The weekend’s racing provides significant pointers for Melbourne
Anxious wait for Nakeeta and Withhold
The initial reaction to the publication of the weights focussed on the unsurpassed quality on display this season and the numerical strength of the overseas challenge – 22 of the top 50 in the order of entry are trained in Europe – has undoubtedly given the race more depth of quality than ever before. Indeed, last season’s fifth – the Iain Jardine-trained Nakeeta (Sir Percy) – has once again been allocated 53 kilograms, but he is currently 48th in the order of entry and his place in the final line-up is far from assured. Similar comments apply to Northumberland Plate (2m) winner Withhold (Champs Elysees), who lies one place below Nakeeta in the ballot despite occupying a prominent position in the ante-post betting for most of the European summer following his runway success at Newcastle in June. Both sets of connections now face an anxious countdown to the race over the next six weeks.
Humidor heads weights for the Cup
The weights for this year’s Cup are unsurprisingly headed by Humidor (Teofilo), who arguably boasts the best piece of form on offer having been awarded a Racing Post Rating of 122 for his half-length second behind Winx (Street Cry) in the Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) last year. However, he remains unproven over this trip having finished nineteenth in the corresponding renewal twelve months ago, fading late off 56 kilograms, and given he is set to carry an extra 2 kilograms this year, the six-year-old looks to have been set a virtually impossible task conceding weight all round to this field.
The Saeed bin Suroor-trained Best Solution (Kodiac) has been allocated top weight amongst the European-trained runners with 57.5 kilograms and despite the colt enjoying a stellar year – winning twice at Group 1 level in Germany, for which he has obtained an official rating of 118 – it is somewhat surprising he is being asked to concede 0.5 kilograms to the now Andreas Wohler-trained Torcedor (Fastnet Rock). Formerly trained by Jessica Harrington, Torcedor boasts a British rating of 119 having finished runner-up to the outstanding Stradivarius (Sea The Stars) in the Goodwood Cup (Gr 1, 2m) last month and he has assembled a record of gradual progression in the best staying contests this season – form that is undoubtedly the most pertinent within the context of this race.
With stamina assured and a proven ability to act on fast ground, Torcedor appears the most feasibility-treated European contender towards the head of the handicap, marginally ahead of Magic Circle (Makfi), who has been allocated a weight of 56 kilograms.
Magic Circle was given a rating of 117 on the back of his success in the Henry II Stakes (Gr 3, 2m) at Sandown in May and in beating fellow Melbourne Cup entries Red Verdon (Lemon Drop Kid) and Weekender (Frankel) by six lengths there, he is weighted to confirm the form conceding 2 kilograms and 1 kilograms to that duo respectively. However, the subsequent exploits of the placed horses suggest they are most effective over shorter trips and the superiority of Magic Circle’s success may have been exacerbated by the waning stamina limitations of those in behind, for all it would be folly to rule out further progress on just his third start for Ian Williams. He looks a likely type on paper, but he would have to improve again to master Torcedor on these terms.
History against big-weighted horses
That said, historical trends suggest the concession of weight is a tough ask for most horses – only four winners have carried 56 kilograms or greater to victory since 1983 – and the early indicators would imply the northern hemisphere-trained three-year-olds have come out particularly favourably from a handicapping point of view.
For instance, last year’s winner Rekindling (High Chaparral) carried 51.5 kilograms to success having arrived on the back of a fourth-placed finish in the St Leger (Gr 1, 1m6.5f) – for which he was rated 116 – and while Saturday’s St Leger winner Kew Gardens (Galileo) has been tasked with carrying 53 kilograms, he ran to a figure approaching 121 when beating Lah Ti Dar (Dubawi) by two and a quarter lengths at the weekend, with a significant gap back to the remainder of the field. Kew Gardens reportedly heads to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr 1, 2400m) next but if connections were tempted by a re-route to Flemington, he would surely look the best handicapped horse in the contest on the back of this performance, while his strong-staying style suggests the additional distance would help unlock further improvement also.
The Lloyd Williams-owned Latrobe (Camelot), who carries the same silks as last year’s winner and has been considered for the racing having won the Irish Derby (Gr 1, 1m4f) in June, finished runner-up behind Flag Of Honour (Galileo) in the Irish St Leger (Gr 1, 1m6f) at the Curragh on Sunday and he would be poorly treated at the weights should he lock horns with the winner again at Flemington, the latter having won by two and a quarter lengths despite being set to receive 1 kilograms in the Cup. Flag Of Honour is an improving colt at extreme trips, although he seems more likely to remain in Europe, while Latrobe did not finish his race at the weekend in the manner of a horse who will be guaranteed to stay the extra two furlongs, an aspersion that is compounded by the relatively speedy bottom-half of his pedigree.
Max Dynamite set for another crack at Flemington showpiece
A number of familiar faces are set to line-up in the race once more and they include the Willie Mullins-trained Max Dynamite (Great Journey), who has been placed in the last two renewals and is set to shoulder 54 kilograms – the same weight as in 2017.
Now an eight-year-old, Max Dynamite has been largely regressive this season and his official rating has declined to 106 from a career-high mark of 117. Despite showing a revival in the Doncaster Cup (Gr 2, 2m2f) on Thursday, finishing a half-length second behind stable companion and fellow Cup entry Thomas Hobson (Halling), that was a poor renewal of the contest, with the first two home heading into the race rated 107 and 106 respectively and the market being dominated by ageing horses with patchy records from a win perspective. On a strict interpretation of this form, Max Dynamite would be ‘wrong’ at the weights with most of his fellow European challengers and it is hard to envisage him playing a leading role this time around, while Thomas Hobson – who finished sixth in the race last season – is virtually guaranteed not to get a run given he currently occupies the 71st slot in the order of entry.
Godolphin’s year to land the spoils?
Sheikh Mohammed has made no secret of his desire to plunder Australia’s most famous race and Godolphin are set to be strongly represented in this year’s renewal, with the Charlie Appleby-trained Cross Counter (Teofilo) now the general ante-post favourite having been allocated 51 kilograms. The form of his runner-up effort in the Great Voltigeur Stakes (Gr 2, 1m4f) at York was boosted when third-place Kew Gardens triumphed at Doncaster on Saturday and for all the winner of that contest, stable companion Old Persian (Dubawi), could only finish fifth in the final Classic of the season, he shaped like a non-stayer having travelled powerfully until the two-furlong marker.
On the balance of form, Cross Counter appeals as being feasibly handicapped for the Cup, with similar comments applying to Geoffrey Freer Stakes (Gr 3, 1m5f) winner Hamada (Cape Cross), who has been allocated 53.5 kilograms, while the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Prize Money (Authorized) would be a fascinating contender if he could sneak into the race off 52.5 kilograms.
The five-year-old enjoyed a productive time of things during the Meydan Carnival of 2017 and despite a relative spell in the wilderness subsequently, he returned to the track with a promising third in the August Stakes (Listed, 1m3.5f) at Windsor last month. His very best form, which includes a fourth-place finish behind Jack Hobbs (Halling) in the Sheema Classic (Gr 1, 2400m) of 2017, is of a similar level to the performances achieved by Best Solution this season, despite the latter being set to shoulder 5 kilograms more in the Cup, while Prize Money has more than once shaped like racing beyond a mile and a half would be an avenue worth exploring. He could yet prove a lively outsider having entered first quarantine last week.
Count Octave’s a fascinating Cup entry
Finally, the most eye-catching European challenger currently residing within the top 50 of the ballot is perhaps the Andrew Balding-trained Count Octave (Teofilo), who boasts an official mark of 115 despite being allocated 54 kilograms from the Cup, ensuring he comes out best of the Europeans on the weight-adjusted scale if our ratings are used as a barometer.
The four-year-old posted a career-best effort when chasing home Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Cup (Gr 2, 2m) at York last month and while the winner was probably not at his best on that occasion following a number of arduous races throughout the summer, Count Octave certainly took a significant leap forward on his first start racing over two miles, boxing on well in the closing stages to pull nicely clear of Idaho (Galileo) back in third.
Lightly raced and guaranteed to stay, Count Octave has to prove this form was not a flash in the pan, but he represents a trainer who is enjoying a stellar season and Greg Carpenter has certainly given him every opportunity to go very close at Flemington from a pure handicapping perspective.