With the field and barriers declared for Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup (3200m), it’s time to get down the business and find the winner.
We’re yet to see Magic Circle, Muntahaa and Cross Counter perform in Australia, but what they’ve done in Europe gives them a big chance in Australia’s most iconic race.
Cross Counter is a winner of four of his seven starts and is running very good times over 2400m.
He finished 2.5 lengths from Baghdad in the King George V Stakes at Ascot in a time of 2:28.36, then won at the same track and trip in 2:30.45 before setting a course record in the Gordon Stakes (2414m) at Goodwood where he ran 2:31.39.
He has since finished 2nd in the Voltigeur Stakes (2400m) at York in 2:28.34 – and he’s done all this in just seven starts.
He has a similar feel as last year’s winner Rekindling who came to Australia as a lightly-raced Northern Hemisphere three-year-old who gets in with 51kg.
Magic Circle is a powerful stayer winning his last two runs over 3749m and 3264m, and he’s shown a great turn of foot at the end of his races to score by six lengths on each occasion.
Muntahaa was a dominant winner of the Ebor Handicap (2816m) last start and he was absolutely cantering as they entered the straight where he quickly put the sword to his rivals.
Marmelo and Nakeeta return for a second crack at the race after finishing 9th and 5th respectively in last year’s Melbourne Cup, and it’s hard to suggest either is going better than last year.
Nakeeta won the Ebor in a time of 2:56.54 before heading to Australia last year, while Muntahaa won in a much slicker 2:53.48 which is the second quickest on record and was only bettered by All The Good (2008) who ran 2:52.05 before heading to Australia and taking out the Caulfield Cup.
Muntahaa does rate much higher than Nakeeta, but he was previously beaten 4.5 lengths by Best Solution in the Princess of Wales Stakes (2414m).
Best Solution was having his first start for 15 weeks while Muntahaa was third-up after a long break, so even though Muntahaa meets him 2kg better in the Melbourne Cup, you could argue Best Solution had more improvement in him when they met last and he should have Muntahaa covered again.
There only horses I give a chance to based on their Caulfield Cup runs are; the winner Best Solution, 3rd placed The Cliffs Of Moher, 7th placed Youngstar and Ventura Storm who finished in 10th place.
Which means, I’m knocking out Vengeur Masque, Sound Check, Chestnut Coat and Ace High who also ran in the Caulfield Cup – their runs simply weren’t as good as the four eye-catchers in the race.
Best Solution and The Cliffs Of Moher covered the same amount of ground in the run and carry the same weight in the Melbourne Cup, which is sure to test them a bit more over 800m further.
Ventura Storm covered 8m less in the run and worked home honestly, while Youngstar covered 3m more than the winner and clocked the quickest final 200m of the race (12.05) which was roughly three lengths quicker than any other horse.
Ventura Storm has subsequently won the Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m) when sitting up on the speed, and I think a similar performance gives him a chance to win on Tuesday.
I don’t think he has the turn of foot to fly from a long way back, but if he can settle forward of midfield from barrier 7 and work into the race on the turn, he might be able to keep grinding away to finish in the money.
However, the Moonee Valley Cup favoured those on speed, and Who Shot The Barman really caught the eye working home strongly in that race.
He’s a proven two-miler and has finished 3rd behind Protectionist in the 2014 Melbourne Cup, and unlucky 11th behind Prince Of Penzance in 2015 and then 5th behind Almandin in 2016 when he came from last on the turn.
He won the Sydney Cup (3200m) in good time this year (3:20.04), and although he’ll have to become the first 10-year-old to win and the first horse from barrier 18 to win, I give him a better chance than Ventura Storm who meets him 1.5kg worse at the weights.
A Prince Of Arran came into contention with a 3rd placing behind Yucatan in the Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) and has subsequently won the Lexus Handicap (2500m) in impressive fashion.
Yucatan easily had them covered and could have won by 10 lengths, which brings me back to Magic Circle who did beat A Prince Of Arran by nine lengths in the Chester Cup (3749m) when carrying 2.5kg extra.
There is 3kg between them on Tuesday and that’s no enough to A Prince Of Arran to turn the tables.
So, the way I see it is, Best Solution, Yucatan, Magic Circle and Cross Counter have the strongest form lines, while The Cliffs Of Moher, Muntahaa, A Prince Of Arran, Who Shot Thebarman and Youngstar can threaten with the right run.
Cross Counter is running the same times as Best Solution when both horses are carrying around 60kg in Europe, and considering Cross Counter carries 6.5kg less on Tuesday, he has the advantage.
Yucatan ran a blisteringly quick 2:26.47 to win the Herbert power, and he could have run sub 2:26 if asked to and that would have seen him go close to beating Diatribe’s track record.
He’ll have to carry 3kg more than Cross Counter which equates to about six lengths over 3200m, so the question is, is Yucatan six lengths better than Cross Counter?
I can see Best Solution, Yucatan and Cross Counter battling this out down the straight while Magic Circle launches late and claims them with his brilliant turn of foot and proven stamina.
Jockey Corey Brown is a terrific judge of staying events having won last year’s Melbourne Cup, and the 2017 Sydney Cup as well as claiming the 2009 Melbourne Cup with Shocking and finishing runner-up in the 2008 Melbourne Cup on Bauer.
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