The race that stops the nation, the Melbourne Cup is nothing if not difficult and victory for nearly anyone of the 24 contenders would not surprise. Godolphin, enjoying a resurgent year across the globe, have long strives for success in this event but this surely is their best chance in recent years. A crack squad of six is headed by Hartnell (below), a stayer in England but turned into a winning machine for John O’Shea this year, winning the Chelmsford and Trophies Hill Stakes before trashing the Caulfield Cup winner Jameka in the Turnbell Stakes. He’s an understandable favourite after a well beaten Cox Plate second and ought to go close, with his suitability for a slowly run race – which this year’s contest may well be again – another positive.
Charlie Appleby has had particular success in the leadup to the Cup and two of his trial winners are of interest. Oceanographer got going too late in the Geelong Cup, and then appeared to have spotted the leader Tom Melbourne far too much of a lead in the Lexus Stakes on Saturday, running 22.45 for the last 400m to reel him in before the line. That was a phenomenal effort and if he is able to backup that effort then he should also take the beating laying up here. Qewy, who made all to land the Geelong Cup, should enjoy being back at 2 miles and it is interesting to note that there’s not a huge amount of opposition in a bid for the lead here. Secret Number has run only four times since 2014 and missed the race last year, finishing second in the Lexus Stakes to Dandino. Last seen landing the Doonside Stakes at Ayr, his form measures up well for his weight and he is one of the more interesting from Godolphin. Beautiful Romance has some of the best form from any of the Godolphin contingent, having won the Middleton Stakes earlier in the season, even if she hadn’t continued in the same vein. However, she has always struggled at this trip which is offputting.
Lloyd Williams is always to be respected here and he brings a formidable squad. Bondi Beach, for the record chasing Aidan O’Brien, is the shortest of his squad, but he was disappointing last year when only sixteenth. It could be that he has been focused more on the Cup this time, as some promising prep runs would show, but he has been accused of being a thinker in the past and perhaps he is too stout for this type of test as well.
Almandine (above), a European import who beat the 2014 Cup winner Protectionist, was an impressive winner of the Harry White Stakes and then The Bart Cummings Stakes when stepping upto middle distances, quickening up smartly to take the Bart Cummings. He has had no run since then, but looks to be the best weighted of Lloyd Williams’s four and Kerrin McEvoy won on Brew from 17. Gallante overraced on the speed in the Moonee Valley Cup, couldn’t handle the pace of Jameka in the Naturalism Stakes the time before, but meets her on better terms at a more preferable trip. An all the way winner of the Sydney Cup, he is one of the more interesting contenders although they crawled that day and he had no pressure on the lead; Even from the inside, this will surely be different. Assign was a game winner of the Herbert Powert Stakes when the ride of Katelyn Mallon was the difference. . Before that she’d had no answer to Almandin and the form may be confirmed here.
Big Orange had a phenomenal year last year when fifth from the front, appearing to be outsped in the home straight. Jamie Spencer may choose to go harder this time, although he will probably have more company, and big Orange arrives having won the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes and Goodwood Cup to boot. He has to be considered an each/way player and has a fine draw in seven.
The international challenge is as strong as it’s ever been and Willie Mullins, who went so close last year, has another fascinating contender in the shape of Wicklow Brave (pictured, below). A shock winner of the Irish St Leger, he was behind Big Orange in the Goodwood Cup and then was third in the Lonsdale Cup, the for of which has been boosted significantly through the rest of the summer. He won’t be able to dominate from the front this time from stall 24, but the same combination came from the back when Max Dynamite was second and the locals suggest that he has been training very well.
Heartbreak City, who trashed his field, including a couple who have won since here, in the Ebor, is worthy of the utmost respect. He showed a great deal of speed to win that day and with a variety of form in slowly run races he should be quick enough for this test and has also landed a decent weight too considering just how far he won the Ebor by.
Jameka was a very impressive winner of the Caulfield Cup but she may have been closer to her peak for that race than some others. Exospheric, making his Australian debut since moving from Sir Michael Stoute, was a fine third in the Caulfield Cup and can be expected to improve plenty not only for that run but also 2 miles at Flemington. Behind him that day was Almoonquith (below, picture), who was stuck on the inside at the head of the home straight as Jameka was making her move with Exospheric having had a clear run. The winner was gone but he did well to get a share of fourth there. He was a disappointment in the race last year but previous few got involved from the rear and the early interference that he suffered would not have helped his chances either (noticeably lit up and keen too boot). He appears to be amongst the best handicapped from that race running here and connections are noticeably more confident this time around. He needs a bit of pace on and some luck from 19, but he appears ready to outrun his price. Our Ivanhowe was in sixth that day and was well beaten beforehand by Hartnell. Sir John Hawkwood is better than his run in the Caulfield Cup might have suggested and this trip ought not to be a problem, but he had no excuse for his defeat there and others make more appeal.
The Japanese have one raider this year, the very interesting Current Mirotic, beaten a nose when running a stormer as a 98/1 shot who nearly took down the 7/2 shot Kitasan Black. He has no form outside of that effort but that was his only shot at 2 miles in his last six runs. Grey Lion’s only Australian run entitles him to more respect than his price would suggest, having just failed to get past Qewt off the front end then. The form has received a small boost since then but Oceangorapher makes most appeal off the three.
Grand Marshal beat Who Shot Thebarman, Pentahlon, and Excess Knowledge to win the Moonee Valley Gold Cup but neither look well handicapped enough on formlines to be considered overs here. Pentathlon was well beaten in the Lexus Stakes on Saturday and is going to struggle based on either that or his run at Moonee Valley; Rose of Virginia was even further behind.
1 pt each/way Wicklow Brave (16/1 general, 12/1 SkyBet*, Corals**)
1 pt each/way Almoonquith (25/1 SkyBet**)
** Skybet are offering 6 places with 1/4 the odds. *Corals play 1/4 for 5 places.