Half the battle when it comes to picking the Melbourne Cup winner is lining up formlines from Australia and abroad — and it can get tricky.
We’re here to help, with this in-depth look at some of the best lead-up runs towards the big 3200m handicap.
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WHERE ARE THEY NOW? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PAST 20 MELBOURNE CUP WINNERS
2020 CAULFIELD CUP (Oct 17, 2400m) – Verry Elleegant (1st), Anthony Van Dyck (2nd), The Chosen One (3rd), Prince Of Arran (4th), Finche (5th), Avilius *6th), Mustajeer (8th), Warning (12th), Vow And Declare (15th), Dashing Willoughby (18th)
Despite internationals turning this race’s traditions on their heads, the Caulfield Cup each year remains probably the most important guide to the big one.
Watch for Verry Elleegant winning, running strongly and finishing on better than Anthony Van Dyck. The big query is whether she can go an extra 800m, for the first time, especially since she tends to race aggressively. Watch her throwing her head around leaving the home straight the first time – a sign she wants to go but the jockey’s fighting to settle her down and stay back. You need to settle calmly in the Big Cup, a challenge for her from her awkward gate 15. Anthony Van Dyck loomed up to win but didn’t quite have as powerful a finish. After the post he stops a lot quicker than Verry Elleegant as well. That shows he’ll be fitter for that run. You might prefer he took that extra fitness into another 2400m trip, rather than going beyond it for the first time, and with 800m more metres to cover, but these European horses can surprise us with their capacity to do distance leaps like that. It’s the way they’re trained. The Chosen One was a surprise at long odds, but can he over-achieve like that again? His best 3200m form is a second in this year’s Sydney Cup, a far weaker race than this. Prince Of Arran and Finche probably turned in the two best Cup trials. Prince Of Arran had to ease back from a wide alley and powered home, as he does. He has a far better gate now – 1 – from which his rider can take up a good spot, not too far back. Finche sticks out as he was first in the three-wide lane, meaning not only did he cover extra ground, he had to race without “cover”, the helpful smother you get when a horse shields you from breeze, or a slipstream effect (for motor racing fans). He’s also huge, and so much better suited to the long stretches of the roomy Flemington, whereas Caulfield is a far tighter little track, which doesn’t suit his size or running style. Watch him grind away. He doesn’t really have a sprint, and he’s got a far longer straight and gentler home bend at Flemington to gradually build his pace. Avilius turned in a very decent trial, having to ease back early then having not much luck or clear running in the straight. Mustajeer wasn’t bad for an old bloke. Warning, Vow And Declare and Dashing Willoughby are the ones who emerge from this with report cards they wouldn’t want to show their parents. On top of everything else, you know Prince Of Arran and Finche can run out a strong 3200m, which is a massive head start on Tuesday. They’re also fairly lightly weighted.
COX PLATE (Moonee Valley, Oct 24, 2040m) – Sir Dragonet (1st), Russian Camelot (3rd)
Some horses come through Cox Plates and win the Cup, but it can be tricky. It’s a challenging rise of 1200m from one run to the next, with Cox Plates generally run at a far different tempo, therefore possibly not suiting horses who’d prefer the rhythm of the 3200m Cup. Plus, the Cox Plate is weight-for-age, favouring the best horses, and this is a handicap, supposedly bringing them back to the field to even things out. That said, Sir Dragonet was hugely impressive in winning this event for big race king Glen Boss, who’s aboard again on Tuesday. The big query comes from the track though. It wasn’t just a soft 7, it played a bit strange, heavier in parts than others. (Humidor, for example, usually handles the wet, but couldn’t go a yard in it this day). So, Sir Dragonet was backed right in once the state of the track became apparent, since his wet record is far better than his dry. And he won very well, as that support would suggest. His price for the Melbourne Cup, however, has steadily got longer as it’s become apparent it will be a dry track. His longest win is 2505m, his longest run a fourth over 2922m. Russian Camelot, however, looks equally good in wet or dry. He’s been the young sensation of the year and looks like he’ll be able to stay a Melbourne Cup trip, having won the South Australian Derby very impressively over 2500m. Hard to knock him on this run. He had to work hard without cover for stretches of the race yet boxed on very well in the home straight. His pedigree suggests he’ll get the trip, and he’s English-bred, which means while he’s listed as a four-year-old down here he’s really only three-and-a-half. His form against older horses so far, therefore, augurs well for a bright future. Is he quite enough of the finished article needed to win a Melbourne Cup though?
KILTERNAN STAKES – (Leopardstown, Ireland, Sept 14, 2414m) – Tiger Moth (1st)
Tiger Moth bolts away with this Group 3 race in Ireland. It was a decent field on a good (dry) track. The horse he runs past in the straight – Cormorant – had won a G3 two starts before. Buckhurst ran fifth, was deemed good enough for an Australian campaign, and ran a fair seventh in the Caulfield Cup. Tiger Moth hasn’t been beyond this 2400m trip, but dances away from them in a manner suggesting he’ll handle 3200m, especially considering the way they train them over there – putting far more miles into their legs in trackwork than Australians do. And his master trainer Aidan O’Brien wouldn’t have sent him to Australia if he didn’t think he could stay the journey. This will be only his fifth start in a race, but because of that he’s in with light weight of just 52.5kg. He’s got a shocking barrier in 23 though. Even though the light weight will help his jockey jostle for a good position, you’re hoping he’ll overcome the gate, and handle the 800m rise in trip. At least without a crowd at Flemington he shouldn’t get too stirred up.
2019 MELBOURNE CUP (Nov 5, 2019, 3200m) – Vow And Declare (1st), Master Of Reality (2nd then 4th on protest), Prince Of Arran (3rd then 2nd), Surprise Baby (5th), Finche (7th), Steel Prince (9th)
This could count as a bit ancient history, as some horses who peaked a year ago might not have come back up to that level, such as Vow And Declare. But to reassure yourself of the big question mark in Melbourne Cups – can they run out two miles – check the runs of the other five listed above. Master Of Reality did it tough in the death seat – outside the leader with no cover – and still battled on well, though growing understandably tired and wobbling about at the finish. This helped Prince Of Arran be promoted from third to second after a protest (from the squeezed-out fourth horse across the line). Surprise Baby was hooked back from a wide gate, but got way too far back, yet powered home in an enormous run. It’s also noteworthy that Craig Williams rode the winner here, but has since switched to gain the ride on Surprise Baby this Tuesday. Finche looks like he had every chance, but the slow tempo didn’t let him have his favoured flowing-along racing pattern. Steel Prince was OK. Black marks for Twilight Payment, The Chosen One, and Mustajeer. (NOTES: Surprise Baby doesn’t bob up in any more of these videos. That’s because, slightly unusually for other horses but not him, he hasn’t raced since October 3, it was over the 2000m of the Turnbull Stakes, and you can forget that run in any case, since he was bottled up behind horses in the straight and had no luck in coming 9th.)
GEELONG CUP (Geelong, Oct 21, 2400m) – Steel Prince (1st), King Of Leogrance (3rd), Ashrun (4th)
Steel Prince wins this in fairly strong, clinical style. He’s that no-fuss sort of grinding stayer who should have the right mindset for travelling well in a Melbourne Cup, in which he raced fairly last year. He wins, but he had all the favours in transit, sitting third with cover before unleashing in the straight, where he ran past horses probably still rising towards peak fitness. Like King Of Leogrance, who battled home fairly in third, but whose finish didn’t exactly hint that he’s crying out for an extra 800m. Plus, while this race has often been a good form guide to the Big Cup, this year’s wasn’t a strong edition. Only nine horses, and not exactly bursting with quality. On the upside for the quality component, Ashrun ran fourth at his first start in Australia, then came out and won the Hotham Stakes on Derby Day to earn his spot in the Cup. Still, this path to Flemington could be called the low road, whereas the classier trial came through the Caulfield Cup.
HOTHAM STAKES (Flemington, Oct 31, 2500m) – Ashrun (1st)
Here’s that Hotham run from Ashrun. It was fairly impressive, since he didn’t begin well and had to be mustered up to tack on at the rear leaving the home straight the first time. He did take a long time to haul in the leader and just win by a nose, but he did keep coming, and was placed second twice over 3000m in decent company in France before coming out here. Again though, question marks over the depth of the opposition in this race. None of his rivals is in on Tuesday. And there’s the three-day back-up required by those who gain the last ticket into the Cup by winning the Hotham. You might be happy to take on those question marks and still back him. Plus, he drops a massive eight kilos from 61kg on Saturday, which did make it harder for him to finally run down the leader. But on top of any form doubts, he’s drawn barrier 24 for Tuesday. They rarely win from there.
THE BART CUMMINGS (Flemington, Oct 3, 2510m) – Persan (1st), Steel Prince (3rd)
Persan has gone up several levels since being transferred from Sydney to Victoria early this year. Before that, he’d been placed once from nine career starts. Since then, he’s won six of 10, with four placings, albeit in far lower class than a Melbourne Cup. This was his longest race to date, and you couldn’t fault it at all. He runs on the inside of other horses up the straight, which a lot of horses don’t like to do (they’d rather fly down the outside in the open spaces). So, good guts marks for digging deep up the inside to shake off other challengers. And once free of them and balanced up, he powers to the line very well in the last 100m. Steel Prince battled home gamely and later won the Geelong Cup. The form was verified by second horse Sound running second narrowly to Ashrun in Saturday’s Hotham. But again, there’s a bit of a quality question mark, as to the level of horses Persan beat. Still, you can only beat what’s put against you, and Persan’s a very game up-and-comer. Drops four kilos to a featherweight 51kg on Tuesday, and interesting that he hasn’t raced for a month since The Bart Cummings, so he certainly won’t be burnt out. That probably suits a young, developing, four-year-old like him, but you wonder if that also raises doubts about his ability to run a gut-busting 3200m. Plus he does have a shocking barrier in 20.
MOONEE VALLEY CUP (MV, Oct 24, 2500m) – Miami Bound (1st), Oceanex (3rd), Etah James (4th)
Three mares come out of the race in which Prince Of Penzance came second before winning the 2015 Melbourne Cup (at 100-1 mind you). Big tick for Miami Bound, who finally won her first race since taking out last year’s VRC Oaks over the same trip. She did get a couple of favours though. She had a lovely smothered, quiet run at the tail of the field while there was a good pace being set up front, and when the leading division understandably tired in the straight, she surged home and claimed them. Perhaps an even more meritorious run was Oceanex. Having won over 2800m at Flemington in May in a Melbourne Cup qualifying race, she had three poor runs from 1400m-2000m but then impressed here at the more suitable 2500m. She had to work hard early, sitting wide leaving the home straight the first time, and was “rewarded” for her effort by sitting in the death seat for long stretches of the race, in end battling on fairly gamely for third. Etah James, the Cup outsider, wasn’t such a bad run you know, plodding away for fourth, in an effort that underlines how this Sydney Cup winner can probably run along all day, which you need to know for a Melbourne Cup. Still, on the score of class, this race didn’t rate all that highly, and these three are probably more from the “workmanlike” local division rather than the “international big race contender” category.
CURRAGH CUP (July 18, Curragh, Ireland, 2816m) – Twilight Payment (1st), Master Of Reality (2nd)
These two provided the quinella for Australian owner Lloyd Williams, who has a knack of winning Melbourne Cups, but it’s one of those European races that provides headaches for Cup form students. Twilight Payment raced up on the pace and beat Master Of Reality comfortably, by eight lengths. In last year’s Melbourne Cup, Master Of Reality was second across the line, 3.4len ahead of Twilight Payment, who led and got the stitch and finished 11th. Twilight Payment is now an 8yo, and possibly would prefer a soft track (like the Curragh Cup) to the good surface likely for Flemington. Master Of Reality is only six and so still at his peak. Also, after this G2 Curragh Cup, Master Of Reality won his last start in a G3 over the same distance in Ireland by 3.5lens.
LONSDALE STAKES (York, Aug 21, 3270m) – Stratum Albion (2nd), Dashing Willoughy (4th)
Stratum Albion, who’s just called Stratum back home, and Dashing Willoughby aren’t given a huge chance for Tuesday, but here’s some of their stuff. Stratum finished on strongly for second to Enbihaar, who’s a good stayer whose win here gave him five from his last seven starts. You know Stratum will get the trip, but that’s because he’s often run over hurdles, up to 4000m and the like, which is unusual for here but not so much there. You think his much-respected trainer Willie Mullins wouldn’t bring him here if he didn’t think he was a Melbourne Cup type. Mullins, after all, came second in the Melbourne Cup of 2015 with Max Dynamite, who was unlucky behind Prince Of Penzance. Stratum Albion therefore represents something of a mystery bag. Dashing Willoughby, who just plugged on for fourth, however, showed more stuff with his shocker in the Caulfield Cup two weeks back.
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