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Waller’s looming threat

3 minute read

French galloper Finche looks terrific ahead of Melbourne Cup tilt.

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

It seems inevitable that Chris Waller will add a Melbourne Cup to his ever-growing trophy cabinet and, in former French galloper Finche, he has a fine candidate going into 2019. Finche ran in the 2018 Melbourne Cup and finished fourth, a very solid effort at just his second Australian start, having blown away the cobwebs with a third in the Geelong Cup. It wasn't a strong Geelong Cup but Finche was the best performance there judged on ratings, returning a Timeform rating of 116, and he was able to build on that when running 119 at Flemington.

That 119 sits just 1lb below his peak rating of 120, achieved in France when winning the Group 3 Prix De Reux over 2500m, beating a handful of smart stayers including Tiberian and Called To The Bar. There he showed tactical speed and his big stride and stamina were put to good use. The ability to take up a position is obviously a key asset and tactical versatility certainly helps when it comes to trying to win a Melbourne Cup. Finche was a Group 2 winner in France back in 2017, winning the Eugene Adam at Maisons Laffite and chased home global superstar Cracksman and Avilius, who we are now very familiar with in Australia, in the Prix Niel. That leaves him with a terrific profile for not just the Melbourne Cup but racing in Australia in general.

Having had just ten starts, the now five-year-old son of Frankel is expected to have his best racing still ahead of him and it would be of no surprise were he to prove a bit better than that rating of 120 which already has him among the key Cup hopefuls.

Constantinople has joined Lindsay Park from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable in Ireland and immediately sweeps into Cup contention with a similar profile to last year's winner Cross Counter. That profile comes about by virtue of having run in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood and the Great Voltiguer at York - two major prizes for three-year-olds over middle distances in the UK summer. Cross Counter won the Gordon and produced a performance well in advance of Constantinople's 116 rating there but Constantinople ran about and looked still very much a work in progress around the quirky Goodwood circuit. He looked a bit more straightforward, but still far from the finished article, when improving on that rating at York, producing a career high 120 rating in the Great Voltiguer when chasing a budding superstar in Logician in very sharp overall figures. Both the time and the closing sectionals hinted at that being a particularly strong contest, although light on for numbers, and while Cross Counter came to Australia rated 124, Constantinople's 120 rating could quickly be improved upon. There will be some concern about his lack of experience and his quirks in a big field at Flemington and with the fanfare that comes with the Melbourne Cup but it should be noted that Constantinople did produce a terrific performance in a field of 16 at Royal Ascot.

That was a high-pressure handicap, the overall time was very fast for the grade and he stood up to the hustle and bustle of that occasion to produce what was then a career peak 118 rating. He isn't the only former Aidan O'Brien-trained runner with a strong profile with Ciaron Maher and David Eustace getting their hands on Southern France, a horse a year older than Constantinople but with an identical Timeform rating of 120. His peak performance came about when forcing champion stayer Stradivarius to pull out all the stops in the Yorkshire Cup earlier this season. He was unable to replicate that performance in three runs that followed, returning to something more in line with his overall form when well held in the Hardwick at Royal Ascot, the Curragh Cup and the Goodwood Cup where another round with Stradivarius didn't go quite so well.

He showed that Yorkshire Cup performance was no fluke last time, however, putting away fellow Melbourne Cup entries Downdraft and Master Of Reality in pretty good style and rating 118 in the process. That sort of mark will need to be improved upon at Flemington but he's within striking distance of what could prove a winning performance in the Cup and there remains a strong feeling that we haven't see the very best of Southern France.

Another from Ireland is Buckhurst who will be out to replicate the deeds of Rekindling back in 2016. Like Buckhurst, Rekindling was trained by Joseph O'Brien for Lloyd Williams. Rekindling came down under rated 121 and with his stamina all but proven while Buckhurst is rated 117 and is yet to race beyond ten furlongs.Less of the finished article but he is certainly promising and his ratings profile is spiralling in the right direction with a narrow loss to leading Cup hopeful Constantinople in the Gallinule Stakes followed by back-to-back Group 3 wins accompanied by peak ratings of 110+ and 117.

Caulfield Cup Mer De Glace brings an outstanding profile down under and shapes as a key player in both Cups with the Caulfield Cup appealing as an achievable target on the back of a string of five wins that has included three Group 3 contests. In the middle of that trio of Group 3s sits Hanshin's Naruo Kinen which Mer De Glace took out in most impressive fashion, recording a Timeform rating of 121 and giving the impression, with a sharp turn-of-foot, that there was plenty more to come from him. That 121 rating is the best in the recent history of the Naruo Kinen and that's not insignificant. The race has been won by some terrific horses, notably in recent years by Lovely Day who used the race as a springboard to winning the Takarazuka Kinen and Tenno Sho in 2015. Mer De Glace didn't have to match that form when winning the Kokura Kinen last time but again he impressed, posting a Timeform rating of 118 and looking as though there was more to come. As a four-year-old, spiralling upwards and winning, there is plenty of reasons to think that Mer De Glace can produce a better rating than 121 and that makes him a dangerous prospect in Australia.

Mirage Dancer is another well-performed import joining an Australian stable for the 2019 Spring Carnival where the Caulfield Cup looks his best fit. Mirage Dancer is an established 2400m performer, having won three stakes races at the trip, all around Goodwood where he has twice won the listed Tapster Stakes and added the Group 3 Glorious Stakes in 2018. Only once, when below form at Sha Tin's International Meeting last December, has Mirage Dancer been tested at the top level with his profile suggesting that he is a notch below the topliners in his native UK.

That has perhaps led to the decision to head down under where the handicap conditions of the Cups give him his chance to land a big prize. He's not one likely to get under the handicapper's guard, being a well-established performer, but he does consistently produce at a level that should be extremely competitive in Australia. His form chasing last year's Caulfield Cup winner Best Solution at Newmarket's July Meeting in 2018 is an obvious reference point for his chances this year and that typically solid performance, rated 118 and just 2lbs shy of his 120-rated best, would see him in the thick of the action around Caulfield. From a local point of view, the ATC Derby is always one of the first places to look when hunting for Caulfield Cup contenders. Plenty of Derby winners have hit the frame at Caulfield and the Derby overall has produced seven Caulfield Cup winners this century. The most recent of those was Jameka who ran second in the 2016 Derby before coming out to win the Caulfield Cup a year after Mongolian Khan became the first horse since Sky Heights in 1999 to do the double.

Some twenty years on, the Gwenda Markwell-trained Angel Of Truth looks a chance, despite being further down the betting boards than the typical ATC Derby winner might be. The 2019 ATC Derby was perhaps considered a weak one by many and Angel of Truth was sent out at 14/1 there but he was dominant, winning by more than three lengths, a margin only bettered by Dundeel and Universal Prince in modern history. Angel Of Truth has tactical speed and looks well-made for Caulfield and there is a little scent of Descarado (second in the Derby before winning at Caulfield) about him. He won't have to improve much to be among the key chances.

Last year's Melbourne Cup favourite was Yucatan and he earned that position over the Caulfield 2400m course where he won the Herbert Power by the most dominant length and a quarter margin you will ever see. Yucatan took control of the race from the 800m and charged away, opening up a massive margin, before being eased right down when the race was well within his keeping. Yucatan ran to a rating of 118+ there but has a master Timeform rating of 123 with sectional analysis required to offset the big ease down over the last 100m there. That rating may still fail to do Yucatan justice. He failed to do himself justice at Flemington on Cup Day but he has been given 12 months in Australia to build into this spring and the lightly raced son of Galileo surely has more to offer in 2019.

Melbourne Cup predictions :

Southern France

Caulfield Cup predictions :

Mer De Glace
Mirage Dancer
Angel Of Truth

Article taken from The Sportsman, published on Saturday, 14th September 2019, Author, Ray Thomas.

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