We're back! It's the race that stops the nation and, in 2023, it's going to be an absolute classic, with Gold Trip looking to defend his crown, Without A Fight out to claim the cups double for the first time since the feat was achieved by Ethereal in 2001, and international raiders aiming to spoil the party.
Not sure who to back? Not to worry, as we take you through the best selections and some value runners in Tuesday's 10-race card at the glorious Flemington racecourse.
RACE 1 - Darley Maribyrnong Plate (1000m)
Admitted, who is one of just three horses with race experience in this field, was far too strong for his rivals in his impressive debut win for James Cummings over this same trip at 1000m. He never looked like losing then, gets James McDonald in the saddle and deserves to be a short price. Dublin Down also comes out of that race and, while he was no match for the winner, put a gap on third and should improve third-up. Blue Stratum looks a really smart colt with plenty of speed and was strong from start to finish in his recent jumpout win at Terang, and it won't be a surprise to see him replicate that under proper race conditions. You also have to respect the trainer/jockey combinations of fellow debutants Odinson and Catoggio.
4. Blue Stratum
RACE 2 - Furphy Plate (1800m)
Forgot You comes out of the JRA Cup where he finished third behind the in-form Ain'tnodeeldun at the Valley. He was slow out of the gates that day and settled last, but was able to hit the line very strongly once he found clear air, recording the fastest last 200 metres of the race. He'll be ideally suited by the wider Flemington track and should feature in the finish. Lord Vladivostok has been racing really well. He was luckless in the Group 2 Damien Oliver on Derby Day and before that got too far back in the Murray Bridge Cup where he was excellent through the line. He's ideally suited by the step up in trip and looks a key winning chance on the quick backup. Mr Maestro is a danger who will improve second-up and can win without surprise, and Pounding steps down in class.
4. Forgot You
6. Lord Vladivostok
7. Mr Maestro
RACE 3 - TAB Trophy (1800m)
Aztec State was a strong winner on debut over 1500m before heading to Caulfield and running third after being held up at a crucial stage on the turn. He still found the line well with the fastest final furlong, and every sign indicates he'll relish Flemington and 1800m. He's the one to beat. It's a similar story with Queen Of Dragons. The filly for Peter and Paul Snowden lost momentum at a crucial stage in the Callander-Presnell at Randwick, having to cross the heels of the slowing leaders down the straight and needing to make up too much ground by the time she found clear running. She closed off well and went better than the seventh-placed finish suggests.
2. Aztec State
10. Queen Of Dragons
RACE 4 - The Schweppervescence Plate (1000m)
It's hard to ignore the Godolphin runners here. Barber comes through the Roman Consul Stakes at Rosehill where he was slowly away but kept on well when asked for an effort late. He was two lengths off King's Gambit then and also finished behind eventual Coolmore Stud Stakes winner Ozzmosis, so the form stacks up and he steps down in class to tackle a race he can definitely win third-up. Stablemate Stanislaus will also be a major player having beaten home Doull in his most recent start -- a horse that has since franked the form with a win over subsequent Derby Day winner Spacewalk in the Group 2 McCafe Sprint two weeks ago. Jewel Bay has won two races this prep, is rock hard fit, drops in weight and will give himself every chance on speed, but does come up against tougher rivals here.
4. Jewel Bay
RACE 5 - The Macca's Run (2800m)
Happy to put Insulation on top here in a race that really doesn't excite. Last start he was second behind Pesto at Caulfield over 2400m as a $1.80 favourite but was caught three-wide until the 1700m when he had to be restrained to the back of the field. He let down well but was inevitably too far back and couldn't reel in the winner, who subsequently ran an unlucky seventh in the Bendigo Cup to Melbourne Cup starter Interpretation. Garachico meets both King's Crossing and Commando Drift far better at the weights after their previous start in Geelong, but the latter looks way over the odds after he was luckless in defeat. Mr Waterville has been in far tougher races than this and was recently solid when beaten under a length to the likes of Amade, Ashrun and Sir Lucan in the Geelong Cup.
3. Mr Waterville
13. Commando Drift
RACE 6 - Subzero Handicap (1400m)
Platinum Wolf's first-up run was as eye-catching as it gets, held up until the 300m and making up significant ground to fall one stride short of a win at Murray Bridge. Second-up he ran a disappointing third as the favourite but boasts a turn of foot good enough to win this. Glint Of Silver should be able to dictate the speed from barrier 1, drops in class and gets Zac Purton in the saddle. He finished behind multiple Group 2 winner and Golden Eagle placegetter Pericles earlier in the preparation and will absolutely give this race a shake. Paperboy was strong late in his last start at Moe and will be suited getting out to 1400m, while Love Tap won this race last year and with Blake Shinn on has the ability to go back-to-back. This is one of the more open races of the day with many chances.
9. Platinum Wolf
2. Glint Of Silver
1. Love Tap
RACE 7 - Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m)
Favourites don't have the greatest record in our famous two-mile race, but Vauban, albeit priced to his best, is going to be very tough to beat, especially if he can replicate his overseas form. Trainer Willie Mullins and owner Rich Ricci have been targeting the Melbourne Cup from a long way out. The impressive international has outstanding Group 1 form over the jumps, while his 7.5-length win at Ascot (beating home stablemate and fellow contender Absurde) turned plenty of heads and showed he has plenty of gears to power through. He was also too tough for Valiant King at his last start on softer going. He'll have a lot of tactical speed from gate 3, has world class jockey Ryan Moore in the saddle, and the distance is not an issue -- tick tick tick.
He's thereabouts in the market, but it still feels like Soulcombe is the forgotten horse in this race. Since his first-up win in the Heatherlie at Caulfield, the British import for Chris Waller has run behind Alligator Blood (1800m), Gold Trip (2000m), and Without A Fight (2400m) with a common theme letting him down each time -- slow to begin. He missed the kick by four lengths in the Caulfield Cup and had far too much work to do before hitting the line strongly. From gate 4 in a Melbourne Cup, he risks being buried on the inside if his barrier manners repeat, but if he jumps and settles even just slightly closer, he's in this up to his eyeballs. Blinkers come off and the master Joao Moreira jumps on, which certainly helps. And if he misses the start again? It's probably less relevant over two miles. He's primed.
Without A Fight was fancied in this race 12 months ago but like most of last year's imports, couldn't handle the wet track. This time he gets the dry ground to suit, and he's arguably an even better horse now, winning three of the four races he's been in since last year's race that stops the nation -- two of those coming in the winter carnival in Queensland before a terrific Caulfield Cup win against key rivals. Mark Zahra chose to stay on rather than attempt back-to-back wins on Gold Trip which is a big call, but says a lot about his chances. Third-up and a major player.
Last year's winner, Gold Trip is every chance of repeating the feat and becoming the first horse to win successive cups since the great Makybe Diva. He's following the same path as last year with runs in the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate as tune-ups for his Grand Final, but is arguably going even better now, finishing third and a nifty fifth against the pattern in those races respectively. The knocks? He prefers to get his toe in the ground, but that doesn't mean he won't handle the firmer track, while no horse has carried 58.5kg in this race and won since Think Big in 1975. It's a tough assignment, but he gets a good gate, one of the best jockeys in the business in James McDonald, and has the class.
I'm simply putting a line through Breakup's plain Caulfield Cup run in which he ran eighth behind Without A Fight. He was 118 days between runs that day and was hugely underdone, so will take significant improvement into the Melbourne Cup. He has really strong staying form in Japan, much prefers the two miles, and will stay all day, although he's going to do it tough from barrier 18 and lacks a turn of foot. French import Lastotchka brings a huge amount of X-factor into the race. Her best form is on wet tracks, most recently winning a Group 3 over 3100m, and she's drawn a tough gate in 21. But she gets a big advantage at the weights and won't know herself carrying just 51kgs, will roll forward and should stay. A top 3 finish for these two would not shock.
3. Without A Fight
1. Gold Trip
21. Future History
13. Okita Soushi
RACE 8 - Desirable Stakes (1400m)
Bizot has reeled off some impressive closing sectionals in her first two starts at Ballarat and her blistering turn of foot should hold her in good stead. Last start she beat home both Alectrona and Miss Roumbini who were both subsequent winners at their next starts. She's way over the odds. Since winning a maiden in March this year, Kimochi has been a consistent placegetter in either Group 1 or 2 races so gets a better contest here off a let up. Commemorative made a huge impression winning on debut before taking on the mares at Randwick, where she raced keenly and ended up wide without cover before hitting the line strongly. She maps to get a sit behind the speed here, gets James McDonald back on and is a key winning hope. Another race where you can throw a blanket over a few of them.
RACE 9 - Hong Kong Jockey Club Stakes (1400m)
Madame Pommery is the top pick here. She comes through the Group 2 Tristarc at Caulfield where she was narrowly beaten by Wrote To Arataki. She was held up that day and didn't get a run until the 150m. From barrier 15 if she can find cover from a three-wide line then she might be too strong for them at the end. Climbing Star was absolutely luckless at this track and distance two runs back, and she didn't do too much wrong in the Moonga Stakes either, beaten 1.25 lengths to a better horse in Buffalo River. La Danseuse Rouge never runs a bad race, has an electric turn of foot and maps to get a really nice run.
1. Madame Pommery
8. La Danseuse Rouge
12. Climbing Star
2. Skew Wiff
RACE 10 - Paramount+ Trophy (1400m)
Chorlton Lane is coming into this fresh after a really consistent preparation and couldn't have trialled better off a let up. He's a really consistent runner who has done nothing wrong since coming here from the UK. He was a first up winner and recently finished behind Vienna Princess, who since franked the form with a win in the Silver Eagle. Robusto was luckless behind Much Much Better at Randwick in a race dominated by those on speed. He can improve second-up, the distance suits and if he can settle closer in transit he's one that can flash home. Inver Park has also had excuses this prep, comes down in class and shouldn't be ignored.
16. Chorlton Lane
2. Inver Park
7. Dubai Poet