Head of Timeform Australia Gary Crispe previews the race that stops his nation.
" Timeform weight-adjusted analysis suggests a narrow victory to the locally-trained, albeit Irish-bred, Signoff..."
The Group 1 Melbourne Cup is an example of a truly global event, one of the few races in Australia in which the contest, as opposed to the horses, enjoys worldwide renown.
The upshot of this has been a gradual globalisation of the race itself. With so many form lines from several countries to assess, the task of finding the winner is just that much more difficult for punters.
With overseas challengers having taken the two major trials, the Caulfield Cup (Japan's Admire Rakti) and Cox Plate (Irish three-year-old Adelaide), the odds are shortening for a foreign-trained winner of the biggest prize in Australian racing.
However all may not be lost for the locals. Timeform weight-adjusted analysis suggests a narrow victory to the locally-trained, albeit Irish-bred, Signoff.
Signoff's campaign this year has been all about one goal: the Melbourne Cup. Trainer Darren Weir has slowly worked Signoff through proven lead up races including the JRA Cup, Herbert Power Handicap, David Jones Cup and latterly the Lexus Stakes as the final launch pad into the Cup, his win in the last-named representing a career-best effort and guaranteeing a run in the Cup at the cost of a 1 kg penalty.
In recent times the Lexus Stakes has emerged as a sound guide to the Melbourne Cup. Shocking completed the double in 2009 and his campaign- including runs in the JRA Cup, Herbert Power and David Jones Cup- has presumably been the blueprint for Signoff.
Protectionist, German-trained and British-ridden (Ryan Moore takes over in the saddle) but Australian-owned, is arguably the strongest European challenger. He won the Prix Kergolay at Deauville, mirroring recent French-trained Cup winners Americain and Dunaden. His Australian trial came in the Herbert Power, in which he finished an eye-catching fourth behind Signoff.
Under 59 kg Protectionist closed strongly in the last 400m of the race to be beaten less than a length. Most impressive of all was that the run represented a career-best for Protectionist, taking his Timeform rating from 120 to 123p.
Caulfield Cup winner Admire Rakti heads the betting but has history against him. He carries 58.5 kg, a weight that no horse since Think Big has carried to success since his second win in 1975. When you consider how many good horses have tried and failed to carry big weights to victory in the meantime- the likes of Dunaden, Yeats and Vintage Crop- the scale of the task facing Admire Rakti becomes clear.
Lucia Valentina, second to Admire Rakti in the Caulfield Cup and a dual Group 1 winner this season, probably holds slightly stronger claims though she too carries an unusually heavy weight for a four-year-old filly.
Mutual Regard won the Ebor Handicap- arguably the closest Europe has to a Melbourne Cup equivalent- in August and comes here rated higher than previous Ebor winners All The Good (won 2008 Caulfield Cup) and Purple Moon (second in the 2007 Melbourne Cup). Mutual Regard had Lord Van Percy in second at York and that one wasn't beaten far when fifth in the Caulfield Cup.
Fawkner looks to be leading candidate among the Australian-breds. He won the Caulfield Cup in 2013 and was an unlucky sixth in this race subsequently. He's improved since then, too, beaten only narrowly by Adelaide in the Cox Plate last time. Trainer Craig Williams has used that race to prepare his two previous winners- Green Moon and Efficient- for the Melbourne Cup.
Off time: 04:00 GMT
Back Signoff in the Melbourne Cup
Timeform Weight-Adjusted Ratings:
1. Signoff 144
2. Protectionist 142
3. Admire Rakti 142
4. Lucia Valentina 142
5. Mutual Regard 141
6. Fawkner 141
7. My Ambivalent 140
8. Red Cadeaux 139
9. Junoob 139
10. Au Revoir 139