Betting on the Melbourne Cup is getting harder and harder as the years progress.
An ever-growing slew of international runners make their way down under each year for the race that stops a nation, which further muddies the waters as to which lead-in races are your best options heading into the big one.
In years gone by it was the Caulfield Cup and the Cox Plate that were the best indicators of a strong Cup performance, but as racing trends change so too do the form races leading into the Melbourne Cup.
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Important Melbourne Cup lead-up races
The seven ballot-exempt races are the main events that punters should keep an eye on first and foremost, as the winner will gain direct access into the Cup without having to sweat on the order of entry.
Those seven races are:
Traditionalists will point to the time-honoured Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate as being the best kick-off points for the Melbourne Cup, but history suggests that may no longer be the case.
- The Cox Plate: The Moonee Valley feature is more of a stand-alone event rather than a double-chasing race prior to the Melbourne Cup. In the period between 2010 and 2018, So You Think is the only horse to have won Cox Plate and gone on to compete in the Melbourne Cup of that year.
Having said that, the race has been used as a quality tune-up race for the eventual winner.
Fiorente finished third in the Cox Plate before going on to win the Melbourne Cup in 2013, while Green Moon only managed a seventh-placed finish before going on to claim the Cup in 2012.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the years after the retirement of Winx, which won four consecutive Cox Plates from 2016-2019 and never once raced in the Melbourne Cup.
- The Caulfield Cup: This winner in most cases goes on to race in the Melbourne Cup, but given only 11 horses in the history of both races have claimed the Caulfield/Melbourne Cup double, the past suggests it is extremely hard to win both races in any given year.
In what would loom as a shock to many, in the period between 2010 and 2017, only one horse (Shocking in 2009) has raced in the Caulfield Cup and gone on to win the Melbourne Cup.
- The Bart Cummings: While it has only been a direct entry race since 2015, The Bart has proven a successful form race heading into the Cup. Giving horses the most amount of time from the ballot-exempt race into the Melbourne Cup, the Bart Cummings 2016 winner Almandin went on to win the cup that year, while 2014 winner Who Shot Thebarman went on to finish third in the Cup of that year.
- Archer Stakes: The winner of this race has a short turnaround of only a few days before heading the Melbourne Cup, which invariably means the horse will need to produce an out of the ordinary effort to salute in the big one. Since 2017, Sign Off (fourth in 2014) has been the best performing winner out of the race, while the last horse to do the Archer Stakes/Melbourne Cup double was Shocking in 2009.
- Andrew Ramsden Stakes: Added in 2018 to the ballot exemption in an effort to help boost the hopes of the Australian contingent of Cup contenders, the Andrew Ramsden Stakes in May will now grant a galloper direct entry into the race that stops a nation.
- The Roy Higgins: After being added to be added to ballot exemption in 2023, The Roy Higgins, which is run over 2800m in March at Flemington, will now grant a galloper direct entry into the Melbourne Cup. The inaugural recipient of the ballot exemption was Goldman from the Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott stable.
- Ebor Handicap: The Ebor Handicap was the first international race to be awarded ballot exemption in 2023. Held at York Racecourse in August, the Ebor is run over approximately 2800m and the winner will be granted direct entry into the The Cup. The Willie Mullins-trained Absurde claimed the 2023 Ebor and will make the trip to Australia to compete in the Melbourne Cup.
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Other notable Melbourne Cup lead-in races
- The Geelong Cup: Since Media Puzzle’s win in 2002 and subsequent Melbourne Cup success, a win in the Geelong Cup has become a strong form-line for the race that stops a nation. Irish invader Bauer won in Geelong before narrowly missing out in 2008, while Americain in 2010 and Dunaden just a year later went on to do the double.
- The Turnbull Stakes: This is another race that produces Melbourne Cup contenders. Green Moon did the Turnbull Stakes/Melbourne Cup double in 2012, as did Makybe Diva in 2005.
Hartnell went on to claim third in the cup after winning the 2016 Turnbull Stakes, while Preferment (2015) and Lucia Valentina (2014) went into the race as key market elects, but failed to perform.
2018 Turnbull Stakes winner Winx became the third horse in seven years to win the race and not go on to compete in that year’s Melbourne Cup.
What international races indicate Melbourne Cup success
Given there is perennially a number of international raiders at the head of the betting markets for the Melbourne Cup, it stands to reason that punters must look at overseas events if they are to properly gauge how the foreigners rate coming into the race.
- The Ebor Handicap: Held in York and is one of Europe’s richest staying handicaps and has produced a number of notable Melbourne Cup contenders, and in 2023 was given ballot exemption for Melbourne Cup.
In an incredible anomaly, the race has gone on to produce a number of second-placed horses in the Melbourne Cup. Gives The Slip took out the Ebor before finishing second to Ethereal in the 2001 Cup, Hugs Dancer was outdone by Efficient in 2007 after winning the York feature, while Heartbreak City took the race out in 2016 before finishing second to Almandin in 2016.
- The Prix de Kergolay: Race in France and is becoming one of the must-follow races from Europe. Both Americain in 2010 and Protectionist in 2014 took out the group two crown and went on to claim the Melbourne Cup.
In 2017 British galloper Marmelo firmed into favouritism after taking out the Prix de Kergolay.
- The Irish St. Leger: Has been viewed as one of the UK’s best lead-in races for the race that stops a nation. Vintage Crop won the race then came over and took out the Cup in 1993, Vinnie Roe took the race out in 2004 and eventually ran second to Makybe Diva in the big one.
Other notable winners that have come across after taking the race out are Septimus in 2008 and Wicklow Brave in 2016.