Hints from the Cup handicapper

Picking the Melbourne Cup winner has become a herculean task for many Australian punters who find it increasingly difficult trying to piece together form from all parts of the world.

Greg Carpenter’s role as Racing Victoria’s chief handicapper isn’t to identify the winner, but his allocation of weights does provide clues to who may be the hardest to beat on the first Tuesday in November.

The key to unlocking Carpenter’s opinion is comparing horses’ cup weights with their domestic handicap ratings.

“Both the international and Australian handicap ratings are starting points for me to assess the weights but ultimately it’s my decision as to what weight each horse will carry,” Carpenter explained.

“There are some European horses who as you look at them and their massive jump in ratings off the back off one performance, that either I don’t believe it or I want to see it again before I want to put the horse into those weights off those ratings.”

Lancaster Bomber and Best Solution, whom both have an international rating of 118, share top billing of the Internationals with 57.5kg each while multiple Group 1 placegetter Torcedor (117) is also weighted to his overseas mark with 57kg.

Carpenter’s discretion is viewed thereafter.

Lighter than expected

Magic Circle has won both his starts in 2018 by six lengths, including the Group 3 Henry II Stakes (3264m) at Sandown (UK).

His UK rating has consequently shot up from 101 to 117 but Carpenter has given him 56kg, consistent with a horse rated 115.

Count Octave is rated 115 in the UK, his handicap ballooning 10 points after to finishing runner-up, beaten 1½ lengths by England’s best two-miler Stradivarius in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup (3319m) at York last month. But he’ll only carry 54kg.

Count Octave finished 4½ lengths ahead of the third-placed Idaho, who’ll meet Count Octave 2kg worse from the Lonsdale in the Cup as he’s been given 56kg.

Desert Skyline and Red Verdon, whom finished fourth and fifth in the Lonsdale over six lengths adrift of Count Octave, will again meet Count Octave at level weights in the Cup with 54kg.

Past performance valued

Max Dynamite (third, 54kg), Nakeeta (fifth, 53kg), Thomas Hobson (sixth, 52kg) and Marmelo (ninth, 55kg) will carry the same weights from last year’s Melbourne Cup while Tiberian (seventh, 55.5kg) has been granted two kilos less.

Of that quintet, only Marmelo has maintained anything resembling positive form. Therefore Max Dynamite and Nakeeta’s handicap appears exaggerated against their current UK assessment.

Pumped up

The only horse aged five or older to be handicapped more than half a kilo over its European mark is Roger Charlton’s Withhold. He’s been sparingly raced by Charlton, and intentionally so.

Plans for the 2018 Melbourne Cup were announced after Withhold won the Cesarewitch Handicap (3621m) last October, beating Magic Circle with 5kg less.

Withhold won his only race in 2018, Newcastle’s Northumberland Plate (3269m) in June, by 2¾ lengths, carrying 2.5kg less than Prince of Arran.

Carpenter’s elevated assessment of Withhold means he’ll meet Prince of Arran at equal weights and carry 3kg less than Magic Circle in the Melbourne Cup. But more importantly, Withhold now has a realistic chance of getting into the final field.

Forgotten… for now

The Lloyd Williams-owned trio of Douglas Macarthur, Orderofthegarter and Sir John Lavery have been assessed well below their UK mark – between 3.5kg to 4kg.

Neither of them have raced during 2018 and have spent the bulk of this year stabled at Mount Macedon for Liam Howley in anticipation of this year’s Cup.

Their light weight comes with a caveat – they need to pass the first ballot clause to gain a berth in the Cup field which will make them eligible for re-handicapping.

Almandin returned from a two-year absence, missing the 2015 Melbourne Cup through injury, before passing the ballot and winning the Cup with 52kg during the 2016 spring carnival.

Aged three and on notice

Rekindling’s win in the 2017 Melbourne Cup has encouraged more overseas stables to consider running northern hemisphere three-year-old’s in the race.

Aidan O’Brien’s northern hemisphere three-year-old’s haven’t been overlooked by Carpenter.

Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris winner Kew Gardens has been asked to carry 1.5kg more than Rekindling did last year, in part due the absence of what Carpenter describes “a natural topweight” in this year’s event.

Stablemates Flag of Honour and Rostropovich have been assessed equal to their UK mark.

Group 1 Irish Derby winner Latrobe, trained by Aidan’s reigning Cup-winning son Joseph, carries a half-kilo more than his European mark with 52kg.

Appleby’s team

Cross Counter is one of four Melbourne Cup entries trained by Charlie Appleby. The northern hemisphere three-year-old by Teofilo shares an international rating of 114 with Latrobe but will carry 51kg, therefore a half-kilo less than his European mark.

Cross Counter has won four of his seven starts, claiming the Group 3 Gordon Stakes (2414m) at Goodwood in track record time with English Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee finishing second.

Cross Counter then split stablemate Old Persian and Kew Gardens, who he’ll meet 2kg better in the Cup, as runner-up in the Group 2 Great Voltigeur (2400m) at York on August 22.

Appleby’s gelding Hamada, aged five to Australian time, has won his past five starts and has been assessed consistent with his overseas rating.

Hamada’s older stablemate Emotionless is a last-start winner of the listed Steventon Stakes (2000m) at Newbury, the same race Scottish claimed before finishing runner-up in the 2016 Caulfield Cup.

Walton Street, who is a doubtful Australian visitor, ran third in the Duke of Edinburgh (2414m) during Royal Ascot in June and then ran third to Hamada two months later in the Group 3 Geoffrey Freer (2716m) at Newbury.

Both Emotionless and Walton Street have been given a kilo less than their overseas ratings for the Melbourne Cup.