The selection of the Emirates Melbourne Cup field is always an issue which creates debate.
Should the field be handpicked by the committee of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC)?
Should the order of entry be followed strictly?
These questions are going to be the source of much debate over the next few days as 47 horses jostle for a position in the final 24-horse field.
The VRC has used its discretionary powers three times in the last decade.
In 2000, the Robert Smerdon-trained Mayshiel was balloted at the expense of the Herbert Power winner Majestic Avenue.
Majestic Avenue was scratched on the morning of the 2000 Melbourne Cup, won by Brew.
In 2001, the out of form Magneto was balloted to allow Geelong Cup winner Karasi into the field.
Karasi finished 4th to Ethereal, and subsequently became a champion jumper.
In 2004, and perhaps most controversially, Perth mare Free at Last was balloted, with Moonee Valley Cup winner Another Warrior promoted into the field from well down the order.
This was after she had a solid campaign, including a 3rd in what is now The Bart Cummings on Turnbull Stakes day and a 5th in the Geelong Cup.
At her subsequent three starts, she ran 2nd in the Group 1 Fruit ‘n’ Veg Stakes (1800m), won the Group 2 C.B Cox Stakes (2400m) and ran 2nd in the Group 2 Perth Cup (3200m).
Another Warrior finished 16th to Makybe Diva.
However, the VRC perhaps set a dangerous precedent last year by refusing to allow Vigor into the field.
Vigor had won the Group 2 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) early in the spring and had run third in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup (2400m).
While some runners in last year’s race had average form, especially the Kiwi pair of Spin Around and Gallions Reach, the VRC made the decision not to elevate horses at the expense of others.
Earlier this year, the VRC set this principle in stone by redefining the ballot conditions.
If they choose to ballot a runner, the next horse in the order of entry will be included into the field.
They cannot elevate a horse from well down the order, as they did with Another Warrior in 2004.
This year, there is a bottleneck at the bottom of the entries, with a number of in-form horses struggling to make the field.
Horses like The Metropolitan winner Herculian Prince and runner up Mourayan, Moonee Valley Cup winner Precedence, Herbert Power Stakes winner Linton, Wellington Cup winner Red Ruler and last year’s Melbourne Cup favourite Alcopop are all currently outside the top 24.
They may need to win the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) or the Group 3 Lexus Stakes (2500m) on Saturday to assure themselves a start.
However, if the VRC committee decides to ballot horses, it may mean that in form horses who deserve their place get a start.
Some of the candidates for balloting are as follows:
This import from Britain has not done anything since he has come here. Last ran a place in the Canadian International on October 17 last year. In the year since, he has five starts for a 9th to Daryakana in the Hong Kong Vase, a last to So You Think in both the Memsie Stakes and the Underwood Stakes, a 7th to Zipping in the Turnbull Stakes and a 16th in the Caulfield Cup. His Turnbull Stakes run was the only time he’s shown a glimpse of form. Seeing as it has been a year since he’s shown any form, I think he’s probably a candidate for ballot if I’ve ever seen one.
Sydney Cup winner who has not got close this preparation – putting in arguably her worst performance on Saturday in the Moonee Valley Cup. However, it is almost certain that she cannot be balloted. It is looking highly unlikely that she can be beaten in the Australian Stayers Challenge, meaning that she will get a ballot exempt position in the Melbourne Cup. However, John O’Shea has said if she doesn’t run in the top five in the Lexus Stakes, she won’t run in the Melbourne Cup. I hope he sticks to that.
2007 Caulfield Cup winner who has not shown much this preparation – like Jessicabeel, he also put in a poor performance on Saturday in the Moonee Valley Cup. He’s run 4th in the last two Melbourne Cups and you’d say that it is unlikely they’d want to ballot him. He’ll start very rough odds in the Melbourne Cup though.
2008 Melbourne Cup runner up, he’s only raced twice in the time since. One of those was a 58L last. His last run was much better, finishing just behind Godolphin’s Cup runner Campanologist. It has been attempted once before – Media Puzzle ran in the 2004 Melbourne Cup after having only two runs since his famous 2002 victory. He finished 12th. I can’t see him being balloted, but he has the task ahead of him.
In all likelihood, the VRC probably won’t use their discretion and will just take the top 24 horses in the order.
However, if they are to ballot a horse, the most likely candidate appears to be Buccellati.
In the future, it may be neccessary for the VRC to handpick the field to ensure they get the best 24 horses into the race.
Written by Andrew Hawkins