JUST like most Australians, I love the Melbourne Cup.
Common sense says I shouldn’t – after all, it is just a handicap over two miles – but the fact it’s “the race” that every trainer wants to win just makes it special.
In recent years we’ve seen the quality of the race improve somewhat by the addition of imported stayers.
No doubt there’ll be people wanting to cap internationals as they continue to win our richest race, but the reality is our staying horses just aren’t up the standard of the Europeans at the moment.
So with 131 days until the race that stops a nation, I thought I would take a look at some of the potential runners in this year’s Melbourne Cup.
I haven’t had the time to go through every single horse around the globe to assess their credentials, but I’ve read through the form lines of 50-odd “hopefuls” and came up with these five who I think might be worth watching in the lead-up to November 6.
My theory on early betting is to avoid it at all costs unless you are extremely confident the horse is well over the odds and will be certain to get a start in the race if fit and well.
For example, TAB Sportsbet have last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden as favourite at $16.
Anyone wanting to back him at those odds should be given medication.
From all reports, the horse isn’t even coming here to contest the race.
Having had a look at half a dozen markets this week, it was clear the corporates are being ultra conservative.
Their markets are framed at ridiculous percentages and it’s almost impossible for a punter to win.
So these five horses I’m looking at are not suggested horses to back. Some are under the odds in my view as they’ll need luck to make the final field of 24, let alone win the Melbourne Cup.
But it’s always a bit of fun to gaze into the crystal ball and see what you can come up with four-and-a-half months out from the race.
QUEST FOR PEACE
Watch Quest For Peace run second in the Group 2 Qatar Bloodstock Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket on May 5.
Quest For Peace was well beaten in the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday night behind Sea Moon, Red Cardeaux and Dunaden, but further improvement is expected as his campaign continues.
The soft track didn’t suit him and if we get good weather in the spring, then this Luca Cumani-trained entire is come kind of chance.
He’s still not guaranteed to head to Australia, though.
Owners Terry Henderson and Simon O’Donnell at OTI Racing would love to win a Melbourne Cup with him but he could be headed for the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (2400m) at Longchamp.
His bloodline of Galileo and Play Misty For Me (Danehill Dancer) suggests the 3200m of the Melbourne Cup won’t be a massive issue.
Quest For Peace
TAB Sportsbet: $35
IAS Bet: $35
Tom Waterhouse: N/A
Watch Jakkalberry run a game third in Dubai behind Fox Hunt on March 1.
Another horse win an Australian flavour, Jakkalberry is raced by a syndicate headed by Darren and Liz Dance’s Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock.
Like Quest For Peace, Jakkalberry also ran in the Hardwicke Stakes on Saturday night but managed to get much closer to Sea Moon and Dunaden, finishing fifth.
Prepared by English-based Italian trainer Marco Botti, Jakkalberry has been a journeyman in the last 12 months, racing in Hong Kong, Dubai and the UK.
A winner of nine of 23starts, Jakkalberry is also a Group 1 winner in Italy.
It appears his next stop will be Australia.
The main concern for the six-year-old is the track conditions.
Soft ground won’t suit him.
"Jakkalberry proved with his run in Dubai that he’s among the best stayers here (UK) and a good horse for the Melbourne Cup,” Botti said in a recent interview.
"He’s pleased me since his return from Dubai and I expect him to run well.
"My only concern would be soft ground. His best form is on good ground."
The word from the Ballan-based Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock is Jakkalberry will race in the Caulfield Cup before the Melbourne Cup.
Watch Mount Athos finish behind Moyenne Corniche at York in August last year. The winner went on to finish 15th in last year's Melbourne Cup.
To be honest I didn’t know much about this horse until a fellow racing scribe mentioned his name. He knows a lot more about European stayers than I do, so I took a look at him.
Now in the care of Newmarket trainer Luca Cumani after previously being trained in by John Hills and David Wachman, Mount Athos won his first run for Cumani over 2800m last month and does look to relish the longer distances.
Whether he’s classy enough to win a Melbourne Cup, remains to be seen.
One thing’s for sure, if it’s wet you can rule a line through his name.
Just doesn’t seem to handle the soft going and that’s been his biggest challenge to date – finding firm tracks to race on.
This was taken off Cumani’s website after the race (edited to make it shorter):
“Mount Athos has been raised 6lb to 109lb, which leaves us with something of a dilemma as despite that rating he’s still not qualified for the Melbourne Cup. We could run in the Northumberland Plate, and that’s a big temptation considering the prizemoney on offer, but if he fails to win we’re effectively another month down the line, a bullet down and no nearer qualification. He would qualify for Melbourne, however, if he finishes in the first three in a Group race or wins a Listed race, and that looks the less risky path to take. So as things stand, the Curragh Cup over a mile and three quarters, which is probably his best trip, looks his next port of call.”
It’s been more than a month since Mount Athos has raced and he is nominated for this Saturday’s Northumberland Plate, of which he is a 14-1 chance with bookmakers (before final fields).
It will be interesting to see how he races and what the track conditions are like.
If the track isn’t wet and he runs well, he could well be on his way to Australia.
Mount Athos TAB Sportsbet: $71
IAS Bet: N/A
Tom Waterhouse: N/A
He didn't win but he Win Variation made up big ground in this strangely run race. It was the Group 1 Tenno Sho (Spring) at Kyoto.
AFTER the success of Delta Blues and Pop Rock in 2006 Melbourne Cup, we haven’t seen a Japanese raid since.
One horse likely to have a crack at our feature race is Win Variation.
He’s not rated as the top stayer in Japan, that mantle is probably taken by Orfevre, but it wouldn’t surprise to see Win Variation take some beating in Australia.
From the two runs I’ve seen, he’s hit the line nicely. One of those was in a two mile race (video above), so I’m confident he can run the journey.
Most horses in the Melbourne Cup can’t, so that’s always the first thing you look at when assessing a horse’s chances in the race.
Win Variation ran another good fourth on Sunday just gone and was actually ridden by Yasunari Iwata, who won the Melbourne Cup aboard Delta Blues.
If Win Variation’s trainer decides to bring him to our shores, he should be in good shape and hard to hold out.
Having said that, if Orfevre also makes the journey (at this stage he’s not), I’d rather be backing him as he does appear to have a class edge on Win Variation in Japan.