2023 Melbourne Cup runner-by-runner preview: pros, cons and realistic chances

05 NOVEMBER 2023



The race that stops a nation is upon us again. Every horse in the race has reasons they can win, and reasons they can’t. For all the horses below, one of the “pros” will be right, for the other 23, the “cons” will be correct!

Everyone will know the answers after the race, but here are some pointers to help you beforehand.


Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: James McDonald

Record at 2800m+: 2: 1-0-0

Pros: Gold Trip won last year’s Melbourne Cup, so he ticks both boxes of being good enough to win and running out 3200m. He is also going at least as well as last year before he won the Cup, and probably better. All four runs this campaign have been excellent, including winning the Turnbull, placing in the Caulfield Cup and finishing off strongly in the Cox Plate

Cons: He needs to be going better than last year to win this race again, because he is arguably meeting a stronger field for top end talent, has to carry a kilo more, and will be greeted by a firm track rather than his favoured softer conditions.

Can he win? Yes.


Trainer: Michael Moroney

Jockey: Damien Oliver

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: Between Michael Moroney and Damien Oliver, they have won four Melbourne Cups between them, and Moroney did train last year’s second-placegetter in the Melbourne Cup, Emissary, who was also at a big price. Alenquer’s UK and European form in 2021-22 showed he could be competitive against some of the world’s best horses.

Cons: He hasn’t showed any of his overseas form since coming to Australia earlier this year, he’s never run beyond 2500m, and he’s weighted on his best European form from a year or longer ago.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Anthony & Sam Freedman

Jockey: Mark Zahra

Record at 2800m+: 4: 2-0-1

Pros: Without A Fight has won three of four starts in 2023, including the Caulfield Cup last time out. That was a fast run race, and he was too strong for fellow Melbourne Cup aspirants Gold Trip, Soulcombe, Breakup, Right You Are and Okita Sushi. He’s in hot form, has the class, and no-one is riding better than Mark Zahra right now.

Cons: He got beaten 20 lengths by Gold Trip in the Melbourne Cup last year, but the soft track was blamed that day, whereas he will get his preferred firm ground on Tuesday. He does have a kilo more than when winning the Caulfield Cup, and has to carry it a further 800m. Jumping from barrier 16 could leave him in an awkward spot.

Can he win? Yes.


Trainer: Tatsuya Yoshioka

Jockey: Kohei Matsuyama

Record at 2800m+: 2: 0-0-1

Pros: Japanese horses have an excellent record when targeting the big races in Australia, as we saw on Saturday with Obamburumai taking out the Golden Eagle. Back in June, Breakup was seven lengths behind the world’s best horse Equinox, which might not be bad form for this race. He’s run very well in Japan’s staying races earlier this year, which are stronger than ours.

Cons: He was just okay in the Caulfield Cup, beaten home by four of his rivals in this race. Yes, he was perhaps flushed out a little early and copped some interference in the straight, but he didn’t look to be going well enough.

Can he win? Possibly.


Trainer: Willie Mullins

Jockey: Ryan Moore

Record at 2800m+: 9: 4-3-1

Pros: Vauban will jump the favourite, with many international form experts suggesting he is one of the best stayers ever brought out for the Melbourne Cup. He beat stablemate Absurde, also here, by seven and a half lengths two starts ago, and that horse came out and won the Ebor Handicap, which has always been a strong guide to the Melbourne Cup. He then beat Valiant King last time out, and we saw that horse run well without luck in the Caulfield Cup. He does look the one to beat.

Cons: More than half of his career starts have been in jumps races, but we have seen trainer Willie Mullins bring that sort of horse to run well in Melbourne Cups before. He’s only won to Group 3 level on the flat, and there have been many internationals bring much higher credentials to this race and fail. The price is also a knock – it’s not easy to take under $4 in such a big handicap.


Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Joao Moreira

Record at 2800m+: 1: 1-0-0

Pros: Soulcombe has looked great all spring, in what has been a more classic Melbourne Cup preparation. He won the Heatherlie first-up, showing an outstanding turn-of-foot, and has continued to finish strongly in high quality races like the Underwood, Turnbull and Caulfield Cup. We cast our mind back to this time last year when he bolted in over 2600m in the Queen Elizabeth on the final day of Cup week. The furthest he has raced over is 2800m, when he won by four lengths, and 3200m looks right up his alley.

Cons: This horse has been developing a bad habit of being slowly away, and missed the start in the Caulfield Cup by four lengths. If he does that again from barrier four here, he’ll be buried away in the last quarter of the field on the rail and it could be game over. Also, we might have liked to see some slightly slicker sectionals than he produced late in the Caulfield Cup.

Can he win? Yes.


Trainer: Willie Mullins

Jockey: Zac Purton

Record at 2800m+: 4: 2-1-0

Pros: Absurde brings winning form to the Melbourne Cup after taking out the Ebor Handicap last start, a race that is usually a solid guide to this race. He carried 60.5kg’s there, and will appreciate the drop down to 53kg’s here. He also has a strong preference for good ground, which he will certainly get on Tuesday, having never missed a place on it.

Cons: Absurde was beaten seven and a half lengths by his stablemate and Melbourne Cup favourite Vauban, when they clashed in June. How can he turn that around?

Can he win? You’d have to say no, given how far he was behind Vauban when they met.


Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: John Allen

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: Right You Are has won six races in the last 12 months, so certainly knows how to get the job done, albeit in lesser grade. His form this preparation has been solid, targeted toward the Cups, and he ran a game fifth after Mick Dee gave him an impatient ride, making his move too early and being forced wide around the home turn. He is a very honest horse.

Cons: He has never run beyond 2400m, so 3200m present a whole new challenge for him. He does have a good fitness base for the assignment, but you also have to question his class.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Danny O’Brien

Jockey: Billy Egan

Record at 2800m+: 5: 2-0-0

Pros: We know Vow And Declare is good enough to win the Melbourne Cup, because he has already done so. The 2019 winner is back for his fourth crack at the race. He won his Cup with 52kg’s, and only has 53kg’s here after failing with 57kg’s and 54.5kg’s the last two years. His last two runs suggest he is back to his best.

Cons: He’s been beaten 14 and nine lengths at his last two Melbourne Cup attempts. There are a lot of horses tied into the formline of races like the Moonee Valley Cup, where Vow And Declare finished second, and it’s questionable whether it’s the right form.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Kris Lees

Jockey: Michael Dee

Record at 2800m+: 4: 1-1-0

Pros: Cleveland finally won his first race in Australia, after seven attempts since arriving earlier this year. He was a beaten favourite in three of those, so market expectation has been that he is a good horse. He has won up to 3700m in the UK, so distance won’t be a problem.

Cons: He was beaten by 30 lengths in the Sydney Cup over 3200m earlier this year, but perhaps didn’t handle the soft track. A number of horses in this race are tied together through staying races in Sydney, as well as the Bart Cummings and Moonee Valley Cup, but it doesn’t feel the right form this year.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy

Record at 2800m+: 4: 0-2-0

Pros: Ashrun has been building his form very nicely after three years off the scene due to injury, through traditional Cups lead-ups like the Bart Cummings and Geelong Cup. He is a Flemington winner at 2500m earlier in his career.

Cons: While it’s been great to see Ashrun back, he did get beaten by a 10-year-old last start, and he finished 10th at his previous Melbourne Cup attempt in 2020. There hasn’t been much between him and many others coming through the second tier form races, which is usually a sign that none of them will be winning.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Phillip Stokes

Jockey: Daniel Stackhouse

Record at 2800m+: 3: 1-0-1

Pros: Daqiansweet Junior is a true stayer, who’s three best career runs have all been at 3200m. In 2022, he won the Adelaide Cup, followed it up by running third in the Sydney Cup, and came from a mile back to run 6th in the Melbourne Cup behind Gold Trip. He’s been building his form nicely this campaign, waiting to get back to Flemington and two miles.

Cons: As honest as he is, he’s probably just not good enough to be winning a Melbourne Cup, but looks a great top 10 or top 5 play at huge odds.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Joseph O’Brien

Jockey: Dylan Gibbons

Record at 2800m+: 7: 1-1-2

Pros: Okita Sushi is a winner at 3200m, so that’s an important box ticked, and he’s won three races in the UK across 2023. Trainer Joseph O’Brien has won this race twice with lightly raced horses, so has a strong pedigree in knowing what type of stayer to travel for a Melbourne Cup.

Cons: He was one of the more nondescript runs in the Caulfield Cup, settling toward the tail and finishing 12th, some 10 lengths behind Without A Fight. He has to turn the tables on five horses that finished ahead of him there, plus the likes of Interpretation and Cleveland, who have also beaten him home in races overseas.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Beau Mertens

Record at 2800m+: 4: 1-3-0

Pros: Sheraz certainly loves a true staying trip, having finished in the quinella all four times he’s raced between 3000m-3200m. He finished second in the Sydney Cup last year, beating home Daqiansweet Junior, who ran well in the Melbourne Cup last year. He also finished well in the Moonee Valley Cup last start, albeit it was a blanket finish with two lengths covering the first eight home.

Cons: All four of those top two finishes at 3000m-3200m came on wet tracks, which he won’t get on Tuesday. He’s actually never finished in the quinella in six attempts on good ground, and it also feels like he doesn’t quite have the class to be a true contender.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Mick Price & Michael Kent Jr

Jockey: Craig Williams

Record at 2800m+: 3: 2-1-0

Pros: Lastotchka is the most lightly raced horse in the field, which has been a good formula for previous international winners of the Melbourne Cup like Cross Counter and Rekindling. She brings a nice recipe to this year’s race after winning at Group 3 level over 3100m in France last start, and Craig Williams is a big race rider that has won a Cup before.

Cons: While she does have wins at 2800m and 3100m, they were both on wet ground. In fact, almost all her French form is on rain-affected tracks, so she’s had very little exposure to the sort of surface Flemington will present on Tuesday.

Can she win? Yes.


Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Mark Du Plessis

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: Magical Lagoon won the Irish Oaks at Group 1 level as a three-year-old filly, showing she does have an element of class, even if we haven’t seen much evidence of it in Australia. She likes good ground, and drops nicely in weight from previous runs this prep.

Cons: She hasn’t finished closer than sixth in five Australian runs, all of which have been in much weaker grade than this, and is consistently beaten by an average of 4-5 lengths. Magical Lagoon also hasn’t raced beyond 2400m before, and the last time she ran in a Group 1 was beaten by 30 lengths.

Can she win? No chance.


Trainer: Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott

Jockey: Rachel King

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: Military Mission has had a good year, winning the Hobart Cup back in February, and at his last three runs has won the Newcastle Cup and Herbert Power either side of a fourth-placed finish in the Group 1 Metropolitan Handicap. He won’t want for fitness, and is sure to race on the speed from a very friendly barrier.

Cons: He’s never raced beyond 2400m, and never really given the impression that he was a two-miler-in-waiting. While he does have only 51kg’s on his back, that was basically the same weight he had in the Metrop when beaten almost six lengths. The Melbourne Cup is a stronger race and over much further.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott

Jockey: Jye McNeil

Record at 2800m+: 3: 0-0-0

Pros: Serpentine won the Epsom Derby at just his fourth career start, and after a disappointing 2022 when brought to Australia, has been in much better form this year. He beat Kalapour home twice in Queensland earlier this year, and we saw that horse win the Hotham on Saturday, and meets Without A Fight 5.5kg’s better for finishing the same amount of lengths behind him in the Q22. His form this prep has been rock solid without winning, and drop 7kg’s from his third placing in the Bart Cummings into this. He’ll meet the winner Future History 3kg’s better off, has drawn the rail to do no work in the run, and could lead this field in a race that may be run more slowly than usual.

Cons: Serpentine has had three cracks at races 3200m and beyond, to be beaten by an average margin of 45 lengths. He was the first horse beaten in the Melbourne Cup last year, but is in better overall form now.

Can he win? Maybe, if those horrific 3200m+ performances were all an aberration.


Trainer: Liam Howley

Jockey: Craig Newitt

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: It’s hard to find many. Drawing barrier six ensures that he’ll have a cheap run, and with only 51kg’s is just a kilo over the minimum. His career best run was over a staying trip, when second in the ATC Derby earlier this year.

Cons: Virtuous Circle has had four runs this prep, and finished no better than eighth, and while he hasn’t been disgraceful it’s hardly sparkling form. His three best career runs were on heavy tracks, so it seems he needs a downpour to find his best form.

Can he win? No way.


Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Jamie Kah

Record at 2800m+: 8: 2-2-0

Pros: Two of More Felons’ four wins have been 3300m and 3400m, albeit they were in hurdle events, but he clearly has no issue with stamina and endurance. Chris Waller is a renowned trainer of stayers, and already has one Melbourne Cup on his mantelpiece, while Jamie Kah was back in form with a double on Derby Day. This horse was the eye-catcher in the Geelong Cup, running on well from the tail.

Cons: Melbourne Cup favourite Vauban beat More Felons by 13 lengths when they met earlier this year, and he was also more than three lengths behind Absurde in the Ebor two months ago. So it’s going to be a tough ask to turn that form around, let alone the fact that he hasn’t won a race this year from seven attempts, some of them by a long way.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: Hollie Doyle

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: Future History has had a great preparation, winning two races including the Bart Cummings which sealed his entry into this race. He led all the way that day, and gave a nice kick late when challenged. He was also good when ridden more quietly in the Moonee Valley Cup, and drops to 50kg’s now. Go back to April 2021 and you will see that he and Melbourne Cup favourite Vauban both made their debut in the same race, and Future History had his measure. Expect him to push forward and be in the first four.

Cons: He is yet to race beyond 2500m, and although his last two runs have given no indication 3200m will be a problem, he still has to prove he can run it. Can a horse really win the Melbourne Cup after running in benchmark 78 grade just five starts ago?

Can he win? Maybe he can, at a price.


Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: Teo Nugent

Record at 2800m+: 4: 1-0-0

Pros: Interpretation showed he was a stayer of potential when winning three-year-old races over 2600m and 2800m in the UK. He won his first race in Australia from 10 attempts last start, taking out the Bendigo Cup, but before that he had been running solidly and without luck on a few occasions. He meets Future History 5.5kg’s better for only being a length behind him earlier this prep.

Cons: He’s only won one race in over two years, and it was a pretty moderate affair. He was a $51 shot in last year’s Melbourne Cup but failed to finish, and we continue to question just how much there is between about 14 runners that all have intertwining formlines.

Can he win? Probably not, but he might be the best at absolute bolter’s odds.


Trainer: Kris Lees

Jockey: Zac Lloyd

Record at 2800m+: 0: 0-0-0

Pros: Kalapour snuck into the field due to his win in the Archer Stakes on Derby Day. It was a deserved victory for the hardy stayer, who had been knocking on the door with consistent performances. He’s had 12 starts this year, so is rock-hard fit, and he’s finished top three in nine of them, so you know he’s always honest.

Cons: He’s run in a lot of staying races, but never beyond 2600m, and the question like a lot of horses in the bottom half of this field, is whether he has the class to win a Melbourne Cup.

Can he win? No.


Trainer: Matthew Smith

Jockey: Ben Thompson

Record at 2800m+: 15: 5-5-1

Pros: No horse in the race even comes close to True Marvel, when it comes to how many times they have raced in this distance range. This year he has run second in the Sydney Cup and third in the Brisbane Cup, so he’s hard to knock at 3200m for the price he’ll jump at.

Cons: The only race he’s won in the last two years was a maiden hurdle, and while he’ll stay until closing time, his long career proves he isn’t good enough to win this sort of race.

Can he win? No.


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