Melbourne Cup 2016: Don’t doubt the favourites

The Melbourne Cup is the highlight of my racing year.

What more could I ask than to be fielding on the middle of the Flemington bookmakers’ rail and to have been involved in the acquisition of a horse, Excess Knowledge, which takes his chance in the Cup, trained by my wife Gai Waterhouse?

Could Excess Knowledge win?

Absolutely. Gai insists the horse will “peak” on Tuesday and will “improve” over the 3200-metre course.

Don’t giggle. Gai’s Melbourne Cup runners have normally well exceeded the betting marks. Her first runner was Te Akau Nick, who was second at 160-1. Gai is famous for her sense of timing.

But, putting aside my hopes for Gai, what will win the Cup?

The Cup is a race that has been very kind to me.

I am constantly given Melbourne Cup form advice by once-a-year punters. It is invariably along the same lines: favourites never win; must be a backmarker, that is nowhere near the lead; the northern hemisphere horses are over-rated; avoid topweights.

As well meaning as these people are, they should stick to their day jobs. Their thoughts are totally wrong. They are racing’s equivalent of old wives’ foolish tales.

Favourites don’t always win – that’s true. But if you’d backed them all during the past 25 years, you’d be a long way in front. In fact, you’d have backed seven winners, some at odds as long as 6-1. Don’t shy away from favourites.

Most leaders get run down. Just as most horses don’t win. People hate their choice being the “bunny” and love it when their pick steams down the outside. But Cup runners with pace do a lot better than people realise. From 1991, if you’d backed the first eight around the home turn, you’d have backed 19 winners and won 56 per cent on turnover. Not a bad system. But it is hard to know what they will be at the home turn, or find a bookie who will let you on when the race is two thirds over! The lesson is: horses with pace have an advantage.

Higher-weighted horses have a better record than lower-weighted runners.

People know the Australian runners well and the “parachutes” (as in brought in from overseas for the race) are unknown, so they concentrate on the locals. It must be conceded that since Vintage Crop in 1993 (which beat Te Akau Nick) no first-up import has won. There have been about 80 of them. But some have run good races.

But if you look at the imports who have had the benefit of a lead-up run, that’s a different story. They have a proud record.

So what will win?

On form, favourite Hartnell gets lots of ticks. He has enjoyed a perfect preparation (Cox Plate) and has been set for this one race. He is very well handicapped, especially against second favourite Jameka, whom he destroyed in the Turnbull yet meets 1.5 kilograms better. Moreover, he has the speed to be in front if he wants to be. He has to be first pick.

Of the “backing-up” imports, I like Exospheric, who ran a great third in the Caulfield Cup (and no penalty) and Saturday’s Lexus winner, Oceanographer.

Of the “parachutes”, who have to defy their hoodoo, Big Orange, Wicklow Brave and Heartbreak City’s form all appeal to me. Big Orange’s run in the Cup last year was full of merit, his current form is excellent and being topweight, punters will allow him to be big odds. Wicklow Brave’s trainer is a genius and his charge must be respected. The Ebor (the UK’s Melbourne Cup) winner, Heartbreak City must be a strong chance.

Good punting! And I will be cheering for Excess Knowledge.

The Sydney Morning Herald: October 31st 2016

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