Melbourne Cup 2019 – Preview & Review

4 November 2019

After a big win on the Caulfield Cup thanks to Mer De Glace, it’s time to blow it all on the Melbourne Cup. That’s roughly been the pattern for the last few years as I’m still chasing a big win since the double success in 2010 and 2011.

While strict adherence to some rules has been an undoing in some years (notably Fiorente in 2013), let’s not ignore that generally these rules are important. The main ones seem obvious: the horse is good enough; the horse is in good form; and, the horse can run the 3200m distance. Then there’s a subset of rules: previous Cup failures generally fail again (don’t consider a high placing, especially second, a failure!); international horses without a run in Australia first are a mystery; the Caulfield Cup confirms itself more and more as race to distrust (largely because many horses bypass it and it’s become more of a race for specialist 2400m horses); and, Japanese horses are a Melbourne Cup query (other than the quinella in 2006, all have been a disaster). A new pattern emerging is that European 3 year olds do well. They won the past two years and capitalise on extra maturity due to the opposite breeding season in the northern hemisphere while still retaining a light weight. The handicapper as tried to compensate by giving them 52.5kg this year, up 1.5kg from that of Cross Counter last year. Due to the wet weather, the track will likely be on the soft side, so that will affect many horses, both good and bad.

01 Cross Counter 57.5kg (GB)

Last year’s winner is a year older at 4, and 6.5 kgs higher in weight. There’s only ever been 5 multiple Cup winners, with one of those not in successive years, and top weights often struggle. His European form doesn’t seem as strong as last year.

02 Mer De Glace 56 (JPN)

Never run beyond 2400 metres and Caulfield Cup winners have had a poor recent record, with the last success in 2001. Likely soft ground will be a concern, as will the barrier of 2 as apparently he doesn’t like being crowded. The big positive is he has won six straight. As they say, winning form is good form.

03 Master Of Reality 55.5 (IRE)

International horse without the form of others, and the Cup will be his first run here.

04 Mirage Dancer 55.5 (GB)

Caulfield Cup run was good; might be a distance doubt.

05 Southern France 55.5 (IRE)

Form looks good compared to other Europeans – except for a huge loss over the distance to Cross Counter.

06 Hunting Horn 55 (IRE)

Won the Moonee Valley Cup, which doesn’t say much other than he’s settled in. Probably not up to the standard.

07 Latrobe 55 (IRE)

Not in great form, and hasn’t won over 2400 metres.

08 Mustajeer 55 (GB)

Won the Ebor Handicap, which hasn’t been a great guide. Caulfield Cup run was good… except for those that finished even better.

09 Rostropovich 55 (IRE)

Fifth last year in the race, and hasn’t done much since. That’s probably about his level.

10 Twilight Payment 55 (IRE)

Overseas form suggests look to others.

11 Finche 54 (GB)

Fourth last year and ran well in all his Australian runs. The only niggle is he’s a bit of a plodder so others could run past him at the end.

12 Prince Of Arran 54 (GB)

A very similar story to Finche: third last year and has been running well in Australia this year.

13 Raymond Tusk 54 (IRE)

Doesn’t seem to have the ability of others from Europe.

14 Downdraft 53.5 (IRE)

Won the Hotham on Saturday, which can be a good guide for local horses. It’s foreign for internationals to run their next race only 3 days later, and all that tried have failed spectacularly. Class could be a concern too.

15 Magic Wand 53.5 (IRE)

While fourth in the 2040m Cox Plate is good, she looks a doubt at the 3200m Melbourne Cup. European mares don’t have a great record either.

16 Neufbosc 53.5 (FRA)

Not good enough.

17 Sound 53.5 (GER)

Ran as Sound Check last year and did nothing. Done nothing since.

18 Surprise Baby 53.5 (NZ)

Will be high in the betting due to the name. He should handle the distance, is an improving type and won the Bart Cummings. That compares very well to the 2016 winner, Almandin.

19 Constantinople 52.5 (IRE)

Ran on well in the Caulfield Cup, fits the profile of a European 3yo, and has a nice low weight.

20 Il Paradiso 52.5 (USA)

Another European trained 3yo. Except, this one we haven’t seen race here. Doesn’t quite seem to have the class either.

21 Steel Prince 52.5 (IRE)

Locally trained horse that doesn’t seem good enough.

22 The Chosen One 52 (NZ)

Has been well beaten by plenty of others in the field in other races.

23 Vow And Declare 52 (AUS)

The strongest local hope in years. Lead-up form is good, distance should be fine, a nice weight, and can sprint. The only shame is that annoying Craig Williams is riding him.

24 Youngstar 52 (AUS)

Form no where near as good as last year, when she finished fifth.

SELECTIONS

Sticking with Finche and Prince Of Arran to repeat their good runs of last year and hopefully do a bit better. Both are back with comparable, if not better form, and have nice weights. Surprise Baby smells like one of those old style Melbourne Cup winners that emerge on the scene with impressive runs and ultimately win the Cup. Vow And Declare looks solid too.

Melbourne Cup 2019 Odds - Preview and Review

In a really competitive race, $8 for the favourite is ridiculously good value. Surprise Baby and Prince Of Arran are at $15 and $19 respectively, so they represent a bit better value from my selections. Even something approximating an outsider like Southern France is at $23. It’s important to note that Mer De Glace’s price is a result of the huge plunge after he won the Caulfield Cup. There’s been little support for him since.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!

THE RACE

It was a classic, exciting race won by Vow And Declare in a tight finish ahead of Prince Of Arran and Il Paradiso. Vow And Declare is the first Australian bred and trained horse to win the race since Shocking in 2009. Even allowing for the slightly soft track, it was a very slowly run race at 8 seconds off the race record set in 1990 by Kingston Rule on a fast track. The first four horses finished within a neck of each other, with much of the rest of the field in a big group just behind. The sit and sprint nature of the race favoured those near the lead, leaving backmarkers little chance to run them down. The only exceptions were the lightweights Il Paradiso and Surprise Baby.

Vow And Declare wins the 2019 Melbourne Cup
Vow And Declare wins the 2019 Melbourne Cup – Image: CNN

Second over the line was Master Of Reality, who led into the straight and looked the likely winner until the late rally by Vow And Declare. Master Of Reality would be relegated to fourth after causing interference on Il Paradiso (4th over the line). With the horse drifting out, jockey Frankie Dettori switched the whip to his right hand, which made the horse lay in and ultimately crunch a fast charging Il Paradiso. That promoted Il Paradiso to third and Prince of Arran to second (third over the line). With that, it meant I landed my biggest trifecta ever of just under $3000. My only other Melbourne Cup trifecta was in 2010, which paid just over $350 by memory. I also collected with a small win bet on the winner. That breaks an 8 year drought of picking a winner and collecting a big pay day. As they say, when it rains, it pours.

Master Of Reality was the biggest surprise run, with the only person I saw mentioning him in their tips was Sky Racing’s Ron Dufficy as his fourth pick. Despite his sound form lines in Europe, the 55.5kg would have caused people to look elsewhere, as lower weighted European horses have been the recent trend. Indeed, Il Paradiso had only 52.5, and Vow And Declare, a 4 year old, got into the race with just 52. Prince Of Arran, third last year, had a nice 54. Phar Lap was the last horse to finish third one year and win the next year. I guess Prince Of Arran is no Phar Lap! I wonder if there’s any history of a horse running a sequence of third, second and first? Let’s see if Francesca Cumani has that ready for us next year.

Covering the other runners, the fear with Finche (7th) was he’s a bit of a plodder and, indeed, he couldn’t sprint with them at the top of the straight. He still ran on well and was gaining ground at the end. Surprise Baby (5th) stormed from near last down the outside to be the most spectacular run, while Il Paradiso (3rd) made his run along the inside after badly missing the start. Japan’s Mer De Glace (6th) ran on well with his high weight, as did last year’s winner and the top weight Cross Counter (8th). It shows you the effect of weight, as Cross Counter easily beat Prince Of Arran and Finche with last year carrying just 51kg, and got beaten by them this year. Steel Prince (9th) ran beyond expectations, while Magic Wand (10th), Constantinople (13th), Mirage Dancer (14th), Latrobe (18th), Southern France (19th), Downdraft (22nd) and Mustajeer (23rd) didn’t seem to run the distance. The latter presented well into the straight and folded. Downdraft ran on the Saturday, so might have been tired. Rostropovich (24th) pulled up with an injury.

Sound (12th), Hunting Horn (15th), The Chosen One (17th), Youngstar (20th) and Neufbosc (21st) weren’t good enough or in the right form. Twilight Payment (11th) and Raymond Tusk (16th) couldn’t sprint when required. Note both Mustajeer and Raymond Tusk came from the Ebor Handicap – a race notoriously difficult to trust. In other trends, the poor results for Japan continued, and while the Caulfield Cup finally produced a Melbourne Cup winner (Viewed 10th in 2008 and Delta Blues 3rd in 2006 were the last two), this might have been an odd year out, plus the Melbourne Cup itself was such a strangely run race. Really, this year’s race is a difficult one to rate. The slow speed removed the stamina test and made it a sprinting test.

It’s worthwhile mentioning the two horses scratched after they were CT scanned and showed a hot spot. Marmelo was the most notable as he finished second last year. While the trainer was furious, it’s important to note that all the recent leg fractures during the race were to Europeans. Clearly they are susceptible and every precaution must be taken. In time, these preemptive scans will become an accepted practice. Channel 10 should be praised for their excellent coverage after taking the rights from Channel 7. Fears of a trashy, bogan coverage normally associated with the channel never materialised. It was a professional coverage that kept most of the focus on the racing, and extra credit for the use of Brittany Taylor doing the jockey interviews after the race. She was a great discovery out of Western Australia, and epitomised the professional approach with her well spoken demeanor and excellent interviews, and complimented the main host, Francesca Cumani, really well. Perhaps the only area in need of improvement was their pre-race horse information graphics, as they didn’t quite have all the information required.

RESULT
05/11/2019

1ST: VOW AND DECLARE Win: $11.70 Place $3.90
2ND: PRINCE OF ARRAN Place: $4.60
3RD: IL PARADISO Place: 6.80
4TH: MASTER OF REALITY

Quinella: $175.80
Trifecta: $2,953.40
First Four: $79,381.40

My Melbourne Cup 2019 trifecta
My trifecta that landed

FINISHING ORDER

01 VOW AND DECLARE
02 PRINCE OF ARRAN
03 IL PARADISO
04 MASTER OF REALITY
05 SURPRISE BABY
06 MER DE GLACE
07 FINCHE
08 CROSS COUNTER
09 STEEL PRINCE
10 MAGIC WAND
11 TWILIGHT PAYMENT
12 SOUND
13 CONSTANTINOPLE
14 MIRAGE DANCER
15 HUNTING HORN
16 RAYMOND TUSK
17 THE CHOSEN ONE
18 LATROBE
19 SOUTHERN FRANCE
20 YOUNGSTAR
21 NEUFBOSC
22 DOWNDRAFT
23 MUSTAJEER
24 ROSTROPOVICH

France 2019 – Women’s World Cup Review

Alan Stajcic sacked for no reason sees Australia predictably fail

13 July 2019

On the surface, a loss to Norway at the round of 16 stage via a penalty shootout after 1-1 draw doesn’t seem so bad. It could even be explained as simply being unlucky. In reality, the loss capped off a disastrous few months for the Matildas, as Australia’s women’s soccer team went from genuine World Cup contenders to an inept defensive unit and struggling to beat teams they ordinarily were dealing with quite easily.

The troubles started when Alan Stajcic was sacked as coach by Football Federation Australia in January for apparently overseeing a poor playing environment following a “Matildas Wellbeing Audit”. A quarter of a players in two confidential surveys – the type that are notoriously used to inflate personal grievances into systemic problems – said they felt under stress, while the FFA cited “workplace culture” and “player welfare” issues. Director Heather Reid was quoted in the media at the time saying “if people knew the actual facts about Mr Stajcic’s behaviour ‘they would be shocked’.”

This was all a lie as FFA wanted Stajcic out for reasons unclear. While CEO David Gallop maintains Stajcic was sacked to give Australia “the best chance to perform at the World Cup”, who did they hire as his replacement? No, not Jesus, who would be just about the only person who could be doing better with the Matildas at the time. They hired Ante Milicic! This was a coach getting his first serious senior gig! So you replace a proven performer, who had won the Tournament of Nations in 2017, beating USA, Japan and thrashing Brazil 6-1 along the way, and followed that in 2018 with wins over Brazil and Japan and a draw against the USA, with a newcomer.

France 2019 - Women's World Cup Review - Sam Kerr misses penalty shootout kick for Australia vs Norway
Sam Kerr despondent after missing her penalty in the shootout as Australia lose 4-1 to Norway. Image: fifa.com

It’s utterly bonkers the FFA can expect anyone to seriously believe them and, indeed, Heather Reid would later apologise and withdraw her statements “entirely and unconditionally”. She would say “I apologise unreservedly for the damage, distress and hurt that I have caused to Alen Stajcic” and “I apologise also for pain and suffering that I have caused to Mr Stajcic’s wife and two young children”, while the FFA confirmed “Stajcic’s contract was not terminated on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct”. Reid has been on indefinite leave from the FFA board due to health reasons since the crisis started, and that’s probably the reason she hasn’t been sacked yet. Gallop has announced he will leave in December – at least 12 months too late. He should have quit the moment the Matildas, and therefore he, failed.

Still we don’t know why Stajcic was really sacked. Either that survey, in this crazy “woke” era we live in, spooked the FFA into a ridiculous overreaction, or the FFA wanted him out for whatever reason and commissioned the survey hoping to get some dirt to use against Stajcic. Many high profile players were stunned at his sacking, and defended Stajcic publicly. Indeed, many didn’t even realise the survey would be used against Stajcic, and had they known, might not have been so cavalier in answering it. So if there is any legitimacy to player distress, it’s probably only a handful of younger snowflake peripheral players who think earning a spot in a national team should be easy.

No surprise it was a dreadful start for Australia in its opening game against Italy when Italy tore them apart, and were unlucky to only win 2-1. They constantly breached Australia’s high defending, while Australia lacked cohesion going forward, and wasted possession. This was a continuation of the pattern we’d already seen in preparation games against USA and Netherlands, in which Australia lost 5-2 and 3-0, with the latter result only one week before Australia’s opening World Cup match.

It must be noted that team pedigree for the women does not align with the men. Even though they were current European champions, this was Netherlands’ second ever World Cup, while Italy hadn’t qualified in 20 years. France is still developing, while Spain is a step behind. Germany is the only traditional European power to excel, when winning the World Cup in 2003 and 2007. Norway has been the traditional European power (won in 1995), with Sweden just below them, as these were the first European countries that empowered women to play. In recent years, the more traditional powers have started domestic leagues for women and are beginning to exert their force. South America is still way behind with only Brazil showing glimpses of ability to challenge the best teams. China led the way in Asian initially before Japan took over (won in 2011). Now Japan are off the boil. Of course, the best female team traditionally is the USA. Australia’s mostly hovered around the second tier of teams over the years, and only hit the top tier in recent years under Alan Stajcic. Of course, he was sacked before his true test, at this World Cup in France.

Australia’s second match was against Brazil, which they won 3-2 after falling behind 2-0 – again being caught high. A goal just before half time was able to provide confidence leading into the second half. Still, it must be tempered with the fact that Brazil had lost 9 games leading into this World Cup before beating lowly Jamaica in their opening Cup game, and only lost to Australia due to a dreadful own goal by Monica.

Jamaica would be Australia’s final game in the group, and again it proved a struggle, and they had to thank some poor Jamaican defending and a goal-keeping blunder in their 4-1 win. At 2-1, Jamaica actually looked ominous until Australia snuck a goal.

Against Norway in that round of 16 clash, Australia were caught high again when falling behind, before managing to equalise late through a fluky direct corner. Naturally the Australian media whinged about being dudded against Norway. A penalty was awarded to Australia for allegedly hand-ball in the box. Replays show the ball hit the Norwegian’s shoulder and it would have been a clear and obvious error had the penalty not been rescinded.

If Australia were dudded, it was sacking coach Alan Stajcic for no reason months before the World Cup started. The defense was diabolical ever ever since, conceding multiple goals in most matches, and were lucky to beat Brazil and survive the group. Let’s not fault the players either. This debacle was all administrative, as when you sack the coach for no reason just months before the World Cup starts, you can’t expect it to go without consequences. The Matildas were put in an unmanageable position to succeed.

So the World Cup that seemingly Australia was on the precipice of achieving their best ever result, if not winning, ended in a performance and result well below ability and expectation. Sacking Stajcic was never about giving the team the best possible chance to perform, it was an exercise in vanity and ego, and likely to distract from the FFA’s own flaws. Let’s note the men’s team is at their lowest ebb in decades and the youth teams often fail to qualify for World Cups and Olympics, and now we have the women’s team go backwards. In a way, the Matildas’ failure at France 2019 is justice for the treachery of the FFA. Such selfish and despicable actions should never be rewarded.

Finally…

Overall, it was a great World Cup. USA won for the second time in a row and the fourth time overall, and showed their class throughout and handled Netherlands quite comfortably in the final for their 2-0 win. Most notable from the tournament is the Europeans have really developed and dominated, with the quarter finals featuring seven of them: Norway, England, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. The standard has improved too, notably with the goal-keepers. In the early days of women’s football they were an embarrassment.

It’s a shame the American success wasn’t as unifying as it could be due to Megan Rapinoe’s unsavoury antics, notably kneeling during the anthem in 2016, the general criticism of her country, and the equal pay dispute between men and women. Curiously, that kneeling event was when Rapinoe started on the bench. She’d dare not do it on the field – restricted at the World Cup to simply not singing – and no doubt was told at the time she’d be booted off the team if there’s a repeat episode. After all, this is the USA national team. It represents the country and its people. If you don’t respect that, get out. If she was really passionate about diversity, she’d not be playing soccer anyway. One look at the American team and it looks more whiter than the Republican Party and that many come from privileged backgrounds. As for equal pay, she can start with all players in her own team and domestic competition earning the same. They do the same work, the same training, so why not? No doubt she’ll respond market forces and her value dictate her higher salary. Bingo. Same goes when trying to compare a Rapinoe to a Ronaldo, or the women’s World Cup to the men’s.

The Video Assistant Referee was highly visible in this World Cup, and while there was some minor controversy about decisions, this was more due to FIFA’s stricter guidelines on handballs and trips regarding penalties, than any wrong decisions made. Overall, it worked. Probably the area to rethink is offsides let go, and often only called once the player offside eventually touches the ball. This can causes players, notably defenders, run for the ball for no reason. Personally, the line referee needs to signal of a potential offside, especially an obvious one, so the players don’t waste their energy. If it’s not obvious, you let the game go and only check if a goal is scored, as is has become practice now. Ensuring goal-keepers don’t leave their line before a penalty kick is taken is another great use of VAR. It’s been an area of cheating for decades in the game, and it should have been long stamped out. Bravo to FIFA for actually doing good things for the game, and to the women for an excellent tournament.

Results

Group

Australia 1 – Kerr 22′
Italy 2 – Bonansea 56′, 90+5′

Australia 3 – Foord 45+1′, Logarzo 58′, Monica 66′ (OG)
Brazil 2 – Marta 27′ (PK), Cristiane 38′

Jamaica 1 – Solaun 49′
Australia 4 – Kerr 11′, 42′, 69′, 83′

Round of 16

Norway 1 – Herlovsen 31′
Australia 1 – Kellond-Knight 83′
(Norway won 4-1 on penalties)

United Arab Emirates 2019 – Asian Cup Review

26 February 2019

The Asian Cup of 2019, held in the United Arab Emirates, came and went without much fanfare, as seemingly much of Socceroos in recent tournament appearances have been. An opening group game loss to Jordan 1-0, a 3-0 win over the far inferior Palestine in the second game, and a scratchy 3-2 win in the final game against Syria, didn’t inspire much hope that things would change this tournament. Indeed, it took penalties to overcome Uzbekistan after teams couldn’t score in 120 minutes, before elimination 1-0 to the UAE in the quarter finals.

Qatar win the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, beating Japan 3-1 in the final

Qatar win the 2019 Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates, beating Japan 3-1 in the final. Image: the-afc.com

Possession of 73% for 3 shots on goal against 4 for Jordan typified much of the Australia’s performance, both in the UAE and in recent years. While it might look nice, this “keepings off” style has always been a coward’s way of playing. Ultimately it’s about results with the ball, and Jordan showed Australia how it’s done. Although Australia was a bit unlucky, and there definitely should have been a penalty in the first half, it was a well deserved win by Jordan and we were simply out-smarted (another reoccurring theme these days). The one salvation is the Socceroos lost to Korea in 2015 and won the Asian Cup. With 24 teams in this edition, it means 4 points from Palestine and Syria would likely be enough. A reminder: Tom Rogic still can’t shoot.

The response to the 1-0 loss to Jordan as being an embarrassment was an embarrassment in itself. Facts are that Jordan are a decent side, played disciplined football, while Australia lacks quality and is too obsessed about looking good. Forget the crap about styles and play the opponent. This isn’t figure skating. Then Palestine comes along, and how quickly it changes. Australia were 2-0 up at half time and commentators were inexplicable at describing the difference between this game and Jordan. It was simple: one team was Palestine, the other was Jordan. Palestine are effectively the Jordan D-team so Australia should be dominating. While they did that to a degree, that the third and final goal came so late was a concern. Australia again seemed to lack ideas with the ball and should have scored more. Overall a good result, with hopes to improve further against Syria, where only a draw was required to feel safe.

In the final group game against Syria, it seems two wrongs do make a right when it comes to penalties. One was a penalty and not given, while the other one was clearly not a penalty and was given. You suspect the referee was told of his first half error and try atone for it in the second half. Finally Rogic actually hits a shot to secure the win. 3-2 a fair result as the Socceroos dominated chances.

The round of 16 match against Uzbekistan was only notable for the comprehensive 4-2 win in the penalty shootout after the game ended with the score 0-0. If Australia had such clinical finishing during the actual game that they did during the shootout, then life wouldn’t be so difficult for them. Overall, they performed a tad better than Uzbekistan on the night so deserved to progress.

In the quarter final against the UAE, it was a deja vu of the match against Jordan. Dominate the game, dominate possession, waste chances, give away possession, concede a goal through a mistake (a poor backpass), cannot recover. Ironically, the UAE goal originated from a successful backpass by them, which the goal-keeper launched forward. The 1-0 loss was so predictable and a sad realisation, at the completion of this tournament, the team isn’t good enough. Even worse, there’s no signs of any improvement, and it’s doubtful results would have been any better even if the team’s best player, Aaron Mooy, wasn’t out injured before the tournament. The World Cup will expand to 48 teams for 2026. Australia will want it brought forward by four years the way things are going.

Qatar won the tournament with a superb display. As hosts for the 2022 World Cup, they’ll want to perform on the pitch, and if this Asian Cup is any indication, they should be competitive. They never conceded until the final against Japan and scored some cracking goals. Against Japan, they dominated the opening half with two great goals, and then held out to win 3-1. There was a bit of controversy about their third goal, whether the handball for a penalty was intentional or not. FIFA are moving away from this spurious concept, as intent can never be known. It was a clear handball and prevented Qatar to further attack the ball after it was headed towards goal, so a definite penalty. It wasn’t a blatant foul, so the yellow card was wrong. If you want to add intent into the handball rule, then it’s only for disciplinary action, not the infringement itself.

Overall, it was an enjoyable Asian Cup, and it was pleasing to see plenty of people in attendance. The expansion to 24 teams meant group games were kept alive much longer, and we saw unfamiliar faces, not only in the tournament, through to the knockout phase too. Kyrgyzstan lost 3-2 to the UAE in extra time in their round of 16 clash, while Vietnam reached the quarter finals before narrowly losing 1-0 to Japan. India were the highlight on the first main day of group matches when demolishing Thailand, 4-1. Losses to UAE (2-0) and Bahrain (1-0) meant they finished last in their group. So much for the theory that the first game is the most important to win. It’s always about total points collected, not when you collect them.