Melbourne Cup Preview 2021

It’s shaping up to be one of the strangest days in Australian racing ever. The biggest horse race on the Australian calendar won’t have a crowd at all to speak of. There’s no VIP’s, no dress sense finery such as suits for the men and fascinators for the ladies. Instead, everyone will be glued to the television to watch the race all over the nation as well as New Zealand. The race that stops not only one nation but two.

All things considered, because of the COVID-19 and lockdown situation in Australia but specifically in Victoria, the assembled field for this year’s Melbourne Cup is a pretty decent lineup under the circumstances it must be said.

Though there are no Japanese horses here this year, those that have ventured down under from Ireland, England, as well as Germany all appear to have decent chances in the race.

There are two specific criteria that punters need to follow for this year’s race, and they are: the expectation of fine weather and a firm track, and also the placement of some of the favoured horses in outside barrier draws which was announced on Saturday night.

Let’s look at the field.

1. ANTHONY VAN DYCK
58.5kg (3)
$9 / $3
5yo stallion
18: 6-4-3 (72.2%)
$4,090,099
T: Aidan O’Brien
J: Hugh Bowman
Track: 0: 0-0-0
Wet: 7: 2-2-0

Best long-distance form: 1st 2019 English Derby, 2nd 2020 Caulfield Cup (both 2400m).

Never in the history of the ‘great race’ has an English Derby winner turned up down under to race in the Melbourne Cup. Anthony Van Dyck is a half brother to the successful Kiwi mare Bounding, who raced in both New Zealand and Australia during her career, so that adds a bit of interest to the mix. It’s hard to ignore class when you see it and I think Australians saw it in the Caulfield Cup just the other week with Verry Elleegant just prevailing by a neck over the Irish visitor. It would not surprise me to see these two horses fighting it out yet again on the big stage.

Pros:
Most credentialled horse in the race.
Good barrier.

Cons:
Hugh Bowman curse. He’s never won the race.

2. AVILIUS
57kg (10)
$34 / $9
7yo gelding
32: 11-3-4 (56.25%)
$3,430,835
T: James Cummings
J: John Allen
Track: 4: 1-0-0
Wet: 11: 4-1-2

Best long-distance form: 1st 2018 Bart Cummings (2500m).

The James Cummings stable must have quite a lot of faith in this old warrior for him to be lining up this Tuesday. Sadly I believe his competitive days are over now, and he’d have to be jumping out of his skin to get anywhere near the lead by the time they reach the clocktower. He tends to get back in his races anyway and with his weight of 57kg that’s just giving away a bit too much in a race like this against quality stayers.

Pros:
Class horse on his day.

Cons:
Big weight.
An expected firm track won’t help.
Doesn’t convince over the distance, despite compelling reasons in only start (2018 Melbourne Cup).

3. VOW AND DECLARE
57kg (4)
$51 / $14
5yo gelding
19: 4-3-3 (52.63%)
$5,875,930
T: Danny O’Brien
J: Jamie Mott
Track: 8: 2-0-2
Wet: 7: 2-0-1

Best long-distance form: 1st 2019 Melbourne Cup (3200m), 2nd 2019 Caulfield Cup (2400m).

What a difference a year makes. Last year this horse was at the top of his game. A second in the Caulfield Cup before winning this big prize 3 weeks later. However, a year later and he’s carrying a lot more weight and his form is nowhere near as good as it was 12 months ago. Hard to have.

Pros:
Proven over the distance and track.
Good barrier, could be up on the speed.

Cons:
Horribly out of form.
Carrying more weight than last year.

4. MASTER OF REALITY
56kg (11)
$26 / $7
6yo gelding
17: 4-3-2 (52.94%)
$691,100
T: Joseph O’Brien
J: Ben Melham
Track: 1: 0-0-0
Wet: 11: 3-1-2

Best long-distance form: 4th 2019 Melbourne Cup, relegated from 2nd (3200m). 3rd 2019 Royal Ascot Gold Cup (4000m).

This bloke can definitely run long distance. He should have been in the top 3 last year but he was ridden inside out by his jockey Frankie Dettori; the horse unfortunately was relegated to fourth for interference after finishing second over the line. If he can race handy to the speed with cover he’ll be right there when the whips are cracking. He’s my pick.

Pros:
Proven stayer.
Good draw.

Cons:
Firm track. Would prefer it softer.

5. SIR DRAGONET
55.5kg (14)
$7 / $2.50
5yo stallion
10: 3-4-0 (70%)
$3,641,570
T: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace
J: Glen Boss
Track: 0: 0-0-0
Wet: 5: 2-2-0

Best long-distance form: Won over 2505m. 4th Irish St Leger (2922m).

This horse came to Australia with a bit of a reputation, I think he lived up to his form particularly winning the Cox Plate on a wet track, but this is different. Glen Boss is particularly bullish about his chances, but he’s only ridden the horse once, and all jockeys want to have a say about their horse in the lead up to the big race. It’s called Advertising. I’m optimistically cautious about Sir Dragonet, but then again he could come out and win this by 5 lengths or more, or finish at the back of the field.

Pros:
Classy horse.
Proven big race rider on board. He’s won it three times.

Cons:
Would prefer it soft or wet.
Unsure about ability to run a true 3200m on a good/firm track.

6. TWILIGHT PAYMENT
55.5kg (12)
$34 / $9
8yo gelding
29: 7-10-6 (79.31%)
$858,071
T: Joseph O’Brien
J: Jye McNeil
Track: 0: 0-0-0
Wet: 15: 4-4-4

Best long-distance form: Has had four goes over 3200m, for a win and two placings in Listed class in Ireland, and an 11th in last year’s Melbourne Cup.

Twilight Payment turned up to run in last year’s cup and did pretty well considering the way the race was run. He wasn’t that far off the winner in terms of distance (just under four lengths). A year on he’s a year older and it doesn’t get any easier. If he can be ridden quietly and be presented at the right time he could make it very interesting when the clocktower is in sight.

Pros:
A certainty to run the distance without an issue.

Cons:
Still unsure about his credentials in the top-class company.
Age is a concern. Not many 8 y.o’s win this.

7. VERRY ELLEEGANT
55.5kg (15)
$11 / $3.50
5yo mare
24: 11-5-1 (70.83%)
$6,896,044
T: Chris Waller
J: Mark Zahra
Track: 5: 1-1-1
Wet: 14: 9-3-0

Best long-distance form: 1st 2019 Australian ATC Oaks, 2020 Tancred Stakes, 2020 Caulfield Cup (all 2400m).

If I put a bet on with my head, this horse probably wouldn’t be considered. But most of the time I bet with my heart and on that basis she’ll have some money invested. If Verry Elleegant wins on Tuesday she goes up to champion status, as a dual Caulfield Melbourne Cup winner. For this to happen many things will have to go right for her, particularly where she sits in the running. All eyes will be on Mark Zahra as he navigates her through a moving mindfield. If she’s in clear air with 300m to go, two countries will be shouting the house down willing her home.

Pros:
Alongside Anthony Van Dyck, is the class horse of the field.
Bred to stay.
Brings best lead-in form into the race.

Cons:
Won’t get a wet track on Tuesday.
Still a quirky galloper, will need to be on her best behaviour.
Weight and barrier draw could be an issue.

8. MUSTAJEER
55kg (2)
$67 / $18
8yo gelding
29: 5-5-3 (44.82%)
$1,965,726
T: Kris Lees
J: Michael Rodd
Track: 1: 0-0-0
Wet: 14: 4-3-1

Best long-distance form: 5th 2020 Sydney Cup (3200m)

I can’t really see Mustsjeer performing well in a race like this. It would be a huge upset if he did run in the first 3.

Pros:
Nothing of note.

Cons:
Recent form isn’t great.
Doesn’t have the best credentials.
Prefers a wet track.
Age.

9. STRATUM ALBION
55kg (9)
$34 / $9
8yo gelding
16: 3-6-2 (68.75%)
$164,536
T: Willie Mullins
J: Jordan Childs
Track: 0: 0-0-0
Wet: 7: 1-4-0

Best long-distance form: 1st non-Black Type handicap, Newmarket UK (3600m).

Quite how Willie Mullins managed to get this horse into this race is a shock. He’s better known as a hurdler but he can run over the distance but an international race like the Melbourne Cup is a little bit different to hack race jumping over fences in England. Hard to have.

Pros:
Should be able to comfortably run the distance.

Cons:
Might be out of his depth.

10. DASHING WILLOUGHBY
54.5kg (19)
$101 / $25
5yo gelding
14-4:2:1 (50%)
$387,346
T: Andrew Balding.
J: Michael Walker
Track: 0: 0-0-0
Wet: 7: 1-2-1

Best long distance form: 1st Henry II Stakes at Sandown, UK (3264m).

Australians first got a look at Chasing Willoughby in the recent Caulfield Cup. It was hard to ignore him because he was leading from the front a long way out. Unfortunately for him he tailed off the field and this was not a good look for both the horse and the jockey to be honest. It was like watching Walker’s ride on Puccini in the Rosehill Guineas a few years ago when he took off like a mad thing and then finished well back in the field once they crossed the line. It was a disaster. I hope we don’t see this sort of thing happen again on Tuesday. On that Caulfield Cup run he’d be hard to have in your picks.

Pros:
Should run the distance OK.

Cons:
Wide barrier draw (19).

11. FINCHE
54.5 (6)
$17 / $5
7yo gelding
18: 4-1-5 (55. 55%)
$1,295,266
T: Chris Waller
J: James McDonald
Track: 4: 0-1-1
Wet: 8: 2-0-1

Best long distance form: 4th 2018 Melbourne Cup (3200m), 7th 2019 Melbourne Cup (3200m), 5th 2020 Caulfield Cup (2400m).

Finche is a quality galloper from the Chris Waller stable who has been in decent enough form over the last 6 weeks running places in behind stablemate Verry Elleegant in the Turnbull Stakes and Caulfield Cup. Does he have the brilliance to overcome the other quality horses in this field? That is my main concern.

Pros:
Consistent horse.
Top stable and jockey.
Hood barrier draw.

Cons:
Needs to have luck in the running.

12. PRINCE OF ARRAN
54.5kg (1)
$11 / $3.50
8yo gelding
44: 6-8-8 (50%)
$3,117,440
T: Charlie Fellowes
J: Jamie Kah
Track: 3: 1-1-1
Wet: 10: 0-2-1

Best long-distance form: 3nd 2018 Melbourne Cup (3200m), 2nd 2019 Melbourne Cup (3200m), 1st 2018 Lexus Hotham Stakes (2500m)

Prince of Arran is one of the most popular horses to visit Australia from abroad, and has backed up his popularity by being very competitive in the best staying races in the land. This will be his third attempt in the race after placing twice in the last 2 years. He’ll have a change of rider this time around with Jamie Kah coming in for Michael Walker who has swapped over to Chasing Willoughby. There is everything to suggest that the Prince will be competitive once again and you would be silly not to be putting money on him. A definite top 3 pick for me.

Pros:
Out and out stayer.
Jamie Kah to ride.

Cons:
Age, but Red Cadeaux was competitive right up to the end.
The very inside barrier draw could be problematic. But then again maybe not.

13. SURPRISE BABY
54.5kg (7)
$9 / $3
6yo gelding
13: 5-2-1 (61.53%)
$998,735
T: Paul Preusker
J: Craig Williams
Track: 6: 1-1-1
Wet: 2: 1-0-0

Best long-distance form: 5th 2019 Melbourne Cup (3200m), 1st 2019 Adelaide Cup (3200m).

Australia’s very own ‘bush wonder’ is one of the top contenders for this year’s race. If you’ve ever been to Horsham on the A8 out in Western Victoria it’s not really the bush, it’s a pretty modern town with a lot of facilities but the Bush? Nah it isn’t. Surprise Baby ran a great race in last year’s cup to finish 5th, he was flying. With Craig Williams onboard this time, and a great barrier draw at 7, expect to see this horse running a lot more handier than last year which will give him a better chance. He could possibly win this thing.

Pros:
Great barrier draw and winning jockey from last year.
Will be rock hard fit.

Cons:
Not many lead-in races before this year’s cup.

14. KING OF LEOGRANCE
53.5kg (18)
$34 / $9
6yo gelding
15: 5-3-3 (73.33%)
$588,038
T: Danny O’Brien
J: Damian Lane
Track: 5: 1-1-0
Wet: 2: 1-0-1

Best long-distance form: 1st 2020 Adelaide Cup (3200m).

King Of Leogrance doesn’t tick any boxes for me unfortunately. Hard to have.

Pros:
From a winning stable.
Good jockey.

Cons:
Wide draw.

15. RUSSIAN CAMELOT
53.5kg (16)
$13 / $4
4yo stallion
9: 4-3-1 (88.88%)
$1,466,225
T: Danny O’Brien
J: Damien Oliver
Track: 3: 0-2-0
Wet: 5: 3-0-0

Best long-distance form: 1st 2020 South Australian Derby (2500m).

Russian Camelot is a lightly raced 4 year-old from the Danny O’Brien stable who was all the rage earlier in the year after his dominant win in the South Australian Derby. He should be able to get the 3200m distance being a Camelot offspring and his recent third in the Cox Plate would suggest that he can run in elite company. I’m thinking that he’ll be there or thereabouts and could very well be tracking Verry Elleegant into the race as they are side by side in the barrier draw.

Pros:
Has class and breeding on his side.
Should get the distance.
One of the best group 1 jockeys is on board.

Cons:
Would prefer a softer track.
Barrier 16 is a bit of a concern.

16. STEEL PRINCE
53.5kg (21)
$34 / $9
7yo gelding
26: 9-5-3 (65.38%)
$1,064,412
T: Anthony & Sam Freedman
J: William Pike
Track: 5: 2-1-1
Wet: 5: 0-10

Best long distance form: 1st 2019 Andrew Ramsden Stakes (2800m).

Steel Prince presents himself as a real chance in this race based on his credentials. He won the Geelong Cup the other week which put his name in neon lights. Ran fairly well in last year’s Melbourne Cup to finish 9th only a few lengths off the winner, there is every chance he could go better this year now that he is a much more mature horse. Place bets and exotics look good for this bloke.

Pros:
Top jockey aboard.
Consistent galloper.

Cons:
Wide draw (21) but Vow And Declare won from there last year.

17. THE CHOSEN ONE
53.5kg (5)
$51 / $10
5yo stallion
26: 6-3-2 (42.30%)
$1,315,509
T: Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman
J: Daniel Stackhouse
Track: 3: 1-0-0
Wet: 14: 2-2-2

Best long-distance form: 2nd 2020 Sydney Cup (3200m), 3rd 2020 Caulfield Cup (2400m).

Back in his 3 y.o year, The Chosen One was touted as being a stayer of the future. It didn’t quite work out that way in following seasons but eventually he’s back in the limelight again, after a terrific performance for a brave third in the Caulfield Cup behind Verry Elleegant and Anthony Van Dyck. With a good weight and barrier draw he could again be prominent if ridden handy to the speed.

Pros:
Bred to stay.
Master trainer in Murray Baker.
Good weight and barrier draw.

Cons:
Probably would prefer it to be on the soft/wet side.

18. ASHRUN
53kg (24)
$15 / $4
5yo stallion
13: 4-2-1 (53.84%)
$315,819
T: Andreas Wohler.
J: Declan Bates
Track: 1: 1-0-0
Wet: 4: 1-1-1

Best long-distance form: 1st 2020 Lexus Hotham Stakes (2500m). 2nd Prix Kergorlay (3000m).

I was quite impressed with this German galloper’s run the other day in the Hotham, as he carried 61kg and came from dead last to win it and secure his place in this field. Now with a light weight (53 kgs) he is in with a chance but the 24 barrier draw is an obstacle. Still, I’m very interested to see how he runs. One for the exotics I suggest.

Pros:
Drops 8kgs from last start.
Same stable that produced 2014 Cup winner Protectionist.

Cons:
Has the widest draw other than the car park.
Would prefer sting out of the ground.

19. WARNING
53kg (8)
$34 / $9
4yo gelding
16: 2-1-3 (37.50%)
$1,507,900
T: Anthony & Sam Freedman
J: Luke Currie
Track: 4: 2-0-0
Wet: 8: 1-0-2

Best long-distance form: 1st 2019 Victoria Derby (2500m)

Warning was last year’s Derby winner around the same carnival timeframe, but a year on he’s in the Melbourne Cup but he would be considered an outsider. On the plus side though, he has a reasonable weight of 53kg and a good barrier draw at 8. These two things alone make him a interesting prospect, but in all honesty it would be a bit of a surprise to see him in the frame.

Pros:
Has the breeding. Same sire as Vow And Declare.
Reasonable barrier (8).

Cons:
Not a great win/place ratio (37.50%).
Current form not great.

20. ETAH JAMES
52.5kg (22)
$101 / $25
8yo mare
32: 8-2-1 (34.37%)
$1,248,994
T: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace
J: Billy Egan
Track: 5: 0-1-0
Wet: 12: 2-1-1

Best long distance form: 1st 2020 Sydney Cup (3200m).

I’ll give Etah James her due, she’s a campaigner and a trier and also has a group 1 to her name so her breeding prospects in the matron’s paddock are assured. Can she go out in a blaze of glory? My head says no but my heart says ‘go girl!’ I might put a spare couple of bucks on for sentiments sake.

Pros:
Can get the distance, no issue there.

Cons:
Typical Kiwi bred prefers softer ground.
8 year old mares very rarely win this race.
Very wide draw (22).

21. TIGER MOTH
52.5kg (23)
$7 / $2.50
4yo stallion
4: 2-1-1 (100%)
$352,409
T: Aidan O’Brien
J: Kerrin McEvoy
Track: 0: 0-0-0
Wet: 1: 0-0-1

Best long-distance form: 1st G3 in Ireland, 2nd 2020 G1 Irish Derby (both 2400m).

Is this horse the real deal or is he just hype? He’s only been to the races four times, but brings the same lightweight profile that previous recent winners Rekindled and Cross Counter did. Beaten by Santiago in the Irish Derby which is good form. F

Pros:
Top jockey on board.
Master trainer.
Light weight.

Cons:
Unknown quantity.
Hard to frank form from only four starts.
Wide barrier draw 23.

22. OCEANEX
51.5kg (17)
$67 / $18
5yo mare
22: 6-4-4 (63.63%)
$721,970
T: Mick Price & Michael Kent Jnr
J: Dean Yendall
Track: 5: 3-0-0
Wet: 7: 2-0-3

Best long-distance form: 1st 2020 Andrew Ramsden Stakes (2800m)

This kiwi bred mare has a good pedigree but it would be a major surprise if she sprung a victory on Tuesday. She recently came back into form finishing 3rd in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup the other week after qualifying for this race in the Andrew Ramsden back in May. Best of luck to those of you who draw her name out in the office sweepstake.

Pros:
Raced OK in weaker company. This will be tougher though.
Qualified early, bought along quietly.

Cons:
Drawn wide.
Prefers sting out of the ground.

23. MIAMI BOUND
51kg (13)
$34 / $9
4yo mare
14: 5-0-2 (50%)
$1,228,000
T: Danny O’Brien
J: Daniel Moor
Track: 5: 2-0-2
Wet: 5: 3-0-0

Best long distance form: 1st 2019 VRC Oaks, 1st 2020 Moonee Valley Cup (both 2500m).

Miami Bound came back into prominence the other week by winning the Moonee Valley Gold Cup. However, it was on a very wet track and she was ridden by Jamie Kah. Neither will be available to her this Tuesday. This is another mare that I am particularly interested to see run when they assemble for the big dance on Tuesday.

Pros:
Should get the distance OK.

Cons:
Would prefer soft track.
Unknown quantity at the trip. First attempt.

24. PERSAN
51kg (20)
$34 / $9
4yo stallion
19: 6-4-1 (57.89%)
$656,971
T: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustance
J: Michael Dee
Track: 5: 4-1-0
Wet: 7: 4-1-0

Best long distance form: 1st 2020 Bart Cummings (2500m).

This is a horse that has come on in leaps and bounds since moving from Sydney to Melbourne at the beginning of the year. Persan has amassed a very good record during 2020 and qualified for this race by winning the Bart Cummings on Turnbull Stakes Day. With a lightweight and a preference for Flemington he could be in with an outside shot, but the wide barrier draw doesn’t help. I’m pretty certain his price will come in before race time on Tuesday.

Pros:
Likes Flemington. Good record here.
Recent form in lower grades is impeccable.
A young horse on the rise.
Light weight.

Cons:
Wide barrier (20).
Unknown quantity at the trip. First attempt.
Would prefer soft track.

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Good luck to all.

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