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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Race That Stops a Nation

Photo: Phar Lap winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup

Over 100,000 people on track, as well as millions of others across Australia and around the world will stop and watch the A$5.5 million AUS-G1 Melbourne Cup on Tuesday (Monday, 11 p.m. Eastern here in the U.S.). Run for the first time in 1861, the 3200 meter (2 miles) race is one of the most prestigious horse races in the world—a true staying test and stallion-maker, although sixteen times the race has been won by fillies and mares, including three consecutive years by the legendary Makybe Diva.

Last year’s winner Viewed (Scenic-Lovers Knot, by Khozaam) was a revelation, particularly for American bettors—he paid $186 win, $57.70 place and $29.10 show. He also represented the 12th Melbourne Cup winner for trainer Bart Cummings, and a record-tying fourth winner for owner Dato Tan Chin Nam. The same connections have a very real chance to repeat this year, as Viewed comes in off a victory in the G1 Caulfield Cup and, just three days ago, finished third in the G1 Mackinnon. Jockey Brad Rawiller is seeking his first Cup win on the favorite.

Don’t overlook the other Bart Cummings’ entries, though. Roman Emperor (Montjeu-Gussy Godiva, by Last Tycoon) finished second to his stablemate Viewed in the Caulfield Cup—and (as an aside to American racing fans) his dam is a half-sister to the recently-retired G1-winning Black Mamba. The distance should not be a problem for him, as Hugh Bowman rides. Michelle Payne attempts to become the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup, as she rides Bart’s third entry, 4-year-old mare Allez Wonder, recent winner of the G1 Toorak. I’d be shocked if she gets 3200 meters, but Bart is a magician.

Others to watch for:

Alcopop is bred to be a Melbourne Cup winner. His sire Jeune won the 1994 edition, his second dam Petite Luck is by 1986 winner Al Talaq, and his damsire Blevic is the son of Scenic who sired last year’s Cup winner Viewed. He’s won 7 of 10 races, but this is a major class test. Still, he’s running second favorite to Viewed.

Four-year-old New Zealand mare Daffodil would appreciate a little sting out of the track, but she’s top class. She finished an impressive fall campaign with a win in the G1 AJC Oaks over 2400 meters (1-1/2 miles), and having built up steadily this campaign with a win in the G1 Windsor Park Plate and a close-up fourth-place finish in the G1 Kelt Capital, both in New Zealand, before finishing a nice fourth behind Viewed in the G1 Caulfield Cup. She does break from the outside post 21, and you better believe previous Melbourne Cup winning (Jezabeel, 1998) jockey Chris Munce is driven to redeem his tainted reputation with a big effort. If only the turf were a little softer...still, she’s a big chance.

A win by 4-year-old Shocking would further validate his sire Street Cry. After six races this campaign, he looks to be in top form, having finished second to Alcopop in the G2 Herbert Power, then second to quality stayer Baughurst in the G3 Coongy Cup, and finally a win three days ago in the G3 Lexus. Corey Brown rides.

Quality 5-year-old mare Leica Ding is in career-best form, having won the G3 Geelong Cup last out. She’s already won at 3000 meters, and has been increasing in distance every race this campaign. Jockey Craig Williams and trainer Darren Weir are a potent duo, and she only carries 111 lbs here.

Wouldn’t be a huge surprise:

Particularly if there’s an off-track, look for Fiumicino. He led nearly all the way, before fading to sixth in April’s G1 Sydney Cup over this distance, and he’s rounding back into form, with a third place finish in the G1 Metropolitan on October 3, and a fifth-place in the recent Caulfield Cup. Jockey Steven King won the 1991 Melbourne Cup, with Bart Cummings’ mare Let’s Elope.

Seven-year-old Master O’Reilly finished fourth in last year’s race, and comes in here after four successive G1 efforts out-of-the-money versus younger up-and-comers Whobegotyou, Heart of Dreams and Predatory Pricer. With his experience and regular jockey Vlad Duric up, he could be ready for another good effort.

The 7-year-old war horse Zavite won the G1 Adelaide Cup at this distance back in March, and prefers a rock-hard track which is very likely. He finished fourth behind Alcopop in the G2 Herbert Power two starts ago, and appears to be rounding into form at just the right time. Although he usually leads, trainer Anthony Cummings (Bart’s son) has said it isn’t necessary so it will be interesting what they do with him. Mark Zahra is up.

Of the European invaders, Warringah interests me most. Not only does he gain the services of two-time Cup winning jockey Damien Oliver, but also gets a significant weight drop from his recent races—he’ll only carry 116 lbs, as opposed to between 128 and 136 lbs in Europe. He’ll definitely be on pace, and will relish the firm footing.

Key to the race:

Probably even more important than a horse’s staying ability and preparation is the rider. This is a jockey’s race, and the key is to sit, be patient and position your horse just right for the last big push in the home stretch.


This is tough, and a lot will depend on the track condition and how they look parading. Without a doubt, one if not more of Bart Cummings’ horses will be in the top three, and personally I’m hoping for a chalky Viewed-Alcopop exacta—it’s the “Foolish Pleasure” factor that has been so prolific this past year Down Under, through his daughter Idyllic’s son Scenic. I’ll probably tinker around with a complex trifecta that includes Daffodil, Roman Emperor, Shocking and Leica Ding.

Who do you like?


Anne S said...

Hi Valerie, I'm just writing my Melbourne Cup post now and have reached pretty much the same conclusions as you.

It'll be online soon

Anonymous said...

I really like your blog. The way you write is like reading a history book, and when I came on and saw the picture Phar Lap I loved it! What an incredible horse he was.
I didn't get a chance to watch the Melbourne Cup this year so I had to settle for streaming it later the next day but it was still exciting. Street Cry is an extremely versatile sire when it comes to surfaces.