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Melbourne Cup Preview: Constantinople has a lot in his favour

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Andrew Asquith previews to Melbourne Cup which takes place at Flemington in the early hours of Tuesday morning (04:00) and picks out his best bet.

After numerous attempts and several near misses, Cross Counter finally became the first British-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup 12 months ago. In fact, he led home a British one-two-three from a seven-strong challenge.

Cross Counter returns to defend his crown for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin, but he faces a much stiffer task off top weight, some 15 lb higher than last year. He doesn’t arrive in the same sort of form, either, strong in the betting but below his best when only fourth in the Irish St Leger at the Curragh in September. That form can’t be taken literally in the context of this race, however, as Cross Counter clearly thrived under these conditions last year, and another bold bid looks assured.

The favourite for the Cup is the ex-Aidan O’Brien-trained Constantinople, who switched to the David Hayes/Tom Dabernig team after his second-place finish to subsequent St Leger winner Logician in the Great Voltigeur at York in August. That is strong form, as is his other runner-up efforts in the King George V Handicap at Royal Ascot and Gordon Stakes at Goodwood. His debut run in Australia when fourth in the Caulfield Cup was encouraging, too, especially with the view of stepping up to two miles for the first time. Constantinople wore first-time cheekpieces on that occasion and didn’t get the clearest of runs entering the straight but stayed on well to be nearest at the finish. That run will bring him on immensely and further improvement can be expected, especially at this more open track, where he will have every chance of becoming the third northern hemisphere-bred three-year-old to win the Cup in as many years.

The Caulfield Cup is an integral form line, given several who contested the race are set to take their chance here. The winner, Mer de Glace, showed a good turn of foot over the longest trip he had run over, coming wide into the straight and always looking the winner after hitting the front in the final furlong, beating Vow And Declare by a length. The step up to two miles now poses a different question, but there is stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree, and his sire is responsible for the Japanese St Leger winner Kiseki. Vow And Declare is another who shaped as though he will be well suited by this longer trip and is another who can’t be ruled out.

The Chris Waller-trained Finche began his career in Europe and managed to win a couple of pattern races for Andre Fabre before transferring to Australia last year. He finished a good fourth to Cross Counter in this race 12 months ago and has likely had his campaign centred around the Cup once more. He was an encouraging fifth in the Caulfield Cup last time, hitting the front entering the straight but just staying on at the same pace in the closing stages, leaving the impression he will be suited by the return to two miles. Finche is weighted to go well here and is another who can’t be ruled out for the home team, likely to come on again after just two runs this year.

At a bigger price, Raymond Tusk is a European runner who should give a good account of himself. He proved better than ever when finishing fourth in the Ebor at York on his belated handicap debut last time, impressing with the way he travelled and stayed on to be nearest at the finish after meeting trouble in running. The demands of this race will suit and expect him to be staying on late in the day.

Prince of Arran finished third in this last year and also needs mentioning following his impressive win in the Geelong Cup last time. That was his second win in Australia, having been successful in the Lexus at Flemington prior to this race last year, and he is clearly well suited to the demands of Australian racing. He has picked up a 2 lb penalty for that win, but should give another good account under a jockey who has built a good rapport with him.

Joseph O’Brien – who won the Cup with Rekindling in 2017 – continues to showcase his talents on the international stage, fresh from a maiden win at the Breeders’ Cup at the weekend, and he has four runners here. Downdraft is sure to be popular following his recent win at Flemington, but the pick of his quartet could be last year’s Irish Derby winner Latrobe, who wasn’t disgraced in the Irish St Leger when last seen. This has been the plan for a while and he will be well suited by the likely test of speed on his first start at two miles.

Unlike his son Joseph, Aidan O’Brien is still searching for his first win in the Cup, and he has four chances this time. Magic Wand, who finished fourth in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley last time, is the pick of Ryan Moore. She is a classy filly who has acquitted herself well without winning at the highest level this year, her best effort coming when runner-up to stablemate Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes, and she also chased home Bricks And Mortar in the Arlington Million the time before, form which looks very strong now. This will be her first start at the trip, but she won the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot over a mile and a half last year, so there is reason to think it will be within reach.

Three-year-old Il Paradiso is also an interesting runner. He contested the Irish Derby won by Sovereign after winning a Leopardstown maiden in May and, after failing to make an impact there, he turned a handicap at the Curragh into a procession, winning by 12 lengths on his first start at two miles. Il Paradiso then got to within two lengths of Stradivarius in the Lonsdale Cup at York and shaped better than the bare result in the St Leger at Doncaster last time. He is the shortest-priced of O’Brien’s trio. Wayne Lordan takes the ride as Ryan Moore is unable to make the weight.

This looks another wide-open renewal of the Cup, and cases can be made for several, but the one who tops the list is Constantinople. He could hardly have shaped better with a view to this race in the Caulfield Cup and he can become yet another three-year-old winner of the race. At bigger prices, both Latrobe and Raymond Tusk made each-way appeal.

Recommendation:

Back Constantinople at 8/1 for the Melbourne Cup

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1st Henry Brooke silk 7. KINGRULLAH (IRE) 9/25.5
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3rd Mr N. Bannister silk 9 1. ROYCANO 18/119
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1st A. P. Heskin silk 2. GROUP STAGE (GER) 2/13
2nd Barry Geraghty silk 11. GAVROCHEKA (FR) 15/82.87f
3rd Jamie Moore silk ½ 7. ZAMANI (GER) 14/115
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1st M. P. Walsh silk 3. SHATTERED LOVE (IRE) 4/71.57f
2nd P. Townend silk 34 2. LISTEN DEAR (IRE) 5/23.5
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4 ran. NRs: 4 
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1st Jamie Hamilton silk 7. SKYHILL (IRE) 10/34.33jf
2nd Mr Philip Armson silk 4 6. MAX O (IRE) 8/19
All 7 ran.
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1st Bridget Andrews silk 5. MABELA 5/16
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T: Dan Skelton  
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