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With only 24 horses allowed to race in the Melbourne Cup each year, there is always a lot of competition to make it into the field. The race directors have absolute discretion as to who makes it into the final line-up, with horses balloted out based on a number of factors. There are three primary factors affecting consideration, with a number of lead-up races also playing an important role.

The race is open to horses of 3 years and over, with the minimum handicap weight being 49 kilograms and the top allocated weight being 57 kilograms. The official weight is allocated to each horse by the VRC Handicapper in early September. While weights are calculated to provide each horse with an equal chance of winning the Cup, “quality handicap” conditions are used to provide superior horses with less severe weight penalties.

The three most important factors for balloting include:

– The prize money earned over the last two racing seasons
– the number of wins or placings in particular lead-up events
– the allocated handicap weight

Certain races are also important because they provide the winner with exemption from any ballot:

– Lexus Stakes (formerly Saab Quality and registered as The Hotham Handicap)
– Victoria Derby
– LKS Mackinnon Stakes
– Cox Plate
– Caulfield Cup
– Doncaster Cup (UK)
– Irish St. Leger (IRE)
– Tenno Sho (Spring) (JPN)
– Sankei Sho All Comers (JPN)
– Arlington Million (USA)
– San Juan Capistrano Handicap (USA)
– Australian Stayers Challenge

 
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