All the hype surrounded defending champion Almandin and British raider Marmelo ahead of last year’s Melbourne Cup, the richest two-mile race in the world. Legions of punters backed the pair of them in to $7 joint favourites and clutched their betting slips expectantly, waiting for the duel to unfold. But it did not pan out that way. Instead we witnessed an Irish one-two-three as Joseph O’Brien’s $16 shot Rekindling beat his father’s $13 chance Johannes Vermeer to seal a famous victory. Willie Mullins' Max Dynamite, who went off at $20, came in third, and the joint favourites were nowhere to be seen. In the end, Marmelo finished ninth and Almandin was back in 12th.
Bookmakers were celebrating a job well done in the most high-profile event of the horse racing calendar, dubbed the race that stops a nation. “Marmelo and Almandin were both heavily backed before the race, but finished out of the placings, while the winner was a noted drifter today, easing from $13 to $17 before trimming up late into $15,” said Gerard Daffy, media manager of a large Australian bookmaker “He was one of our better results.”
The previous year, Almandin beat the favourite, Hartnell, by five lengths in another blow for punters that were taken in by the hype surrounded the most heavily fancied horse. The last favourite to win the Mebourne Cup was Fiorente, back in 2013. This 3,200m race carries a prize purse north of £6 million, so it attracts the very best runners, trainers and jockeys in the world. The final acceptance fee is an eye-watering $45,000, so owners do not enter their horses unless they think they have a good chance of winning. That means you get a competitive field, stacked with talented runners, most of whom have secured multiple wins at Group 1 level, vanquishing some superstar contenders in the process.
That is why it pays to look further down the card when making a selection ahead of the big race, which takes place on the first Tuesday in November. Rekindling leads the ante post betting in the Melbourne Cup odds for the 2018 renewal, but it is worth noting that the last horse to win this famous race twice in a row was Makybe Diva, who completed a famous hat-trick back in 2005. There have only been five multiple winners – Makybe Diva, Think Big, Rain Lover, Peter Pan and Archer – since the race began in 1861. Superstars like Dunaden, Protectionist and Kingston Rule have all failed to defend their crown, so opposing Rekindling looks like a smart move.
There have been 150 favourites since the race began, and only 34 have won the Melbourne Cup. That is a return of 23%, less than one in four, showing that it pays to oppose the favourite. Archer set the tone back in 1861, when he went off as a heavy outsider by won the race by three lengths, claiming £710 and a gold watch in a winner takes all prize. Since then the Melbourne Cup has continued a tradition of outsiders seizing glory. Four runners – Prince of Penzance, Old Rowley, Wotan and The Pearl – won it at odds of 100/1. A crowd of 101,105 watched Prince of Penzance’s fairy-tale victory in 2015. It was his first ever top-class victory and the first time a female jockey had ever won Australia’s most famous race.
Many favourites are in the mix by the end of the race: 73 out of 150 have placed since the Melbourne Cup began. But the most common winning prices are 10/1 ($11), which has come in 16 times, and 8/1 ($9), which has landed 14 times.
So, what else should you look for when aiming to narrow down this deep and competitive field before making your selection? There have only been two eight-year-old winners and the last three-year-old winner came back in 1941, when Skipton defied the odds to romp to victory. So you probably want to look at horses aged four to seven, and four- and five-year-olds have enjoyed the greatest levels of success, with 44 wins apiece. Only 13 mares and three fillies have won the Melbourne Cup, so it is a male-dominated affair. Barriers five and 11 have been the most successful, while no horse from barrier 18 has ever won the race. All of this data might help you whittle it down to a smaller field to choose from, but the main point is that you should be prepared to oppose the favourite and seek value elsewhere.