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Simon O’Donnell’s tips, jockeys and odds

SIMON O’DONNELL is a racing commentator, the founder of Wingara Thoroughbreds and a former Australian international cricketer.

This year’s Melbourne Cup will feature 16 foreign-bred horses against eight from the southern hemisphere.

That’s as even as I’ve seen it for a good number of years. It’s a great effort from the locals.

With the international horses particularly but also the locals, there is always one big question when it comes to the Melbourne Cup: Can they stay the distance, going from 2400m to 3200m?

That extra 800m is a big thing and you see plenty of quality horses drop off around that 300-200m mark in the Cup because, for want of a better term, they’re buggered. Their pedigree just doesn’t allow them to run out that final, decisive sectional.

Verry Elleegant (inside) wins the 2020 Caulfield Cup. (Getty)

The Caulfield Cup is a fantastic form race for the Melbourne Cup. Always has been. It’s stood the test of time and will continue to do so. For that reason, no one can underestimate Caulfield Cup winner Verry Elleegant. She again proved herself a star, winning the 2400m Group 1 impressively off the back of her victory in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington (G1, 2000m).

Anthony Van Dyck ran second in the Caulfield Cup and that’s good form, no doubt. But if you’re a big pedigree person in staying races, as I am … while he is out of the best staying sire in the world, Galileo, he’s out of a mare by Exceed and Excel, a sprinting sire.

I thought that in the Caulfield Cup, Anthony Van Dyck loomed to Verry Elleegant that he was going to run straight by her, yet if I was being a pedigree aficionado, I’d say he ran out of steam. Verry Elleegant picked up, certainly, but Anthony Van Dyck’s mum was saying, ‘I’m done here, I’m at my top speed and I can’t go any quicker, I need to find the finish line, I’ve had enough’.

I think there’s a real question mark over the top weight being able to run two miles on Tuesday; in particular while lugging 58.5kg. It’s going to take a Herculean effort, in my opinion, for Anthony Van Dyck to win the Melbourne Cup.

Anthony Van Dyck during his win in the Investec Derby at Epsom last year. (Getty)

Tiger Moth may have drawn barrier 23 but I still think he’s good enough to win. I think he’s the most progressive horse that Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien have brought here.

He could become a Melbourne Cup winner in just his fifth start in a race. That’s unheard of but I think he will run a really strong two miles, fifth start notwithstanding.

That’s completely alien to what we’ve always believed in here in Australia, regarding top stayers. Yet Europeans believe that they can do that and triumph, as they train to the pedigree of the horse. Tiger Moth is by Galileo, out of a good mare that’s run some ground, and I believe that Coolmore marked him as their big Melbourne Cup hope a full 12-14 months ago.

He is my pick to win the Race That Stops a Nation. Here are my thoughts on the full field.

Tiger Moth during his last start win in the Paddy Power Stakes. (Getty)

1. ANTHONY VAN DYCK (Barrier 3)

Ireland, 5yo stallion, Galileo-Believe’n’succeed

Weight: 58.5kg

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Jockey: Hugh Bowman

Career: 18:6-4-3

Last 10: 2-3-2

Win range: 1400-2400m

Earnings: $4.1 million

Odds: $8 (TAB, correct as of 4pm Sunday AEDT)

To be clear, I’m not saying that Anthony Van Dyck can’t win; but he is going to have to break a lot of records to take out the Melbourne Cup. His barrier is fine and he’s got a very good jockey in Hugh Bowman, but I don’t think that he responded to what was required of him at the end of the Caulfield Cup, whether that was an issue with weight or pedigree. He’s still got the weight, he’s still got the same pedigree and he’s got to go 800m more. I don’t think he’s going to be a better horse at 3200m than 2400m and he couldn’t win the Caulfield Cup.

2. AVILIUS (10)

Great Britain, 6yo gelding, Pivotal-Alessandria

Weight: 57kg

Trainer: James Cummings

Jockey: John Allen

Career: 32:11-3-4

Last 10: 0-1-2

Win range: 1600-2500m

Earnings: $3.4 million

Odds: $41

A grand old campaigner, though I don’t think two miles is his favourite distance. He’s had a wonderful career and I’d love to see him in the top five.

3. VOW AND DECLARE (4)

Australia, 5yo stallion, Declaration Of War-Geblitzt

Weight: 57kg

Trainer: Danny O’Brien

Jockey: Jamie Mott

Career: 19:4-3-3

Last 10: 2-1-1

Win range: 1800-3200m

Earnings: $5.9 million

Odds: $41

He’s going nowhere near as well as he was last year, when he won the Melbourne Cup. He’ll recognise the track and the conditions, albeit without all the fans this year, but I just don’t think he’s a genuine contender to win the race again.

Vow and Declare (rails) leads the 2019 Melbourne Cup on his way to victory. (Getty)

4. MASTER OF REALITY (11)

Ireland, 5yo gelding, Frankel-L’Ancresse

Weight: 56kg

Trainer: Joseph O’Brien

Jockey: Ben Melham

Career: 17:4-3-2

Last 10: 2-2-2

Win range: 2400-2800m

Earnings: $691,000

Odds: $26

He’s been here and done it before, having run second in the Melbourne Cup last year before being relegated to fourth. He’s a tough campaigner with excellent lead-in form coming out of Europe. He is a genuine hope. His barrier is OK and if there’s a strong pace up front, I think he’ll sit mid-field and be there at the finish.

5. SIR DRAGONET (14)

Ireland, 4yo stallion, Camelot-Sparrow

Weight: 55.5kg

Trainer: Ciaron Maher and David Eustace

Jockey: Glen Boss

Career: 10:3-4-0

Last 10: 3-4-0

Win range: 2040-2500m

Earnings: $3.6 million

Odds: $9

You have to respect the form of the Cox Plate, you’d be silly not to. Horses like Saintly and Makybe Diva have come out of Cox Plate victories and won the Melbourne Cup. Yet when he’s been pushed to 2400-2800m in Europe, Sir Dragonet hasn’t been able to produce the same form as he has over 2000m. To me, that creates a question mark.

6. TWILIGHT PAYMENT (12)

Ireland, 7yo gelding, Teofilo-Dream On Buddy

Weight: 55.5kg

Trainer: Joseph O’Brien

Jockey: Jye McNeil

Career: 30:7-10-6

Last 10: 4-1-1

Win range: 2400-3200m

Earnings: $858,000

Odds: $31

He’s bred to go the journey and has had a sound preparation coming in. He is genuinely dour; I don’t think he has any real turn of foot but if it’s a strongly-run race, he’s a horse that could really figure in the finish.

Twilight Payment during trackwork at Werribee. (Getty)

7. VERRY ELLEEGANT (15)

New Zealand, 5yo mare, Zed-Opulence

Weight: 55.5kg (0.5kg penalty)

Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Mark Zahra

Career: 24:11-5-1

Last 10: 4-3-0

Win range: 1400-2400m

Earnings: $6.9 million

Odds: $11

She’s just a star, who gives when you need her to give. I expect her to do the same thing on Tuesday. Verry Elleegant has been outstanding on all surfaces. Some people doubted that she was a horse that could in on a good surface; well, she’s now won on all sorts of surfaces, from heavy to good. She deserves to be a top fancy in the Melbourne Cup. Again, she hasn’t been to two miles but many of the others haven’t either and what she has is a real will to get to the line first. She did that in the Caulfield Cup.

8. MUSTAJEER (2)

Great Britain, 7yo gelding, Medicean-Qelaan

Weight: 55kg

Trainer: Kris Lees

Jockey: Michael Rodd

Career: 29:5-5-3

Last 10: 1-2-0

Win range: 1600-2800m

Earnings: $2 million

Odds: $81

He finished 23rd last year and I question horses coming back that haven’t performed when they’ve had their first opportunity in the Melbourne Cup. I have to wonder, ‘Are you really a better horse this year than last year?’ I don’t think he is.

9. STRATUM ALBION (9)

Great Britain, 7yo gelding, Dansili-Lunar Phase

Weight: 55kg

Trainer: Willie Mullins

Jockey: Jordan Childs

Career: 28:6-8-2

Last 10: 2-2-0

Win range: 2000-3600m

Earnings: $642,000

Odds: $51

His last run in the Lonsdale Cup in the UK, which was over the two miles, was full of merit. Prior to that he had two hurdles runs, which is one of the ways in which his Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, conditions his horses. Mullins been here and been close before with Max Dynamite, so I wouldn’t underestimate this horse. However, I’m not seeing him have that turn of foot and that bit of brilliance you’ll need at some stage in the last 400m to win this race.

Stratum Albion during trackwork at Werribee. (Getty)

10. DASHING WILLOUGHBY (19)

Great Britain, 4yo gelding, Nathaniel-Miss Dashwood

Weight: 54.5kg

Trainer: Andrew Balding

Jockey: Michael Walker

Career: 14:4-2-1

Last 10: 3-0-1

Win range: 1740-3260m

Earnings: $387,000

Odds: $81

A deadset roughie whose Caulfield Cup performance was woeful. If there was an issue coming out of the Caulfield Cup, I don’t like horses going into big Group 1 races with that fitness cloud. If there wasn’t an issue and he simply couldn’t keep up in the Caulfield Cup, then I don’t see how it’s going to be any better on Tuesday.

11. FINCHE (6)

Great Britain, 6yo gelding, Frankel-Binche

Weight: 54.5kg

Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: James McDonald

Career: 18:4-1-5

Last 10: 1-1-3

Win range: 1600-2500m

Earnings: $1.3 million

Odds: $16

He was thereabouts in finishing seventh last year; he’s always thereabouts. If you look at the form, Finche doesn’t win all that often but is always in the mix. I’d expect the same from him again this year but I don’t think he has the quality to win.

12. PRINCE OF ARRAN (1)

Great Britain, 7yo gelding, Shirocco-Storming Sioux

Weight: 54.5kg

Trainer: Charlie Fellowes

Jockey: Jamie Kah

Career: 44:6-8-8

Last 10: 1-2-4

Win range: 1600-3200m

Earnings: $3.1 million

Odds: $10

It’s his third time at it, having been so close and so gallant last year. His Caulfield Cup run was really good, closing late to finish fourth. I’m expecting him to run a really serviceable race again. His jockey, Jamie Kah, could win a race on a one-wheel bike and if he can get some luck from barrier one, I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t in the top five.

Prince of Arran (outside) at the finish in the 2019 Melbourne Cup. (The Age)

13. SURPRISE BABY (7)

New Zealand, 6yo gelding, Shocking-Bula Baby

Weight: 54.5kg

Trainer: Paul Preusker

Jockey: Craig Williams

Career: 13:5-2-1

Last 10: 3-2-1

Win range: 1200-3200m

Earnings: $1 million

Odds: $9

While he has some credentials from last year, having placed fifth, I don’t think he’s going as well this time around. Trainer Paul Preusker has given him a different preparation and I’m happy to watch him closely. Yes, he could be there when the rocks are flying in the last 150m, or he could be mid-field with no hope. He’s one horse I just haven’t got the form line on that I would like, yet I’m not convinced he’s going as well as last year.

14. KING OF LEOGRANCE (18)

France, 5yo gelding, Camelot-Amourette

Weight: 53.5kg

Trainer: Danny O’Brien

Jockey: Damian Lane

Career: 15:5-3-3

Last 10: 2-2-3

Win range: 1600-3200m

Earnings: $588,000

Odds: $51

I just don’t think he’ll stay. In the Geelong Cup, he loomed and he was there to have a battle in the last 200m, yet he lost ground at that really important stage. I can’t see him avoiding the same fate over 3200m, when it gets down to a grind and a hard slog towards the finish. I’m not optimistic about him being a top-five horse.

15. RUSSIAN CAMELOT (16)

Ireland, 3yo stallion, Camelot-Lady Babooshka

Weight: 53.5kg

Trainer: Danny O’Brien

Jockey: Damien Oliver

Career: 9:4-3-1

Last 10: 4-3-1

Win range: 1400-2500m

Earnings: $1.5 million

Odds: $13

He’s certainly ticked a few boxes with his lead-in form and from the wide barrier, they’ll be able to ride him to his most favourable pattern; which I think is relaxing and finding a backside to follow, then producing a late turn of foot for the run to the line. He hasn’t been able to do that in his last two weight-for-age races. In the Cox Plate, he had a bad barrier and had to sit up on speed, and he also had to make some of the running in the Caulfield Stakes, which made him cannon fodder for the horses that had an easier run behind him. I expect him to run a big race, at a crucial time in his career, provided that he finds a spot back in the field and is able to go through his gears towards the finish.

Russian Camelot in the mounting yard before the Cox Plate. (Getty)

16. STEEL PRINCE (21)

Ireland, 6yo gelding, Nathaniel-Steel Princess

Weight: 53.5kg (1.0kg penalty)

Trainer: Anthony and Sam Freedman

Jockey: William Pike

Career: 26:9-5-3

Last 10: 3-0-2

Win range: 1800-2800m

Earnings: $1.1 million

Odds: $34

I loved his win in the Geelong Cup, he was gutsy and was going away on the line. I think he can run a really good race here but I don’t know if the quality is there to win it. He’s a genuine top 10 contender but I didn’t see any horse in this year’s Geelong Cup field good enough to win the Melbourne Cup.

17. THE CHOSEN ONE (5)

New Zealand, 5yo stallion, Savabeel-The Glitzy One

Weight: 53.5kg

Trainer: Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman

Jockey: Daniel Stackhouse

Career: 26:6-3-2

Last 10: 1-1-2

Win range: 1400-2400m

Earnings: $1.3 million

Odds: $41

A fantastic run at Caulfield Cup and looked the winner at the 200m mark, where he possibly got to the front a little early. If he’s ridden quietly out of a decent barrier on Tuesday, I think he’ll be in the race for a long, long time. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s in the money.

18. ASHRUN (24)

France, 4yo stallion, Authorized-Ashantee

Weight: 53kg

Trainer: Andreas Wohler

Jockey: Declan Bates

Career: 13:4-2-1

Last 10: 3-2-1

Win range: 2200-2500m

Earnings: $316,000

Odds: $23

The tough thing is, he’ll be having his third run in about two weeks and that just doesn’t happen in Europe. He’s had to come through the Lexus Hotham, which is as far away as can be from an ideal preparation. Having then drawn barrier 24, I’m happy to say ‘no’ and put a line through him. A nice horse but luck just hasn’t gone his way in this prep.

Ashrun on his way to winning the Hotham Stakes. (Getty)

19. WARNING (8)

Australia, 4yo gelding, Declaration Of War-Livia

Weight: 53kg

Trainer: Anthony and Sam Freedman

Jockey: Luke Currie

Career: 16:2-1-3

Last 10: 1-0-2

Win range: 1800-2500m

Earnings: $1.5 million

Odds: $41

Flemington is his favourite track, he loves the wide open spaces. I wanted him to be hitting the line in the Caulfield Cup better than what he did; I thought it was a one-paced race and I wanted to see a bit more out of him. I think he can run top 10 in the Melbourne Cup but don’t think he’s a top-three chance.

20. ETAH JAMES (22)

New Zealand, 8yo mare, Raise The Flag-Etah

Weight: 52.5kg

Trainer: Ciaron Maher and David Eustace

Jockey: Billy Egan

Career: 32:8-2-1

Last 10: 2-0-1

Win range: 1600-3200m

Earnings: $1.2 million

Odds: $101

Another rank outsider and she just doesn’t have the quality, in my opinion.

21. TIGER MOTH (23)

Ireland, 3yo stallion, Galileo-Lesson In Humility

Weight: 52.5kg (2.5kg penalty)

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy

Career: 4:2-1-1

Last 10: 2-1-1

Win range: 2000-2400m

Earnings: $352,000

Odds: $8.50

He’s my pick to win. Traditionally, Aidan O’Brien will run his prospective stayers off-season as two-year-olds, over 1400-1600m. That’s sort of his assessment race and that’s what he’s done with Tiger Moth. He ran third at the Curragh at his first start, had time off, won at his return then ran second in the Irish Derby. Then, he came out and blitzed the field in his last start over 2400m before he came out here. To me, he looks the horse that Coolmore and O’Brien identified 12 months ago as the one they would set to come to Australia and win the Melbourne Cup.

Tiger Moth during trackwork at Werribee. (Getty)

22. OCEANEX (17)

New Zealand, 5yo mare, Ocean Park-Danex

Weight: 51.5kg

Trainer: Mick Price and Michael Kent (Jr)

Jockey: Dean Yendall

Career: 22:6-4-4

Last 10: 3-0-1

Win range: 1600-2800m

Earnings: $722,000

Odds: $71

She had a really improved run in the Moonee Valley Cup last start, running third, though I’d think you’d have to win that race – and win it impressively – to be able to go out in your next start 10 days later and win a Melbourne Cup. I just don’t think the quality is there.

23. MIAMI BOUND (13)

New Zealand, 4yo mare, Reliable Man-Arapaho Miss

Weight: 51kg

Trainer: Danny O’Brien

Jockey: Daniel Moor

Career: 14:5-0-2

Last 10: 3-0-0

Win range: 1400-2500m

Earnings: $1.2 million

Odds: $41

Miami Bound won the Moonee Valley Cup, with a great ride from Jamie Kah, and appreciated the sting out of the ground. But she won’t get that on Tuesday, which really limits her chances.

24. PERSAN (20)

Australia, 4yo stallion, Pierro-Ofcourseican

Weight: 51kg (1.0kg penalty)

Trainer: Ciaron Maher and David Eustace

Jockey: Michael Dee

Career: 18:6-4-1

Last 10: 6-3-1

Win range: 1600-2500m

Earnings: $657,000

Odds: $31

If you ever wanted to own a race horse, you’d love to own Persan. He’s just a ripper, just keeps putting in and stepping up to the plate. He’s been asked to go into higher grades in his last four or five starts and he’s performed every time. This is a different category again and while I’d love to see him run well, I think there’s probably another year yet for Persan to contend. This year may be more about getting him to understand what a Melbourne Cup takes, then next year he may be a better prospect. Nonetheless, he certainly deserves his place in the field because he steps up every time he goes to the racecourse.

Persan on his way to a win at Caulfield during August. (Getty)

MY MELBOURNE CUP TIPS

1. Tiger Moth 2. Verry Elleegant 3. Prince of Arran 4. Russian Camelot

I’ve been leaning towards Tiger Moth ever since he arrived here as the best of the Europeans. I do think that Master of Reality and Twilight Payment can run very well and threaten for placings.

From the horse point of view, one of the Melbourne Cup’s biggest challenges isn’t a factor this year: the crowd of 100,000 people. The noise, the colour, the incomparable atmosphere of Flemington at 3 o’clock on the first Tuesday in November. Some of these horses will feel like they’re going to a trial, not a Melbourne Cup.

In that sense, it probably doesn’t test the horse in every aspect that it has in the past. That pressure isn’t there. We can only hope this is a one-off; having been at Derby Day in a media capacity, for the first live races I’d seen in eight months, it was a very weird and eerie experience.

The racing industry has to be lauded for keeping the industry going, keeping people entertained at home and getting us right through to the Spring Carnival. Honestly, I wonder where many people might have been without that entertainment, that bit of enjoyment and normality, during these extremely difficult times of the COVID-19 enforced lockdowns.

Hats off to all those who have made it possible and although the crowds will be missing from Flemington, let us all enjoy another wonderful edition of our greatest race.