Melbourne Cup Tips: Play two against the field at Flemington

Cross Counter became the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup for Charlie Appleby in 2018.
Cross Counter became the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup for Charlie Appleby in 2018.

Nick Seddon previews this year’s Melbourne Cup at Flemington, which will be run in the early hours of Tuesday morning…

Although the race will be completed long before the majority of us are even awake on Tuesday morning, this year’s Melbourne Cup looks a renewal to savour, with an an intriguing mix of profiles heading to post. The current restrictions mean that we won’t have quite the same amount of glamour - or European representation - as usual, though plenty of the 24-strong field deserve a second look. 

Like with many big-field handicaps, the draw can be particularly important, and it’s something which has been unkind to the current favourite, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Tiger Moth. The form of his Group 3 success at Leopardstown in September, combined with his weight of 52.5kg (roughly 08-04) and the booking of Kerrin McEvoy give him leading claims, but no horse has won from stall 23 since Van der Hum in 1976, and he looks short enough in the betting as a 6/1 favourite. 

Also representing Ballydoyle is the 2019 Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck, who is also prominent in the market. He has some smart form under his belt, defeating Stradivarius in the Prix Foy at Longchamp in September, and produced an excellent effort to finish second in last month’s Caulfield Cup. He’ll likely give this a good go, and has an excellent draw in stall three, but this is a big ask off a top weight of 58.5kg - and no horse has carried that much to victory since 1975. 

The Caulfield Cup is about as strong a pointer as you’ll find for this, producing 11 winners of the Cup, and the likeable mare Very Elleegant has to come into calculations after holding off Anthony Van Dyck last month. She appeals as one who’ll relish this test, but her weight of 55.5kg doesn’t offer much room for manoeuvre, and mares don’t have a great record in this.

On a better mark is fellow home charge Russian Camelot (53.5kg), who was the ante-post favourite for this earlier in the year. He’s every chance of staying on pedigree as a son of Camelot, but would need to improve on his effort to finish third last month’s Cox Plate and others make more appeal. Surprise Baby is another leading home fancy having finished fifth in this last year, and certainly can’t be discounted if handed a more attacking ride having made plenty of good late ground 12 months ago, though he could only finish ninth on his warm up run over a mile and a quarter here last month. 

Joining the Australian cause is Sir Dragonet, who was previously under the care of Aidan O’Brien. He’s best known on these shores for finishing fifth in the 2019 Derby, but it’s fair to say he grew frustrating on these shores, suffering through a seven-race losing streak under his old handler which stretched back to the 2019 Chester Vase. He is a very smart performer at his peak, however, and roared back to form when winning last month’s Cox Plate at Moonee Valley. He ought to stay the trip judged on his effort to finish fourth in last year’s St Leger, and certainly can’t be ruled out under a weight of 55.5kg. 

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The two-pronged British charge is headed by Prince Of Arran, who was an excellent second in this 12 months ago, and was third in 2018. His most recent trip down under brought about some of Prince Of Arran’s best form, and he’s very much been campaigned with a return to Australia in mind, finishing third behind Enable at Kempton in September. He ought to run well once again off 0.5kg higher after an excellent effort to finish fourth in the Caulfield Cup, and has a very good draw in stall one. Meanwhile, fellow British raider Dashing Willoughby would have claims on his best form, but needs a lot more than what he’s been showing of late. 

If you trust the statistics, the best drawn horse in the race is the New Zealand-trained The Chosen One, who was seventeenth here last year. He goes from stall five, which has produced a record eight winners, and although he’s a proven stayer, his peak form is a little short of what will be required here. Two more with good draws are Finche and Master Of Reality. The latter was second past the post in last year’s renewal, before being demoted to fourth, and he should run well once again for Joseph O’Brien under 1kg more this time around. Finche is another with previous in the Cup, finishing fourth in 2018 and seventh last year, and the booking of James McDonald is an obvious positive. 

Lloyd Williams is a six-time winner of the Cup, and along with Master Of Reality he also has an interest in both King Of Leogrance and Twilight Payment. Both have proven form over this trip, though the former was held in the Geelong Cup by Steel Prince last time and needs more off this kind of mark, while Twilight Payment carries 1kg more than when eleventh last year and looks to have a tough task - for all that he arrives here in good heart. Meanwhile, Steel Prince was ninth last year, and has every chance of hitting the frame after a career best effort last time out, while last year’s winner Vow And Declare has been patchy to say the least since his success, and carries 5kg more this year.

This appeals as one of the more open renewals of the Cup in recent years, and with that in mind, it looks worth playing two each-way against the field, beginning with the German raider Ashrun. Andreas Wöhler trained the only German winner of this in 2014 with Protectionist, and there are a lot of similarities with his latest charge, who’s taken a proven path to Melbourne.

Indeed, Ashrun showed plenty of promise to finish a staying on second in the Prix Kergorlay at Deauville in August (a race Protectionist won), and he booked his ticket for this at the last minute when getting up on the line to win the Hotham Stakes over a mile and a half here on Saturday. That fact that Wohler spent two weeks in a Sydney hotel room in order to see that tells us plenty about how highly he thinks of this horse, and he's still open to improvement over staying trips. He may lack some of the speed of some of his rivals here, and will have to take his chance from a tough outside draw, but he escapes a penalty for his Hotham win and looks an interesting bet to sneak into the frame.

Finally, it could also be worth having a small play on the Willie Mullins-trained Stratum Albion each-way. He's known as just Stratum on these shores, but will also carry the name of his owner's beloved football club due to his normal title being protected in Australia. He's a classy stayer when at his best, as he showed when winning last year's Cesarewitch Handicap, and has been lightly-raced since. He produced his best effort to date when second behind Enbihaar in the Lonsdale Cup at York in August, form which looks strong, and he's able to take his chance off a workable-looking weight of 55kg.

He's got a good draw in stall nine, and while he may not lack the turn of pace of some of these in the closing stages, he certainly won't be wanting for more if this turns into a sustained test of stamina, and he could well out-run his odds as a current 33/1 outsider - for a yard which is no stranger to doing well in this race.  

Selections

Melbourne Cup, Flemington, Tuesday 3rd November - back Ashrun each-way at 20/1

Melbourne Cup, Flemington, Tuesday 3rd November - back Stratum Albion each-way at 33/1

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