

Form not good enough. No.

03 Curren Mirotic $34 (I)

The only Japanese horse this year. No 9yo has ever won it (9yo by Australian measure, 8.5 in actuality) and so inconsistent with his form. At his best can win. Came a narrow second in super fast over the 3200m of Tenno Sho three starts back. Then returned an 11th and 9th in his next two starts. Will most likely lead as the unofficial pacemaker for Big Orange. (Reluctantly) Maybe.

04 Bondi Beach $9 (IR)

Ran poorly last year, so that should disqualify him. He’s been set specifically, and is a year more mature after racing last year as a 3yo. Would not be so short if not for the trainer, jockey and owner, Aiden O’Brian, Ryan Moore and Lloyd Williams, respectively. Also add a few points for the iconic Australian name itself. He’s been specifically set for the race and while many experts rate him a good chance, for me it’s a reluctant Maybe.

05 Exospheric $20 (I)

In the hands of the Freedman’s now, he’s only a recent arrival so I still class as an international in terms of analysing for this race. While he was OK in the Caulfield Cup, that race’s form history is now poor and, of course, the winner was far more impressive. No.

06 Hartnell $5 (R)

The favourite, and the best horse in terms of class and form in the race. His issue is the distance, especially that he flopped in last year’s Cup. While, like stated prior, that was an odd race being run so slowly, he’s improved vastly since then anyway. Has the look of the 2013 winner, Fiorente, who also came through the WFA races and finished second in the Cox Plate. In the 2000m Turnbull Stakes prior to that, Hartnell destroyed the eventual Caulfied Cup winner. Yes.

07 Who Shot Thebarman $34 (R)

Third two years ago was his shot at it. Class never there, and form not as good either. No.

08 Wicklow Brave $15 (I)

Trainer Willie Mullins has a knack of travelling horses here and getting them to perform. Also has Frankie Dettori on board. Arguably the pair should have won last year with Max Dynamite. Won the Irish St Leger at his last start over Order Of St George. One of the top hopes. Yes.

09 Almoonqith $21 (R)

Ran 18th last year and doubt he’s ever had the last class, and this year form not as good. No.

10 Gallante $51

Sydney Cup winner so will run the distance. Class is the issue, and recent form average. No.

11 Grand Marshal $41 (R)

Another Sydney stayer. Winning the Moonee Valley Cup last start shows his form is solid. Class the problem. No.

12 Jameka $8.50

Devastating winner of the Caulfield Cup. Like the last two horses that did the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double, is a mare with a light weight. It’s these reasons that I rate her among the top chances. Note she’s the only Australian bred horse in the field too. Named after Serena Jameka Williams, apparently because they share similarly big bums. Yes.

13 Heartbreak City $17 (I)

Last start won the Ebor Handicap, the closest Britain has to our Melbourne Cup. It’s a race not of the same standard, it hasn’t been a great form reference, and horse was well weighted. Won its previous two starts too, albeit hurdle races. Has it acclimatised too? You won’t know until the day. No.

14 Sir John Hawkwood $81

Won the Metropolitan in Sydney, which has as much relevance to the Melbourne Cup as the Bathurst 1000. Last start 10th in the Caulfield Cup. No.

15 Excess Knowledge $71 (R)

Ran OK last year to finish 7th. Form poor this year. No.

16 Beautiful Romance $81 (I)

Always skeptical of international mares (none have performed well that I can recall), and form barely average. No.

17 Almandin $11

Last two runs have been wins in local staying races. Question the class of those fields, and therefore the horse. The lightweight is responsible for his shortish odds. (Reluctant) No.

18 Assign $61

Similar form around Almandin, except was beaten convincingly by Almandin, hence the far juicier odds. No.

19 Grey Lion $51 (I)

Second in the Geelong Cup. It depends whether that’s a form reference this year. Other than the occasional hits – 2002 (Media Puzzle), 2010 (Americain) and 2011 (Dunaden) – it’s a hindrance more than a help. If you like the Geelong Cup, there’s two other horses drawing a bigger spotlight anyway. An international that will remain in Australia. (Only because it’s a grey) Maybe.

20 Oceanographer $8 (I)

Superb winner on Saturday to qualify for the Melbourne Cup after a close third in the Geelong Cup. That wasn’t the plan for this international visitor, so the big issue is whether he can run three big races in 13 days. Maybe.

21 Secret Number $31 (I)

The form looks superb with the last 5 starts being 1, 2, 1, 2 and 1. The problem is that it’s over 3 years! He’s only run one other race this year, with the previous race being the second place on the Queens Cup at last year’s Spring Carnival in Melbourne. Very tricky to place. Need to go on trust the stable can produce him on the day and, if so, especially down in the weights, a strong chance. Yes.

22 Pentathlon $126

Class and form queries. The price says it all. No

23 Qewy $26 (I)

The Geelong Cup winner, so if you fancy Oceanographer, you must fancy this. Maybe.

24 Rose Of Virgina $101

Never heard of it until I saw the Melbourne Cup field. It’s really a $201 chance. There must be sympathy money on it. No.

Summary

Five horses marked Yes: Big Orange, Hartnell, Wicklow Brave, Jameka and Secret Number.

Five horses marked Maybe: Curren Mirotic, Bondi Beach, Grey Lion, Oceanographer and Qewy.

Hartnell is the clear favourite with the public at $5, with Oceanographer ($8) and Jameka ($8.50) next. Oceanographer is exaggerated because of that big win on Saturday. For value (and that possible distance doubt), I’ll prefer Jameka over Hartnell, and hope it’s a return to form for the Caulfield Cup as a form reference. Otherwise, I’m writing it off forever! Again for value and also Big Orange already had a go last year, I’ll prefer Wicklow Brave over Big Orange for my second bet. I’ll also take small pot shots at Secret Number and Grey Lion.

The five “Yes” horses will go into my 5-horse boxed trifecta, while I’ll exclude Secret Number for my boxed First 4.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!

 

Review

Final Results

01 Almandin
02 Heartbreak City
03 Hartnell
04 Qewy
05 Who Shot Thebarman
06 Almoonqith
07 Beautiful Romance
08 Exopheric
09 Pentathlon
10 Big Orange
11 Grand Marshal
12 Oceanographer
13 Bondi Beach
14 Grey Lion
15 Jameka
16 Excess Knowledge
17 Our Ivanhowe
18 Sir John Hawkwood
19 Assign
20 Gallante
21 Wicklow Brave
22 Curren Mirotic
23 Secret Number
24 Rose Of Virginia

I ended up changing from Jameka to Hartnell. The odds improved and the doubts about Jameka grew larger. It didn’t matter ultimately, as Hartnell finished a well defeated third. It was a good race for him, with the 4kg difference in weights proving the decisive factor between him and the winner, Almandin. The race was exciting itself with Almandin and Heartbreak City duelling to the finish line.

To continue my poor run of predictions, I had both Almandin and Heartbreak City a “No”. The class was always the issue, which means it’s the second year in a row a low weight overcame a class deficiency. In some ways, it’s a return to the Melbourne Cup of old, where horses would try and beat the handicapper to get into the Cup with a light weight and peak on the day. Does that mean we should begin to revise our guidelines for picking winners? Maybe. If a horse has won decisively at its last start, then that’s form you can trust.

Some rules were reinforced, particularly previous runners. All ran to their past performance, if not worse. While Hartnell in third, Almoonqith in fourth and Who Shot Thebarman in fifth were good, Big Orange was poor in 10th and let’s not mention Bondi Beach, Grand Marshal, Excess Knowledge and Our Ivanhowe. Hartnell is probably the exception anyway in that he clearly improved in form since the last Cup. He was a super horse in comparison and was unlucky that two sneaks produced on the day.

Horses that haven’t run in Australia before, again, it’s wise to ignore them. While they’ve come close like Heartbreak City today and Red Cadeaux in 2011, they mostly fail: Bondi Beach, Beautiful Romance, Secret Number, Wicklow Brave and Curren Mirotic. Even if one wins one day, that will be a rare exception you cop. After all, these rules are more guidelines, and horses aren’t machines.

The Geelong Cup, again, was a poor reference. While Qewy was good in fourth, Grey Lion and Oceanographer failed. The latter also only had 3 days to recover from Saturday’s win, which is alien to European horses. Much like the situation with Almandin’s and Heartbreak City’s recent wins, winners in Geelong need to dominate it, or be highly credentialled horses.

Distance: Most of them don’t run it out. Arguably even Hartnell you could say didn’t quite stay. The likes of Jameka, especially, if you have doubts, leave them out.

Class: Reinforced again with the likes of Who Shot Thebarman, Pentathlon and Grand Marshal. While they can run 3200, they can’t run it fast enough. Also be wary of plodders, or horses without a sprint. For all Big Orange’s ability to run a solid 3200, it’s pointless if several horses sprint past him in the straight. Curiously, Big Orange’s jockey blamed the pace. Last year it was blamed for being too slow when finishing fifth. This year it seemed fast enough and they only managed tenth. Excuses. Maybe he’s not good enough.

The Caulfield Cup: Yep, time to write it off as any sort of form reference.

The Japanese: It might be time to write them off too. Since the 1-2 in 2006, they’ve been a disaster.

Other than Hartnell in third, my picks were a wipeout. Wicklow Brave ran wide all the way, with Frankie Dettori saying the horse felt “flat”. More likely Frankie “flattened” him. To think he and Heartbreak City were in the widest barriers together, yet the latter ended up beautifully just off the fence midfield, while the latter was running 10 wide out of the straight the first time. A debacle of a ride. My outsider of Secret Number proved that: a secret, and just a number. Took the lead around the home bend and folded. It really is the last time I get seduced by an international horse without a run in Australia first.

I’m not the only stooge either. Only one of Channel 7’s “experts” on the day picked Almandin to win. Bruce McAvaney picked Almandin on the Sunday preview show. Several of the panel on ABC’s Offsiders had Almandin second or third, with the combined tally being Hartnell, Jameka and Almandin. On Sky Racing only Glenn Munsie from TAB had Almandin to win, while Ron Dufficy had it third. The other three panelists ignored it. Racing.com was similar with only one of the six experts selecting it to win, with one for third. Across those four media outlets, only a handful slotted Heartbreak City for a place, while Hartnell was the overwhelming top pick for most. It means the horses are far more reliable than the experts.

A good Melbourne Cup overall. You like to see a good race, a relatively popular winner and a nice story. We got a bit of all of that. Almandin was around fifth most popular in the betting and paying $11.80, the race was close to the end, and who can knock Lloyd Williams winning his fifth Cup? He has put so much money into the industry for approximately 40 years, that he deserves it. Nice to see he was trackside too for a change. He must have known something, the wily old bugger.

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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Melbourne Cup 2014 – A Double Disappointment

05 November 2014

Disappointing is the only way that could describe this year’s Melbourne Cup. As someone that loves the race so much and someone that loves the horses, it finished a hollow day.

In chronological order, the first disappointment was Red Cadeaux finishing second yet again. The wagering on horses is only ever side issue for me. It’s the sporting story that means far more. When he burst to the lead down the straight, I couldn’t care less about any bets on other horses, and started cheering him home wildly. Sadly, that moment was barely a few seconds, as Protectionist leaped to the front and ran away with the race. Some minor satisfaction did soon emerge, that second place was a great achievement for “Cads”. To do it now three times in four runs, it puts him in Melbourne Cup folklore.

The second disappointment was obviously the death of the favourite from Japan, Admire Rakti, and then later in the evening learning that Araldo had to be euthanised. Admire Rakti collapsed soon after the race in his stall, dying of acute heart failure. He dropped back very quickly in the race just entering the straight, so immediately something seemed odd. No one expected this. Then Araldo, who finished 7th, was spooked by a flag waved close to him as he walked back from the race, and in recoiling away, awkwardly twisted and planted his leg, smashing a pastern bone in his off rear leg. Both deaths were of such a freak and unavoidable nature, and unfortunately animal activists disgraced themselves by their ghoulish hovering over the carcasses to make their ignorant points.

Admire Rakti - before the 2014 Melbourne Cup

Admire Rakti – before the 2014 Melbourne Cup

First and foremost, the deaths were freakish and could not been prevented. Human athletes die of such heart conditions and no one calls for their sports to be banned. Admire Rakti was never “flogged to death” or forced into the barriers as was disgustingly and ignorantly claimed. Only the final stages of a race are horses asked for their effort, and he was eased up much earlier than that. Before the race, the couple of tickles on the back of his legs were just to encourage a notoriously mischievous horse to enter the barriers. Facts are that a horse cannot be forced to run if they are really stubborn about it.

As for Araldo, who could ever have foreseen such an incident like that? This has never occurred on the race track. In fact, such breaks of legs are more likely to be seen in private paddocks and stables. Is anyone calling for the horse pet industry to be dissolved?

If you want to talk about deaths, the pet industry as a whole is far, far worse. Tens of thousands of cats and dogs are euthanised each year in Australia, and that’s only the ones officially recorded. Unwanted puppies, kittens and birds, especially with regard to show animals, are wantonly destroyed by their breeders. Then there’s the unimaginable torture that exists. Kittens burnt alive, hamsters put into microwave ovens, need I go on? Let’s also not forget the 60 billion animals worldwide bred each year as sources for food and clothing. In comparison, the horse racing industry is the most heavily regulated industry involving animals on the planet and most horses lead pampered lives. If I had a choice of being a cat, a dog, chicken, cow, pig or race horse, I know which one I’d choose. It’s also a sport that involves human fatalities, so the sacrifice is diffuse. A bit of perspective, please.

Horse racing is attacked because it is high profile. Now that the Cup is over, all these big mouths will go away for another year, munching on dead animals for their lunch and dinner, thinking nothing wrong of it, in acts of total hypocrisy. Calls to ban whips and 2yo racing are also irrelevant to the events that occurred on Tuesday. If only activists were so sincere. No, that’s part of the strategy to pick away at the edges – and mostly because activists don’t like “the look” of the whip or “the idea” of a 2yo racing, not that there’s anything genuinely cruel happening. Even if these wishes were heeded, within a few years, the activists would be back again to demand the entire sport be banned.

For what it’s worth, in an ideal world, it would be great if no animals were used for anything. The world is such a long way from that, that to simply say “no animal exploitation” is unrealistic. Food and clothing substitutes need to be developed, and so too life-like robots to replace organic pets. Personally, while I’m no vegetarian, I already prefer vege hot-dogs over standard ones. It’s steps like this that will ultimately start reducing mankind’s reliance on animals, not irrational, militant and disrespectful conduct.

The Race…

Lost in the double disappointment is Protectionist’s amazing win. I was staggered to see a horse bolt away like that, and learning the times of 11.66 seconds for the final 200 metres and 22.75 for the final 400, it was ridiculous, and more typical of closing sectionals in many sprint races. That’s why you needed to be happy for Red Cadeaux as he was beaten by a almost a freak performance. You also could not help marvel at the performance of Protectionist itself.

The mood in the crowd immediately after the race says so much. While there was the isolated excited race-goer here and there, mostly it was subdued. The only post-race atmosphere more subdued in recent times was Green Moon in 2012. In that year, first, second and third were unfancied. In 2014, it’s fair to say most people were hoping for Admire Rakti, while Red Cadeaux and Who Shot Thebarman had their supporters cheering… until Protectionist’s blitzkrieg.

Removing Protectionist from the equation, you do need to wonder about the strength of the field. It was already considered weaker than previous years, and vindicated by Red Cadeaux being a 9yo and not in the form of previous years, and Who Shot Thebarman in third being not much more than a glorified plodder. Even Precedence, in his fourth attempt and also a 9yo, achieved his best result in sixth place. Not that it all matters ultimately. It’s about the drama of the race, and this year we got a memorable winner and runner-up.

Protectionist - winner of 2014 Melbourne Cup

Protectionist – winner of the 2014 Melbourne Cup

The Favourites…

Admire Rakti’s sad demise did rob of us potentially of a monumental finish. He got a nice a drag off tearaway leader My Ambivalent and about to make his run when he faded. If you imagine Delta Blues in 2006, they raced almost identically, and most likely Admire Rakti would have skipped out by a few lengths as Delta Blues did. In 2006, Pop Rock emerged to chasing and just fail to catch Delta Blues. In 2014, Protectionist – who had to come from near the back of the field – would have been that challenger. Sadly we can only imagine.

Fawnker (10th) and Lucia Valentina (13th) didn’t run the distance. It was suspected before the race. In fact, it was proven the year before for Fawkner when finishing sixth. Still so many of us were lured into selecting them by their brilliance over shorter distances. If something is certain in this modern era with the Melbourne Cup, horses that can’t run a strong 3200 metres, avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid. It’s that simple.

Signoff (4th) just lacked that touch of class to strongly run out the race. He loomed up into the straight and seemed destined to race away with it. He may not have been seasoned enough or perhaps didn’t back up after Saturday’s race. That’s always the risk with the approach the connections took with the horse. He’ll be interesting to watch next year. Often, horses don’t back up a year later anyway. Their first shot, especially with such a light weight, is usually their best. Look at Fawkner.

Mutual Regard (14th) couldn’t accelerate. His run ended quickly so possibly he found the ground too firm. He hadn’t a lead up run in Australia so it was always a risk. Normally I follow the rule to ignore internationals that haven’t run in Australia yet. I was seduced by his Ebor win (an inconsistent form reference at best) and his relatively short odds, and Damien Oliver the jockey.

The Others…

Most couldn’t run the distance, lacked the class or were plodders. Seismos (9th) is the classic example of the latter. He’ll run forever; he’ll just do it too slowly. Willing Foe was serviceable in fifth. Araldo (7th) lacked the big acceleration -emphasised by him racing back with Protectionist and finishing lengths behind him. The outside barrier impacted here, forcing to tuck behind the field after the start. Had he been able to race on the speed, he would have battled for a few spots higher. My Ambivalent (17th) was always either a speculative hit or a probable miss. She was a miss; never settled and ran too hard early.

My Results…

Banking on Admire Rakti as I did, obviously the result was a wipeout. I had Protectionist outside my top four. After Admire Rakti, the next three of Fawkner, Signoff and Mutual Regard were tough decisions. In overall betting, Fawkner, Lucia Valentina, Protectionist and Mutual Regard were essentially equal second favourite. In hindsight (yes, it’s wonderful), I should have tossed aside Fawkner (distance doubt) and Mutual Regard (unseen international). Most likely I still go Signoff as second pick. The issue I always had with Protectionist was that Herbert Power run where he was beaten by Signoff and others. His run also seemed to end 50 metres out in this 2400 race. His overall record still suggested he’d run 3200, and his recent form was good, so the Herbert Power should have been seen as an acclimatisation exercise, not so much a form reference, as such races rarely are these days.

Protectionist - relaxing in his stall before 2014 Melbourne Cup

Protectionist – relaxing in his stall before the 2014 Melbourne Cup

Next Year…

As mentioned in the preview, all 5 panellists on Sky Racing’s “Racing Retro” picked Protectionist. Protectionist also emerged as top pick from the racing experts in Melbourne’s Herald Sun. Why do all the form crunching yourself when you can leave it up to others? Of course, if you go against your own hunch and that hunch pops up, you’ll be disgusted. Also, the experts don’t always get it right. Maybe use them as a covering bet, or to validate your own hunch.

More Photos From the Day

 

Melbourne Cup 2014 Preview

03 November 2014

For those new to the Socceroo Realm, the Olympic Games and the Melbourne Cup are my other two sporting passions. I’ve been to the Melbourne Cup every year since 1977, and would apparently have gone in 1976 had the weather prediction not been for heavy rain and storms.

It’s always a fascinating race, watching all these horses converge from different paths and, these days, from all over the world. While I’m no punter, I do make an exception for this great race. Because there’s 24 horses, you always get great value, even for a favourite. Since I’ve been old enough to bet, my average is a win every three years, which keeps me ahead. In the past 10 years, I’ve been hoping to land a big trifecta or first four.

Predicting the Melbourne Cup is an evolving process, with last year being a bit of a lesson. A rule I’ve followed for a long time is ignore horses that have failed in a previous Melbourne Cup. This rule is sound on the provision that “failed” truly means failed. The first three of 2013 of Fiorente, Red Cadeaux and Mount Athos were all return runners. The key is that Fiorente and Red Cadeaux did not exactly fail, with both running second in 2012 and 2011 respectively, while Mount Athos was an unlucky fifth in 2012. It could be excused to ignore Red Cadeaux as he did fail in 2012, finishing eighth.

Two other rules remain rock solid. Most of the field actually won’t run the trip, while those that can, some don’t have the class or, as with many Europeans, are plodders lacking the required acceleration. Other historical statistics can also be applied, notable age and weight. Only two 8yo horses have won, and that was so far in the past that’s irrelevant. No 9yo has won. The last horse with 58.5kg to win was Think Big in 1975. Makybe Diva in 2005 carried 58kg, which is effectively 60kg, if you consider mares typically get a 2kg allowance on the weight-for-age (WTA) scale. Since she’d won it twice prior, it was a realistic handicap.

Often there’s talk of horses “lugging weight” and that sort suggests a cruelty. Wrong. First, the days when Carbine carried over 65kg in the 1800s are long gone. Second, in handicaps, weak horses have their weight lowered, with top weights carrying their normal weight. In WTA races, older male horses carry 59kg, while mares get 57kg. In the Melbourne Cup, the top weighted horse is only 58.5, while the bottom weight is 51kg. If these respective horses raced in a Cox Plate, both would carry 59kg, meaning the bottom weight of Signoff in the Cup would simply have no chance against the top weight of Admire Rakti.

Speaking of Admire Rakti, there was some controversy that he was penalised “only” half a kilo for winning the Caulfield Cup. Again, this needs to be seen in the context of handicap allocations – to reduce weight of weaker horses, not to lug top horses with more and more. Since Admire Rakti was already top weight in the Melbourne Cup, there’s little room to assign more weight as he’d start exceeding his normal WFA weight. If he was only 53kg before the Caulfield Cup, he’d have got a penalty of 2kg most likely. Furthermore, the modern Melbourne Cup is more a “quality handicap”, with the weight range compressed, which again leaves little room to penalise heavily, and also means that any penalty given has a much greater effect.

Lead up races like the Herbert Power, the Metropolitan, Moonee Valley Cup, Geelong Cup and the Lexus Stakes – many of them are irrelevant. So, too, seems the Caulfield Cup. The last Melbourne Cup winner to come from the Caulfield Cup was Delta Blues in 2006. Many Melbourne Cup horses bypass the race for fear of a penalty, while other horses that target it do so because the Melbourne Cup is becoming so difficult to gain a start. Unless the horse was dominant in these lead-up races, don’t trust the form.

1 Admire Rakti (JPN) (Tomoyuki Umeda) 58.5 Z Purton 

Weight seems the only issue. Also, the Caulfield/Melbourne Cup double is difficult to achieve, and usually is done by a horse that won at Caulfield with a light weight so could cope with the penalty into the Melbourne Cup. Since Admire Rakti was not penalised heavily, he remains a great chance.

2 Cavalryman (GB) (Saeed bin Suroor) 57 C Williams

Was here in 2012 and failed. Even if overseas form is better, age now a problem.

3 Fawkner (Robert Hickmott) 57 N Hall

Didn’t quite run it out last year when sixth. Seems to have improved has been trained specifically for it. It’s a weaker field too, it could all add up.

4 Red Cadeaux (GB) (Ed Dunlop) 57 G Mosse

Age against him. His form overseas is well down compared to previous year.

5 Protectionist (Ger) (Andreas Wohler) 56.5 R Moore

Every single one of the 5 panelists on Sky’s Racing Retro show has picked this. The rare time German horses come to Australia they generally perform quite well. The main problem was the run in the Herbert Power. That race is never a guide and he was still beaten by average horses. Signoff was ahead of him and is in the Cup with 5kg less. As much as the Sky team were dubious of the Lexus form (Signoff’s win on Saturday), then you must be even more dubious of the Herbert Power. All that race proved is that the horse had acclimatised. Distance also a query. The track will be firm, which could be another problem.

6 Sea Moon (GB) (Robert Hickmott) 56.5 T Berry

It would have been treated as a scratching had it not been scratched

7 Seismos (IRE) (Marco Botti) 56 C Newitt

Too slow. The only positive is the stable has done well with Dandino last year and the unfancied Jackalberry (third in 2012).

8 Junoob (GB) (Chris Waller) 55.5 H Bowman

The Metropolitan is traditionally a rubbish guide. Didn’t do enough in the Caulfield Cup either.

9 Royal Diamond (IRE) (Johnny Murtagh) 55.5 S Arnold

Stablemate of Mutual Regard. It’s here for the sight-seeing.

10 Gatewood (GB) (John Gosden) 55 W Buick

Didn’t exactly fire in Australia 2 years ago. Form dubious, a distance query and track will be firm.

11 Mutual Regard (IRE) (Johnny Murtagh) 55 D Oliver

Won the Ebor (UK’s “Melbourne Cup”) well, which can be a guide (Purple Moon 2nd in 2007). Damien Oliver on board is a good sign. Only issue is acclimatisation. Generally it’s best to see them run in Australia first.

12 Who Shot The Barman (NZ) (Chris Waller) 55 G Boss

Under the odds because of its name. Caulfield Cup was poor. Seems to lack the class.

13 Willing Foe (USA) (Saeed Bin Suroor) 55 J McDonald

Lightly raced recently and difficult to line-up the form. Seems to be a plodder. Has it acclimatised? So many questions.

14 My Ambivalent (IRE) (Roger Varian) 54.5 A Atenzi

“Mathematically”, should win by four lengths. Has the class, with form around Admire Rakti, maybe even surpassing him, and she has 4kg less too. Injury concerns (scratched from the Caulfield Cup and training affected) and is flighty – even for a mare. That’s doubly bad for an international mare, as they have never fired, and are rarely brought out. Overall, mares have a poor record in the Melbourne Cup unless they have some robustness to them.

15 Precedence (NZ) (Bart and James Cummings) 54.5 M Rodd

Failed all previous three attempts, likely to do so again, especially with his age

16 Brambles (NZ) (Peter Moody) 54 L Nolen

Lacks the class and probably the speed

17 Mr O’ Ceirin (NZ) (Ciaron Maher) 54 M Zahra

Really lacks the class

18 Au Revoir (IRE) (Andre Fabre) 53.5 G Schofield

They ran past him in the Moonee Valley Cup

19 Lidari (FR) (Peter Moody) 53.5 B Melham

Lacks the class and a distance concern

20 Opinion (IRE) (Chris Waller) 53.5 T Angland

Form suggests too slow

21 Araldo (GB) (Michael Moroney) 53 D Dunn

More than anything, probably lacks the speed

22 Lucia Valentina (NZ) (Kris Lees) 53 K McEvoy

A 4yo lightly framed mare. That spells danger. There’s also the distance. Distance was a concern in the Caulfield Cup. She was targeted for that race and ran into third thanks to a slow pace. Now she’s tossed into a fast Melbourne Cup over an extra 800m and expected to win? There’s a big spruik about her because of her brilliance.

23 Unchain My Heart (Hayes and Dabernig) 51.5 D Yendall

Out of form and too slow

24 Signoff (IRE) (Darren Weir) 51 J Moriera

Ran away with the Lexus Stakes – reminiscent of Shocking in 2009, which then won the Melbourne Cup. Malucky Day ran second in 2010 after a similar performance in the Lexus. The light weight makes the horse so appetising. The issue is the class. The Lexus field was even less worse than the average fields of its other lead-ups. The stable says the horse has been trained specifically for a Lexus and then a tilt at the Cup. We’ll see if this meticulous planning has worked.

Summary

I can’t go past Admire Rakti. Only historical statistics surrounding weight is against him. Even then, it’s not of great relevance given only in 2005 Makybe Diva won with arguably a greater imposition and over a field with a less compressed weight range, and he’s only carrying 58.5. He’s world class, he runs the distance and he’s Japanese. Those three factors stand alone.

From there, almost every horse has a reason that they cannot win. The two with the least negatives are Fawkner and Signoff. The most likely of the Europeans seems to be Mutual Regard, while I’ll certainly throw a twenty on My Ambivalent.

1 Admire Rakti
2 Signoff
3 Fawkner
4 Mutual Regard

Outsider: My Ambivalent

I’ll place a big win bet on Admire Rakti, smaller bets on Fawkner (I always bet the greys) and My Ambivalent. The first four will go into a boxed trifecta and a boxed first four. A special trifecta will include Admire Rakti to win, with either Signoff and Fawkner second, and the field in the third.

Remember: Enjoy the race first, and only bet as much as you want to lose!

Sochi 2014 – Champs, Chumps and Putin

16 March 2014

The story of Australia’s mixed effort and Vladimir Putin playing the world as fools

After international football, the Olympics are the Socceroo Realm’s other great passion. That’s because, like football, the prestige of winning and representing your country is so huge. While much of the excitement of gold medals by Australia is diminished in the recent 15 years because Australia wins so many, the individual stories of specific triumphs still resonate. Indeed, after Australia’s appalling start to London, the sailors getting the nation’s first gold, and then Sally Pearson and Anna Meares adding to it not long after, were really moments to savour.

Given that Australia is a minor player, the Winter Games are a different beast. For the purity of sport, that actually translates quite well because one of the big criticisms of the summer Games is that focus is so nationalistic. You don’t see athletes from other nations, or even experience entire slabs of a sporting event, because the broadcaster is enamoured with showing the cursory Australian in 30th spot about to throw their javelin, or the cursory Australian being hammered by the Chinese at table tennis and about to lose their final few points.

Sochi 2014 was the first Games to merge the two. Talk of Australia with “12 medal” chances was optimistic in the extreme, with those chances realistically being “best day” scenarios of the athlete excelling and bad luck hitting a few opponents. The real expectation was 4, as identified by the highly accurate and well researched American magazine, Sports Illustrated.

Of course, so many potential medal hopes still meant many Australians in action, and the potential demise of large slabs of sporting drama to be consigned to news clippings. Conveniently, pay-TV has emerged to save fans in Australia from this never ending flag waving “oi oi oi” parochialism. Even though Channel 10 chose internet streaming for its supplementary coverage, not the four pay-TV stations that Channel 9 offered 4 years ago, their second free channel, One HD proved an adequate companion. Their overall telecast was good, with decent slabs of live viewing, excellent interviews and, given Australia’s obvious lack of abundant resources, surprisingly adequate commentators. After Melanie McLaughlin’s acquisition of a nasally bogan accent to fit in with the majority of on-screen Channel 10 personnel (she was recruited from Fox Sports where she sounded far more refined), the only hiccup I saw was going to an advertising break when the Austrian World Champion in the men’s slalom was about to make his run. Yes, his run was fastest, and stayed fastest of the remaining seven skiers for gold. Showing his run after the event as a replay, it doesn’t quite offer the same level of excitement.

Also great about the Winter Games is the totally different types of athletes, sports and vistas on offer. Speed skating (especially short track), cross country skiing and biathlon produce some of the most exciting direct racing possible. Far more exciting than people running around an oval track or swimming up and down a pool. Without the Winter Olympics, how else could I have a favourite cross-country skier, Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland? In Vancouver it took her until the 30km classical cross-country, the very last event, to shake off the Norwegians and finally win a gold. In Sochi she managed it early on, in the 10km classical, to become a dual gold medallist. There’s also the “Generation Y” sports like snowboarding and ski-cross to add more relevance for the youth of today, and also easier consumption to traditional alpine events that are decided by times and require dedicated viewing of the entire event to appreciate the competition.

Sochi was the first Olympics to return to Russia since Moscow in 1980. No expense was spared with virtually everything built from scratch, costing over $50b. To put that in perspective, London 2012 cost $12b – for a far larger Games. Being in Russia also presented the political controversy you’d expect, especially anti-gay laws. While the law against “gay propaganda” was new, Russia has always been anti-gay, so it’s mysterious that only on the dawn of the event that these issues become a problem – a repeat of the case with China’s Games of 2008 and the issue of Tibet. Terrorism was also a worry. Russian president Vladimir Putin would hear none of it. Nothing would stop these Games from being a success.

Champs

Australia finished with two silver and one bronze. Two of those were from expected sources, the other not so expected. They also told a tale in approach to winning those medals. David Morris, barely a top 12 hope in men’s aerials, approached his event with a strategy to achieve the best possible result. While other athletes could still out-score him on higher technical jumps, he knew he couldn’t compete directly with them so put himself in the best possible situation to be a “nuisance” to them, by sticking his jumps, ensuring they had to perform.

Morris landed cleanly all his jumps as he progressed through the last 12, to the last 8 (just) and to the last four (just). Once there, he landed his “money jump” to score 110.41 and give the remaining athletes no leeway for mistakes. Anton Kushnir, the Belarussian favourite, was next, and nailed his higher difficulty jump, scoring 134.50 to annihilate Morris’ score as expected. That put extra pressure on the remaining to jumpers, both Chinese. The first didn’t land cleanly, Bronze to Morris. The second didn’t land cleanly, Silver to Morris.

Torah Bright backed up her gold from Vancouver to nail silver in Sochi. Eerily, her performances were similar, crashing her first run, before completing the second. The only disappointment is that her first run was shaping up much better and would have won the gold easily. Her second, by many experts, was still good enough for gold, failing by just .25 points – the closest possible margin.

The winner, Kaitlyn Farrington of the USA, didn’t seem to have a run quite of the same quality. It was close, and as Torah said, that’s the nature of judged sports. Even then, there’s some residual regret that could have done better. The cavalier approach that the snowboarders take to the events is difficult to rationalise compared to the stoic concentration you see of athletes in other sports. While it could just be a coping mechanism for the stress of competition, it could also just mean that tiny fraction of effort and concentration lost that costs you a gold.

Torah also undertook two new events: slope-style and boardercross, and apparently did no training at all for halfpipe in the two months prior to the Games. She preferred to concentrate on boardercross in which she was only a late inclusion after injuries to other competitors before the Games and entered lowest ranked overall. She failed to progress from the first knockout race. If the cavalier approach didn’t hurt, maybe the reduced training did, especially for that first run crash. Compared to Vancouver, Torah’s run didn’t seem as polished nor did it match her score in qualifying in Sochi, where she returned the highest score of the entire contest – 93.00 (out of a possible 100). Her silver medal winning run scored 91.50. In Vancouver 2010 she scored 45.00 under a different scoring system, after scoring 45.8 in qualifying.

Torah Bright Half-Pipe Sochi 2014

Torah Bright in half-pipe action at Sochi 2014

Towards the end of the Games, former aerialist Jacqui Cooper slammed Torah for selfishness. “Whether she likes it or not, she’s actually a role model. A role model for athletes, maybe even a role model for parents and if Torah thinks someone’s getting hard done by, or if Torah thinks this or if Torah thinks that, people are going to actually jump on her bandwagon. So to create such a negative vibe during the Olympic Games – I almost think she should be ashamed of herself.”

Torah was at the centre of the “team outcast” affair, claiming other athletes were getting undeserved funding priority over others. World Champion Alex Pullin was singled out as “the chosen one” ahead of other snowboarders fighting their way through the ranks, and indeed, often already top 10 world ranked athletes. During halfpipe training at the Games Torah was critical of its shape, which only fed the selfish, spoilt narrative Cooper, along with several media trying to validate their character assassinations of Bright, was trying to push. Except, all athletes complained about the shape of the halfpipe at the time, and it was promptly fixed.

The criticism from Cooper was unjust. Jacqui Cooper was an Olympic flop and should be last to talk about “results” and “role models”. Due to the “team outcast” affair, funding models across the winter sports will be examined.

Chumps

Lydia Lassila, queen of aerials in Vancouver, sorry to say, was a disappointment here. Not in the medal, in the approach. The whole week the story proliferated of her performing an unprecedented quad-twisting jump. No woman had done it in competition; it was only the domain of the men, who were now creeping into the realm of 5 twists for a jump. Lassila only landed one in training, and that was barely a landing, and would not have sufficed as a good scoring jump in the Games. Coming into the final four of the final, the leading jump was only 99.01 with only one jumper left after Lassila. Given she scored 214 for two jumps under a different system in Vancouver, a score just over 100 with one of her triple twisting jumps was easily a gold medal, or silver at worst. No, toss away the highest percentage chance and go for the lowest percentage jump for some sort of glory to the ego. While she would have a certain gold via a huge margin had she nailed it, they don’t reward any extra for that. Surely it’s best to stick with the “money jump” in the final? Just ask David Morris!

The thing is, there’s countless World Cup events during the season that a quad-twist could be attempted “in competition”. Why do it at the biggest event of all that only comes across once ever four years? It actually smacks of an athlete under extreme pressure, not wanting to fail. By attempting the impossible jump it actually is impossible to fail. No one expects her to land it, so if she does, it becomes a miracle. If you fail, at least “you had a go” and “left nothing on the table”. It’s very typical of the Australian “bully sports pscyche”. The response to a challenge is often to bully the opposition and try dominate the task. Cricketers are the worst by often blazing away in tight run chases, swimmers are next by starting races too hard and using “it’s a racing meet” as an excuse for the loss, the Socceroos began to show hints of it in Asian World Cup qualifiers, and now we see it creep elsewhere.

The only saving grace of Lassila’s bizarre tactics is that her good friend Alla Tsuper of Belarus won gold. It was Tsuper’s fifth Games and finally she snagged the gold after so many years of dominating the sport and, like Lassila, having a baby. The tears that Lassila shed after the competition were primarily for Tsuper. In that sense it was a storybook finish, as Lassila already had a gold from Vancouver, now her friend has one. Strangely, Channel 10 commentators didn’t even recognise the nature of these tears, figuring it was sadness and disappointment at failure. As if! Maybe had one of the Chinese skiiers snatched the gold instead of Tsuper, then the story not quite the happy ending, and then would come the niggling regret.

Alex “Chumpy” Pullin. He doesn’t know how he got that nickname as given during childhood. It’s clear now. He’s a chump! Twice world champion, twice World Cup winner, twice favourite for Olympic Gold, twice fastest in qualifying, twice a monumental flop. He fell innocuously during the quarter-finals of racing, just like in Vancouver. What gives? Well, he stopped training in the lead-up to the Games to avoid any chance of injury. Say what? He stopped training in the lead-up to the Games to avoid any chance of injury. Yes! He stopped training in the lead-up to the Games to avoid any chance of injury. Even though Torah Bright ceased training for her pet event of halfpipe, she still did continue to train on snowboard for her other two events. That at least kept her sharp for competition. Clearly the strategy didn’t work for the Chumpster. No wonder Torah and the other snowboards were questioning the funding system. It actually costs nothing not to train.

Pullin wasn’t the only one to fall. Virtually the entire snowboard and ski cross events were beset by falling Australian athletes. It’s enough to give anyone the feeling that Australia and winter sports are not a natural fit. Wait!

Putin

One might think Vladimir Putin is the biggest chump of Sochi 2014. He’s not. Despite all the talk of terrorism, anti-gay propaganda and lack of snow, Russia and Putin get the last laugh. Russia won the medal tally, kept all venues secure, managed to reverse global warming for several week, and curtailed any attempts for mass demonstrations or even athletes making a stand against Russia’s poor gay rights. They did it with all the control you’d expect from a government led by a former KGB agent that it was almost invisible. Almost, because adding the names “Viktor” to recruits An (short track speed skating) and Wild (snowboard parallel slalom) did not quite assuage the reality of foreigners (Korea and USA, respectively) delivering 5 of Russia’s 13 gold medals. Travelling too far away from the Olympic venues and Sochi in general, you’d also have been greeted with a “ring of steel” guarding the city.

A new event was added of team figure skating that delivered a certain gold individually for the nation and to the ten individual Russian skaters that comprised the team. Talk about spreading the wealth. To reduce suggestions of a scam, the luge was also given a team event, which Germany somehow won after earlier winning all the individual events that comprised the team event. All that sliding on your back, you’d think that would tire a team out. Obviously not. To think, someone gets paid for dreaming up these events. What next, Short Track Taekwondo at PyeongChang for 2018?

If Russia made one mistake in their run for medal tally glory, it was not to recruit the entire Dutch speed skating team. The Dutch won over 70% of all medals for the sport: 8 gold, 7 silver and 8 bronze. Their one and only other medal was a bronze from short track speed skating. This must have been one of those Dutch skaters showing great agility on the inner warm-up ring so the Dutch coaches decided to throw the athlete onto an actual short track. No suggestions yet of a team speed skating event that incorporates all events and awards every Dutch speed skater a gold medal. Probably because nearly all of them won one anyway.

Of course, there was one Russian failure. That was ice hockey in which Russia lost to Finland in the quarter finals. The country threatened to go into mourning while Putin scurried away to figure out the ramifications for the team and how to console the nation. The solution was heavy make-up to prevent any cracks or emotion in his pristine, stoic face emerging. Before Putin ever needed to present himself for potential public embarrassment, up pops the Americans to be hammered 5-0 by Finland in the bronze medal game. Russia sleeps well at night with the knowledge that whatever Russia stinks at, USA stinks worse. Nah nah-nah nah-nah nah.

Beyond the great and glorious Games of Russian glory, slick organisation and toilets that actually do work, Putin saved his coup de gras for after the Games. As the world absorbs the waft of post Olympic harmony, Putin moves mobilises Russian troops in Crimean region of Ukraine. It’s been totally orchestrated by Putin, starting by revving up Russians in Ukraine to resist moves by Ukraine to join the European Union after a law was just passed to make Ukrainian the sole official language. Ukrainians and Russians clash outside the parliament building, the Russian friendly president is deposed, the former opposition leader is released from jail, and a more sympathetic president installed as interim. Russians in Crimea feel threatened, in moves Putin, Russian troops take control of the region, the region orchestrates a phony election to secede, it won’t have any legitimacy, will the region be annexed by Russia, we’ll soon know.

Having visited the region, most particularly Estonia and Latvia, one thing is certain about Russians: they will always regard themselves as Russian. They’re a gruff people, contemptuous of the locals. The Baltic states can be thankful for being so small and not as geographically important, and being members of both NATO and the European Union offers plenty of protection. Crimea is on the Black Sea, home to Russia’s southern naval fleet, so important militarily. Ukraine’s attempt to join the EU and further dismantle Russian grip in Europe, precipitated this entire affair.

One thing is certain about Putin: he will always regard himself as Putin. He’s a gruff person, contemptuous of everybody and everything else. The Olympics, the anti-gay laws – it’s all been about Russian grandstanding to antagonise the west, especially the USA. Barack Obama snubbing the Olympics was Putin’s goal, and now with the Olympics over, Putin makes his big move. While Obama and the west stumble about responding to Crimea, Putin’s simply reveling in his power. Much of Europe depends on Russia for oil and gas so are constrained to act, the Americans are too weary and lack any real strategy to intercede, and Ukraine ultimately would be better served without the millions of Russians forming part of their country.

Putin gets the Games, gets the Glory and gets Crimea (if he really wants it). The biggest chumps of Sochi 2014 prove to be the rest of the world. Putin thanks you for your attention.

If you liked this, check London 2012 – Hits, Misses and Meltdowns