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Betting on the Melbourne Cup

View the big bets placed during the 2015 Melbourne Cup and check out the data in graphs.

If you are like most Spring racegoers and "once-a-year Melbourne Cup punters" who like to punt for fun, you should still follow the big bets and have a strategy - just for the fun of it.

Your riskiest yet potentially most rewarding bet is the all-in bet. Backing a horse now for a race that is still some days away can be very rewarding. Your safest and least rewarding bet is to back a horse on the day. The downside is that you will be looking odds mainly in single digits. Punters in the know look for value and that's why betting on the odds before nominations (all-in betting) can be profitable.

Prior to the final field being declared, wagers are accepted on an "All In" basis (i.e. no refunds for non runners and no deductions from any runner are given). Whereas wagers struck after the final field is declared are subject to refunds on scratched horses, and deductions may apply on remaining runners. All-in odds are hugely popular with gamblers looking for a big payday.

Around 150 horses are entered in the Melbourne Cup each year. The entries and the weights are declared mid September and after that things start to take shape. The first declarations are announced early in October, the second declarations late October, and the final declarations (final field of 24 horses) on the Saturday prior to the first Tuesday of November. The final field selection is based on a balloting system. Race directors also retain the absolute power to exclude (scratch) any horse from the race, i.e. not passing the final veterinary check. Owners and trainers can also scratch their horse. A scratched horse is not replaced, i.e. there are no reserves in the Melbourne Cup.

Basic strategy for the Melbourne Cup

Fitness

Before considering a horse you should try to determine his/her physical fitness and if it is good enough to be at or near his/her best. Just like athletes training for the Olympics and trying to be at peak performance when it matters the most, thoroughbreds and also trained this way. Fitness can be achieved through competition and training.

Tip: Big punters look at runners that have started at least twice in the previous two months. Check the horse's last runs.

Competition

Some horses that haven't faced proper competition can get inflated in terms of the horse's potential. And come race day when the horse is up against a classy lineup it can get ugly real quick. Check that the horse you want to bet on has actually placed well when raced against some of the other potential Melbourne Cup runners. If your pick regularly beats known competitors then you may just have found a winner! If the odds are in double digit you may want to place a bet now. View bonus bet offers here.

Distance

Horses are in general trained to run at certain distances. E.g. Black Caviar (retired) was a sprinter, running 1000m to 1400m races only. Makybe Diva (retired) ran races mainly between 2000m and 3200m. When you check the horse's recent form look at the distances the horse has won or placed. The Melbourne Cup is a 3200 metre long race. Only real stayers can run this distance and have something left for a final sprint.

Barriers

Barriers mean a lot in the Melbourne Cup. Inside barriers and far outside barriers can prove quite challenging. Somewhere in the middle is the best. The Melbourne Cup also has some quirks so focus on barriers between 5 and 16.

Age of Winners

Four, five-year and six-year old runners have the best record at the Melbourne Cup. Avoid immature and older horses.

Weights

Handicappers use the weight as a critical factor. If a horse carries a couple of kilos more it may not have a big effect on the performance of races under 1600m. The Melbourne Cup however is a 3200m race and weights can make a big difference. Over the last 40 years the winners' weight has ranged from 48kg up to 58kg, with an average weight of 53.62kg, which is very close to the 53.5/54kg mark that the few last winners have carried. When betting on the Melbourne Cup look for a horse carrying less than 56kg. Basically the less the better.

Weather

The condition of the track makes all the difference. Is the track dry or soaking wet? The proper terminology is fast, good, dead, slow, heavy. Fast is dry, heavy is soaking wet. Some horses don't mind the wet, others are fussy and do not perform on slow or heavy tracks. Keep in mind that Melbourne's weather is unpredictable so make sure you check the weather and rain fall predictions prior to placing your bets after the final field has been announced.

International Runners

Of the original 135 entries for the 2013 Melbourne Cup, more than half were bred in Europe. Over the past few years the winners have all been imported from Europe. American (2010) and Dunaden (2011), were trained in France. Irish-bred Green Moon was the winner in 2012. Fiorente, a horse purchased from the yard of Sir Michael Stoute in England, won in 2013. The dominance of European-bred horses in the Melbourne Cup is underlined by the fact that no horse bred in the southern hemisphere has managed a win since Shocking in 2009. This trend is not likely to change any time soon with European-bred horses certain to fill most of the 24 available places also this year. If you can't beat them, join them!

It may be 20 years since Vintage Crop gave Europe their first taste of success at Flemington but the knock-on effects of that famous victory are still being felt. The Cup has been won by Europe on six northern hemisphere-bred horses including the British-bred Makybe Diva who won three in a row. The phenomenon is not reserved purely for the Cup. Nine of the 14 runners in the Makybe Diva Stakes were European-bred animals at the spring carnival as imports continue to flood the market.

Of the original 135 entries for the 2013 Melbourne Cup, more than half were bred in Europe. There were forty Irish-bred horses compared to sixteen from Great Britain and ten from France. Concerns have been raised in Australia that local industry is suffering as a result with suggestions that the number of imports should be capped.

Racing Victoria has rejected calls to limit the European-trained runners with the Cup now one of the five biggest prizes in the world of racing at over $6 million. It is felt that it would be retrograde step and the improved status of the race far outweighs any perceived damage to the Australian breeding industry.

Whilst the European-trained horses may have superior stamina to the home-trained horses, they do have to acclimatise and adapt to a different style of racing. Green Moon had been in Australia for 18 months prior to last year's victory, although runner-up Fiorente had only joined Gai Waterhouse in the run-up to Flemington.

The going was quick last year with track record times recorded in the earlier races and that would not have helped the Europeans. The race was also run at a slow tempo with Green Moon recording a time of less than 34 seconds in the final 600m. Horses like the proven stayer Mount Athos found themselves jostled and bumped in the pack and facing the impossible task of making up ground on horses still quickening in the straight. Trainer Luca Cumani was sure that his horse would have won with a more even gallop and complained that the race was slowed to walking pace. Similar excuses were offered for Dunaden who was unable to reproduce his victory of 12 months previous.

There is no doubt that the standard of entries continues to improve year on year. Not only are Ascot Gold Cup winners automatically considered, so too are classic winners in Great Britain and Ireland. The 2011 English St Leger now reads like a Melbourne Cup trial. Masked Marvel won from Brown Panther, Sea Moon and Seville. All four could be in the field this year with three of them now in the hands of Australian trainers. To followers of the form in the UK, the Australian method of preparing their Cup horses from distances as short as seven furlongs seems quite bizarre. Racehorses in the UK tend to stick quite rigidly to or around their optimum distance. If, as in last year's race, the outcome is decided by tactical speed, we could begin to see the European horses campaigned altogether differently.

Hawkspur has emerged as the horse to lead the home-bred defence this year but he is the only one in the first ten in the betting. Imports dominate with Fiorente currently favourite ahead of Irish-bred Puissance De Lune. Mount Athos is fancied to atone for last year's defeat whilst there is much excitement over the recent purchase of Irish St Leger winner Voleuse des Coeurs.

The race is given yet more quality by a first-ever runner for his highness The Aga Khan as Verema runs for Alain de Royer-Dupre. The European challenge also has strength in depth with Goodwood Cup winner Brown Panther and Ascot Gold Cup runner-up Simenon along with American St Leger winner Dandino. All are proven stayers and their Achilles heel could be a slow pace. The problem for anyone hoping to exploit this weakness is that they may not get the opportunity. The race is currently leaning towards being a European Stayers Championship race.

The standard is now so high that a horse of the quality of Simenon is not guaranteed a place in the starting line-up. Last year there was great anticipation at the arrival of John Gosden's multiple winner Gatewood but he faced a rushed preparation to try to gain a penalty. Despite winning the Geelong Cup, time ran out for Gatewood and he missed the race. Many of the Australian-bed entries will find themselves looking up the handicap at imports with classic form and have little or no chance of making the final field. In 2011, only Ethiopia and Niwot made it into the final 24.

More about handicapping

There are big punters out there who hit it big on races week after week. These are punters who can correctly predict which horses will do well in upcoming races. By studying several statistics related to the horses, jockeys and races, these big punters have a clear edge, a skill known as handicapping.

Handicapping strategies for horse racing have been proven to be quite successful, and a number of books have been written on the subject. There are a number of world class handicappers and each of them will tell you that in order to handicap a horse race, you must look into each of the different handicapping strategies, judging each of them carefully and intricately; before finally weighing up the pros and cons of all of them together to come up with a horse to pick as a winner.

Some punters believe that simply picking the odds favourite is enough to provide a reliable and consistent winning pattern. With handicapping it's not about maximising the number of wins, it is about maximising the payout. If you were to pick the odds favourite for each of 10 races during the day, you might win a couple of the races, but you will lose most and you will lose out at the end of the day simply because the odds for favourites are short and it's highly unlikely that all favourites win. Successful handicappers will tell you that you shouldn't bet on the horse that has the greatest chance of winning but rather bet on the horse that offers the highest value. So to become a great horse racing punter you need to find the horse with the highest value each and every time. This is not an easy task. Basically it can be a full time job and it's definitely not for the faint-heartened as you may encounter spells of losing streaks.

To start handicapping is quite easy. You can easily find the information online from e.g. subscription-based sites and even news sites. But you will have to turn this data into useful analysis. Bigbetting.com.au, on the other hand, offers you the chance to follow big punters and big bets, and provides racemaps and selections on popular races such as the Melbourne Cup.

The first thing most horse gamblers will pick out to have a look at is how fast the horse is around a track. It is awfully tempting to place a wager on a horse that has a fierce reputation for being the fastest galloper on the field. But speed isn't everything, because track conditions change, barriers change and so on. So take into consideration that there may be additional aspects of a horses character that are worth a closer look.

Just because a horse has won their previous race does not mean that they will do the same at the next race. A beginner handicapper would at minimum take into consideration the length and track conditions of the previous six races. This will give a quick analysis on what is the horses optimal race length and ideal track conditions. For example the horse has won at 1600m but only placed at 1800m. If the next race is 2000m you'll probably find a better horse to pick since the horse isn't winning at longer distances.

Pace is equally as important as speed. A fast horse out of the gates doesn't mean that the horse will have the stamina to see it across the finish line. Horses that are known chasers are good picks because they often come from behind to win. For this you really need to watch race video (known as trip handicapping) to see if the horse is a chaser or an early leader. Runners that take the lead early most often cannot hold off the charge from behind in the final straight.

Class is a trickier albeit essential part of handicapping. With class the things to look out for are the races the horses is entering. Weight carried is a key factor for class handicapping. One way to investigate class difference is to study the performance of a horse that has shifted up in class. Handicapper will tell you that usually a horse running in a higher class would lose three lengths or more to the winner that it did in a lower class. In Australia most horses start out in maiden races. If they win they will move up in class to face a tougher opposition.

Trip handicapping is horse racing jargon for watching races; as simple as that. There are professional video formers who will watch race video and take notes on horses. These notes will include giving a score for every race horse. The score is made up of several items such as speed of the race, race pace, barrier influence, performance of jockey, effort of the horse, and so on. Video formers would have a computer program or spreadsheet where they enter their findings and ratings (a score) for professional handicappers.

Pedigree is also a form of handicapping. However studies of pedigree are mostly useful in purchasing young horses (yearlings). A much better handicapping strategy is to study the jockey and mainly the trainer. Naturally the jockey "drives" the horse and some are better at sprints and others better at longer distance races. Some handle pressure better and some will find a good position on the track. These are all recorded usually by the video former. The trainer's patterns are more important than the jockeys - in most cases. A trainer is not mobile, they usually stick with the same horses for several years. Winning horses usually come from winning trainers, and winning trainers usually stick with winning horses, until sold or retired. It is therefore easier to analyse trainer performance because this is readily available on the internet and there will be data over several years.

This is by no means a full set of handicapping strategies but you can easily become a beginner handicapper by using common sense and some tools. Have look at our race selections and sign up to our big bet alerts. You can also use one or more tipping sites to give you a "second" opinion. It never hurts. But those tipping sites are subscription based and some can be quite costly. If you can afford it then why not, but don't rely solely on tipsters. Use all of the handicapping elements and factors that you are comfortable with and start with the higher level racing. The lower class country races are way too unpredictable for a beginner and even for a more experienced handicapper. You may also wish to stick to a certain track, like the Caulfield racecourse and start your handicapping from there.

Picking a Melbourne Cup winner

A good way to measure the horse's form is to check the prior wins and placings in the following Melbourne Cup lead-up races:

  • Lexus Stakes (2500m)
  • Victoria Derby (2500m) run on the Saturday prior to Melbourne Cup Day.
  • Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) run late October.
  • Geelong Cup (2400m) run late in October.
  • Cox Plate (2040m) run in October.
  • Caulfield Cup (2400m) run in late September.
  • Doncaster Cup (UK) (3621m) run in September.
  • Irish St. Leger (IRE) (2816m) run in September.
  • Tenno Sho (JPN) (3200) run in late April or early May.

Caulfield Cup Edge

Caulfield Cup and most recenrtly the Geelong Cup have become important lead-up races. This is because those races are in Australia, and more importantly in or near Melbourne. A foreign horse that wins or places well in either of those races has acclimatised. Overseas races are not as important as local races. Both Dunaden and Americain won the Geelong Cup prior to winning the Melbourne Cup. Gatewood also won the Geelong Cup but surprisingly didn't make the selection by the race officials for the Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup odds trivia

Shortest priced favourites to have won, come close, or flopped:

  • 1.73 - Phar Lap (1930, won)
  • 2.00 - Phar Lap (1929, was 3rd)
  • 2.50 - Duke Foote (1912, was 14th)
  • 2.75 - Revenue (1901, won)
  • 2.75 - Lanius (1917, was 6th)
  • 2.75 - Manfred (1925, was 2nd)
  • 2.75 - Beau Vite (1940, was 4th)
  • 2.75 - Howe (1948, was 5th)
  • 2.75 - Redcraze (1956, was 2nd)
  • 2.75 - Gay Icarus (1971, was 9th)

The longest priced favorites to have won or come close:

  • 101 - Prince Of Penzance (2015, won)
  • 101 - The Pearl (1871, won)
  • 101 - Wotan (1936, won)
  • 101 - Old Rowley (1940, won)
  • 81 - Rimfire (1948, won)
  • 51 - Red Cadeaux (2013, was 2nd)
  • 31 - Tawrrific (1989, won)