Incentivise is the hottest Melbourne Cup favourite since Phar Lap, but nothing is a given in the world of racing.
Here’s a race day look at the entire field of 24 runners and why your horse can – and why it can’t – win this afternoon’s Melbourne Cup.
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MEGA MELB CUP GUIDE: Every runner analysed and predicted first 4
COREY BROWN: Two-time winning jockey’s verdict on every horse
CUP CLUES: All the lead-up runs you need to see
CUP TIPS: See who all the experts are backing
1. TWILIGHT PAYMENT Barrier: (2) Approx win/place odds: $11/$3.50
FOR: Knows how to win a Melbourne Cup, having been ultra-impressive in the rare feat of leading throughout last year. Is one of these tough European stayers who can seemingly gallop all day, and has maintained his form by winning two starts back over 2800m in his lead-up to running a very good second in the Irish St Leger over that trip, beaten less than a length by the very good Sonnyboyliston. Had 62kg in both those runs and drops to 58kg now. Has a great trainer in Joseph O’Brien, who won this another time with Rekindling in 2017, and a superb jockey in Jye McNeil. No.1 is the second-best saddlecloth number in this race, with 10 wins. AGAINST: Fancy risking the “back-to-back” challenge? It’s very tough. Only five horses have done it in 160 years, the last was the great Makybe Diva with her three from 2003-05. It’s nigh on impossible to win one of the things, let alone two. Jockeys will also have seen what he can do if left alone in front and a few will put more pressure on him this year. Most of all, though, he only had 55.5kg last year. His 58kg is a big difference to that, even if it’s less than he carried in Ireland. Believe it or not, for a half-ton animal, that’s a big difference, especially in this long race. It also makes him topweight, and while No 1 has won the race 10 times, it’s only happened once in 66 years, with Makybe. He’s also nine years old. No 9yo has won this, and he’s one of only three 8yos who has.
2. INCENTIVISE (16) $2.30/$1.30
FOR: He looks a very special horse. So much so, he’ll likely start the shortest favourite since the greatest of all – Phar Lap – in 1930. You’re taking skinny odds in a 24-horse race, but not only does he look a cut above, he’s miles above most of this field, which is one of the lowest quality Cup fields in years, due to most internationals staying away. It’s folly to declare certainties in a Melbourne Cup, but in case you haven’t heard by now this big fella (so the 57kg shouldn’t bother him) has won nine in a row and brained the opposition in most of those, including a Caulfield Cup win last start which just took the breath away. Great trainer in Peter Moody and gun, in-form jockey in Brett Prebble. AGAINST: He’s favourite for a good reason but they have a moderate recent record in the race. Fiorente was the last one to win, in 2013, and before that it was Makybe in 2005. And really short favourites have a worse record, with Phar Lap the only winner out of 10 who’ve gone round at $2.75 or shorter. He’s also drawn quite wide, although trainer and jockey see that as no problem since good horses are pretty manoeuvrable, and there’s a long run to the first bend.
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3. SPANISH MISSION (14) $7/$2.5
FOR: If there’s a real threat to Incentivise it could be this very good English stayer. Showed his strength with a narrow second over 3270m last start at York. He had a torrid battle stretching over the last 400m with the great Stradivarius. No disgrace being beaten only by a neck by one of the best stayers Europe has seen. Has a leading trainer in Andrew Balding and a top Australian jockey in Craig Williams, who won this race two years ago. Also has gate 14, which gives Williams options of going back, forward or midfield from the jump, and is also the equal third-most successful Melbourne Cup gate, with six wins, the latest in 2005. He’s a 6yo, and they won six of these between 2006-2016. AGAINST: It’s always hard to tell how the visitors will measure up to the test of 3200m around Flemington in a 24-horse field. They’re not that used to it. There were only four starters in that last race against Stradivarius. Bigger fields mean a faster tempo, which can sort many a European out. Hasn’t had a lead-up run in Australia, which is often useful.
4. VERRY ELLEEGANT (19) $13/$4
FOR: Is close to champion, having won nine Group 1s and being Australia’s reigning Horse of the Year. Was a commendable seventh, beaten 3.8 len, in this race last year, so will get the trip. Has perhaps the best jockey in the land on board with James McDonald, who won four races on Derby Day on Saturday. Also has the equal-most successful saddlecloth number, with No 4 saluting 11 times in the great race. AGAINST: The barrier is the big one, as she’ll probably have to get way back to get close to the fence. Still, there should be good pace on, which favours backmarkers as the leaders grow tired. Her form has been OK this spring but perhaps not the best she can produce, though there were some excuses with her third in the Cox Plate (2040m) last start, when she got a long way back and had to come wide on the home turn while the first two saved ground on the inside. Also, she’s a mare, and only 11 individual mares have won this. And 57kg is a very big weight for a mare in this particular marathon.
5. EXPLOSIVE JACK (4) $41/$10
FOR: He’s the right age at four: 4yos and 5yos have the best record in the race, winning 56.6% of all Cups. No 5 has the equal fifth-best record in the race with eight wins. In form jockey in John Allen and trainers Maher & Eustace can do no wrong, especially with stayers, as evidenced by their four entrants in this race. The horse achieved the rare feat of winning three derbies last season, and almost a fourth. AGAINST: Has not carried on his good 3yo form this season. Was a fair fifth in the 2000m Turnbull two starts back, but it’s pretty hard to forgive and forget his subsequent 17th in the Caulfield Cup. Revives old debates about whether derby winners really need to be good stayers, and do you want to bet and find that out in a race 700m further than he’s been before?
6 . THE CHOSEN ONE (5) $51/$13
FOR: Is a six-year-old, if you recall their strong recent record. No 6 is fourth-best in this race and Twilight Payment became the 10th such winner only last year. Carrying statistically the best weight in 54kg (average winning weight in past decade is 54-55kg). Plus barrier 5 is THE most successful Cup gate, with eight winners, the latest in 2013. Biggest thing though is his very good fourth place in this race last year, beaten 2.4 len, when he spookily had the same barrier as this year. Good jockey in Damian Lane, who’s won a stack of big races but is hungry for his first one of these. Ran a slashing second in the Herbert Power (2400m) two starts back. AGAINST: The Herbert Power put him in the market for the Caulfield Cup, but he threw in a shocker there, coming 14th. Soft track maybe didn’t help, and it should be dry this week, but very hard to overlook that, especially since he was 11 lengths behind Incentivise at the finish. Trainers have taken the blinkers off for this. That can liven them up, but could also be seen as a sign of desperation.
7. DELPHI 53.5kg (3)
FOR: Is a good age at 5 and a son of the mighty Galileo. Is a lightly-raced ex-Irish stayer who transferred to the powerful Anthony & Sam Freedman stable after four wins from five starts back home. Looked the goods once here with a narrow second at Caulfield over 2000m, then an imperious one-length win in the 2400m Herbert Power. Has the amazing Damien Oliver on board, who’s 49 but won two G1s on Saturday, and is equal third among Cup jockeys with three wins. Nice inside barrier from which Oliver, a master at summing up field movement early, should be able to gain an excellent position. AGAINST: After that Herbert Power win, he was second-favourite in the Caulfield Cup and framed as the big threat to Incentivise. Both went to around the front from wide gates, but while Incentivise kicked clear in the straight, Delphi weakened, very badly, to finish 13th. Hard to forgive that. And Flemington’s straight is far longer, if we’re questioning his heart in the finish of what is a far longer race.
8. OCEAN BILLY (13) $101/$26
FOR: Is long odds, but so are quite a few in this race, and, well, 12 horses have gotta finish in the first half. But amongst the longies this bloke might be one of the better place hopes. Won the 3200m Auckland Cup back in March, and by 2.3 len. And while he was ninth in the Caulfield Cup, beaten nine lengths, the run wasn’t all that terrible. He travelled wide throughout, and just grinded along steadily in the straight, as if the extra 800m would be to his liking. Jockey Damien Thornton isn’t a household name but has won two G1s from 33 tries, with four placings, so knows a thing or two, and has a good gate to work with. No 8 has the equal-fifth best record with 8 wins. The horse, who’s a good age at 6, has been sent over from New Zealand to master ex-Kiwi trainer Chris Waller, and is a gelding who, in the rich tradition of NZ raiders, makes you scratch your chin and go “Just what are you shrewd Kiwis up to here…?” That sort of thing. AGAINST: Well he was beaten by nine lengths last start, and that’s a lot to make up on Incentivise. The name “Ocean Billy” probably wouldn’t sit all that well alongside some other Cup winners like Phar Lap, Might And Power, Saintly and Galilee. But he’s a solid place chance in a weak field.
9. SELINO (24) $61/$18
FOR: Top trainer in Chris Waller, and has 3200m form after winning the Sydney Cup last autumn. Gets a new kind of bit through his mouth, called a Norton bit, which helps horses travel more calmly, which is key in a marathon like this. Look to his handy fourth in the Bart Cummings (2520m) here two runs back, under 58kg. Drops to 53.5kg here. AGAINST: Followed that run with a 15th in the Caulfield Cup, a run not even a mother could love. Carried only 50kg in the Sydney Cup win which may have been the key. Biggest thing though is he has barrier 24, which is of course the widest, and is terrible.
10. JOHNNY GET ANGRY (22) $81/$10
FOR: Won the VRC Derby here last spring over 2500m. Trained by Denis Pagan, who knows how to win things, having been a dual premiership winner in his previous life as an AFL coach. Has a promising young apprentice jockey in Lachy King. AGAINST: Good thing horses can’t understand English or he’d lodge a bullying complaint with VRC HR. Outspoken jockey Glen Boss led the “How the hell is he in the field?” chant, looking at his dismal recent form of 10th, ninth and 12th. And yet there are eight “chances” in this race at longer odds. Again, a few are helped by this being an ordinary Cup field, but poor rotten Johnny could be the best advertisement yet for the old line “Derby winners often don’t kick on”. That remains his only win in 11 starts. Apprentice jockeys just don’t win this race, and if all that wasn’t enough, he has barrier 22. You might only back this horse if you feel sorry for him.
11. KNIGHTS ORDER (9) $151/$34
FOR: Former European now with the Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott partnership, the first half of which won this race in 2013 with Fiorente. Umm, blinkers come off? That could help. No 11 has won this seven times. AGAINST: Quite a lot, like his 11th in the Bart Cummings. Or his ninth in the Geelong Cup. Or his 7th of 9 in the Hotham, and that was only on Saturday, so he’s got to back up quickly. Need we go on?
12. PERSAN (11) $26/$7
FOR: Decent chance, on both form and superstition. No.12 is the equal-best (with 4) on 11 wins. Barrier 11 is up there with seven wins (equal second). He’s statistically the right age at five, and not too much weight at 53kg. Emerged as a start last season, winning six of nine from maiden class before a very meritorious 5th in the Cup, coming home brilliantly from 18th on the turn, beaten 2.4len. Has been in strong form this time in, having been gelded in the winter, which usually helps a racehorse. Turned in a great trial for this when third last start in the Caulfield Cup. He was 5.2 lens behind Incentivise, but only 1.75 len off second, after working hard up on the pace most of the race. Top stable in Maher/Eustace and good jockey in Luke Currie. AGAINST: Hard to find too much fault TBH. Should get a lovely run from the barrier, is more mature and stronger than he was last year. Ah, here’s something for the superstitious perhaps: 5yo geldings were big in the 70s, but none have won this race since Doriemus in 1995.
13. CARIF (8) $201/$51
FOR: Barrier 8 goes ok, fifth-best record with five wins. Good age at 6, and his dad was the great So You Think, who came third in this race as favourite in 2010. Has had two goes at 3200m for a first – in last spring’s Sandown Cup – and a second in this year’s Brisbane Cup. AGAINST: The horse that beat him in that Brisbane Cup – by 4.8 lens – was Knights Order, and look at how he’s gone since. And Carif’s form this time in has been woeful, latest a 13-len 7th in the ordinary City Tatts Cup (2400m) at Randwick. When they talk about an ordinary Cup field, they’ll have this bloke in mind.
14. MASTER OF WINE (6) $151/$34
FOR: In a good stable and turned in a decent run two starts back when third in the Bart Cummings (2520m) here. Gets a tongue tie on today, which usually helps them settle and race better. AGAINST: Followed decent Bart Cummings run with a poor 12th, beaten 10.6len, in the Caulfield Cup. Has had three goes at Flemington for a third placing. Inexperienced rider in Fred Kersley. Is a horse who used to go alright but best days well behind him.
15. PONDUS (1) $34/$9
FOR: He’s a gelding but has plenty of female vibes about him. The accomplished Rachel King goes on, and they start from gate 1, which last hatched the winner when Michelle Payne became the first woman to ride to victory in this race in 2015 on Prince Of Penzance, which the superstitious will note also started with a couple of Ps. More seriously, form has been relatively good. Two runs this prep for a fifth, beaten 2.6 lens, in the Bart Cummings and a one-length fourth in the Moonee Valley Cup (2500m). Both times he was in front late then weakened slightly. Should be fitter for those runs and should have a nice energy-conserving run from barrier one. Owned by Lloyd Williams, who wins Melbourne Cups all the time. AGAINST: He may be fitter but needs to go an extra 700m on his last run, so stronger finishes in his past two would have been more palatable. And while Payne became a heroine, to be cold and hard about it, women jockeys don’t have a fabulous record in this race, with just that one winner.
16. GRANDE PROMENADE (21) $18/$5
FOR: Right age at 6, right stable in Maher/Eustace, right jockey in three-time winner Kerrin McEvoy, and has carried strong form for a few months now. A bit like Persan last year, and with the trainers who know how to keep a horse going, he’s been in competition since March with just the one brief (seven week) break. He’s won four of seven with two seconds since May. He’s won his past three starts at Flemington, so he loves it here. AGAINST: Because of that lengthy campaign, he slightly unusually hasn’t started since October 2, in the Bart Cummings. He won that impressively, but it’s a fair while between runs given this is the marathon Melbourne Cup. Also has gate 21. Although McEvoy won from 22 once, this horse likes to get forward, so may have to expend energy early on.
17. MIAMI BOUND (17) $151/$34
FOR: Trainer Danny O’Brien won this two years ago with Vow And Declare. Mystics might see something in No 17 and barrier 17 (could she finish 34th?) She does have some decent staying form. Won the 2500m VRC Oaks two years ago this spring. Kicked on in winning the 2500m Moonee Valley Cup last spring, and was third in the 3200m Sydney Cup last autumn. Last start worked home fairly when a 4.6 len fifth in Moonee Valley Cup, working home fairly to give the impression she’d quite like 3200m and the long straight of Flemington, where she’s had two wins and three thirds from nine starts. Drops 3kg off that to a nice 52kg, and the blinkers come on, which usually helps. AGAINST: Main worry is she’s a mare, and remember they don’t win this often. Rider Patrick Moloney goes OK mostly but doesn’t have G1 form, with just three thirds to show from his 28 goes at the top level. Then there was her effort in last year’s Cup, when 14th. Then again, there were nine behind her. Barrier 17 isn’t great, but then again she likes to get back, and with a strong pace on the backmarkers should be finishing on in the long straight. She’s a place chance at long odds really.
18. PORT GUILLAUME (23) $151/$41
FOR: Is in the field, which you can’t say about a lot of horses. Err, has four legs. Is the right age! He’s five. Had decent staying form in France before moving to Australia. AGAINST: Pretty much everything else. Has barrier 23, which is shocking. Ran last in the Bart Cummings before a 9.2 len 10th in the Caulfield Cup, when he sat at the back, didn’t have to travel wide, and plodded in the straight. Not much hope and even has the unluckiest saddlecloth number, with No 18 only winning once.
19. SHE’S IDEEL (20) $151/$41
FOR: Right age at 6, trainer Bjorn Baker is good with stayers, and the form’s OK. She worked up through her grades before running some big races last autumn, chiefly a second in the G1 Tancred Stakes (2400m), a classy weight-for-age event, behind the very good Sir Dragonet. Then came a decent 4th in the Sydney Cup in her only go at 3200m. Worked home OK last start in the Caulfield Cup, when forced to finish up the inside in the straight on the softest part of a soft track. AGAINST: Has to overcome that mares’ record here, and worse still she has gate 20. She’s often got back in her races, so that’s a good thing, but whether she’ll run out a strong Melbourne Cup 3200m is a big question. Remember, Selino won that Sydney Cup so the former hasn’t exactly been franked.
20. FUTURE SCORE (15) $201/$51
FOR: Good trainer of stayers in Matt Cumani, son of a good trainer of stayers in Luca, who almost got Bauer up in that millimetre loss to Viewed in 2008. Good strong lightweight rider in Dean Yendall. AGAINST: Form is pretty abject, with a Moonee Valley Cup sixth having followed an eighth in the Herbert Power. Perhaps the roughest of the roughies. Plus barrier 15 has a poor record with only one win, in 1973.
21. TRALEE ROSE (12) $15/$4.5
FOR: Right age in 5, has shown great staying ability, including winning the Bagot Handicap here in January over 2800m by seven lengths. That’s lower quality than this, but she won the Geelong Cup last start by half a length and that’s often a good guide to this. Plus she drops 4kg from then to a nice light 51kg. Decent barrier, trainer Simon Wilde has good record with stayers, and she’s had four runs at Flemington for two wins and two second. AGAINST: That mares’ record, and while jockey Dean Holland has a good reputation for stayers, he’s only won one G1 from 34 attempts. Also she’s had one go at 3200m, when she was a raging $1.85 favourite in the Adelaide Cup last March, but managed only fourth, beaten 4.7 len and making only marginal improvement from seventh in the run.
22. FLOATING ARTIST (10) $16/$4
FOR: Has the third-best barrier with six wins, latest in 2014. Is a 6yo gelding, has had one start for one win at Flemington (over 1700m earlier in this prep), and is with the strong Maher-Eustace stable. Has been consistent latest including last-start narrow second in the 2500m Moonee Valley Cup. Promising apprentice rider in Teodore Nugent. AGAINST: Again, apprentices seldom win this. Decent recent form has been in lower grade than this. Hasn’t won past 2400m. Not a bad barrier statistically but the horse usually goes forward and three’s a couple on his inside who do too, so there’s a chance young Teo could be stuck wide in his first big Cup test.
23. GREAT HOUSE (7) $26/$6
FOR: Tuned up in strong style by winning the traditional lead-up, the Hotham Handicap (2500m) on Saturday. Some can’t handle the quick back-up, although Shocking did it in 2009 to win the Cup. Was also a strong fifth in the Caulfield Cup before that, and won the Newcastle Cup (2300m) four starts back, so is racing well. And has master trainer in Chris Waller. AGAINST: The quick back-up, and while barrier looks good but does seem to be a bit unlucky, however, with only two wins in Cup history. There’s a slight question over his class, but this is not a really classy edition.
24. SIR LUCAN (18) $21/$5
FOR: Waterhouse-Bott stable, and jockey Glen Boss knows about the Cup, having won three of them with Makybe Diva. Looks on paper to be one of these lightly raced European four-year-olds (or three-and-a-half biologically), who get into the Cup on a light weight (50kg), which helps. It’s like winners Rekindling and Cross Counter, and Tiger Moth who ran second last year. AGAINST: While he profiles like those other 4yos, his form is nowhere near as good as theirs was. Last start eighth, beaten 14 lens, in the St Leger at Doncaster over 2922m in September, after a fourth of eight over 2385m at York. Did run a half-length second over 2417m at Goodwood three starts back, but that was only in G3 class. Also has the cursed barrier 18, the only gate to have never had a Cup winner.
3. SPANISH MISSION
4. TRALEE ROSE
CHEEKY PLACE HOPES: Ocean Billy, Miami Bound.