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Key trends for punters to know ahead of Melbourne Cup classic

From Matt Harris: October 2017


The richest prize in horse racing naturally dictates that a high-quality field will assemble at the starting line - making life a tad difficult for punters to find any slither of betting value.

But as with any prestigious race that dates back more than a century, there are plenty of trends to take into consideration prior to parting with any of your hard-earned money.

For the uninitiated, the Melbourne Cup is one of the planet's most illustrious handicap races, hosted by the incomparable Flemington. It's open to horses aged three years and over - although as we'll discover later in this preview, it's typically the older entrants that show age is but a number.

Contested over two miles, the Melbourne Cup has been held every year since 1861 - no wonder it is known as the 'race that stops a nation.' Even accounting for that moniker, this is a race that has a truly global appeal, with the Aussies battling it out with horses from New Zealand (who have claimed 40 Melbourne Cup victories through the ages), the Brits and the Americans (five and four wins respectively), the Irish (four), Germans (two), the French (one) and even the Japanese (one).

The UK and Irish connection will be well served on November 7 once again, with Aidan O'Brien taking a small army of runners Down Under prior to the final declaration stage and the Godolphin yard looking to saddle the outstanding Qewy.

Anyway, back to those trends we mentioned at the top of this article. For a race with around 150 years' worth of renewals, there's plenty of data to rifle through in order to find some statistics that many of the previous winners of this event share.

It's a top event for the betting community too so these pointers could be crucial. Do you lump on a winner with cold hard cash or play safer with a free bet bonus option? These stats will hopefully help with that decision.

A good starting point is 1972, when the running length was reduced by 18m as Australia reverted to the metric system. In the prevailing 45 years, which key trends have emerged that help to identify the profile of a potential winner of the Melbourne Cup?

Experience is the Key

Since that 1972 landmark, there have been just eleven four-year-olds that have taken the spoils in the Melbourne Cup, and precisely zero three-year-olds!

Magnify that pattern to just the modern era and we note that a paltry 2/15 winners have been four or younger at the time of their triumph - a mere 13%.

Conversely, just four of the last 45 champions had been aged seven or older when crossing the line in first - that's the size of the task facing the current bookmakers' favourite for the 2017 renewal, Almandin.

It's a Boy Thing

Given that the vast majority of entries into any Melbourne Cup renewal are male, it kind of goes without saying that a large proportion of winners are of the masculine persuasion as well.

Indeed, 12 of the last 13 champions have been either geldings or stallions, with that run only broken by the unstoppable Makybe Diva in the mid-noughties.

Since 1972, only five mares have taken the honours - although that does equate to eight wins courtesy of Makybe Diva's trio of victories.

In the modern era, seven consecutive champions between 2008-14 were stallions, with the last two editions headlined by the geldings Prince of Penzance and Almandin.

(No) Repeat Offender

If you are trying to build a case against the favourite then note that only two horses since 1972 have successfully defended their Melbourne Cup crown: the history-making Makybe Diva from 2003-05, and then Think Big all the way back in 1974-75.

Clearly, Almandin has his work cut out in retaining the trophy this time around and securing his connections another whopping pay day.

Pace Yourself

Why this might be the case is anybody's guess, but the winning times of the Melbourne Cup have noticeably slowed in recent years.

In 1997 the mean winning mark was around 3:18, and that has extended ever so slightly in the modern era to roughly 3:20.

Factors are various and open to interpretation: perhaps hotter temperatures or a change in the Flemington surface have played their part, or maybe it's all just statistical anomaly: what will the winning times be in another 20 years?

For punters who typically investigate the split times of a group of horses and back the quickest, the Melbourne Cup might be a race in which to put that strategy to bed.

Wide of the Mark

The draw for the Melbourne Cup is made each year on Victoria Derby Day, which is routinely held three days before the race that stops a nation.

Horses are drawn in stalls (or barriers as they are known in Australia) from one, which is the inside track, right across to 24, depending on the number of entrants.

You might assume that breaking from somewhere in the middle would be favourable; think of a sprint race in athletics where the fastest qualifiers are given the plum middle lanes.

And the same is true, to a large extent, in the Melbourne Cup. The most common winning stall since 1972 has been number 11, which has delivered five champions. With not all editions containing as many as 24 starters, the eleventh stall is pretty much slap bang in the middle of the field.

If we group the stalls in blocks of four, we note that the most winners have come from barriers 9-12, so landing that prime draw somewhere in the centre is key.

There have been just four winners starting from stalls 1-2 in 45 years, and just two have come from the widest barrier (either 23 or 24, typically).

Light on the Hooves

Handicap races dictate that each horse is given a different weight based on their quality, with ballast added to riding gear and jockeys to ensure as fair a race as possible (notwithstanding the antics of trainers and their connections when entering their horses in unsuitable races in the build-up, of course).

It is clear when scrolling through the Melbourne Cup record books that as little weight as possible between the 50kg-58g limits is essential. Only one top weight has won since 1975, and the average winning weight since 1972 has been between the 53kg and 54kg mark.

Perhaps most pertinently, the past decade has witnessed just one champion carrying more than 55kg. A strong strategy to follow in is to check the weights of the European horses: they really do tend to struggle when given a greater handicap in conditions which are typically faster than they are used to on home soil.

Hopefully this has provided you with some handy pointers ahead of the 2017 Melbourne Cup, and once the final declarations have been made be sure to do your research - it might just help you find the winner!

 

 

 

 


 

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