Brian Meldrum

Why you need to weigh up the weights, then wait

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THE MELBOURNE CUP weights are out and BRIAN MELDRUM has some advice for those punters wanting to snap up the long odds:

BETTING ON the 2017 Melbourne Cup started the day after the 2016 running of the race (they were kidding, surely), but now the weights for this year’s renewal have been struck, the serious wagering will start.

Somewhere in the handicap there will be a horse that ticks a lot of boxes, but that will require some thorough research. For the moment the stayers at the top of the markets – those framed by the corporate bookmakers – are the ones that are being looked at.

And it doesn’t take long to realise that it is very much a case of look before you leap, because history tells us a lot of these highly-rated contenders will have more than their work cut out to land the multi-million-dollar first prize.

Take, for instance, last year’s winner, Almandin, who in the majority of markets is either the favourite or equal favourite at around $13.

Almandin is now an eight-year-old, and the last horse of that age to win the Cup was the 25-1 shot Catalogue, in 1938, almost 80 years ago. He’s also gone up 4.5kg in the weights to 56.5kg, and in the past 40 years only four horses have carried that weight or more to be successful.

Almandin wins Emirates Melbourne Cup Pic: Ross Holburt

Hartnell, third in last year’s Cup with 56kg, has an extra 1.5kg this time, despite having won just one race since then, albeit finishing second behind Winx on a couple occasions. His price ranges from $15 to $26, but it would seem the latter price is closer to the mark, given that in the past 50 years only four horses have carried 57kg or more to win the staying classic.

The mighty Rain Lover carried 60.5kg in 1969 to win the Cup for the second year running, and Think Big carried 58.5kg to do the same in 1975. Champion mare Makybe Diva carried 58kg to a record-breaking third successive Cup win in 2005.

The other winner was the Bart Cummings-trained stayer Gold And Black, who won the Cup with 57kg in 1977 after carrying 50kg to finish second to Kiwi mudlark Van Der Hum the previous year.

Those facts do not bode well for this year’s topweight, the Aiden O’Brien-trained Order Of St.George, who has 58kg. He was equal topweight last year with the same impost, and didn’t come, instead going to Chantilly to finish third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The six-year-old entire, part owned by Lloyd Williams, trotted up in the Irish St Leger a few days ago, to emulate his success in the race in 2015. And last year he scored a resounding win in the Ascot Gold Cup.

Both the St Leger and the Gold Cup are among Europe’s premier Group One staying races, but so far only the international trailblazer, Vintage Crop, in 1993 has been able to turn a St Leger victory into a Melbourne Cup success, and a Gold Cup winner prior to running at Flemington has yet to salute. Once again, perhaps, Paris might be Order of St George’s destination.

The former Japanese stayer, Admire Zeus, yet to make his Aussie debut, is right up in the betting – he’s the equal favourite with some layers – and that probably has something to do with the fact he’s now with the all-conquering Darren Weir stable. He hasn’t won for two and half years, and that’s a worry, given he’s down to carry 56kg. Still, he’s run some good races over distance in the past 18 months, and his formline is not dissimilar to those of compatriots Delta Blues and Pop Rock, who ran the Cup quinella in 2006.

French trainers have twice tasted Cup success – Alain de Royer-Dupre with Americain in 2010, and the following year Mikel Delzangles with Dunaden. This year Alain Couetil, from Senonnes, west of Paris, has “down under” plans for Tiberian, who’s been given 55.5kg. He’s a 20-1 chance and a winner of four of his past five starts up to 2500 metres, one a Group 2 and two Group 3’s.

Funnily enough, the best French staying form in the Cup is that of the English-trained galloper, Marmelo, a lightly raced five-year-old prepared at East Ilsley, in Berkshire, by Hughie Morrison.

A three-year-old (northern hemisphere time) last year he showed plenty of staying promise, and that manifested itself in his first start this year when he was impressive winning the Group 3 Prix de Barbeville, over 3000 metres at Chantilly, the race won by Dunaden on his way to winning the 2011 Melbourne Cup, preceeded by a win in the Geelong Cup.

Even more significantly Marmelo, at his last start on August 20, scored a clear win in the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay, also over 3000 metres, the race won by Americain in 2010 at his last start in France before coming to Australia and, like Dunaden, winning the Geelong Cup, and then the Melbourne Cup.

Americain and Dunaden both carried 54.5kg to win the Cup, and Marmelo is being asked to carry just a half a kilo more. At the moment he’s around the 20-1 mark – 25-1 on TAB fixed odds – but if he comes out here and wins the Geelong Cup, look out.

All of the above horses began their careers overseas, which is why we should mention the four year-old “local”, Bonneval. She’s actually a Kiwi but we’ll claim her if we have too, and her form suggests we should.

She’s trained in Cambridge by master horseman Murray Baker, in partnership with Andrew Forsman, and she was arguably the best three-year-old filly in Australasia last season, winning both the New Zealand and ATC Oaks.

She began her Cup preparation in the Group 2 Feehan Stakes at Moonee Valley over 1600 metres early in September, and in a race marred by the riderless favourite Star Exhibit – he lost Brad Rawiller at the start – powered home to win impressively.

The bookies reacted and she is now close to the top of the betting lists at around $18, and deserves to be. The worrying thing is though, so far no NZ Oaks winner has won the Melbourne Cup – not many have tried, no doubt – and only one ACT (old AJC) Oaks winner has been successful.

Bart Cummings’ courageous mare, Light Fingers, won the Cup in 1965. She was a beauty, but so too might Bonneval be. And there is a positive omen – Light Fingers carried 52.5kg, the same weight given to Bonneval.


Author: Brian Meldrum

Brian Meldrum has been a racing journalist for more than 47 years, and is a former Managing Editor – Racing, at the Herald Sun.



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