Melbourne Cup: Gary Crispe's big-race preview
Australian form expert Gary Crispe has previewed the Melbourne Cup, set to be run on Tuesday November 3.
"One historical fact worth noting is that no international runner since Vintage Crop in 1993 has won the Cup without a lead up run in Australia..."
A strong field, headed in the weights by Hardwicke Stakes winner Snow Sky, has been assembled for the 155th renewal of the Melbourne Cup. However, Japanese raider Fame Game seems likely to start the shortest-priced favourite in the Cup since So You Think finished a gallant third in 2010 having started at $3.00.
Fame Game is one of the highest-rated Japanese runners to race in Australia. Lightly raced, from just 15 starts he has progressed through the grades in Japan winning the G3 Diamond Stakes (3400m) in consecutive years (2014/15), G2 Copa Republica Argentina (2500m) and just failing to catch local champion Gold Ship in the Tenno Sho (3200m) on his final run before coming to Australia.
There is little doubt that Fame Game's effort in the Tenno Sho was much better than the bare form suggests - without being held up at vital stages he would have beaten Gold Ship. Consequently his weight-adjusted rating has been moved up accordingly.
Given a break after the Tenno Sho, Fame Game returned in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) and shaped with encouragement when finishing sixth, beaten just under five lengths. Fame Game met trouble in running around the tight, turning Caulfield circuit, but he will be seen to better effect up in trip around the spacious Flemington track, and he looks sure to benefit from the run, worth noting that he's won second up from a break in his last two campaigns.
Leading trainer Chris Waller comes off a high last week after winning the Cox Plate with brilliant mare Winx and he will be represented by three Cup runners: Preferment, Who Shot Thebarman and Grand Marshall.
While all hold chances, Preferment is clearly the stable's top seed. A slow-maturing son of now deceased champion sire Zabeel, Preferment was in good form prior to the Cox Plate having won the G2 Hill Stakes and then the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), and it is best to ignore his failure on Saturday.
The fact Hugh Bowman is getting down to a riding weight 53.5kgs is a significant tip in itself and, drawn nicely in barrier 11, Preferment should be able to find plenty of cover before utilising his trademark turn of foot.
Sydney Cup winner Grand Marshall and Who Shot Thebarman have had their campaigns timed to perfection by Waller and both hold chances at rewarding odds.
Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris produced an uncharacteristically poor effort on his final start in Britain when finishing a well-beaten fifth behind the reopossing Max Dynamite at York. However, he ran a cracker to finish runner-up in the Caulfield Cup, coming home strongly and clocking some good sectionals in the straight. It was a very good Melbourne Cup trial and he will benefit from this step back up in trip. Trainer Ed Dunlop also runs stalwart Red Cadeaux, a three-time Melbourne Cup runner-up, but Trip To Paris looks to be his strongest contender this time around.
Sky Hunter, representing Saeed Bin Suroor and Godolphin, is another strong UK-trained challenger, and he has flown under the radar to some extent. A lightly-raced galloper and winner of six of 11 race starts, Sky Hunter has raced just twice in 2015, first at Meydan in March, winning at Group two level over 2410m, and then when resuming in September, finishing second to The Corsican at Newbury. To put that form in perspective, The Corsican then ran sixth, beaten just over four lengths behind Fascinating Rock, Found and Jack Hobbs, in the G1 Champion Stakes (2000m) at Ascot.
Also of relevance to the discussion is the fact that The Corsican was fourth in the G1 Prince of Wales's Stakes (2000m) at Royal Ascot, beating home Criterion by half a length. Those form lines suggest Sky Hunter could be somewhat better than the 53.5kgs he has been allocated today, especially as he receives 3.5kgs from Criterion this afternoon.
In recent times the Geelong Cup (2400m) has been a reliable guide to the Cup and that brings Almoonqith into contention. After racing in Dubai earlier this year, Almoonqith was sent down under with the Cup in mind and he has hit peak form at the right time. The ease of his win suggests that further improvement could be on the agenda and he is likely to play a hand in the finish.
One historical fact worth noting is that no international runner since Vintage Crop in 1993 has won the Cup without a lead up run in Australia: 80 have tried. Sky Hunter, Red Cadeaux, Max Dynamite, Bondi Beach, Kingfisher and Big Orange all have to overcome this stat. International runners having their second Australian run in the Cup have fared better, however. Five fitting this criteria have won - from just 20 representatives - including last year's winner Protectionist. This year Fame Game, Hokko Brave, Snow Sky and Trip To Paris all have that statistic on their side.
Enjoy the great race.
Timeform weight-adjusted ratings:
143 Fame Game
141 Trip To Paris
141 Sky Hunter
140 Who Shot Thebarman