MELBOURNE CUP

2017

Flemington, VIC / 3200m / Race 7
Tuesday, November 7 at 3:00pm

MELBOURNE CUP:

STATISTICS

The Betting:

Knowledge & Insight

The Melbourne Cup market is shaped by numerous factors, not the least being media coverage, general hype and often associated factors.

The 1993 Cup victory of the Irish-trained Vintage Crop brought a predictable knee-jerk reaction that the Melbourne Cup would never be the same – that the “raiders” would dominate the Melbourne Cup of the future.

Thus, in the next three years, an International visitor started favourite – and all failed to fill a place (Vintage Crop-1994, Double Trigger-1995, Oscar Schindler-1996).

Between 2002 and 2015, eight favourites (or co-favourites) were from the “raiding party” – all unfortunately failed, although Pop Rock ($6 co-favourite in 2006) was a narrow second to his Japanese counterpart Delta Blues.

On the flipside, five Internationals did indeed win the Cup in this timeframe, all starting at a price ranging from a low of $6.50 (Media Puzzle-2002) to a high of $18 (Delta Blues-2006). Informatively, all five had the benefit of a “prep” start here prior to Melbourne Cup success – something to bear in mind this year?

Form Focus Verdict

With Prince of Penzance scoring at $101 two years ago, he became the fourth Cup winner to start at triple figure odds (100/1). The first was The Pearl in 1871 who then defied a protest from the favourite and runner-up Romula.

In 1936, Wotan broke the Australian record for two miles, then just four years later Old Rowley caused another shock result.

Favourites have had a lean trot over the past decade, Fiorente (2013) the sole winner – over a six decade timeframe, the favourite/co-favourite has a win strike-rate of just 21.6% – (thirteen wins).

BARRIER POSITIONS:

Knowledge & Insight

One of the entertaining curiosities of any research is the uncovering of anomalies and/or uncertain factual references.

So, when undertaking a thorough scan across Melbourne Cup winning barriers, it became quite a journey, comparing recorded figures with other varied reference sources.

Friday’s Verdict will attempt to clear the picture regarding winning barriers – but what we can report is that there are only two barriers without a win in the past sixty years.

And, that in an overall perspective, there is no disadvantage drawn low or high. With seven wins over the past six decades, barrier 11 holds a clear three win advantage over barriers 3, 5 and 14.

Form Focus Verdict

Not since Foxzami in 1949 has barrier twelve won the Cup, topweight Hartnell due to jump from this gate tomorrow. Another in a hoodoo gate is Nakeeta, out to break a sixty-one-year drought for barrier nineteen, last successful via Toparoa in 1955.

The recording of winning barrier positions is a slippery slope – many, but not all, news and racing publications re-published the winners pre-race barrier position, not taking into account withdrawals, scratchings, non-runners.

Therefore, Form Focus undertook a revision of Melbourne Cup winning barriers to ascertain exactly what gate the winner had, in fact, jumped from.

An example is 1963 with winner Gatum Gatum drawing barrier nineteen when final acceptances were taken. Kildarlin, drawn in twelve, was a scratching, with first emergency Homesteader thus making the field.

Emergencies at that time were not allocated a barrier, and if they made the final field, they had to start from the extreme outside. Thus, Gatum Gatum came in one spot with the withdrawal of Kildarlin, officially starting from gate eighteen.

The 1963 Melbourne Cup result, published in “The Age” on Wednesday, November 6, 1963, actually does show Gatum Gatum as starting from gate 18.

AGE AND SEX:

Knowledge & Insight

While the first eighty years of the Melbourne Cup (1861-1941) was predominantly the domain of the three-year-old (25% win strike-rate), the following four decades (1942-1982) witnessed the four-year-olds emerge (43.9% win strike-rate).

Since 1983, (34 runnings), four-year-olds have won the Cup on just seven occasions (20.5% strike-rate). What does this all mean?

For starters, the majority of Melbourne Cup winners since 2000 have been bred in the Northern Hemisphere (eleven out of sixteen).

In 2017, the Melbourne Cup has twenty-six of the thirty-six remaining second acceptors bred to Northern Hemisphere time. And, in Jon Snow, we have only one Southern Hemisphere-bred four-year-old amongst the thirty-six.

More on this in Friday’s Verdict.

Form Focus Verdict

With Jon Snow not making the race, we again have the unfortunate situation of no Australian or New Zealand-bred four-year-old in the race. Rekindling (a 3yo by Northern Hemisphere time), is a veteran of just nine races, but inexperience in the Cup is not the negative it once was.

Last year, Almandin won the Cup on his eleventh career start, while Protectionist (2014) was having just his tenth start. In 2012, Fiorente was having his tenth start when runner-up to Green Moon, and the year before, Lucas Cranach (third) was having his eleventh start.

In 2007, the Aidan O’Brien visiting three-year-old Mahler was third to Efficient and he was having just his eighth outing.

The WEIGHTS:

Knowledge & Insight

Is weight relevant/important in the Melbourne Cup?

Depending on what side of the fence you prefer, the “no” argument fails to stand up to scrutiny.

The facts show that a weight above 56.5kg is (in the modern era = since metrics were introduced in 1972), a significant challenge.

In the forty-six runnings of the Cup under the metric scale, only three horses have won with more than 56.5kg.

Think Big (1975) completed a historic back-to-back Cup victory under 58.5kg, then two years later, Gold and Black (1977) carried 57kg to victory after being runner-up with 50kg a year earlier.

Twenty-eight years went by until Makybe Diva (2005) became the first horse to win three Melbourne Cups when she was completely unbothered by her 58kg.

Records show that a further seventy-two horses carried more than 56.5kg in the forty-six Cups conducted from 1972 to 2016. Of these, there were five seconds and five thirds, the remaining sixty-two all missing a place.

Form Focus Verdict

Over the past ten Melbourne Cups, the dominant weight bracket is clearly the mid-range group, weighted between three to five kilos over the race limit.

Concentrating on this group, one would have found the winner six times in the past ten years, with just two winners (Protectionist, Fiorente) weighted at five kilos or more above the limit. The other two winners were weighted two kilos (Prince of Penzance) and one kilo (Almandin) above the race limit.

When examining weight carried, it is this mid-range weighted group that has the edge, the 53.5kg to 55kg bracket accounting for five winners, five seconds and five thirds over the last ten years.

Those at 55.5kg and above do it tough – from forty-five starters in ten years, this group have yielded one winner (Protectionist-2014), two seconds and four thirds.

The 51.5kg to 53kg bracket have returned three wins and two seconds (from sixty-seven starters), while it’s slim pickings near the minimum (zero to 1kg over) with one winner (Shocking-2009), one second and one third from twenty-one starters.

Melbourne Cup:

FORM PROFILE

LEAD UP FORM:

Knowledge & Insight

There’s a very healthy contingent of horses in this year’s Cup who interestingly all contested the Caulfield Cup, including the first three across the line – Boom Time, Single Gaze and Johannes Vermeer.

Viewed in 2008 is the most recent Melbourne Cup winner to contest the Caulfield Cup (he then ran in the Mackinnon on Derby Day), whereas no less than ten Melbourne Cup winners had contested the Caulfield Cup between the years 1991 and 2006.

These trends/patterns can tend to be cyclical – a good example being the Cox Plate, used by four Melbourne Cup winners between 2005 and 2013, yet we find that in the years 1983 to 2004, only Saintly (1996) and Jeune (1994) won the Cup after contesting the Cox Plate.

Moreover, the time-honoured strategy so skilfully engineered by master trainer Bart Cummings of contesting the Mackinnon Stakes on Derby Day as a prelude warm-up to the Cup, is no longer even a factor – that race now finding itself moved to Final Day.

Cummings won nine of his twelve Cups via the Mackinnon, a further two via the Lexus Stakes (Hotham Hcp), also on Derby Day – Saintly came into the Cup via winning the Cox Plate in 1996.

Form Focus Verdict

Studying the lead-up form patterns over the past twenty years does reveal one key aspect – that a last start positive finish (sixth to first) produces the best result come Cup day.

Only two of the past twenty winners finished worse than sixth in their final lead-up run, Viewed coming out of the Mackinnon and Efficient out of the Cox Plate – both Group One WFA events.

When looking at the placings, it’s obvious that the overseas visitors have had a considerable influence, with nine second placings and six third placings going to a horse who last raced overseas. But, importantly, no winners.

The key reference remains the Caulfield Cup – it features as the last start of a Melbourne Cup winner on six occasions in the past two decades, plus three seconds and five thirds.

JOCKEY:

Knowledge & Insight

Two of Australia’s finest ever riders in Scobie Breasley and George Moore (both inaugural Hall of Fame inductees), found the Melbourne Cup much more than an elusive beast.

Breasley’s seventeen Cup mounts yielded two seconds and one third, while Moore’s Melbourne Cup record was even more disheartening – one third from nineteen mounts.

Co-record holders with four wins are Bobby Lewis and Harry White, Lewis’s wins spanning a quarter of a century (1902 to 1927), while White piloted his four winners between 1974 and 1979.

Six jockeys are tied on three wins apiece – Jim Johnson, Bill McLachlan, Darby Munro, Jack Purtell and two of our current riders in Damien Oliver and Glen Boss.

On Friday we shall pick apart the Cup riding records of selected jockeys in this year’s Cup, most notably Frankie Dettori and Hugh Bowman, both striving to win the Cup for the first time.

Form Focus Verdict

Experience is the order of the day with some wise older heads doing battle tomorrow,

Three-time winner Glen Boss (Ventura Storm) is riding in his fifteenth Cup, Frankie Dettori (Almandin) his sixteenth, Corey Brown (Rekindling) and Craig Williams (Wall of Fire) their fourteenth and last year’s winner Kerrin McEvoy (Red Cardinal) his fifteenth.

Joe Moreira (Thomas Hobson) has had three Cup rides for a second (2016) and a fourth, Hugh Bowman (Marmelo) six rides for one fifth, Ben Melham (Johannes Vermeer) is having his fourth Cup ride (yet to place).

Comparing some selected riders and their Cup records:

G.Boss – (14 rides) 3-1-1 (he’s finished in the top five on nine occasions)
K.McEvoy – (14 rides) 2-1-1 (won on Almandin last year and Brew in 2000)
C.Brown – (13 rides) 1-2-2 (won on Shocking in 2009)
C.Williams – (13 rides) 0-0-1 (third on Mount Athos in 2013)
L.Dettori – (15 rides) 0-2-0 (nine of his rides were for Godolphin)

TRAINER:

Knowledge & Insight

With three winners in the first seven years of the race (including the first two with Archer), Etienne de Mestre took the early lead as the most successful trainer of the Melbourne Cup, but by 1872, John Tait (four wins between 1866 and 1872), had overtaken him.

De Mestre rallied with consecutive wins in 1877 and 1878, and wasn’t seriously challenged until Walter Hickenbotham (trainer of 1890 winner Carbine), had prepared four Cup winners by 1905. Walter’s grand stayer Trafalgar started 9/2 favourite in the Cup of 1910, but found his 58kg too much, going down by a neck to Comedy King, carrying almost 10kg less.

Richard Bradfield then mounted a challenge, preparing his fourth Cup winner in 1924 (Backwood), thirty years after registering his first in 1894 (Patron).

The next challenge emerged via James Scobie, his first winner arriving in 1900 (Clean Sweep), then a break before successive victories in 1922 and 1923. A narrow second in 1924 preceded Trivalve scoring for the formidable Scobie-Lewis combination in 1927. However, like Tait, Hickenbotham and Bradfield before him, Scobie hit the wall on four Cup wins, leaving De Mestre as the record-holder on five.

De Mestre’s reign at the top was unchallenged for almost forty more years, a young South Australian-based trainer in the mid-sixties, deciding that he would forever rewrite the Cup’s record books.

More on this, plus a study on this year’s trainers, in Friday’s Verdict.

Form Focus Verdict

The Bart Cummings Melbourne Cup phenomenon commenced in 1965 with Light Fingers and Ziema hitting the line together, Roy Higgins on Light Fingers getting the photo and giving Cummings the quinella.

A year later and Cummings delivered the quinella again with supreme stayer Galilee taking the Caulfield Cup-Melbourne Cup double and easily defeating stablemate and 1965 winner Light Fingers. Twelve months later, Cummings became the first trainer in Cup history to prepare three winners in successive years when Red Handed gave Roy Higgins a second Cup victory.

With Think Big (1974-1975), Cummins drew level with De Mestre on five Cup wins, the 1974 Cup another quinella for Cummings, Caufield Cup winner Leilani finishing second. Gold and Black (1977) gave Cummings the record, then Hyperno (1979) sealed the title “the Cups King” to Cummings with a seventh Melbourne Cup win to the trainer in fifteen years.

Eleven years would pass before win eight (Kingston Rule 1990), then another quinella in 1991 (Let’s Elope and Shiva’s Revenge), made it nine Cups. Saintly (1996) was one of his easiest winners, then Rogan Josh (1999) and Viewed (2008) made it a dozen Melbourne Cup victories – a record unlikely to be surpassed.

Between 1989 and 2005, Lee Freedman prepared five Cup winners (including Makybe Diva in 2004 and 2005), now equal second with De Mestre behind Cummings as the Melbourne Cup training record-holder.

Five trainers who have previously prepared a Melbourne Cup winner (including the past five winners) have a total of ten runners in tomorrow’s Cup – Robert Hickmott, Darren Weir, Andreas Wohler, Gai Waterhouse and David Hayes.

HORSE:

Knowledge & Insight

To win one Melbourne Cup is a monumental accomplishment for any horse – but to return and attempt a second is a hugely difficult exercise.

In the first century of the Cup, only Archer in the first two runnings of the Cup (1861-1862) was able to go “back-to-back”.

In 1932, Peter Pan (then a three-year-old), won the Melbourne Cup, did not contest the 1933 Cup, however lumped the equivalent of 61.5kg on a heavy track from the extreme outside gate of 22 to land the 1934 Cup.

Handicappers were evidently a different breed during those years, Peter Pan allotted a mere 66kg in the Cup of 1935, the 6yo stallion finishing down the track.

A study of the Melbourne Cup winners since 1957 (sixty years) reveals that a total of twenty-six Cup winners were indeed able to return and contest a second Cup twelve months later.

Rain Lover (1969) and Think Big (1975) joined Archer as the only horses to win successive Cups, then along came Makybe Diva who surpassed them all – scoring in 2003, then 2004 and again in 2005.

Therefore, we have four separate years where the previous year’s winner was successful – not a bad strike rate when compared to the first hundred years of the race.

This is 2016 Melbourne Cup winner Almandin’s assignment in 2017 – we will look further into the remaining twenty-two Cup winners since 1957 who attempted a back-to-back victory and hopefully uncover any clues to Almandin’s quest this year.

Form Focus Verdict

So why is the back-to-back quest such a challenge? Is the lift in the weights the key factor, or is it simply too difficult an assignment to peak a horse again in a handicap race as unique as the Melbourne Cup?

Maybe we take a look at the master, Bart Cummings? Bart only managed to get four of his twelve Cup winners to the Cup of the following year – Light Fingers running second to Galilee (1966), Think Big (1975) overcoming a 5.5kg rise in the handicap and going back-to-back, Hyperno starting favourite in 1980 and finishing seventh (this was Hyperno’s third Cup run) and finally Viewed (2009) who also finished seventh.

Putting triple-winner Makybe Diva to one side, maybe the clue to potential dual Cup success lies with Think Big in 1975. What did Bart do that enabled this horse to succeed where others failed?

After Think Big claimed his first Cup in 1974, Cummings elected to continue his campaign towards the Perth Cup, the horse finishing third with 56kg. This was on New Year’s Day 1975, and Think Big was sent for a well-earned spell until the Spring, not racing during the autumn of 1975. He had not won a race for twelve months when he claimed his second Cup in the Spring of 1975.

Since then, we have witnessed a further sixteen Melbourne Cup winners (excluding Makybe Diva) attempt a next-year Cup, all missing a place. The commonality around the sixteen is that all had an autumn racing campaign, or at least raced during the autumn – whereas Think Big did not.

In 2017, Almandin chases his second Cup – having not had an autumn campaign.

Melbourne cup:

TOP THREE

Form Focus Verdict

There are not many negatives around Johannes Vermeer in this year’s Melbourne Cup, not the least being prepared by arguably the world’s most successful Group race trainer in Aidan O’Brien.

This 5yo by Galileo arrived in Melbourne virtually unheralded this Spring, but his eye-catching Caulfield Stakes second launched him instantly into Caulfield Cup favouritism.

A poor break from the gates, a chequered passage from the 800m and a perceived on-pace and rails advantage conspired to deliver Johannes Vermeer a luckless third. Humidor (fifth) showed the value of the form by pushing super mare Winx seven days later in the Cox Plate.

This is seriously strong form, and yet, sixth placed Marmelo holds a shorter price in the market than Johannes Vermeer. The doubt is, of course, whether Johannes will stay the trip.

Fair enough, but the majority of Melbourne Cup winners are invariably doing the 3200m for the first time anyway, examples being Protectionist, Green Moon, Efficient, Ethereal, Might and Power, Saintly, Let’s Elope – the list is endless. Class and speed will take you a long way. With champion sire Galileo as his father, Johannes has the pedigree to match his class and ability.

Both he and Marmelo come into the race with the ideal Cup profile; an Internationally-trained male horse, in the mid-weight range, Group race credentials and with the proven ability to quicken. A quick look at the sectionals breakdown of the Caulfield Cup is evidence of the latter.

Hugh Bowman does need to deal with barrier 16, whereas Ben Melham has what appears the perfect draw in 3. The tempo of the race is never easy to predict, but with Cismontane, Gallante and Tiberian drawn wide, one would anticipate early pressure from the outside to the winning post, then a slackening down the riverside, building again from the 1200m.

The wildcard this year Rekindling, prepared by Aidan O’ Brien’s son Joseph. The European staying three-year-olds this year have been especially dominant in top grade distance races all year, this son of High Chaparral winning the Curragh Cup over Wicklow Brave.

The Goodwood Cup, Doncaster Cup, the Geoffrey Freer and the Royal Oak in France all respectively fell to a three-year-old, and Rekindling more than measures up to the winners of those races in Europe this year. An experienced jockey on a young horse is a terrific recipe – Corey Brown has a great Melbourne Cup riding record.

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