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The Melbourne Cup is the horse race that stops a nation for three and a half minutes as Australians break from whatever they are doing to watch the world’s richest handicap.
The Flemington two-mile contest is not Australia’s best race – that honours belongs to the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley – and it somewhat strange that it has Group One status since it is an handicap but there is no doubt that it is the country’s most popular race and one of the greatest spectacles on the international racing calendar.
The Melbourne Cup dates back to 1861 when 17 horses raced for the then winner-takes-all prize of 710 gold sovereigns and a watch. Archer won the inaugural Melbourne Cup, which was an eventful in which one horse bolted before the start and three of the starters fell, two of them sustaining fatal injuries. Archer won not only in 1861 but also in 1862.
Five horses have won the Melbourne Cup at least twice – Archer (1861 and 1862), Peter Pan (1932 and 1934), Rain Lover (1968 and 1969), Think Big (1974 and 1975) and the great Makybe Diva (2003, 2004 and 2005). Australia’s most famous horse of all time, Phar Lap, competed in the race three times but his only victory occurred in 1930.
Bobby Lewis and Harry White are the winningmost Melbourne Cup jockeys with four wins apiece, while Bart Cummings is nicknamed the Cups King for good reason. The 84-year-old trainer has won the Melbourne Cup 12 times, including three years in a row from 1965 to 1967. No other handler has won the Melbourne Cup more than five times. Bart is a legend.
Staged on the first Tuesday in November since a date change on 1875, the Melbourne Cup is restricted to 24 runners, not because of the Flemington track cannot accommodate more competitors but because the betting systems of Australia’s Totalisator Agency Boards – TABs – cannot handle more.
The final field for the 2012 Melbourne Cup will not be known until after the first day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington on 3 November and the chances are that some of the leading ante-post fancies will not make the cut.
France’s Brigantin and the United Kingdom’s Gatewood are just two of the leading contenders who need things to go their way to break into the Melbourne Cup order of entry’s top 24. Brigantin is 27th after failing to win the Geelong Cup and, therefore, he needs three horses above him to come out. Geelong Cup winner Gatewood is 33rd and, therefore, he needs to win the Lexus Stakes three days before the big race because it will afford him an exemption into the contest.
But Brigantin and Gatewood may be racing for second place even if they get into this year’s Melbourne Cup because there is another Europe-trained horse that, it seems, has beaten the handicapper and got into the race lightly.
Mount Athos is the horse in question and his trainer, Luca Cumani, is totally obsessed with winning the Melbourne Cup after going so close with Purple Moon in 2007 and Bauer in 2008. Cumani’s daughter, Francesca, is a well known, pretty face to Australian horse racing fans so a victory for the Cumani family would be received very well in Australia.
Luca Cumani has a reputation in the United Kingdom for being a trainer who places his horses expertly and knows what it takes to win a lucrative handicap. It should not come as a surprise to seasoned Cumani watchers that he has not only the best handicapped runner in the 2012 Melbourne Cup but also the second best in the shape of My Quest For Peace.
But if one is going to limit one’s financial involvement in this year’s Melbourne Cup to just one horse, Mount Athos is the one to back. Australian punters have come for the last two Melbourne Cup winners, Americain and Dunaden, but they have to give four kilograms and five kilograms respectively to the six-year-old son of Montjeu and that is a tall order.
Mount Athos won his last three races in the United Kingdom, posting personal bests in each of them, before he was put away for the trip to Australia. He won the Group Three Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury in August doing handstands, beating the 118-rated Brown Panther by three and a quarter lengths at level weights. According to British analysts, Mount Athos is every bit as good as Dunaden and yet he is going to carry considerably less weight than the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup champion. He should be the favourite.
The only negatives against Mount Athos are that a British jockey will ride him and the statistic that each of the last 61 Europe-trained Melbourne Cup runners that did not have an Australian warm-up race failed to win the major prize.
However, none other than Ryan Moore will partner Mount Athos and Red Cadeaux was beaten only a nose in the 2011 Melbourne Cup having not raced on Australian soil before the big day.
Mount Athos is at odds of around 15-2 going into this year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival. He should start shorter and, if he gets the necessary luck in running, take a lot of beating.
As expected, the Australia-based bookmakers are going to town on the 2012 Melbourne Cup even before the final field is known, with Centrebet and Sportingbet leading the way.
Because the Melbourne Cup is a Group One race – yes, a Group One handicap does not make a great deal of sense but go with it – Centrebet will refund bets on the second-place finisher if the favourite wins the race. Centrebet’s offer sounds good but it is not at all. The odds of the race being won by the favourite are going to be something like 5-1, while the odds of a horse finishing second in a 24-runner race are pretty much the same as the odds of it finishing first. So, say that one backs Mount Athos at 15-2. The odds of Mount Athos finishing second to the 5-1 favourite are 50-1 or thereabouts. Hopefully, a bookmaker such as Sportsbet will reprise its recent Cox Plate offer that saw it refund bets on the runner-up even though the favourite did not win.
Sportingbet’s MaxiDiv Gold will be in operation on this year’s Melbourne Cup. Sportingbet will top up the MaxiDiv by five per cent for every length by which the winner triumphs, up to a maximum bonus of 20%. However, five of the last six Melbourne Cups have been won by less than one length and the 10-year average winning margin is almost one length exactly.
Respect overseas runners
Australia has a dearth of good stayers, which its bloodstock industry focused on producing top-class sprinters such as Black Caviar. The overseas-trained runners are, on the whole, better than the local ones and the handicapper has struggled to stop some of the raiders getting in lightly.
Favour genuine stayers
Melbourne Cups are run at a frenetic pace and so it is imperative that any horse that one backs has the ability to stay two miles in a fast race. And, ideally, the horse one backs would be ridden handily throughout the contest, as it is difficult to come from behind in such a large field.
Avoid barrier 18
No horse has ever won the Melbourne Cup from barrier 18. It is just one of those insane, quirky betting statistics.
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