Horses to watch on Day 1 of the Melbourne Cup Carnival

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 28th, 2016

Bettors looking to sharpen their handicapping skills before next week's Breeders' Cup might want to have a look at Saturday's (Friday night U.S.) opening program of the four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington.

This particular card typically falls on Breeders' Cup Friday, so is generally a complete afterthought for fans and bettors in this country. However, due to the vagaries of the calendar, the Melbourne Cup ("The race that stops a nation") falls on the Tuesday (Monday night U.S.) before the Breeders' Cup this year, and day one of the Carnival tonight is its usual impressive self.

The Cup, of course, is the highlight of the week, but the Carnival opener is arguably the best of the four days top-to-bottom. All nine races are group events (four of them Group 1s), with purses totaling A$4.8 million. The average field size, before scratches and not including also-eligibles, is 14.3.

With sunshine forecast and the course condition rated good (4) at this writing, here are my each-way selections in Friday night's Group 1s:

Coolmore Stud Stakes (Race 5)

Though the race lost a bit of luster with the scratch of Golden Slipper (G1) winner Capitalist, FLYING ARTIE (#4, 9-1 ML U.S.) still appears as if he's flying a tad under the radar. He fared well on debut over this course in a Group 3, and later placed in both the Blue Diamond (G1) and Golden Slipper, where he finished well ahead of likely Coolmore Stud favorite Extreme Choice. The latter won first-up in the September 30 Moir (G1) at Moonee Valley, while Flying Artie delivered first-up in the Blue Sapphire (G3) at Caulfield on October 12.

With Extreme Choice, Astern, and Star Turn attracting most of the attention in early betting, Flying Artie is an interesting alternative in this six-furlong straight dash for three-year-olds given his form lines.

Myer Classic (Race 6)

I'll be backing course specialist DON'T DOUBT MAMMA (#7, 6-1) in this one-mile test for fillies and mares. She has three wins and a second in her past four trips over the track, including a nose score in the seven-furlong Let's Elope (G2) back on September 20. She followed up 20 days later with a neck victory in the Zoustar Stocks (G2) over a mile at Moonee Valley, and enters this heat relatively fresh off a 29-day spell.

Victoria Derby (Race 7)

The feature race of the day is worth A$1.5 million, and here I'll stick with a horse I had a little bit of luck with in early September. SWEAR (#3, 15-2) won first up in the Ming Dynasty (G3) over heavy ground at Randwick for Spendthrift Farm, then was sixth, beaten less than a length, in the Gloaming (G3) at Rosehill after an awkward start. Swear was in better form last time when getting within a half-length of Yankee Rose in the 1 1/4-mile Spring Champion (G1) at Randwick.

By Redoute's Choice and out of New Zealand champion Crossyourheart, I expect Swear to see out the step up to 1 9/16 miles here.

Cantala Stakes (Race 8)

Formerly the feature on Day 4 of the Carnival, the Cantala has switched places with the Mackinnon (G1), which used to serve as the final prep for the Melbourne Cup (3 days out!). The 1 1/4-mile Mackinnon will now be run next weekend and takes the name of the Cantala's former sponsor, Emirates.

It's another tough race to get a grip on, but THUNDER FANTASY (#6, 18-1) is an interesting horse at a price. After spending the 2014-15 season in Hong Kong, he reappeared on October 8 at Randwick in a seven-furlong handicap. Sent off at 41-1 after three unimposing barrier trials, he advanced from mid-pack to win by a half-length in his first outing in 18 months while carrying a staggering 139 pounds.

Thunder Fantasy gets an 18-pound weight drop for the Cantala, and has some back class from his days as a three-year-old in Australia. In addition to running third in the Victoria Derby, he later won the seven-furlong Autumn (G2) at Caulfield and placed in the Australian Guineas (G1) at Flemington and the Rosehill Guineas (G1), both over a mile.

First post at Flemington Friday night is 8:45 p.m. (EDT), with the Coolmore Stud kicking off the Group 1 action at 11:25 p.m. I'll be back over the weekend with a Melbourne Cup selection for Monday night.

Be sure to wager with on Monday night's Melbourne Cup card at Flemington and receive 20X the points if you win $50 or more.