Melbourne Cup 2018 Key Factors for Cup Success

Tuesday, 6 November 2018, 3 PM Flemington Group 1

Key Factors for Cup Success

‘Ten Rules to Follow’ to find a Melbourne Cup winner

as seen in Practical Punting magazine. 

Its status as much-loved cultural icon aside, identifying the Melbourne Cup winner should be a priority for all punters who take the enterprise at all seriously. The obvious reason being, the amount of ‘mug’ money that floods the TAB pools on Cup day often creates false markets, with the presence of ‘boom’ horses gifting punters luxurious odds about other less ‘popular’ gallopers that on form, should be far shorter. Last year for example, a staggering $23 million was dumped into the S-TAB win pool alone. Compare that to just two Saturdays prior – when $3.3 million sat in the win pool for the still extremely popular Cox Plate – and that is around $20 million worth of ‘once-a-year’ money, a large percentage of which incorporates not-so-scientific factors like favourite names, silks or numbers.

But picking the Cup winner is no easy task, especially so with the growing international presence in the race each year, and the divergent formlines the foreign contingent bring. Below are my ten factors to be considered when assessing a Cup field. Weight and barriers are in my opinion entirely horse-dependant, and thus have not been included. Some of these ideas may be slightly contradictory and there are obviously exceptions to every rule, but are still important to keep under consideration, and may be weighted at your own discretion. I have focused primarily on the last 20 years of Cup history, as the current race is barely recognisable to that run and won in the years prior.


With a huge purse attracting quality horses from all over the world, I think genuine Group 1 horses – as opposed to decent horses that can stay – will be required to win the Cup more and more in the future. Gone are the days, in my opinion, when a Tawriffic or a Brew can win the Cup: a genuinely classy animal is required to figure in the finish. 14 of the last 20 runnings of the Melbourne Cup have been taken out by previous Group 1 winners. This isn’t at all surprising, given the number of Group 1 winners that actually face the starter in the Cup each year, but it has almost come to the point where any non-Group 1 winners can be heavily marked down, if not entirely discounted. Americain had not won a Group 1, though he was a duel Group 2 winner and fit the form profile in other ways (last start winner; Geelong Cup). Shocking too may not have had the score on the board in terms of Group 1 success before his Cup win, but his barnstorming Australian Cup win and narrow Turnbull defeat franked his quality after the fact. Viewed too proved his class (though again after the fact) by strolling away with the 2009 Caulfield Cup. Though it is obviously difficult to predict how certain horses are going to develop later in their careers, when attacking the Cup it remains pertinent to privilege any exposed Group 1 form.

Subjective allowances may be made for any horses who have not yet raced in Group 1 class, but appear to have the scope to handle it.


This is nothing new, but the Caulfield Cup and increasingly the Geelong Cup continue to produce the strongest form lines from a Cup perspective. The Geelong Cup has become an outstanding form reference, particularly in terms of being used as a final lead-in by the overseas runners. Americain won the Geelong Cup on his way to greater glory, Crime Scene ran 6th in 2009 before finishing second in the Cup, and Bauer won it in 2008 on his way to an agonising second behind Viewed. On A Jeune, Zazzman, She’s Archie and of course Media Puzzle have also franked the form in recent years. The Caulfield Cup, too, must also be respected, and is worth watching again and again to pick out the very best runs. It is uncanny how often a horse that finishes the Caulfield Cup with a full head of steam backs that up with a big Melbourne Cup run (Delta Blues probably the best recent winning example). Without again wanting to be too definitive, history suggests that Caulfield and Geelong Cup form should receive priority almost to the exclusion of the other local races. Eleven of the past 20 Cup winners have been last start winners, so that gets a double tick if they won either of these races.


If they actually make the field to begin with, then we can pretty much rule a line through all the Oaks and Derby winners from the last couple of seasons. Every year you hear the protests, “But ‘x’ was so impressive in the Derby, surely he’ll measure up in the spring?” But chances are they won’t. Efficient was the first Victoria Derby winner to claim the Cup since Comic Court in 1948. We have to go even further back to Hall Mark in 1933 to find a Melbourne Cup-winning AJC Derby winner. The various Oaks around the country make for even less flattering reading, with Ethereal’s Queensland triumph standing alone until we go all the way back to Light Fingers in 1964/5(AJC & VRC Oaks) and Evening Peal in 1955 (Queensland and VRC Oaks). I am currently grappling with this very rule myself, but am trying to stay strong, having been most taken with the preparation of WA Oaks and Derby winning filly Dreamaway. I am strongly considering backing her for the Cups in early markets, as she looks to have her fair share of ‘X factor’, but – as year after year proves – I’d just be throwing away my money. The weight of history tells us then, that Shootoff, Shamrocker, Lion Tamer and Shadows In The Sun, as well as Brazilian Pulse, Scarlett Lady, Precious Lorraine and Absolutely can’t win the Cup, despite featuring reasonably prominently in pre-post markets. Other horses that ran in these races may still feature in Cup calculations – Shocking himself ran a close second behind Court Ruler (who?) in the 2009 Queensland Derby – but it seems that actually winning these three-year-old classics knocks the stuffing out of still maturing horses. That, or the race they won was simply so weak that the graduation to open company is a bridge too far.


A follow on from the previous factor, but I think we should respect the stayers who didn’t necessarily follow the traditional Derby/Oaks path. In 2010, Maluckyday had his first start in February, and was runner up to Americain some eight months later. Shocking, though he ran in the Queensland Derby, was a two start maiden when the 2008 Cup was run. He won the race 12 months later. Though it doesn’t have solid historical precedent, I think this trend could start gaining momentum in the coming seasons, with the rigors of a full Derby or Oaks campaign perhaps having adverse affect on still-developing three-year-olds.


In the last 20 years, the Cup has been won on average at a horse’s 19th start (excluding Makybe Diva’s second and third wins, as she became a Cup winner at her 14th start). This figure is surprisingly low, and perhaps goes against the traditional perception of the typical Cup horse. Efficient and Let’s Elope head the list in terms of inexperience, winning the Cup at just their 13th start, whilst Brew and Rogan Josh had gone around the most, facing the starter 39 and 36 times respectively. I believe this trend towards fewer starts might actually have some merit, and as such think horses with under 25 starts to their name can be given extra points, whilst those with over 35 starts should be treated with extreme caution.


Although some limited ‘dyed in the wool’ stayers have won the Cup in the past, I believe a horse must now possess a genuine turn of foot to be competitive in the ‘new age’ Melbourne Cups. Look for horses that have put in bold performances in decent races in open company over 1400m or a mile, but have also demonstrated a propensity to stay. For example, a horse like Predatory Pricer fits the bill here, winning the 2009 Liston Stakes fresh over 1400m (and suffering a narrow defeat the following year) after having showed staying promise in his three-year-old year.


Without wanting to get all doomsday about the state of Australian distance racing, I think it is fair to say that more and more Melbourne Cups will be leaving our shores. Americain’s win was utterly breathtaking, the way he attacked the line at the end of those two miles giving you every indication he could have run another couple of laps. And if the Japanese ever return for a concerted assault, then things are looking decidedly grim. The inferiority of the local staying stock is not at all surprising, given our penchant for sprinter-miler stallions, so find out as much as you can about each visiting raider. The trick here, however, is working out which international horse to back. History tells us that for whatever reason, the most hyped conveyances often fail to flatter, so a few each way tickets on some carefully selected less-fancied foreigners could be the trick to returning a profit.


It seems that horses who put in a Queensland winter campaign often return much improved in the spring, despite not enjoying the benefits of a proper spell. Shocking and Viewed immediately come to mind, having had only a 12 and 13 week let-up respectively before commencing their Cup-winning campaigns. Who did we see up there this year that might similarly benefit? Of the older horses, perhaps imports Glass Harmonium and My Kingdom of Fife might return even better, whilst a promising staying three-year-old prospect 

like The Chevron appears to have the scope for a big win with natural improvement. When scanning the spring form, a light Queensland winter campaign followed by a letup should be regarded as a big positive.


It’s often reported that Bart thinks a horse needs to have covered 10,000m in its campaign to win the Cup. However, these figures don’t necessarily stack-up, with six of the last eight winners having run under 8km in the lead-up. 7.6km was the magic number for Viewed and two of the Diva’s wins, whilst Efficient and the Diva both racked up 7.04km off a Cox Plate lead-in. A horse doesn’t need to have been flogged in order to be race-fit. Hell, Delta Blues won the Cup second-up!


This rule many only slightly whittle down the field of 24, but any help we can get excluding runners is fine by me. In the last twenty years only Brew has won the Cup after failing in a previous year, so simply discount as a winning chance any runner that has contested a previous Melbourne Cup and hasn’t won it. This concept would have forced punters to rule a line through horses like Zipping and Master O’Reilly last year; those type of gallopers that quite often attract big money but have already proven the two-miles at Flemington beyond them. If they’ve failed once, they’ll fail again.

Practical Punting Magazine, August 2011, by C Rolfe

Melbourne Cup

Melbourne Cup 2018 Dates

WEIGHTS 12 September
1ST ACCEPTANCES Tue, 9 October
2ND ACCEPTANCES Mon, 29 October
FORM GUIDE Sat, 4 November
RACE DAY Tue, 6 November

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