An honest summary of the 2013 Melbourne Cup

THE LLOYD WILLIAMS SIX

The story of Lloyd Williams’ Melbourne Cup team can be traced back to August, when the bulk of his contenders were sent to Flemington and Caulfield for exhibition gallops.  At Flemington, I saw Masked Marvel, Sea Moon and Seville work together and decided that Masked Marvel was the pick of the bunch.  Sea Moon won the gallop by a short margin but Masked Marvel was the only horse not under distress when the trio quickened in the straight.

A month later Macedon Lodge revealed that Masked Marvel was their priority pick for the Melbourne Cup.  A few weeks after that, Sea Moon had been demoted to a Listed race after toiling in Group 1 company for his opening two starts.  This was not a fancy sight considering he will carry close to top weight in a very strong Melbourne Cup.

Sea Moon has reclaimed some of the status that was piled on him before his Australian debut by winning the Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes.  But it was hardly an impressive display, grinding out a winning margin against Simenon, who was queried for his stamina overload before the race.  Sea Moon won on talent — which reached a reasonable Group 2 standard in Europe.

Masked Marvel raced in Sydney twice after his modest Australian debut, finishing alongside Sea Moon in the Makybe Diva Stakes.  His campaign has been low-key for Macedon Lodge’s #1.  I thought he was disappointing not to win the Group 3 Craven Plate after doing everything in his power to throw away the Group 2 Hill Stakes against Moriarty, who ran well in the Caulfield Cup.

Things did not improve when beaten 10+ lengths in the Cox Plate.  That sort of defeat, in any race let alone the Cox Plate, casts doubt over his credentials at Flemington.  In addition, I am unsure he will extend his ability up to two miles.  His dam and siblings were middle-distance horses and his best wins have been when he was allowed to sprint off a moderate pace at 2400 metres.

Seville looked a serious chance to me in the Group 3 Naturalism Stakes, racing under handicap conditions and up in distance.  Unfortunately the slow pace was against him.  With blinkers on he found plenty to win the Group 1 Metropolitan at his next start.

In the Cox Plate, he was the best performed of the Lloyd Williams trio.  I think it’s significant that he moved really well to make ground around the 600-400 m section.  That was the fastest run furlong of the race.  I also think he covered the most ground, without cover, on the home turn — a huge disadvantage on any given day.

As for Fawkner, he’s a victim of the changing complexion of the Melbourne Cup.  Once a Caulfield Cup winner would immediately be promoted to favourite for the Flemington showpiece.  But the Caulfield Cup is less of a springboard to the Melbourne Cup than it is a consolation prize.  After winning the race, Nick Williams talked of aiming Fawkner for the Caulfield Cup days after the 2012 Emirates Stakes.  To be honest, I don’t know what to think of Fawkner here.

So, putting form aside I am going out on a limb to say Fawkner, Green Moon and Mourayan are only here as a symbol of Lloyd Williams wielding his power over racing.  Green Moon was never talked of as a Melbourne Cup runner last year — they knew he wouldn’t win again under the Group 1 penalties.  That’s why I expected so much from him in the Cox Plate.  I think he will improve from that run, given he was supposed to race in the Caulfield Stakes prior to the Cox Plate.

VOLEUSE DE COEURS AND SIMENON

The Irish are given a leg up in the Melbourne Cup because of Dermot Weld.  But ever since Vintage Crop won the Irish St. Leger, that race has proven to be the breeding ground of highly fancied yet dour underperformers in the Melbourne Cup.  I was bitten hard by the incredible stayer Yeats in 2006.  Others were embarrassed for Septimus and themselves in 2008.  Vinnie Roe toyed with punters three times.

Irish horses rely on pure stamina to win their races.  Media Puzzle was a rare exception, although he was in fact an American-bred horse, sired by a Breeders’ Cup Turf winner out of a mare sired by a champion sprinter.

Voleuse de Coeurs was not seen as a Melbourne Cup horse by Dermot Weld.  You can tell by what he said in the aftermath of the Irish St. Leger: “It’s unlikely that she will go for the Melbourne Cup and I very much see her as a contender for the Cup races next year.”

Far be it from me to be telling a bunch of wealthy, giddy Chinese businessmen what to do — but there seems to be no logic in snatching this horse from Dermot Weld only months out from the Melbourne Cup when it was not in Dermot Weld’s original plans.

GODOLPHIN

Godolphin horses are the hardest to predict in the Melbourne Cup.  They run quality stayers here to finish nowhere, yet run top three with the likes of All The Good, Crime Scene, Central Park and Give The Slip at any old price.

Royal Empire sits somewhere in the middle of top class and ambitious longshot.  There are similarities between his 2013 campaign and Crime Scene, though.  Both horses ran in Dubai during the International Racing Carnival before spelling in the UK Spring-Summer.  They also won the Listed Steventon Stakes at Newbury on resuming from that spell.

Royal Empire does not have the benefit of a run in Australia already, like Crime Scene, but he did race only a month ago at Ascot.  That day he was clearly outpaced in a small-ish field by stable mate Secret Number.  I don’t think that is a negative as Secret Number couldn’t see out the distance of the St. Leger as was suited much more than the stamina-focused Royal Empire.

MOUNT ATHOS AND RED CADEAUX

I gave a wrap to both Mount Athos and Red Cadeaux on September 3 (read the blog here).  Back then I was appreciating the fact that were clearly being prepared for a Melbourne Cup all through the 2013 British flat season.

Since then, Red Cadeaux was soundly beaten in the Irish St. Leger but before the race I didn’t fancy him to run well anyway.  His run in the 2012 Melbourne Cup was excellent against the pace.  He will carry 1 kg more this year for winning the Hong Kong Vase and thumping Side Glance in the 2013 Dubai World Cup, yet will go around much, much longer than the 9-1 that was offered on him in 2012.

On the flip side, Mount Athos has been well found by punters for this year.  He is not only the best stayer Luca Cumani has had for many years but one of the best in Europe.  But you wouldn’t know that based on his indifferent form so far.  All that matters to Luca and his owner is winning the Melbourne Cup.  He was the star performer in 2012 and will go around with the same weight this year.

FIORENTE AND TRES BLUE

Someone in the Gai Waterhouse camp has finally got it: if you want a premium Melbourne Cup contender out of Europe, go to France.

Fiorente is a superior horse to Tres Blue when comparing their European form.  Fiorente had the scope to win Group 1s world wide on the back of his impressive win in the Princess of Wales’ Stakes at Newmarket.  Tres Blue’s form, admittedly, is a bit too foreign to get a proper read on his Melbourne Cup chances this year.  He will carry 2.5 kg less than Fiorente did last year but if the Waterhouse camp look to emulate the 2012 result I doubt it will happen.

Fiorente looks as rock-solid a top four chance as any this year.  His place as the Melbourne Cup favourite is justified.

THE CAULFIELD CUP ALSO-RANS

I think Dandino was given every possible chance to win and ran to his best in the Caulfield Cup.  It’s a shame for owners that Craig Williams and Ryan Moore essentially trade places this time.  His consistency throughout 2013 elevates him above others in this race and he’s a shade better horse than Jakkalberry, who ran a lucky third in the 2012 Melbourne Cup.

He drops to 54.5 kg for Flemington but that is no bonus considering Dunaden, Red Cadeaux, Green Moon, Fiorente and Foreteller are proper Group 1 horses weighted above him — in some cases only a half kilo heavier, like the favourite Fiorente.

Dear Demi could improve slightly on her last two runs if she can avoid traffic problems.  She is an incredibly durable and consistent horse, having placed in Group 1s as a 2yo, 3yo and now 4yo.  Her form is straightforward to assess and visually pleasing to the eye.  I think she will prove very popular with punters on the day.

In saying that, I would consider her the equal of Dandino.  That puts both horses ranked somewhere in the top eight.  Hawkspur ran as well as he could at Caulfield but was no match for the top three and only drops 1 kg for Flemington.  He’s decent but Foreteller must be seen as his superior.

BROWN PANTHER

Like the Irish St. Leger, we have been tricked into thinking the Cup races of England make the ideal Melbourne Cup horse.  Double Trigger started the trend in 1995, followed by Persian Punch, Hugs Dancer, Yeats, Distinction, Geordieland and Illustrious Blue.  In recent years, European trainers have adapted by choosing not to run their stayers in a vigorous Summer campaign.

Obviously the pattern has been unnoticed by Tom Dascombe, who runs Goodwood Cup winner Brown Panther.  He reminds me of all those Cup failures before him — a tough stayer who’s looking to outlast rather than outsprint the opposition.  Richard Kingscote retains the ride in his first Melbourne Cup.  You just don’t get the feeling they have done the proper modern-day research for this.

FORETELLER

Let’s get the easy bit out of the way.  Is he good enough?  Yes.  He’s won a Group 1 in Sydney earlier this year, then confirmed his status by winning the Makybe Diva Stakes in September.  Furthermore, he was clearly the strongest on the line in the Cox Plate.

Now the tricky part.  Will he convert that Group 1-standard form to 3200 m?

Foreteller has raced only once above ten furlongs — in The BMW at 2400 m, where he was beaten 1 1/2 lengths at weight-for-age, giving away 4.5 kg to Fiveandahalfstar.

On pedigree, however, it is less clear.  He is by Juddmonte Farms sire Dansili, who tends to breed quality 10-furlong horses whilst his dam and siblings raced best up to a mile; however, his second and third dams were both Oaks fillies.

Chris Waller is definitely rolling the dice with Foreteller’s potential stamina limitations.  But the same would have been said of Green Moon last year.

VEREMA

Historical precedent says Verema is the one to beat in the Melbourne Cup.  Those were my words two weeks ago and I stand by them today.  My biggest fear now is that from gate three she will get buried in the ruck at a crucial stage and be unable to rely on pure turn-of-foot.  Unfortunately, few others see the barrier the same way I do and hence she’s shortened since drawing the supposedly ideal spot.

Like most Aga Khan-bred horses before her, Verema has the athletic, long-necked build of a stayer with a reliable level of finishing speed.  She will not sprint on a dime, however, which is why I had hoped she would draw a gate outside of 8 or 9.

But if there is jockey to rely on under extreme pressure, it’s a Frenchman — none other than 2011 Melbourne Cup winning rider Christophe Lemaire.

RANKING THE MELBOURNE CUP FIELD

Based on many arbitrary elements and not scientific ratings, here is my top ten:

  1. Verema
  2. Seville
  3. Mount Athos
  4. Fiorente
  5. Foreteller
  6. Dear Demi
  7. Red Cadeaux
  8. Dandino
  9. Fawkner
  10. Royal Empire
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