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The Melbourne Cup is the one time each year that Australian punters must line up international formlines against the locals.

It can be both a blessing and a curse. Many times it is just simple guesswork, because there are so many factors beyond what appears on paper.

However, there are some simple and basic rules that can help you to take your international form analysis up a notch.

For those who follow international racing throughout the year, there are a few things we will take into account when assessing visitors down under – particularly when it comes to the Melbourne Cup.

Don’t cut corners on form

It is absolutely critical to understand that reading bare form will be of little help when assessing international horses ahead of the Melbourne Cup.

Take a horse like Red Cadeaux. He had raced six times beyond 2800m before travelling to Australia for his first Melbourne Cup tilt

  • eighth of 17 over 3700m, beaten more than seven lengths in the Chester Cup
    second of 14 over 3600m, beaten two and a quarter lengths in the Cesarewitch Trial
  • ninth of 32 over 3600m, beaten seven lengths in the Cesarewitch
  • 12th of 17 over 3700m, beaten 18 lengths in the Chester Cup
  • 10th of 15 over 3200m, beaten 20 lengths in the Goodwood Cup
  • fifth of 13 over 3000m, beaten four lengths in the Prix Kergorlay

On bare form, that would suggest a horse that connections thought would stay – but obviously didn’t.

Throw in his record on good, good to soft or good to firm ground – which read 13 starts for just one win (and four placings) – and one would have had plenty of reasons to dismiss him. The same people would no doubt have had a heart attack when he lost by a photo to Dunaden in 2011.

Obviously, while he didn’t win the Melbourne Cup, his three runner-up finishes demonstrated that stamina and ground concerns were unfounded.

Bare form will help you to an extent, but it is more important to get an understanding of a horse’s characteristics and his traits and then trying to determine whether they will translate well to Australian racing.

Apples =/= apples

This should go without saying, but comparing jurisdictions is fraught with danger and should be approached with caution.

While this is a concept easily grasped in the context of Australian racing – taking Sydney form to Melbourne, for instance – the disparity widens when bringing international factors into play.

For instance, 3200m at Meydan – which should be nearly identical to Flemington, given it is a left-handed track with a 1000m run to the first turn and a similar run home – does not necessarily equate to 3200m at Headquarters.

That is particularly the case when assessing British form, with their racecourses generally quite undulating and with their races run at a different pace shape as well.

Generally, they build at a steady tempo throughout and so a stayer will generally be required to sustain a run for longer rather than being asked to quicken in the same way that they will in Australia. More on that later.

While a horse may appear a doubtful stayer in the UK, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t see out 3200m under Australian conditions. (Again, Red Cadeaux a good example.)

That can go for any number of factors, including track condition (Australian heavy is rarely as bad as the equivalent rating in the UK and Ireland) and sectionals.

Europe hates handicaps!

Talking to a British visitor a week before attending the Melbourne Cup, he was blown away to discover that the our great race is in fact a Group 1.

His response was, “How can a handicap be a Group 1 race? A Group 1 race should be about determining the best of the best, not about levelling the best to make them equal with Group 2 or Group 3 horses.”

Suggest the term “Group 1 handicap” to an international racing fan and the idea may not compute. Tell them that we have 16 Group 1 handicaps in Australia and their heads may explode.

In the UK, handicaps cannot carry black type status. They may be historically important, like the Ebor or the Ayr Gold Cup, but they will never be Listed races – let alone Group 1 races.

And while the US has handicaps as Group 1 races, they don’t have any proper ratings system by which to operate and so their handicaps are more closely linked to set weights and penalties contests.

Therefore, don’t dismiss an international raider whose form has come primarily in handicaps or not at Group 1 level. It is likely that they are a more appropriate contender than a horse who has been around the mark at the highest level and is weighted right up to his best.

Fortune favours the fast

The best asset any horse can have in Australia is acceleration. The second best asset is tactical speed.

Races in Australia are generally run at a very stop-start tempo and they require a horse that will be able to quicken at a moment’s notice.

Take the 2022 Caulfield Cup, which – as can often be the case – was a scramble to the first turn before the brakes were applied heading out of the straight. There was very little tempo to be found until the 1000m and the race really quickened from the 800m. In effect, it was an 1000m barrier trial, with the likes of Durston and Montefilia among those showing the best acceleration.

The Turnbull Stakes (won by front-runner Smokin’ Romans) and Cox Plate (won by Anamoe) were similarly run.

Any horse that can put themselves in a position to capitalise and then accelerate is going to prove a lethal force in Australian racing.

The primary difference with the Melbourne Cup is that there isn’t the same mad rush early to find a position. There can be a bit of pressure created by a 24-horse field, but with a long run to the first bend, it isn’t as imperative to find a position as quickly.

Back when up to 12 international horses competed in the Melbourne Cup, it would be rare that pace would not be injected at some point. The 2008 edition is one example where pressure generated a genuine tempo for all.

However, with only three internationals in the 2022 running and few of the locals looking as though they will lead at anything beyond a steady tempo, it could be another case of finding the horse most suited to what is essentially a gallop.

With sectionals used by some jurisdictions and not others – and their accuracy often queried even when they are in place – it can come down to a visual assessment rather than anything solid or evidence-based.

The eye test

While there may be some tips about what to avoid with international form, the best analysis any aspiring punter can undertake is to watch their replays, get to know the horses and to try and translate their traits for an Australian environment.

This is something that I will be undertaking in my Melbourne Cup preview, which will be published exclusively on the Betfair Hub.


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