Almandin the choice in Melbourne Cup

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 31st, 2016

The A$6 million Melbourne Cup (G1), "The Race That Stops a Nation," is one of the great spectacles in the world of racing and makes a rare pre-Breeders' Cup appearance on the calendar Monday evening in the U.S. (post time of midnight Eastern).

A two-mile handicap with a field of 24 scheduled to participate, the Cup is always one of the more intriguing punt opportunities of the year. Favorites and short-priced contenders obviously do well on occasion, but there also times, like last year when 100-1 shot Prince of Penzance won, when the use of a dart board would be a better predictor.

With such a large field, I tend not to get involved in the vertical exotics in the Cup. Instead, much like my approach to the Grand National Steeplechase every spring, I like to spread some money around in the win pool on a few contenders.

At this writing, the course condition at Flemington is Good (3), though a high probability of showers may soften the ground up a bit by post time.

Race favorites Hartnell (#6, 6-1 in U.S. morning line) and Jameka (#12, 5-1) have plenty to offer except value. If not for the super mare Winx, Hartnell would be riding a five-race win streak into the Cup. He's finished second to her twice this season, most recently in last week's Cox Plate (G1), but has won multiple group stakes by open lengths in her absence. His 123-pound impost is fairly light for a horse of his caliber, though he's failed to place in two prior starts over this distance.

Jameka won the October 15 Caulfield Cup (G1) over 1 1/2 miles by a widening three lengths after running second to Hartnell in the Turnbull (G1) at Flemington. At last year's Melbourne Cup Carnival, she scored in the VRC Oaks (G1) over 1 9/16 miles.

Big Orange (#1, 15-1) is a European invader I've come to admire. Fifth by 2 1/2 lengths in this race last year after setting the pace, he returned home and captured the Princess of Wales (G2) at Newmarket and the Goodwood Cup (G2) in July. Unfortunately, he's no friend of wet ground, so the state of the course closer to post time will determine whether I invest in him or not. Other factors working against him are his impost of 125 pounds (relatively mild but he's the co-top weight) and the presence of other speed in the field.

Routinely finding myself liking the so-called "wise guy horse" in America, it's no surprise I've been gravitating toward the Melbourne Cup version in Almandin (#17, 20-1), who is now trading at about $11 down under at last check. The German import, who will carry just 114 pounds, has been actively running in Australia since June 2015. Unplaced in his first three tries, he seems to have finally adapted this spring with back-to-back scores at Caulfield and Flemington, the latter over 1 9/16 miles on October 2 in the Bart Cummings (G3).

Almandin, who seems to handle all types of footing, also has an interesting form line from his days back home in Germany. In his final start there in June 2014, in an 11-furlong Group 2 at Baden-Baden, Almandin out-finished Protectionist, who famously went on to win the Melbourne Cup that November.

Almandin is my primary selection for the Cup regardless of price. I'll have some insurance plays on Hartnell at 6-1 or higher, and on Big Orange at 15-1 or higher provided the ground is acceptable.

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(Darryl Sherer, photo)