Inside word on every Melbourne Cup horse
A week out from last year's Melbourne Cup, jockey Kerrin McEvoy was bullish about the chances of international raider Cross Counter.
"He's a quality colt. He's only three years old and he's obviously travelled out here in good style," McEvoy said.
"He's by no means over the line but he's gonna be there and he'll show his worth on Cup day, I'm sure."
It was the type of insight millions of punters wished they'd heeded after the Godolphin colt cruised to a stunning win.
So ahead of Tuesday's race that stops a nation, we've compiled the inside word from the connections of all 24 horses to ensure no golden nugget of information slips by.
1. CROSS COUNTER (Barrier: 5) Weight: 57.5kg - Jockey: James Doyle Trainer: Charlie Appleby Odds: $13 (Win), $4 (Place)
Cross Counter is striving to achieve what no international horse has before but his connections are again positive about the stayer's prospects of becoming a dual Melbourne Cup winner.
The Charlie Appleby-trained gelding stormed to victory last year at Flemington and is back 12 months later to try to join a select list to have won the race more than once.
Only five horses in the Cup's 158-year history have achieved the feat including Makybe Diva with her three-consecutive between 2003-2005.
"It would be phenomenal," Appleby's travelling foreman Chris Connett said. "I think the last was Makybe Diva and she was an absolute superstar. If we can get in and around that kind of stardom it would be an amazing feat.
"It's a hard race to win but we think we've got the best horse in the race, so we'll take our chance. He's a bigger, stronger horse than last year. Last year he was a tall, angular type but he's a more furnished horse this year."
Cross Counter will have to be better. He carried 51kg in 2018 but returns as top weight on Tuesday, rising to 57.5kg. "The weight is a big chunk up from last year but we look at the race and the weights are quite compressed," Connett said. "The horse has really thrived since he's been down here in Australia this year and you've got to look at it with the top weighte're classed as the best horse in the race."
2. MER DE GLACE (2) 56kg - J: Damian Lane T: Hisashi Shimizu Odds: $6.50 $2.30
Victorian jockey Damian Lane, 25, is vying for his first Melbourne Cup.
If he succeeds on Tuesday aboard Mer De Glace, Lane will become the first jockey to claim Melbourne's big three races in the same year - the Caulfield Cup, the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup.
He will also join an elite group to have won the grand slam of Australian racing after claiming this year's Golden Slipper in Sydney.
A win by Caulfield Cup winner Mer De Glace would also give the Japanese a clean sweep of Melbourne's three major races, after Lane rode Lys Gracieux to win the Cox Plate.
Trainer Hisashi Shimizu has faith in Lane and Mer De Glace.
"It is great that Japanese horses have been racing so well everywhere in the world," he said.
"I really don't want to stop this momentum for the Japanese horses and hopefully can get a good result for Japan."
3. MASTER OF REALITY (1) 55.5kg - J: Frankie Dettori T: Joseph O'Brien Odds: $26 $7
Frankie Dettori is a jockey on a mission as he seeks to end a Melbourne Cup hoodoo that spans more than 25 years.
Having ridden in Australia's most famous race 16 times, with his best results seconds aboard Central Park (1999) and Max Dynamite (2015), one of the world's most celebrated jockeys is desperate to add the Melbourne Cup to his resume.
"I know him well and I can tell you this race at this point of his career means more to him than any race in the world right now because it's probably one of the few things he hasn't been able to win," Nick Williams, part owner of Master Of Reality said.
Dettori sent Williams a text message begging to ride Master Of Reality in the Cup shortly after claiming a seventh win in the prestigious Ascot Gold Cup on Stradivarius in June.
Master Of Reality finished third in the race, just over a length from the winner.
"He said there's only one trophy I need now," Williams said. "He's of the firm view that the form Master Of Reality showed that day, and obviously his lead-ups to Ascot, he said that's the best staying form in the world."
Dettori has at times been lambasted for his Melbourne Cup rides. In England, jockeys comfortably sit wide in the run and win but the tighter racing and big fields in Australia's major handicap races make finding cover almost crucial.
He flies into Melbourne on Cup eve in some of the greatest form of his career, last month notching his 250th Group One win.
4. MIRAGE DANCER (13) 55.5kg - J: Ben Melham T: Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young Odds: $34 $9
After his third in the Caulfield Cup on his Australian debut, Mirage Dancer has trainer Natalie Young confident the son of champion Frankel can make some noise.
"I'm absolutely stoked how he came out of the Caulfield Cup," Young said. "He looks great for the run.
"You've got to remember he was 10 weeks between runs in the Caulfield Cup and he had changed countries and changed stables twice.
"And it was probably the first time he's raced with a bit of a crowd of horses. In England they always have smaller fields and he got a bit of a squeeze at the top of the straight and it took him a while to get rolling again because he's such a big strider."
The 3200m Melbourne Cup will be uncharted territory for Mirage Dancer who has won three times over 2412m in England.
"He's never been over the distance and that is the question mark but the way he ran through the line and was still humming past the post in the Caulfield Cup gives you the indication that he should see it out," Young said.
5. SOUTHERN FRANCE (14) 55.5kg - J: Mark Zahra T: Ciaron Maher and David Eustace Odds: $21 $6
Ciaron Maher reckons champion Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien owes him a big-race win which he hopes will come with Southern France in the Melbourne Cup.
O'Brien claimed the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2018 with Merchant Navy after the then three-year-old had done his early racing with Maher.
"I joked with Aidan that we sent him over Merchant Navy in good order and I said he owes us one back," Maher said.
Cup contender Southern France officially came under the care of Maher and co-trainer David Eustace after his last start third in the Irish St Leger at The Curragh on September 15.
He travelled to Australia with Aidan O'Brien's Cup trio Hunting Horn, Magic Wand and Il Paradiso.
Maher has visited the Werribee quarantine centre several times to watch Southern France and has been reluctant to change too many of O'Brien's methods.
TJ Comerford, the travelling foreman for O'Brien, said it was difficult for Maher who is a very good trainer in his own right.
"Ciaron knows how to train good horses and in fairness to Ciaron he's working away with us," Comerford said.
"I think Ciaron has been very clever with what he's doing and in fairness, he trusts us." Comerford is wary of Southern France and while he would like to see one of his trio successful on Tuesday, he will be as pleased if Maher succeeds.
"He's a good horse," Comerford said. "He was third in an Irish St Leger with Kew Gardens second and Kew Gardens has come out and beaten Stradivarius. That's dangerous, especially off that weight (55.5kg)."
6. HUNTING HORN (11) 55kg - J: Seamie Heffernan T: Aidan O'Brien Odds: $41 $11
Irish horse Hunting Horn firmed for the Melbourne Cup after winning the Moonee Valley Gold Cup in his first spring carnival appearance in Victoria.
From the stable of champion Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien and ridden by Ryan Moore, Hunting Horn drew away from Mr Quickie over the final 150m.
O'Brien's travelling foreman TJ Comerford said Hunting Horn should not have a problem with Flemington. "You don't know until the day. It's a big step up in trip as well," he said. "You have a lot of things going against you. A mile and a quarter (2000m) is probably his ideal trip but at the same time you don't know until you step them up how their stamina kicks in. Aidan is quietly confident that there's another good day in him."
7. LATROBE (22) 55kg - J: James McDonald T: Joseph O'Brien Odds: $23 $6.50
Latrobe was earmarked for last year's Melbourne Cup before his stable decided the then three-year-old would find the distance too challenging and ran him in the 200m Mackinnon Stakes instead, where he finished second.
Owner Nick Williams rates Latrobe as the top seed of his three runners, ahead of Master Of Reality and Twilight Payment.
"One of the things you need to win this race is having no setbacks," Williams said.
"He's had the perfect preparation and hasn't missed a day. He's without question probably the classiest runner in the field.
"The question about him is the two miles but 2400m European horses seem to be the right horses for our staying races and I think he's a terrific hope."
8. MUSTAJEER (6) 55kg - J: Damien Oliver T: Kris Lees Odds: $17 $5
Damien Oliver can make history by winning a record-equalling fourth Melbourne Cup after saluting on Doriemus (1995), Media Puzzle (2002) and Fiorente (2013).
The champion jockey, who warmed up for the Cup by winning the Derby last weekend, said 2019 Ebor Handicap winner Mustajeer will enjoy Flemington.
"I'm feeling reasonably confident and he'll be much better suited to Flemington than Caulfield. He's a well-performed European horse and the Ebor is a race that is a proven formula to go on and run well in the Melbourne Cup," Oliver said.
"It would be amazing to equal the record and a huge thrill. It would be a historic achievement and something I would be really proud of."
9. ROSTROPOVICH (12) 55kg - J: Dwayne Dunn T: David Hayes, Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig Odds: $81 $17
Rostropovich beat just two rivals in the Caulfield Cup but trainer Ben Hayes warned punters to draw a line through the effort when nothing went the horse's way.
"He missed the start, made a mid-race move and did a lot of work up the hill at Caulfield and when they do that they find it very hard to win," Hayes said. "We're hoping for a big improvement."
10. TWILIGHT PAYMENT (19) 55kg - J: Hugh Bowman Trainer: Joseph O'Brien Odds: $41 $11
For a few hairy moments last week, Hugh Bowman thought he might be without a Melbourne Cup ride this year.
The champion jockey had been booked to reunite with 2018 runner-up Marmelo until Racing Victoria officials on Wednesday controversially ordered the horse's withdrawal, saying CT scans showed he was unfit to run.
Bowman was left to lament a missed opportunity, but not for long. Shortly after news of Marmelo broke, connections of international runner Twilight Payment quickly snapped up his services.
The belated nature of the booking, combined with a busy Derby day at Flemington on Saturday, means Bowman has some homework to do on his mount between now and the Cup.
"I know he's owned by Team Williams and trained by Joseph O'Brien, so that's a good starting point," Bowman said. "And it would be nice to win it."
Twilight Payment is one of four Cup runners for O'Brien, who this weekend became the youngest trainer to prepare the winner of a Breeders' Cup race when Iridessa claimed the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita.
A seven-year-old, Twilight Payment will be making his Australian debut but there is no doubting his European credentials.
He relegated stablemate Master Of Reality to third when he won at Leopardstown in May and left fellow Cup contenders Latrobe and Southern France in his wake when successful at The Curragh a month later.
He failed to fire in the Irish St Leger, finishing seventh, but it was a rare flop from the horse who has won or been placed in 19 of his 24 starts.
11. FINCHE (4) 54kg - J: Kerrin McEvoy T: Chris Waller Odds: $10 $3.20
Three-time Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Kerrin McEvoy reckons it's only a matter of time before champion trainer Chris Waller wins Australia's most famous race.
McEvoy claimed his third Cup last year when he steered Cross Counter home to give Godolphin its first victory and just like he didn't want to miss out when the Blue Army finally won the Cup, he is hopeful it is Australia's leading trainer Waller's time to break through.
"These guys are star trainers so you've got to be in their camp when you think it's right," McEvoy said.
"I obviously ride a lot for Chris in Sydney and it just fitted well. I think Finche can run a great race for everyone."
Finche finished fourth in last year's Cup in his first Australian start after joining the Waller stable.
After winning the Kingston Town Stakes on the French import in September, McEvoy was confirmed as Finche's rider for the Melbourne Cup.
McEvoy has missed riding Finche in his past two starts - second in the Turnbull Stakes and fourth in the Caulfield Cup - but is confident the stayer is on target for Tuesday having watched those races and since partnered him in trackwork at Flemington.
"He showed he's in fine fettle the way he finished off his work so he can run a great race I reckon," McEvoy said.
"He's come through a nice effort in the race last year and he has shown this preparation that he's in good form."
Cross Countercarried 51kg as a northern hemisphere three-year-old last year but goes up to 57.5kg in his Cup defence. Finche stays on 54kg which McEvoy hopes can help him turn the tables.
12. PRINCE OF ARRAN (8) 54kg - J: Michael Walker T: Charlie Fellowes Odds: $17 $5
English trainer Charlie Fellowes vividly remembers the fleeting moment he thought he was going to win the Melbourne Cup 12 months ago.
It wasn't to be, with Prince Of Arran third after briefly hitting the front in the straight before being overhauled by fellow English-trained horses Cross Counter and Marmelo.
Prince Of Arran and his trainer are back for another Cup tilt on Tuesday at Flemington and Fellowes is once again daring to dream.
"He came swinging around the corner and I can remember it so well," Fellowes recalled.
"I put my hands to my face and I got butterflies in my stomach. And for a very, very, very brief moment I did actually think we were going to win it.
"And then I saw Marmelo come up the inside and then Cross Counter fly down late. Third was amazing and we were over the moon. There was no disappointment whatsoever with that performance.
"It's that feeling, that five seconds that you had there that is the reason we train. And hopefully we have it again, or it lasts a bit longer on Tuesday."
Despite his third last year after winning his way into the Cup via the Hotham Stakes three days earlier, Prince Of Arran arrived back in Victoria with no certainty of a start.
The popular gelding forced his way into the field with a win in the Geelong Cup 11 days ago. He has barrier eight, which Fellowes believes is perfect. He also thinks he has the horse in as good a place as he can, with Prince Of Arran having had a less taxing year in terms of racing.
He has also been able to have almost two weeks leading into the Cup since his Geelong win, compared to the short turnaround in 2018.
"He's had a very different preparation this year to last year. Hopefully that's a good thing," Fellowes said. "He seems to be peaking at the right time and he looks a picture. It's all systems go."
13. RAYMOND TUSK (3) 54kg - J: Jamie Spencer T: Richard Hannon Odds: $20 $5.50
Englishman Duncan Smith grew up watching black-and-white film replays of Phar Lap's 1930 Melbourne Cup win, never imagining he would one day have his own runner in the great race.
Smith has made his first trip to Australia to be trackside at Flemington on Tuesday cheering on Raymond Tusk.
"I've always had a bit of a fascination with the race so to be here not just for the race but to be here as a part-owner, it's just incredible. It's surreal," Smith told AAP.
Smith enjoyed some success with his first racing investments 20 years ago, but put his ownership dreams aside until he retired from his job as a local government officer.
The self-described "ordinary bloke" from Yorkshire now has shares in 10 horses with syndicators Middleham Park Racing.
It includes a small share - all that was available at the time - in Raymond Tusk, the first Cup runner for both British trainer Richard Hannon and Middleham.
"It's always kind of been a dream of ours to have a runner down here but was it ever going to be a realistic dream we could achieve? Probably not," Middleham's racing manager Tom Palin said.
It was only after selling another horse, Ventura Storm, to Australia's Lindsay Park that Middleham began to think they could find a Cup horse themselves.
Raymond Tusk's fourth placing in British racing's richest handicap, the Ebor, attracted interest from potential buyers in Australia, convincing Middleham to have a shot.
"We kind of went 'well if everybody wants him, why don't we go down and do it ourselves'," Palin said.
14. DOWNDRAFT (15) 53.5kg J: John Allen T: Joseph O'Brien Odds: $21 $6
Irish expat John Allen's life will turn full circle when he is legged aboard the Joseph O'Brien-trained Downdraft.
Allen started his career with O'Brien's grandfather Joe Crowley at Owning Hill near Piltown in County Kilkenny, the same yard O'Brien now operates. That was, Allen estimates, 15 or 16 years ago with the jockey spending five or six years at the stable.
Allen came to Australia earlier this decade and after starting as a jumps jockey is now one of Victoria's most sought after riders on the flat. He partnered Downdraft to win Saturday's Hotham Stakes which secured the horse a place in the Melbourne Cup.
Allen was surprised to get the call to partner Downdraft, but is confident after given he will be dropping from 59kg on Saturday to 53.5kg on Tuesday.
"So long as he comes out of the race OK and backs up, you never know," Allen said.
"He couldn't have done anymore than what he did and we can look forward to Tuesday hopefully."
15. MAGIC WAND (24) 53.5kg - J: Ryan Moore T: Aidan O'Brien Odds: $26 $7
Aidan O'Brien showed his hand by selecting jockey Ryan Moore to ride Magic Wand, one of three runners he has in the race along with Hunting Horn and Il Paradiso.
Moore was happy with how she performed while running fourth in the Cox Plate, saying "she kept galloping to the line as best she could" and saw enough to pick her ahead of Hunting Horn.
"Between Aidan and Ryan, they decided Magic Wand would be the better choice given her form is better at home and she's run in much better races (than Hunting Horn)," O'Brien's travelling foreman TJ Comerford said.
"There's nothing else you could pick over her in the race in terms of our horses anyway. You'd have to go with her being the class act. She's the one you're forced to pick because you know her form is very good at home. But the distance is the thing."
16. NEUFBOSC (23) 53.5kg - J: Luke Nolen T: David Hayes, Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig Odds: $126 $21
It's not the horse he hoped to be riding but Luke Nolen is at least in the race.
Sensationally booted from top chance Constantinople after a luckless run in the Caulfield Cup, Nolen was the beneficiary of the late scratchings of Marmelo and Ispolini which meant Neufbosc scraped into the field.
Trainer David Hayes said Neufbosc wasn't going to an accept a place in the Cup unless he ran well in the Hotham Handicap last weekend but the scratchings meant he didn't need to race so he was pulled out.
After finishing a disappointing ninth in the Geelong Cup and drawing barrier 23 he's at the longest odds of any horse in the race and we couldn't find any one with an encouraging word.
17. SOUND (10) 53.5kg - J: James Winks T: Michael Moroney Odds: $101 $21
Sound was another horse pulled out of the Hotham Handicap as connections opted to save him for the Cup.
Trainer Michael Moroney said Sound's jockey James Winks thought he was going to finish in the top five in the Caulfield Cup before he suffered interference with 200m to go.
"I'm really happy with him and he'll be suited by the 3200m," Moroney said.
18. SURPRISE BABY (20) 53.5kg - J: Jordan Childs T: Paul Preusker Odds: $15 $4.40
Surprise Baby is one of only three runners in the 24-horse field to have done all their racing on Australian soil. The gelding raced to prominence winning the 3200m Adelaide Cup in March at his sixth race start.
Trainer Paul Preusker was left gutted when Surprise Baby failed by millimetres to defeat Steel Prince in the Andrew Ramsden Stakes (2800m) at Flemington in May.
That race guaranteed the winner a start in the Melbourne Cup, so to ensure a place Preusker turned his attention to another "win and you're in" race, The Bart Cummings at Flemington on October 5.
After one lead-up run over 1600m when a closing fourth in the Feehan Stakes at The Valley, Surprise Baby raced to a widening 1-1/2 length win, gaining his Cup place.
Preusker has refrained from racing Surprise Baby since, instead concentrating on getting the miles into the gelding's legs on his home track on the outskirts of Horsham in country Victoria.
As Surprise Baby lines up for his 11th start on Tuesday, questions have been raised whether he is seasoned enough for the task.
"He's been up for 12 months and had two weeks off in that time, so he's done the work," Preusker said.
19. CONSTANTINOPLE (7) 52.5kg - J: Joao Moreira T: David Hayes, Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig Odds: $8.50 $2.80
Team Hayes and Dabernig have had Melbourne Cup runners every year since banding together in 2016 but all have started double-figure odds with their best result a sixth with Almoonquith three years ago.
In $8.50 second favourite Constantinople, that might be about to change.
With doubts over the availability of Glen Boss due to his pending appeal of a riding suspension, Hong Kong's Joao Moreira was locked in for the mount and a day later, the horse came up with a great draw in barrier seven.
"He's got the right jockey and I think we've got the right conditions. Hopefully that converts to a good run," Ben Hayes said.
"Everything would suggest he has come out of the Caulfield Cup in good order.
"I was really happy with his work here on Tuesday and he did his last final piece of work (Saturday) and he worked excellent. He's ready to go."
Like the past two winners of the race, Cross Counter and Rekindling, Constantinople is a three-year-old to northern hemisphere time. He was strong at the end of 2400m when fourth in the Caulfield Cup, a run the stable believes has taken the edge off his freshness.
20. IL PARADISO (17) 52.5kg - J: Wayne Lordan T: Aidan O'Brien Odds: $14 $4.20
Il Paradiso is another Coolmore contender in the mould of recent winners Cross Counter and Rekindling, although he'll carry slightly more weight.
He finished third behind the world's best stayers in the Lonsdale Cup earlier this year and trainer Aidan O'Brien's travelling foreman TJ Comerford believes wearing blinkers for the first time in the Cup could help.
"We put them on him on Tuesday for the first time … and he worked really well," Comerford said.
"He's the type of horse you want in the race, drawn OK, light weight, (jockey) Wayne (Lordan) knows him, he rode him in England, and he's got a really good attitude.
"He's probably a bit laid back and that's probably why he needs the blinkers, and he might be just getting the blinkers at the right time."
21. STEEL PRINCE (16) 52.5kg - J: Brett Prebble T: Anthony Freedman Odds: $61 $15
Anthony Freedman had plenty of nice things to say about Steel Prince after he booked his place in the Melbourne Cup with a win over Surprise Baby in the Listed Andrew Ramsden back in May.
"This horse won't lie down. I knew when the other horse came to him he would dig in for the fight," he said.
"He's incredibly tough and genuine. I don't think I've had a tougher horse than him. Getting beaten isn't in his make up.
"He's earned his chance to run in a Melbourne Cup and I'm fairly confident he would get a nice cheque."
But the six-year-old hasn't done a lot since and a disappointing effort in the Geelong Cup saw jockey Damien Oliver, who was on board in May, opt to ride Mustageer in the Cup instead.
22. THE CHOSEN ONE (18) 52kg - J: Tim Clark T: Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman Odds: $71 $17
Nothing went right for The Chosen One in the Lexus Handicap on Saturday when he got further back than expected and ran on well for fifth.
Trainer Andrew Forsman was willing to forgive the run but not kidding himself about the mountain to climb tomorrow.
"We knew we were in trouble after 800m on Saturday, we were trying to get him to settle but there was no speed on," he said.
"So he made good ground but we realise how strong a field it is on Tuesday.
"But the blinkers come off and we have an experienced jockey in Tim Clark so we are happy to have him in the race."
23. VOW AND DECLARE (21) 52kg - J: Craig Williams T: Danny O'Brien Odds: $12 $3.60
Craig Williams seeks his first Melbourne Cup win on Vow And Declare after missing the winning ride on Dunaden in 2011 through suspension.
Vow And Declare's trainer Danny O'Brien says his charge is the quintessential Melbourne Cup horse and can keep the trophy in Australia.
"He is owned by an Australian, trained by an Australian and ridden by an Australian," O'Brien said. "Every part of him is Australian. It would be nice to turn the tide back a little bit on what's been going on for the last decade and show we've still got the ability to have a Melbourne Cup horse born, bred and trained in Australia."
24. YOUNGSTAR (9) 52kg - J: Tommy Berry T: Chris Waller Odds: $34 $9
The second of Chris Waller's runners and the last horse to make the cut for the race.
She was a surprise packet finishing sixth in last year's Melbourne Cup but hasn't won a race in her past 14 starts.
"Youngstar was the talking point last year. She's dropped off her form a little bit, but her preparation has gone well," Waller told SEN.
"It's hard to assess her because she was in such good form this time last year and ran well from a wide draw (to finish sixth). I'm not too disappointed with her form based on the fact she's going to a two-mile race.
"A two-mile race is like a marathon in terms of horse races. That's what she's bred to do and hopefully we can see her peaking."
- with AAP