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 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!