by Lauren Wood, Herald Sun and James Lamb, punters.com.au
LLOYD Williams has done it again.
Rekindling has won the Melbourne Cup, delivering the race's most successful owner a sixth Cup trophy.
Joseph O'Brien trained the winner, which was piloted to victory by Corey Brown ahead of Johannes Vermeer and Max Dynamite.
Big Duke finished fourth.
"He's had a good season," O'Brien said this week.
"He's been busy, running consistently well all year."
Rekindling was the youngest horse in the race, aged four.
In the final minutes before they jumped there was a huge amount for money for the last year's winner, the Lloyd Williams-owned Almandin, with his odds tumbling from $9 to $7 before easing to $7.50.
International raider Marmelo remained solid at the top of betting at $7 despite the avalanche of money for Almandin. Fellow raider Wall Of Fire was solid in betting at $11 with the Joseph O'Brien-trained Rekindling ($11) easing slightly along Johanes Vermeer ($14).
EARLIER: THE race that stops the nation is upon us with 24 runners set to face the Melbourne Cup starter at 3pm (AEST) on Tuesday.
The track is likely to be rated a good 4 and the rail remains in the true position following Saturday's Derby Day meeting (where the track played fairly throughout).
The TAB has Almandin as the favourite at $8 for the win with Humidor not far behind at $9. It's a similar story at Sportsbet, but with Humidor paying $9.50 to win.
Here's our comprehensive runner-by-runner guide, per punters.com.au.
It's a long run to the first bend so the Cup jockeys have plenty of time to find their positions. Cismontane usually leads in his races so you'd expect him to roll forward from out wide with Gallante in close attendance. Max Dynamite can hold a prominent position from barrier 2, while Rekindling, Big Duke and Ventura Storm will all be jostling for spots in the first half of the field. Boom Time has the early speed to work over and settle on the back of the leaders, with Single Gaze likely to follow him over. Almandin will be looking to blend in around midfield, while Marmelo and Wall Of Fire will probably settle further back than that. International raiders Nakeeta, Thomas Hobson and Army Ranger will probably be eased back to find cover but it's worth monitoring any advised tactics to Racing Victoria stewards.
The early pace should be fairly genuine here, particularly if inside runners want to boot up to keep Cismontane and Gallante working. Team Williams will be hoping for a solid tempo for last year's winner Almandin.
HARTNELL (barrier 12): Finished 3rd in this race last year, 4.45 lengths (L) off Almandin. He was in hot form leading up to that, coming off a 2nd to Winx in the Cox Plate following a sensational victory in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m). His form in this preparation looks lengths below that level, finishing a disappointing 9th in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) last start, 6L behind Gailo Chop.
Hartnell's best performance this campaign came 1st-up over 1400m. He was solid 2nd-up but just even in the G1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) and poor in the Caulfield Stakes. It certainly doesn't read like a Melbourne Cup-winning preparation and the gap between runs is also a bit of a concern.
Why he can win: He's a seriously classy horse when right and it's hard to forget that Turnbull Stakes win here, smashing Jameka by 3.25L in brilliant time.
Why he can't win: Had his chance last year and wasn't good enough. He just doesn't seem to be going well enough at the moment.
A LMANDIN (barrier 14): Rises to 56.5kg after winning this race last year with 52kg. He resumed in late August with a terrific 2nd over 2040m at Moonee Valley, hitting the line nicely despite covering additional ground with 61kg. He then stepped up to 2500m at Flemington and was utterly dominant winning by 2.75L under a soft ride. That victory had plenty declaring him the Melbourne Cup winner but he took a step backwards with a disappointing 4th in the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) on October 7.
Last start was a strange one but it wasn't his grand final and it's certainly not unusual to see a Williams-owned stayer put in a flat one on the path to greater glory. He lapped up the strong early tempo in the JRA Trophy two-back and it seems likely that this race will be run at a genuine gallop.
Why he can win: Won it last year and certainly hasn't gone backwards. Strong stayer with a nice turn-of-foot, prepared by a team who knows exactly what it takes to win this race.
Why he can't win: Makybe Diva and Think Big are the only two horses since 1970 to go back-to-back in this race - it's no easy feat. His lead-up run was average and he's a run short of last year's winning Cup campaign.
HUMIDOR (barrier 13): Cox Plate run was extraordinary, finishing less than half-a-length off Winx in a race won in track record time. Jockey Blake Shinn's ride was brilliant, getting this somewhat enigmatic galloper to settle at the back of the field before slicing through the field to stage an epic battle with the superstar mare. That run followed a 5th in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m) where he wanted to hang in under pressure after being ridden much closer than usual.
Humidor's best is menacing but his 1600m-2000m form reads better than his record at 2400m plus. He was ridden against his usual pattern in the Caulfield Cup but it was still a little concerning to see him lay in down the straight (something he certainly can't afford to do here). His other runs at 2400m were a distant 2nd behind Jameka in the G1 BMW and an 11th in the G1 NZ Derby. The trip here is the worry, particularly given he can mix his manners.
Why he can win: Simply awesome in the Cox Plate behind Winx and if he settles in the run he could blow these away with his superior turn-of-foot. He's rock-hard fit having his 7th run for the campaign.
Why he can't win: Can hang under pressure and has never raced beyond 2400m. If he refuses to settle early it's pretty much curtains.
TIBERIAN (barrier 23): The French horse is coming off back-to-back wins at Deauville over 2500m. The Couetil-trained galloper has raced five times this year for four wins, with his only failure coming in a Group One at Saint Cloud over 2400m in July. His winning time last start was slow and others look to have stronger European form but Australian Thoroughbred Bloodstock (ATB) purchased this horse with an eye to the Cup and they are generally very close to the mark (Jakkalberry 3rd in 2012, Dandino 5th in 2013, Heartbreak City 2nd in 2016).
Tiberian finished 2nd behind Vazirabad over 3000m back in October 2015 which is his strongest performance around this sort of distance range. He was thrown in the deep end in the 2016 Gold Cup (4023m) at Ascot but was beaten 46L behind Order Of St George. Since then he has raced only over 2400m-2500m.
Why he can win: Comes here in great form and ATB obviously saw enough in him to consider him a strong Cup chance (never a cheap investment). He's still very much on the up.
Why he can't win: Hard to line up his recent form but they certainly didn't break any records time-wise last start. He has to be some sort of query at 3200m, particularly if the tempo is strong.
MARMELO (barrier 16): The Morrison-trained stayer certainly ticks a few boxes. The son of Duke of Marmalade was a strong winner of the G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) at Deauville back in August - the race won by Protectionist back in 2014. That is a solid form reference and his Caulfield Cup (2400m) run 1st-up in Australia further enhanced his Cup prospects. He was uncharacteristically slow to begin from barrier 10 and ended up settling in the last five with Sir Isaac Newton tearing along in front. He was still back in 14th passing the 400m but he really lengthened nicely once Bowman got him balanced up, clocking the fastest final 400m/200m sectionals (home in 11.79) to finish 6th, beaten by 2.7L.
Marmelo's Caulfield Cup performance was a terrific trial for this and the step up in distance suits. He boasts strong 3000m credentials.
Why he can win: His win in the G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) was a great Cup trial and he certainly didn't lose any admirers with his fast-finishing 6th in the Caulfield Cup (2400m).
Why he can't win: If he's slightly slow to begin from barrier 16 he's going to end up back in the field and his best runs have come when settling midfield or better.
RED CARDINAL (barrier 24): Australian Bloodstock know exactly what it takes to win this race (Protectionist 2014) and Red Cardinal, a son of Montjeu, has reportedly thrived since arriving in Australia. He was disappointing in the G2 Prix Kergorlay (3000m) last start but he wasn't really suited by the slow pace there and his form prior was terrific, winning the Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) in slick time following a soft win over the same trip at Hoppegarten. He was good in the 2016 Geoffrey Freer (2670m) at Newbury which has traditionally been a strong reference point.
Red Cardinal has come up with the carpark draw here but he's a get-back type anyway and the pace looks solid which should allow him to settle into a nice rhythm towards the back of proceedings. If you forgive his Prix Kergorlay run he has to be considered a major player based on the strength of his overall form around this distance. He's had no problem with travelling in the past which is always a major positive.
Why he can win: Purchased specifically for this race by astute buyers. Loved his Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) win two-back.
Why he can't win: Winning the Cup first-up in Australia is no easy feat and he was plain last start.
JOHANNES VERMEER (barrier 3): The Aidan O'Brien-trained galloper was brilliant charging home for 2nd in the Caulfield Stakes (2000m), rattling off some slick closing sectionals behind all-the-way winner Gailo Chop. He backed that up with an unlucky 3rd in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) just a week later, weaving through from 10th at the 400m to finish on the heels of Boom Time. He's clearly settled in very well in Australia.
Johannes Vermeer is a tricky horse to assess because he's never raced beyond 2414m. His Caulfield Cup run was terrific but it also felt like that was his race and this is more of a speculative shot at the stumps.
Why he can win: His Caulfield Cup run was terrific without luck, following an eye-catching effort in the Caulfield Stakes. Can't fault the way he's settled in over here.
Why he can't win: 3200m is a real worry. Generally the international runners come here with some sort of form at 2600m plus.
BONDI BEACH (barrier 1): The Williams-owned import finished 16th in the 2015 Melbourne Cup before returning to Ireland to post back-to-back wins at Limerick and Navan. He fronted up again in this race last year, finishing a disappointing 13th (beaten by 10.75L) when a $13 chance. The six-year-old gelding has had two runs since for two average efforts over 2000m and 2500m, both here at Flemington.
Almandin beat him by nearly 11L last start and he just isn't going well enough to figure here.
Why he can win: Owned by Lloyd Williams …
Why he can't win: Twice he has been well-beaten in this race when in much better form than he is at the moment.
MAX DYNAMITE (barrier 2):The Williams-Mullins trained eight-year-old finished 2nd in this race two years ago behind Prince of Penzance. He was 1st-up there after winning the Lonsdale Cup (3300m) in August and he's also lining up here fresh off a two-month break. His form since the 2015 Cup has been mixed, finishing 18.5L off Order of St George in the G1 Gold Cup (4023m) three-back before returning from a long break to finish 9th of 20 (beaten 17.25L) in a Galway hurdle over 3228m. Mullins gave him an easy kill last start at Killarney, saluting at $1.40 in a highweight handicap.
Looking at his form you'd say he's not fit enough for this given he's stepped out just twice since June 2016 but Mullins has been working him pretty hard at Werribee to get miles into his old legs. He doesn't appear to be going as well as he was back in 2015 but he's a proven two-mile performer who has drawn to stalk the speed with a clean getaway from barrier two.
Why he can win: Ran a cracker in this race two years ago 1st-up in Australia and Mullins has followed a similar path this time around. He's been working well at Werribee.
Why he can't win: Has raced just four times since the 2015 Cup and been well-beaten three times. This is a huge step up from his last start at Killarney.
VENTURA STORM (barrier 6): The Lindsay Park import looked to be tracking nicely for this with a solid (albeit distant) 2nd behind Winx in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m), beating home Cox Plate placegetter Humidor. He jumped at $12 in the Caulfield Cup and landed in a nice spot around midfield off a hot early tempo but was flat when the field packed up around the turn and was very plain late.
Ventura Storm was disappointing in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) but he has performed well at 2400m plus in the past, winning a Group One at San Siro in October 2016 following a 2nd in the G1 St Leger (2917m) at Doncaster. He was also a dominant winner over 2500m at Deauville so he does boast stronger staying credentials than quite a few of his rivals.
Why he can win: Lindsay Park brought him over for this race. He was only average in the Caulfield Cup but his run in the G1 Turnbull Stakes was encouraging and he should appreciate a return to Flemington.
Why he can't win: His Caulfield Cup run wasn't a great Melbourne Cup trial, fading out to finish 13th.
WHO SHOT THEBARMAN (barrier 20): SCRATCHED
WICKLOW BRAVE (barrier 8): Jumped from a wide barrier in last year's Melbourne Cup and just never found a position, weakening out badly in the straight to finish 23.5L off Almandin. He came into that race on the back of a strong win over Order Of St George in the G1 Irish St Leger (2816m), with Trip To Paris some 16L away in 3rd. His form this time in looks a level or two below that, finishing well back in two runs at the Curragh (St Leger again) before a 12th in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) last start.
Wicklow Brave's most recent form isn't overly enticing but he was only 0.5L off Rekindling in the G2 Curragh Cup (2816m) back in July, giving that galloper 6kg. That followed a solid 4th behind Red Cardinal in the G3 Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) which reads well for this. If he brings his A-game he can figure but at nine-years-old his best days are probably behind him.
Why he can win: His win over Order Of St George reads incredibly well for this and his overall record beyond 2800m is sound.
Why he can't win: Only average in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) and beaten a very long way in this race last year (although he did cop an average steer from the wide gate).
BIG DUKE (barrier 5) : The Iron horseis having his 13th run this year and 7th for the preparation. It's best to rule a line through his most recent run in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) where he travelled behind the leader in a race run at a farcical slow tempo. Prior to that he was a strong winner of the St Leger (2600m) at Randwick after running 2nd to Foundry in the G1 Metropolitan (2400m). He's had one previous run over this trip, finishing a close-up 3rd in the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) back in April - a race that was a real staying test on a heavy 8 surface.
He's tough and he's consistent but is he good enough to win a Melbourne Cup? On paper you'd probably say no but his form is just as good, if not better, than Prince Of Penzance's was leading into the 2015 Cup. Weir is a master at getting his horses to peak on the big stage and he certainly couldn't get Big Duke much fitter.
Why he can win: Weir factor and as tough as old boots. He can race forward or back and throughout his career he has continued to rise to the level required (BM to Listed, Listed to Group 3, etc).
Why he can't win: Beaten by Foundry three-back which isn't a great reference given that horse was then beaten 32.55L in the Herbert Power and 4.45L in the Bendigo Cup. Query on class.
US ARMY RANGER (barrier 22): The Joseph O'Brien-trained horse is a son of Galileo and finished 1.7L behind Thomas Hobson in the Queen Alexandra (4355m) at Royal Ascot three-back before struggling in the G1 Goodwood Handicap (3218m). He finished 6th of six in the G3 Enterprise Stakes (2414m) at Leopardstown last start (September 9) which certainly wasn't the most encouraging Cup trial.
US Army Ranger has form around the smart Idaho and he's run some really nice races over 2400m but it's hard to get excited about his last couple.
Why he can win: Team Williams and has the services of gun international hoop Jamie Spencer.
Why he can't win: Doesn't appear to be going well enough.
BOOM TIME (barrier 9): The surprise winner of this year's Caulfield Cup (2400m) comes here 6th-up for the Lindsay Park team. He's always been regarded as a tough, consistent stayer but a level or two below the A-graders. His Caulfield Cup victory was his maiden Group win at start number 32 and clearly a career peak for the six-year-old.
Boom Time has raced beyond 2500m just once, finishing 31.1L off Polarisation in this year's Sydney Cup (3200m). You couldn't possibly back him here on the back of that effort but it was on a heavy 8 track so it's a tricky one to assess.
Why he can win: The Caulfield Cup has always been a solid form reference for this race, particularly horses that finish in the first six
Why he can't win: No form beyond 2500m.
GALLANTE (barrier 18): The Hickmott runner won the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) last year, leading with 51.5kg before giving a strong kick in the straight to salute by 1.3L. He has really mixed his form since and was beaten a long way in the 2016 Melbourne Cup after getting much further back than expected from barrier 2. The seven-year-old has stepped out just twice this year, finishing last (beaten 18.4L) in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m) before struggling in the Geelong Cup (2400m) last start.
Why he can win: Has a Group One win over 3200m to his name.
Why he can't win: Poor in this race last year and hasn't done anything in two runs since.
LIBRAN (barrier 7): The Chris Waller import struck a real purple patch of form back in March/April last year, culminating in a 2nd-placing in the G1 Sydney Cup (3200m). His form in 2017 has been far more inconsistent but he did hit the line nicely in the G2 Moonee Valley Cup (2500m) last time.
Libran is a horse who needs just about everything to go right but he does possess a powerful finale on his day, as she showed in the G3 Kingston Town (2000m) four-back when he charged over the top of his more fancied stablemates Anotonio Giuseppe and Life Less Ordinary. He was no match at all for Big Duke in the St Leger (2600m) two-back before turning the tables on that galloper last start. He was entitled to though given he had clear galloping room while the Duke was held-up on the fence.
Why he can win: Has a Group One placing over 3200m. Ran home well at his most recent outing over 2500m, clocking the fastest final 400m/200m sectionals.
Why he can't win: Form doesn't look strong enough and doubt there is a great deal of improvement to come as a seven-year-old.
NAKEETA (barrier 19): Is following the same path as last year's Melbourne Cup runner-up Heartbreak City who won the Ebor (2816m) at York before coming to Australia. This horse wasn't quite as impressive as Heartbreak City winning the Ebor but it's still a handy enough form reference for this. That was his first win since September 2015 which is some concern but he has run some nice races around this distance range.
Before his Ebor win it was hard to make a strong case for this Jardine-trained runner but that was a much-improved effort and if he can at least hold that level he can be competitive.
Why he can win: The Ebor form stood up well last year, with Heartbreak City getting within 0.2L of Almandin.
Why he can't win: Form prior to the Ebor was ordinary and history tells us that it's extremely difficult to win this race without a lead-up run in Australia.
SINGLE GAZE (barrier 11): The Canberra-based mare has been an amazing horse for connections, running in a Magic Millions (1200m), a Golden Slipper (1200m), a Caulfield Cup (2400m) and now a Melbourne Cup (3200m). She generally makes her own luck up on the speed, as she did last start when finishing 2nd to Boom Time in the Caulfield Cup (2400m). That was a sensational effort given the leader punctured to run last and the horse who settled 3rd (Amelie's Star) dropped out to be beaten by 5.3L.
She was a question mark at 2400m and she ticked that box but can she stretch out even further to 3200m? She's tough and she loves a scrap but others come here with stronger staying credentials.
Why she can win: Her effort in the Caulfield Cup last start was arguably the run of the race.
Why she can't win: Just can't see her running a strong two miles.
WALL OF FIRE (barrier 15): The Palmer-trained galloper was outstanding in the G2 Herbert Power (2400m) last start, coming from a mile back at the 800m to finish 2nd behind Lord Fandango who then ran well in the Caulfield Cup (2400m). His best work was from the 400m to the 200m before just peaking on his effort late, which was understandable given the amount of chasing he had to do off a fast early tempo.
Wall Of Fire's most recent run before coming to Australia was a strong 2nd to Defoe in the G3 Geoffrey Freer (2716m) at Newbury - a race that has been a solid Cup reference in the past. He finished 3.5L clear of the 3rd-placed Frontiersman who is a handy horse in his own right. He looks to be still improving and he's clearly adapted well to Australian conditions based on his Herbert Power run. The 3200m shouldn't trouble him, despite being well-held in the Dubai Gold Cup (3200m) back in March (was 1st-up for 197 days and was just left flat-footed when the big guns took off).
Why he can win: Terrific lead-up run in the Herbert Power (2400m) and certainly open to further improvement. That effort came on the back of a super performance in the G3 Geoffrey Freer (2716m) at Newbury.
Why he can't win: Red Cardinal beat him by over 6L in the Belmont Gold Cup (3219m) three-back and he finished a well-beaten 6th in the Dubai Gold Cup over this trip.
THOMAS HOBSON (barrier 21): The Mullins-trained runner boasts nine wins from just 24 starts, mixing flat and jumps racing. There probably isn't a whole lot of improvement to come with him given he's an eight-year-old but his form this year has been solid. He stepped out over 4014m at Royal Ascot back in June and won by a huge space in what was a powerful staying performance. Last start he split a couple of handy types in Desert Skyline and Sheikhzayedroad in the G2 Doncaster Cup (3599m). The latter has form around gun two-miler Vazirabad.
Thomas Hobson's best hope here is a fast-run race where he can work into it from the 800m and outstay his rivals. If it becomes a sit-and-sprint and he's held-up in behind runners he probably doesn't have the turn-of-foot to match it with Wall Of Fire and co.
Why he can win: He's a genuine stayer who comes here on the back of an encouraging run at Doncaster against some talented types.
Why he can't win: More of a grinder than a few of the other internationals. Turn-of-foot perhaps not as sharp.
REKINDLING (barrier 4): Lightly-raced and on the improve, the Joseph O'Brien-trained galloper finished 2nd to Order Of St George (beaten 4.8L) two-back in the St Leger Trial (2816m) at the Curragh. He put a gap on 3rd there and backed up that strong performance with a solid 4th (beaten 2.1L) in the G1 St Leger (2921m) run in faster time than the Trial. Three runs back he defeated Wicklow Brave in the G2 Curragh Cup (2816m), but he did have a 6kg weight advantage on that runner.
Rekindling appears to be peaking at the right time for this and he'll go around with just 51.5kg on his back. The Williams-owned four-year-old has drawn nicely in barrier four with Corey Brown steering.
Why he can win: His form has been terrific since stepping to 2800m plus. He continues to improve and with just 51.5kg he should be hard to hold out.
Why he can't win: He's only had nine career starts and he takes on some real seasoned stayers who have covered plenty of miles on and off the track (flying to different countries, acclimatising to different conditions etc). This race may have come around too quick for him and he could possibly be a better 2018 proposition.
AMELIE'S STAR (barrier 10): Was brilliant winning the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) two-back before compounding in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) when ridden against her usual pattern. The Weir-trained mare usually settles back in the field with cover but Williams was aggressive on her early, much to the chagrin of the trainer.
Prior to the Caulfield Cup, Amelie's Star had raced at 2400m plus three times for a 7.8L win, a 3.3L and a 2L win. However 2500m is as far as she's been which is obviously some sort of query. The Caulfield Cup run has either knocked her around a bit or topped her off nicely for this fitness-wise - Weir is confident it's the latter.
Why she can win: Awesome winning the G3 Bart Cummings (2500m) two-back, sprinting clear of Almandin, Harlem and Vengeur Masque. It's easy to forgive her Caulfield Cup effort given she was ridden upside down, chasing the tearaway leader Sir Isaac Newton.
Why she can't win: Never raced beyond 2500m and was beaten over 5L in the Caulfield Cup last start. Unplaced in both runs at Group One level.
CISMONTANE (barrier 17): Earned his spot in the Cup with a strong, fighting win in the Lexus Stakes (2500m) on Derby Day. He was headed in the straight but kicked back strongly under hard-riding to prevail in a driving finish ahead of Vengeur Masque and Pentathlon. On paper it certainly doesn't look the strongest form but he's rock-hard fit and he makes his own luck up on the speed.
Along with Gallante, he's the lowest-rated horse in the field with a handicap rating of 99. Expect Mertens to roll forward on him here from barrier 17 and take up the running, at least initially (Gallante may take over if the pace is too muddling).
Why he can win: Tough and in-form. He makes his own luck up on the pace, taking luck out of the equation.
Why he can't win: Looks a level or two below these class-wise.
Wall Of Fire (20) was terrific in the G2 Herbert Power (2400m) at his Australian debut and the form out of that race has stacked up well through Boom Time and Lord Fandango. There was plenty to like about his run in the G3 Geoffrey Freer (2716m) prior which has traditionally been a solid reference for this race. Last year's winner Almandin (2) was plain last start but utterly dominant prior to that in a truly-run race over 2500m here. The X-factor might be the lightly-raced Rekindling (22) coming off a nice performance in the G1 St Leger (2921m). With just 51.5kg he looks dangerous from the good draw. Rounding out the top four is Marmelo (5) who is coming off a real eye-catcher in the G1 Caulfield Cup (2400m).
1st - 20. Wall Of Fire
2nd - 2. Almandin
3rd - 22. Rekindling
4th - 5. Marmelo
For a $100 spend: I'll be having $50 on Wall of Fire at around $13 and $50 on Almandin at $8.
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