The 2023 Caulfield Cup looked a strong edition going in, especially with the presence of five internationals after none last year, and it’s fair to say the race lived up to the billing. Three superb and high class horses filled the trifecta, and in classic handicap fashion the top weight and a horse 8kg’s below him both ran in the top four.
WITHOUT A FIGHT (1st)
Without A Fight had been right in the Caulfield Cup market since his two impressive wins from as many starts in Queensland earlier this year. The Brisbane carnival is becoming more and more relevant to the Melbourne spring with each passing season.
He returned with a fine effort in the Underwood Stakes, running the quickest closing splits of the race, and was hitting the Caulfield Cup second-up. After drawing well in barrier 7, Mark Zahra, as good a big race jockey as there is in Australia, had him positioned perfectly just worse than midfield on the fence, trailing his main danger West Wind Blows.
Zahra tracked West Wind Blows everywhere he went, allowing the hardy UK galloper to take him into the race, before peeling widest on the turn and allowing Without A Fight to show his strength. A winner up to 2800m in the UK before, the end of 2400m was never going to trouble him and he was the superior stayer on the day. With 55.5kg’s on his back, he was giving weight to all bar Gold Trip, so it was all honours.
WEST WIND BLOWS (2nd)
West Wind Blows was always going to be a force to be reckoned with in this race, after his outstanding Turnbull Stakes run two weeks ago, and that he was, only going down in a classic finish to a high class stayer. While he was more slowly away than his supporters may have wanted, and perhaps settled a pair or two further back than anticipated, barrier two allowed him to hold a midfield position.
Jamie Spencer has copped some grief for some of his big race rides in Australia, but he did nothing wrong on West Wind Blows here. Some may argue he could have taken a trail for a little bit longer, and the horse perhaps didn’t take the final turn perfectly, but he was going well enough to go for home and was part of a photo-finish that produced big gaps through the rest of the field.
He’ll be a very difficult horse to beat at Flemington in three weeks time, in the Champions Stakes over 2000m at WFA.
GOLD TRIP (3rd)
What a mighty horse Gold Trip has become, now having two Caulfield Cup placings to go with his Melbourne Cup win, in all of which he has carried the number one saddlecloth and top weight.
Ben Melham was able to slot Gold Trip in perfectly from what could have been an awkward barrier, and he was sitting alongside Without A Fight for most of the race. The strong speed suited the toughest horses, of which he is one, but he also had to carry the weight that others did not.
Gold Trip made his run at the same time Zahra was going on Without A Fight, both trying to tag West Wind Blows as that horse made his move. Melham had more cramped room at various stages than the other two did, and had to change course late in the piece, but it never felt like it cost him momentum or the race.
Ultimately, he was superb again, and will be hard to beat in the Cox Plate next week if connections decide to back him up.
BOIS D’ARGENT (4th)
Bois D’Argent was the surprise packet of the race, running fourth at 100-1. He’s been a consistent stayer on the NSW country cups circuit this year, and Winona Costin gave him a great ride with a light weight on his back. She was able to stick to the inside during the straight, and avoided some minor scrimmages out deeper, enabling connections to cash a healthy cheque.
He’s an honest horse that will continue to be competitive in whatever he runs in.
RIGHT YOU ARE (5th)
Right You Are won his way into the Caulfield Cup with his Mornington Cup win back in April, and was destined to prove competitive thanks to his rock-solid lead-up form, as well as his general honesty as a horse. Ciaron Maher and David Eustace have been able to get everything out of him.
Mick Dee had him beginning brightly from a wide enough draw, and slotted him into a beautiful position in the third pair. If anything though, factoring in how strongly the race was run, Dee went too early on Right You Are, especially for a horse than had only run over 2400m once before, and never beyond.
He made his move at the 800m, and was four wide all the way around the home turn, hitting the front with 350m to go. He was then left a sitting shot for the higher class horses to run him down, when a more patient ride may have even seen him sneak a top three finish. A race like the Zipping Classic could be a nice target for him.
VALIANT KING (6th)
Valiant King was a well backed commodity in the last 24 hours before the Cup, backed in from $17 to around $10 on Friday and Saturday.
Jamie Kah made the most of the rails draw after the horse jumped cleanly, settling him in the third pair, and the Joseph O’Brien-trained international looked to relax nicely during the run. At the 600m when a few horses were making their move, Kah was patient and correctly decided to wait until straightening to ask for something.
Valiant King is an inexperienced horse, and he kept wanting to lay in, in the straight. Kah had to change hands with the whip – his waywardness ended up with him getting in a scrimmage between Breakup and Bois D’Argent around the 200m, and appeared to cost him a length or two. He tried to keep coming but had lost all momentum. He’ll be an interesting runner if heading to the Melbourne Cup.
On the third line of betting as one of the pre-post favourites, Soulcombe burnt punters by dawdling out of the barriers, costing himself four lengths, and having to tack onto the field. Craig Williams did what he could to pick up a position or two early in proceedings.
While the start wasn’t ideal, Soulcombe still moved into the race nicely from the 600m when everyone was trying to build momentum, and by the time the field straightened for home, he was right behind Without A Fight, Gold Trip and West Wind Blows – Williams had positioned him perfectly behind the exact right trio to follow. He was near enough if good enough.
He simply couldn’t accelerate like the eventual trifecta, and while he wasn’t bad by any means, was quite dour to the line compared to what was expected. It could end up being a nice Melbourne Cup trial, but he will an interesting one to assess in two weeks time.
People are always wary of a Japanese stayer, and Breakup was a bit of a streetcorner tip on the day of the race. He had drawn well, and Damian Lane positioned himself exactly where he wanted to be in the fourth pair, with favourite West Wind Blows on his inside.
When Right You Are, just in front of him, made his move a bit early, Lane decided to follow that horse and then peel off his back upon straightening to give his mount the best chance. He looked a brief threat at the top of the straight, until it was clear a few others were going better, but he was then hampered by West Wind Blows and copped a little bump between Gold Trip and Valiant King.
Ultimately, he wasn’t good enough, but there was a thought that he would be better suited at 3200m rather than the 2400m here. Still, it feels like he’ll need to find several lengths to win a Melbourne Cup.
DUKE DE SESSA (9th)
Duke De Sessa didn’t begin brilliantly from barrier 14, so Johnny Allen decided to take him back to the rear of the field. Even though he was near the tail, for the first third of the race he was three wide with no cover after not being able to slot in.
Allen started moving him into the race from the 600m, tagging onto Soulcombe, who himself was tracking the eventual trifecta. He had clear running all the way down the straight, which couldn’t be said about a few others, but only Without A Fight, West Wind Blows and Gold Trip had a quicker last 400m than him.
He’s actually ticking along really nicely for the right race, but it’s hard to know what that might be. He isn’t entered for the Melbourne Cup.
UNITED NATIONS (10th)
United Nations was the under the riding of apprentice Carleen Hefel, having her first ride the Caulfield Cup, and she got off to a flyer in being able to get her horse into the box seat from barrier 17. Unfortunately the tempo being set was a strong one, in which none of the on-pace runners were able to make an impression at the end.
Hefel looked to get an itchy trigger finger, actually making her move even before the 800m, no doubt trying to use the light weight and get others chasing. It didn’t quite work, and United Nations could only plug away, but still battled on gamely enough.
HOO YA MAL (11th)
Hoo Ya Mal had been building his form in weight-for-age races through the spring, and looked ready to peak stepping up in trip while dropping down in weight. A rock solid $10 chance, he jumped well from barrier eight, as Waterhouse/Bott horses are trained to do, and Tim Clark was able to find the fence before they passed the post for the first time.
None of the on-speed horses survived to be there in the finish, and while he presented into the race at the right time to look like being a threat, he was quickly swallowed up by those that had settled behind him and was quite disappointing in the end.
OKITA SOUSHI (12th)
Okita Soushi wasn’t brilliantly away from gate 12, and Kerrin McEvoy quickly elected to settle him in the back quarter of the field. Events unfold from there, and McEvoy got going on him from the 600m – he did run the quickest 600m-400m of the race, but he was cutting the corner while others were fanning out wider. Ultimately, it was one of the more nondescripts runs in the race.
Blake Shinn had Montefilia positioned in the back third after his mare almost knuckled at the start and was slow to begin. From there she had no excuses, but made no impression at all. Many think that 2400m sees her out, so perhaps the fast run race wasn’t to her liking, and she wasn’t able to sprint at the end of it, despite the quiet time. She’s now had two very good runs for Chris Waller, and two basic ones.
SPIRIT RIDGE (14th)
No horse in the race had run more times in 2023 than Spirit Ridge, lining up for this 12th start this year, and with only 50.5kg’s on his back, Dean Yendall was happy to use his fitness and roll along at a strong tempo. He started to tire from the 400m, and battled on as well as he could given the fast tempo that he had led the field at.
Fame started at 200-1, and ran like it. He settled back and never made any impression in the race, and does not seem to have come back in any sort of form as a four-year-old.
Goldman had to work early from a bad barrier, and was wide around the first turn. From there he sat second behind Spirit Ridge, and was a key part of the speed battle that helped set up such a solidly run race, but he started to drop out alarmingly with 700m to go. He was the first one beaten on Saturday, and the horse that was the Melbourne Cup favourite back in March simply has not come up this prep.
FRANCESCO GUARDI (17th)
Francesco Guardi jumped at $26, so while he wasn’t expected to be among the main fancies, he was arguably the most disappointing run in the race. High up in Melbourne Cup markets, most felt like he would put in a lovely trial for two weeks time. It didn’t happen.
James McDonald certainly gave him a peach of a ride. Decisive from barrier 15, he was able to angle across to the rail inside the first furlong, still with a handful of runners behind him. He didn’t spend a penny in the run, and McDonald then started tracking up on the rail from the 800m, looking like he was going to make some kind of run. By the 400m however, he looked to be battling and had to be shown the whip, but the horse did no more than paddle in the straight – it was a very, very plain performance.
If anyone can turn a horse around off a bad run before a grand final, it’s Chris Waller, but this would take some kind of magic act to have him competitive on the first Tuesday in November.
Emissary pulled up lame after basically dropping out of the race at the 400m. Last year’s Melbourne Cup placegetter clearly has no problem with the distance of 2400m, and can be forgiven.