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Prizemoney increase has big stables talking

3 minute read

Gary Crispe, head of Timeform Australia and the CEO of Racing and Sports Pty Ltd, gives Sportsman's readers an early insight as to how he sees the Cups unfolding.

There seems little doubt the recent major increases in prizemoney for both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups has achieved its first goal - increased numbers of overseas nominations. With the pot for the Caulfield Cup up by two million and the Melbourne Cup by one million, it is no wonder that both races have attracted the attention of major stables from abroad. Perhaps more than ever this year both races are dominated by European-bred stayers, either locally trained or coming from overseas stables. That should come as no surprise as it has become common practice that the major staying races in Australia are won by northern hemisphere-bred gallopers purchased by Australian owners - both the Darren Weir and Chris Waller stables have perfected the art, with others now quickly following suit. This is not surprising as there are opportunities for those gallopers to earn significant prizemoney in countries like Australia, especially during the spring. As has been the case in previous years, the highest rated runners in the Cups are mostly European but there are some exceptions notably Ace High and Unforgotten.

2015 Melbourne Cup-winning trainer Darren Weir has 28 nominations for the Melbourne Cup and 25 for Caulfield while Chris Waller has 24 and 21 respectively - a big increase on his numbers last year. Both Chris Waller and Darren Weir will be chasing their first Caulfield Cup win while Weir already has a Melbourne Cup on the mantlepiece. It is hard to believe that between them, the two top trainers in Australia have won just one of the big two staying prizes on the Australian Turf. Waller has had 16 runners in the Caulfield Cup - the closest he has come to winning was fifth place with Royal Descent in 2013 while Weir's record looks a little better with just three runners to date - two of those runners also finishing fifth, Real Love (2016) and Humidor (2017). Weir, who won the 2015 Melbourne Cup with Prince Of Penzance, has had eight Cup runners in total for a winner, a second and two fourths. Waller has been represented by 15 Cup runners for just one placing, Who Shot Thebarman third in 2015.

Unlike previous years, I have found the 2018 renewals of both Cups difficult to line up as the nominations for both races present, on Timeform ratings, as a fairly even contest. This far out it is hard to know exactly who will line up from the major overseas stables. For example, champion trainer Aidan O'Brien who went so close to taking the Melbourne Cup last year, only to be upstaged by son Joseph when Rekindling nailed Johannes Vermeer right on the line, has a record 12 runners nominated, and anyone of them would be a serious contender.

Caulfield Cup Leading trainer Darren Weir is dominating racing in Victoria but this year he has an excellent chance of riding his luck all-the-way to his first win in the Caulfield Cup win with former European galloper Kings Will Dream. Weir has not had much luck at Caulfield, stable stalwart Humidor being a case in point last year. To date, Weir has been selective in sending horses to the Caulfield Cup - just three to date, but Kings Will Dream has been in impressive form exhibiting an upward spiralling Timeform ratings profile which, right now, makes him the horse to beat. Kings Will Dream was purchased out of the UK after just three starts winning a maiden over 1614m at Pontefract in July last year before joining Weir where he was an instant success racking up five consecutive victories going from a Benchmark 64 at Warrnambool over 1200m to the Listed Mornington Cup over 2400m - a race that guaranteed him a spot at Caulfield. Spelled after Mornington, Kings Will Dream had progressed his Timeform rating by 35 pounds in those five wins. However, in two runs back from a spell, he has continued the trend with two outstanding efforts at weight-for-age over unsuitable distances. The first of those was in the Group 2 PB Lawrence Stakes over 1400m where he finished a close-up fourth behind Showtime after a slow start. Then last start in the Group 1 Memsie Stakes he again caught the eye flashing late from near last on the turn to go down in a threeway photo behind stable mate Humidor, beaten a head into third place, running to a new Timeform 122 career peak rating. Right now, it is very hard to find fault the lightly raced Kings Will Dream who has won six of his 10 starts. The die was cast after his commanding win over the Cup trip of 2400m in the Mornington Cup, so he appears to tick all the right boxes, even at this early stage.

Champion Sydney trainer Chris Waller will be represented by the classy four-year-old mare and ATC Oaks winner Unforgotten who, last start, burst into Cup calculations after impressively winning the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes at WFA over 1600m at Royal Randwick at her second run back from a spell. Four-year-olds are the most successful age group in the Caulfield Cup with the two most significant lead-up races being the Australian Derby and ATC Oaks. Four-year-old mares have an excellent record in the Caulfield Cup generally running well, even if not always winning. Jameka was successful in 2016 which came on the back of Southern Speed's 2011 victory.

Rising Romance in 2014 had won the ATC Oaks then went on to be just beaten by Admire Rakti at Caulfield the following spring, Lucia Valentina (2014 2nd and 3rd), Royal Descent (2013 Won and 5th), Dear Demi (2013 2nd and 3rd), Daffodil (2009 Won and 4th) and Republic Lass (2002 Won and 3rd) are other examples of their success. Even though you have to go back to 1996 (Arctic Scent) to find the last four-year-old mare to win a Caulfield Cup after coming out of the ATC Oaks, they do none-the-less perform well as the stats show.

The average winning Timeform rating of the last three four-year-old mares to win the Caulfield Cup is 118, although the most recent - Jameka in 2016 rated 121. In 2013, third placed Dear Demi rated 118 and fifth placed Royal Descent rated 119 - both figures exactly in line with their VRC and ATC Oaks wins respectively. In 2014, both Rising Romance and Lucia Valentina come from the ATC Oaks with Timeform ratings of 116p, with the promise of more to come - similar to Jameka last year. Both Rising Romance and Lucia Valentina were beaten into second and third place respectively by Japanese stayer Admire Rakti, running to Timeform ratings a couple of pounds above their ATC Oaks efforts. Gust Of Wind went into the 2015 Caulfield Cup with a Timeform rating of 114, a couple of pounds under the average but finished fourth to Mongolian Khan.

Last year ATC Oaks and NZ Oaks winner Bonneval was Timeform rated 119 off her Randwick success but failed to impress at Caulfield after an interrupted preparation and injury. It is significant that Unforgotten also has a master Timeform rating of 119 off her emphatic Oaks win - a figure that if repeated at Caulfield, historically at least, puts her right in the mix. Last start when winning the Chelmsford Stakes she ran to a Timeform rating of 117 with the promise of more to come, indicating Waller has her right on track.

Three years ago, classy New Zealand stayer Mongolian Khan gave a much-needed boost to the Australian Derby - Caulfield Cup double winning both in fine style - the first horse to do so since Sky Heights in 1999. Recent history shows that good performances in the ATC Derby translate to a good performances in the Caulfield Cup. Which brings us to 2017 Victoria Derby winner and 2018 ATC Derby runner up Ace High who will be out to emulate Descarado's 2010 win at Caulfield. Ace High was an impressive Victoria Derby winner however that race has always been a hoodoo for the Caulfield Cup with just Phar Lap and Elvstroem completing the double in around 90 years. With the 2018 ATC Derby winner Levendi out of play due to injury, Ace High who went down narrowly to him, is left to fly the flag. After failing first up in the Winx Stakes, he bounced back with a much improved run when second in the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes behind Unforgotten indicating a return to form and with improvement to come.

The global racing powerhouse Godolphin has enjoyed mixed spring success in Australia, but in 2016 UK retained trainer for the operation Charlie Appleby won a Geelong Cup, Bendigo Cup, Lexus and Queen Elizabeth Stakes before a fourth in the Melbourne Cup making it one their best ever years results, while Hartnell under local Head trainer at that time John O'Shea was a gallant third in the Melbourne Cup. Godolphin's record in the Caulfield Cup is quite good with one winner and three top four placings from just nine runners but Appleby has plans to improve on that in 2018. This season in Europe, Appleby has been in great form winning the English Derby with Masar as well as a string of other feature races. Of course Godolphin has already had their famous blue silks carried across the line first in the 2008 Caulfield Cup when All The Good, under Kerrin McEvoy, came with a late burst to give Saeed bin Suroor and Sheikh Mohammed their first Group 1 success down under. But it is not hard to understand Appleby's desire to make his presence felt on the big stage in Australia - something he regularly talks about aiming his horses at during the English summer season. Appleby has made a conscious decision to send a small team down to Australia early, specifically for Caulfield, then followed by a larger contingent later. Clearly he is looking to go one better in the Caulfield Cup than the second placing by Scottish in 2016 - his only runner in the race thus far.

Emotionless and Folkswood are his Caulfield Cup horses and while Folkswood was here last year finishing third in the Cox Plate, it is the higher Timeform rated Emotionless that I prefer this year.Emotionless is an unusual horse in that for a five-year-old he has raced just 10 times for three wins - already being a Group 2 winner at two. However, at three, he was plagued with issues that curtailed his campaign to just three runs. Early in his preparation at four, he was still struggling but late in 2017 he showed a return to top form with placings in Meydan, specifically in the Group 2 Dubai City Gold over 2400m behind classy stayers Prize Money and Postponed. This season he has raced just twice for a second placing to Benbatl over 1800m in Meydan followed by a strong win at Newbury in the Listed bet365 Stakes over 2011m running to a Timeform rating of 120p. Emotionless will most likely be fresh up in the Caulfield Cup, however, he performs well fresh and looks an ideal Caulfield Cup chance.

Team Williams, who have made an art form out of winning the Melbourne Cup, have several runners nominated at Caulfield but I am leaning towards The Taj Mahal to give them a second win in the race, Fawkner in 2014 being their only success to date. A former Aidan O'Brientrained stayer came to Team Williams last year after finishing unplaced at Leopardstown but ended his campaign with a win in the Group 2 Zipping Classic over 2400m defeating 2015 Melbourne Cup winner and stablemate Almandin. This year he seems to be following the "typical" Williams Cups programme - brief Autumn campaign then spelled for the Spring. The Taj Mahal failed to fire in the Australian Cup in March and was not seen again until Moonee Valley in the Harrolds Handicap over 2040m - a race they have previously used with other stable gallopers prepared for the Cups, Almandin being one of those. Under the steadier of 62.5kg, The Taj Mahal was impressive storming home from the rear to be beaten less than two lengths. That effort will have sharpened him up and the 2400m of the Caulfield Cup looks ideal for him.

The Melbourne Cup shapes as an intriguing contest especially as the Godolphin gallopers appear to dominate early betting deliberations. The Melbourne Cup is one race on the global racing calendar that has escaped Godolphin. They have gone close on occasions but never been successful. From 26 runners to date, they have managed three second placings, two thirds and a fourth. The Godolphin assault on the Melbourne Cup started with Faithful Son in 1998 then Central Park ran second in 1999, followed by Give The Slip second in 2001, Beekeeper third in 2002, Crime Scene second in 2009 and lastly Hartnell third in 2016. However, this year there seems to be a real purpose to Godolphin's bid to snare the feature. Although it has not been tried many times, there is a view abroad that the northern hemisphere-bred three-year-olds seem to be very well placed in the Melbourne Cup, something that first came to light when Mahler was a close up third to Efficient in 2007.

Then last year Team Williams were successful with handy three-year-old Rekindling coming off a luckless effort in the British St Leger Stakes at Doncaster. Such a theory is not without foundation and while at this stage it is not known if any St Leger runners from Doncaster will line up on the first Tuesday in November, Charlie Appleby has already earmarked powerful three-year-old Cross Counter, who bypasses the St Leger, as his likely candidate for Melbourne. Appleby will dodge the St Leger with Cross Counter already committing stablemate Old Persian to that race, the pair having fought out a stirring duel in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes over 2385m at York last time out. Should Old Persian's effort in the St Leger be as expected, then it will add further weight to Cross Counter's Cup bid. Prior to Great Voltigeur Cross Counter had easily accounted for Epsom Derby runner up Dee Ex Bee in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes over 2412m at Goodwood - that is probably as good a trial for the Cup as you can get. Cross Counter has raced just seven times for four wins and is still very much on an upward Timeform ratings spiral. He currently sits with a Timeform rating of 123 - two pounds above the level Rekindling ran off in last year's Melbourne Cup victory.

The second of Appleby's Melbourne Cup chances is the highly promising Hamada, a four-year-old gelding from Cape Cross out of a Kingmambo mare - bred to get 3200m. Hamada has won five of his seven starts and just keeps raising the bar. After a maiden win that fi nalised his 2016 campaign, Hamada was not seen until 2018 where he began a fourrun winning streak from as many starts, that now leads him to Melbourne for the Cup. Hamada has won all of his last five starts, four of those coming in the anticlockwise direction of Melbourne's Cup and lifting his Timeform rating to 118p, up some 24 pounds from his maiden win in 2016. Last start Hamada looked every inch a serious Melbourne Cup contender winning the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes over 2671m at Newbury drawing clear in the final furlong to win decisively by over two lengths. Prior to that win, Hamada has progressed through the handicap ranks dominating on several occasions. While another step up in class is required, Hamada has all the hallmarks of a leading Melbourne Cup hope.

Formerly trained by Jessica Harrington, Irish trained stayer Torcedor now under the care of 2014 Melbourne Cup winning trainer Andreas Wohler is a late comer into calculations after being recently purchased by Australian interests.A lightly raced six-year-old Fastnet Rock gelding, Torcedor has won five of his 20 starts from 2011m to 3208m and was placed third in the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup (4014m) this year behind champion UK stayer Stradivarius and French galloper Vazirabad beaten less than a length. On that occasion he was with the speed throughout and took the lead 600m from home only to be run down late. It was a very strong staying effort earning him a Timeform rating of 123. 40 days later he reproduced the same Timeform rating when again narrowly beaten by Stradivarius in the Group 1 Goodwood Cup over 3218m. Despite not being seen since Goodwood, Wohler knows what it takes to win the big one and there is no question he has a strong stayer on his hands.

It is not known which horse, if any, Aidan O'Brien will bring down for the Cup. So I am guessing a little, suggesting Flag Of Honour would be a suitable type for Flemington. O'Brien who went so close last year with Johannes Vermeer now knows what type of horse to bring for the Cup and Flag Of Honour appeals as suitable. The three-year-old son of champion stallion Galileo has raced just nine times for four wins at distances ranging from 1408m to 2816m and his preparation has an uncanny likeness to that of Rekindling last year. Last start Flag Of Honour was too strong for older rivals in the Group 3 Irish St Leger Trial over 2816m at the Curragh running to a Timeform peak rating of 120 Rekindling won the same race running to 121.But prior to the St Leger Trial both horses had won the Curragh Cup - Flag Of Honour rated 112 whereas Rekindling ran slightly higher at 115, but as we have seen in their subsequent win both horses are at the same stage of their preparations are about the same level. It will be interesting to see what O'Brien does with Flag Of Honour. Rekindling went on to run an unlucky fourth in the English St Leger before coming to Melbourne. Flag Of Honour could follow the same path or maybe target the Irish St Leger.

Time will tell but he appeals as a definite Cup candidate. I am having a bit of a stab in the dark for my last main chance for the Melbourne Cup in Finche. Part-owned in Australian interests is a good start, but having champion French trainer Andre Fabre putting the polish on is no great disadvantage either. By former champion galloper Frankel, four-year-old stallion Finche has raced just seven times for three wins but has raced against some of the best horses in Europe and acquitted himself well.It is by no means certain Finche will come to Australia, but if he does, I believe he will perform very well.


Article taken from The Sportsman, published on Saturday, 15th September 2018, Author, Ray Thomas.
Racing and Sports

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