By Tom Peacock in Melbourne
Tuesday morning’s field for the Emirates Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse is down to 23 following the defection of old hand Who Shot Thebarman with a temperature, which means that very nearly half of the field consist of European challengers.
As with the Grand National, the Melbourne Cup is such a competitive race with generous prices that it makes sense to back two or three.
With bunching and a stop-start pace around the Flemington turns, at least one selection is bound to meet traffic problems anyway.
Virtually every Australian expert I’ve spoken to this week seems very downbeat about the home team with only defending champion Almandin, the mount of Frankie Dettori, and the quirky Humidor getting much of a mention.
The problem is sifting through the British, Irish, French and German candidates to find the right one, as most have looked on good terms with themselves in training here.The Melbourne Cup has attracted the attention of legendary rider Lester Piggott, who famously never rode in the race (Racingfotos)
With Britain still seeking its first victory in ‘the race that stops a nation’, many are predicting it could be Hughie Morrison’s Marmelo who creates a bit of history.
Age - Four and five-year-olds have much the highest success rates all-time, although the last couple of winners have been six and comparisons are difficult, given the breeding seasons are different across the hemispheres. The odds are against Joseph O’Brien’s Rekindling, as there has not been a three-year-old winner since 1941.
Draw - Trainers hope for between five and 15 when heading for the draw, as being stuck low and possibly trapped on the rail, or very high and giving away ground on the outside are not favourable places to be.
While Joao Moreira almost managed some magic on Heartbreak City from 23 last year, the position makes it very tricky for Europeans Red Cardinal and Tiberian this time.
Prep run - Australian horses all work their way towards fitness with plenty of build-up outings and the Europeans have caught on. Indeed, the last horse to win the Cup without a prior outing Down Under was Dermot Weld’s Vintage Crop in 1993.
Three horses to back in the Melbourne Cup:
Trainer: Willie Mullins (14-1 general)
Jockey: Zac Purton_Max Dynamite is trained by Willie Mullins and will be ridden by Zac Purton _(Racingfotos)
The Irish runner can go one better than his second-place two years ago, a performance which really should have been successful with Frankie Dettori briefly stuck for a run at a crucial point before he switched late and made late ground on landmark 100-1 winner Prince Of Penzance.
Some horses do thrive from a return overseas and this one has looked in fine health alongside his companion Thomas Hobson.
He is also 2lb better off at the weights with Mullins revealing that he was kept very low-key in his preparation for fear of being raised.
The trainer has shunned Australian prep-runs in the past and keeps his own method.
BIG DUKE at 18-1 with Bet365 and Coral
Trainer: Darren Weir (20-1 general)
Jockey: Brenton Avdulla
A little under-the-radar but could be the best of the home defence. Formerly trained in Britain by Michael Wigham, for whom he rounded off his time with a win at Wetherby in May 2016, he has since moved to Darren Weir.
The all-conquering Australian gets his horses extremely fit up the hill at his Ballarat base and Big Duke has won four times already.
He was particularly eye-catching on his most recent run at Moonee Valley, when he suffered from a slow pace and lack of a gap in a race Weir used with Prince Of Penzance. Drawn well with a good profile.
Trainer: Hughie Morrison
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Whichever way you look at Hughie Morrison’s leading contender, it is hard to find a fault with him.
He is tactically versatile, seems to handle any type of ground, is not unfeasibly weighted and has a reasonable enough draw in stall 16. He also has the benefit of Winx’s rider Hugh Bowman in the plate.
His performance in the Caulfield Cup, when having his first run in Australia over an insufficient trip, also gets better each time you look at it.
Surely only bad luck during the race is going to stop him from featuring.