The Melbourne Cup is the signature meet of the Australian racing calendar, as trainers and owners from across the globe descend upon Flemington Racecourse at the beginning of November. Lloyd Williams’ two wins in the last two seasons have seen him become the most successful owner in the history of the event. He will look to secure a third win on the bounce, although there are plenty of quality horses competing at Flemington: Yucatan, Magic Circle and Avilius will all be vying for the crown along with Joseph O’Brien’s Latrobe.
O’Brien is searching for his second win in a row in the Melbourne Cup after training Rekindling to victory last term. Latrobe has an opportunity for success in Australia and seems to have the taste for the big occasion, although he did endure a slow start to the campaign. He began his season at Naas and although he was considered the favourite for his opening race, the three-year-old lost out by a neck to Hunting Horn. Latrobe was slightly off the pace in his next outing at the Airlie Stud Gallinule Stakes, placing in second two-and-a-quarter lengths behind Platinum Warrior in Curragh. The Irish horse ended his winless drought with a dominant performance at Curragh at the beginning of June, finishing well ahead of the rest of the field.
His triumph sent him into the Irish Derby with momentum, although O’Brien’s charge was still considered an outsider for the win. However, with Donnacha O’Brien in the saddle, Latrobe put forward an outstanding run, powering away from a quality field, including Saxon Warrior, to claim the victory by half-a-length. He failed to build on his triumph at the Juddmonte International Stakes. The pace of Roaring Lion was too much for the rest of the competitors as Latrobe placed down in seventh, 10-and-a-half lengths behind. There was an opportunity for redemption at the Irish St Leger in Curragh, although Flag of Honour was present in the field and named the favourite for the event. However, he was beaten out by his compatriot by two-and-three-quarter lengths. Latrobe does have good value in the range of 12-14 for the title, although if Oddschecker’s list of cup runners' at the major bookmakers is anything to go by, he's not considered the leading contender for the event. Indeed, his recent form is a concern, although he is more than capable of raising the level of his game. And of course, it all comes down to how his big competitors been looking during the 2018 season.
Aidan O’Brien’s charge began the season with an underwhelming performance at Naas, finishing off the pace in fourth place in April. His next outing in May was not a fruitful one for the Irish horse either, placing in third off the pace of Cliffs of Moher, who won the Mooresbridge Stakes. Despite his early-season issues Yucatan was put forward for the Coronation Cup. It was clear from the off that the four-year-old would struggle to match the speed of the elite horses in the field. Cracksman won the event by a head over Salouen, with Yucatan bringing up the rear. He would again fail to find his form at the next major outing, delivering a poor performance at the Wolferton Stakes, placing last in the race at Royal Ascot.
The Irish horse needed a win to get back on track and ended his drought in the 2018 season at Curragh in a Group Three event in the International Stakes. He controlled the race and was able to close out the victory by one length ahead of Stellar Mass. However, Aidan O’Brien’s charge took another step back in his final appearance of the English and Irish season, placing in third behind Eizyra and Stellar Mass at the Ballyroan Stakes. Yucatan arrived in Australia to build form for the Melbourne Cup in October. The Irish horse was considered one of the leading contenders for the Herbert Power Stakes, despite his lack of form. With James McDonald in the saddle, he found his rhythm to produce his strongest outing of the term and won the race by one-and-a-quarter lengths. His performance has given the bookmakers confidence, but Yucatan’s inconsistent displays would be a concern.
The Irish horse has benefited from a change in trainer this term as Ian Williams has helped guide his charge to victories in his only two races of the campaign. Magic Circle was inconsistent, to say the least, under Ralph Beckett, although he did produce a win at York last season with Harry Bentley in the saddle. However, his underwhelming outing in the Cesarewitch Handicap ended his tenure with Beckett as he placed down in 13th at the end of the 2017 season. Magic Circle passed into Williams’ yard and after a 209-day break, he returned to action at Chester.
The six-year-old was a slight outsider for the Chester Cup but produced one of the strongest performances of his career to dominate the rest of the field, finishing six lengths ahead of his nearest rival for the win. He backed up his outing at Chester with another fine run at Sandown Park in a Group Three event. John Gosden’s Weekender was considered the favourite for the race, although Williams and his charge were able to rise to the occasion to triumph. Once again Magic Circle hit his stride and was able to pull away down the straight to claim the victory by six lengths. The Irish horse has talent, although his pedigree is in question against elite competition.
The four-year-old is another horse that has changed hands over the last year, with James Cummings taking control from Andre Fabre. Avilius failed to find his form after racing solely in France but has enjoyed great success in Australia since making his bow down under in August. He began the season in the Tony Crawford 50th Handicap at Randwick and enjoyed a tense battle with Dagny down the stretch for the win, edging out his rival by a neck to claim the win in the one-mile event. Cummings’ charge was able to maintain his form at the Premier's Cup at Rosehill. Once again he needed pace down the stretch to close out the victory, beating out a charge from I Am Serious by a neck.
Avilius was able to make it three triumphs on the bounce with a three-quarter-length win at the Kingston Town Stakes, delivering on expectations after being named the favourite for the race. The four-year-old tested the ground at Flemington ahead of the Cup in his outing at the Bart Cummings. He was considered the leading contender and produced another strong display, although he needed every inch of space down the stretch to edge his way over the line ahead of Jaameh. Avilius has the form in Australia, but whether it translates to a higher standard of competition remains to be seen.
It would be no surprise to see any one of these horses in the winners' circle come the end of the race on November 6. Based on form and value, it could be worth backing O'Brien and Williams for another win, given Latrobe's pedigree among elite competition over the course of the UK and Irish season.