First run in 1861, The Melbourne Cup is marketed as the Race That Stops a Nation.
Overreach, maybe, but while outside of Victoria it is mainly business as usual, people who would otherwise not spare a passing thought for Thoroughbred racing pay attention to the Melbourne Cup.
The Melbourne Cup inhabits the consciousness of the entire country to a degree that if someone were to be asked, “What were you doing when Makybe Diva won the Cup for the third time in 2005?” Most people would have a ready response.
There are three primary reasons why betting on a winner, or even an each-way, is problematic.
One, there are 24 horses in the field.
Two, there are not many staying races on which to form a strong opinion on which horse can best handle the 3200 metre trip around Flemington Racecourse.
Three, the substantial prizemoney attracts plenty of international horses. How those horses have performed is not classified information, but it takes diligence beyond what most casual punters are willing to devote to betting, even in a country like Australia, where betting is ingrained in the cultural fabric.
Melbourne Cup Large Fields
Most Australian Thoroughbred races have far fewer than the 24 that jump for the Melbourne Cup.
One factor that influences this is that trainers do not race their horses as often as they did in the days when horses such as Phar Lap, Tulloch and others from past eras compiled racing records often of more than 50 races, with some running 70 times or more.
In recent years, the average filed size across all grades of Thoroughbred races is about 10 horses. Some experts speculate that the decline in field sizes is the result of more northern hemisphere bloodlines, but the reasons behind the decline are less important than the reality of those declines.
Even the novice punter realises that one-in-ten is a better proposition than one-in-twenty-four.
Scarcity of Comparable Staying Races
The best way to find a good Thoroughbred punt is to look at how any certain runner performed in races of equivalent trips.
Australian Thoroughbred racing stages more than 500 Group level races in the typical year, yet the only two races on the calendar that equal the 3200-metre trip of the Melbourne Cup are the Sydney Cup and the Adelaide Cup. There are 25 Group level races of 2400 metres or slightly above.
Avoiding the argument over whether a 2000-metre race is a stayers’ race, it is easy to see that horses typically lack much form when it comes to longer races.
Significant Number of International Horses in the Melbourne Cup Field
The Melbourne Cup prize money lures many Thoroughbred owners into undertaking the long and risky process of getting a horse qualified, through quarantine and onto the line for the start of the Melbourne Cup introduces a new factor of uncertainty.
Along with the reality that most foreign countries that have a strong Thoroughbred racing program also do not have many staying race results to supply some guide, it is really tough to predict how well they will run in southern hemisphere races.
The outcome of these three primary factors is that betting on the Melbourne Cup is roughly equivalent to betting on juvenile races like the Golden Slipper Stakes or the Blue Diamond Stakes, only more difficult by a factor of two.
Practical Approach to Betting on the Melbourne Cup
Go to Flemington on the day of the race
People who enjoy the crowd vibe will place their wagers at Flemington Racecourse on the day of the Melbourne Cup.
As many as 130,000 can be crammed into the facility, as the record attendance of almost that number for the 2006 Group 1 Victoria Derby illustrates.
The record attendance for the Melbourne Cup was just under 123,000 for the 2003 race that brought the first of Makybe Diva’s three wins.
Go to a Betting Shop - TAB
This is easier than going to Flemington Racecourse and many people who punt the Melbourne Cup enjoy the convenience and the sanity of this method. It is hard to step outside without encountering a place to get a punt on, so this method will appeal to those not interested in the expense and logistics of arranging a Flemington excursion.
Use an Online Bookie
In the amount of time it takes for the person in the queue in front of you at the betting shop to ask the names of the horses running in the Melbourne Cup, you can sign up with any of dozens of online bookies, fund an account and obtain bookie login credentials.
One key advantage to taking this route is that an online bookie will invariably have Melbourne Cup promotions running. Promotions typically make a wager slightly better and when the proposition is finding a winner from 24 racers, any edge is worth considering.
Another advantage is that the online bookies are fiercely competitive amongst one another, so it might be possible to get on for a better price with one bookie versus another. Frequent punters know the value of this tactic and if it is good enough for the experts, it is good enough for the casual punter.
Finally, the online bookies will have loads and gobs of information about the horses, trainers and jockeys in the Melbourne Cup, information that could supply a mild edge or prove decisive.
Melbourne Cup Betting Tactics
Picking the winner offers just over a four percent probability. Most casual punters will take this bet, but a one-in-twenty-four chance is the easy route to saying goodbye to your Melbourne Cup Stake.
Betting on two horses reduces the proposition to one-in-twelve.
Betting on two horses each-way gives you four chances of being right to some extent. Wagering each-way will reduce the odds quoted for the Fixed Win bet, but if the object is to come away with something from the punt, the half-a-loaf-is better-than-none perspective is a logical approach.
The more skilled and experienced punters will not bet the Melbourne Cup singly. They look at the entire meeting, selecting some of the earlier races that have an appeal of one kind or another. Other races are examined and then discarded.
Top racing punters devise elaborate strategies for a meeting, with all manner of variables in the mix.
A profit from the first races might influence some of the punts on the latter races, although most likely not the Melbourne Cup pick.
It is quite fascinating to watch racing punters build their bet slips, even if the thinking behind their selections is hard to fathom.
Casual punters can find tipsters who have been examining every nuance of the Melbourne Cup meeting. While the tipsters are quick to point out that there are no assurances to their tips will prove predictive of the actual outcome of the Melbourne Cup meeting or the Melbourne Cup itself, the time and effort they devote to pre-race analysis can help the casual punter come up with a better betting slip than simply plunging on the favourite and hoping for the best.
To gain some appreciation of the lengths to which tipsters go to supply some decent selections, here are a few things they factor into the equation.
Historical evidence suggests that the horse jumping from the middle barriers (11, 14, 17) have accounted for 21 Melbourne Cup wins.
More weight will be given to a leading jockey on a good horse than to a leading jockey on an average horse.
For subtle reasons, some Thoroughbred trainers have records that suggest that they are good at preparing horses for longer trips.
This seems far-fetched, but if Lloyd Williams has a good horse with a top jockey and coming from a good barrier, it might be the horse to back.
The weight a horse carries is magnified in the Melbourne Cup, since that weight has to be carried further. Younger horses often get in with a weight advantage. When Vow And Declare won the Melbourne Cup in 2019, he had a two-kilogram advantage on the favourite Finche and that advantage translated to a Vow And Declare margin of 1.4 lengths over Finche.
Our Secret Melbourne Cup Betting Strategy
Anyone is welcome to this, so it is obviously no secret, but have a look.
Going into the 2020 Melbourne Cup, looking at the odds well in advance of the final field and barrier draw, the top six are Russian Camelot ($8), Tiger Moth ($9), Surprise Baby ($10), Santiago ($15), Verry Elleegant ($17) and Finche ($18.00).
One hundred dollars on Russian Camelot, the current favourite, would return $800. That is a nice dividend, but remember, Russian Camelot has a one-in-twenty-four chance. Russian Camelot’s trainer is the Flemington-based Danny O’Brien.
Tiger Moth (trainer: Aidan O’Brien) would return $900, Surprise Baby (trainer: Paul Preusker) $1,000, Santiago (trainer: Aidan O’Brien) $1,500, Verry Elleegant (trainer: Chris Waller) $1,700, and Finche (trainer: Chris Waller) $1,800.
Betting the Fixed Win singly on any of these six horses offers the same probability – one-in-twenty-four and if you do not believe us, we would like to steer you in the direction of a fellow we know that had money of Prince of Penzance when that horse won the 2015 Melbourne Cup from $101.
Five years past and he is still wearing out our ears with his ever-changing story, a story that grows better each year, about how he backed Prince of Penzance for $20 and came away with over two grand.
That $20 figure serves our purposes, however, so here is our betting scenario.
Allocating $20 to each of the six top horses would work out like this.
Russian Camelot would return $160.
Tiger Moth would return $180
Surprise Baby would return $200
Santiago would return $300
Verry Elleegant would return $340
Finche would return $360
The total staked would be $120, but the probability will have dropped from one-in-twenty-four to one-in-four. That is almost sports betting territory.
There is still no guarantee than one of those six will win, but ask any experienced punter and he or she will express a decided preference for a one-in-four chance versus.
While it is true that the $160 return for a $20 bet on Russian Camelot for $120 staked on the Melbourne Cup will not gain you any bragging rights at the local, a profit in the hold beats a worthless betting slip for any horse race.
The above example in no way requires the exact $120 stake we used.
The idea was to make a profit from betting the Melbourne Cup, this tactic here described is not dissimilar to that utilised by the punters who punt for a living, and whose living depends on making more in wins than is lost.
There are certainly other strategies than the one described here.
A trainer named O’Brien (Danny and Aidan) has three of the top six listed here. Irish patriotism would demand a bet on one of these three.
Yes, that is a tongue-in-cheek strategy, but it is still better than simply betting the favourite and hoping this is one of the Melbourne Cups where the favourite delivers the win.
Betting on the Melbourne Cup is a challenging proposition. This is evidenced by looking at Melbourne Cup history and learning that many racing punters simply avoid the race entirely.
That is no fun for those of us who want to have some skin in the game for the Melbourne Cup, though, so we are always proponents of making the best selection possible through whichever means or methods you prefer.
Having a wager on the Race That Stops a Nation definitely adds to the allure of the race and similar to our earlier question about what you might have been doing when Makybe Diva won her third Melbourne Cup in 2005 would be the question, “How much of a haul did you make when you backed the winner of the (insert year) Melbourne Cup?”