2021 MELBOURNE CUP - INTERNATIONAL CONTENDERS

Each year, on the first Tuesday of November we see some of the worlds best distance horses compete for the bragging rights of winning the World's Richest Handicap Race. Naturally when we’re talking on the world stage we have to talk about world contenders. So here is Pro Group Racing’s run down of international runners for the 2021 Lexus Melbourne Cup

Due to the changes in safety standards and veterinary checks in Australia as well as the ongoing Global pandemic, entrants from abroad have been limited in 2021. However there are still a number of significant names heading down under to contest the $7m Melbourne Cup as well as the other big races in Spring.

Namely - The W.S Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup and of course the aforementioned Melbourne Cup.

International Horses In The 2021 Melbourne Cup

We may as well start where we left the Melbourne Cup in 2020 really with Lloyd Williams lining up two familiar faces in the hunt for another go at the Flemington 3200m race. 

Master Of Reality

6yo Bay Gelding

Breeding: Frankel x L’Ancresse

Trainer: Joseph O’Brien

Career Stats: 22: 5-4-2

Min/Max Distance Wins: 2400m/2816m

Career Best Win: Vintage Crop Stakes, April 28 2019, Navan.

Is it third time lucky for Master of Reality or is he just a travelling companion for the rest of the Lloyd Williams team? 

Master of reality finished 4th in 2019, after some poor riding by jockey Frankie Dettori led to an appeal being upheld. He then returned to Flemington in 2020 where he finished 15th and failed to land a glove on any of the front three. 

His form on paper looks good in 2021 when finishing 2nd in a Group 3 contest at Navan, narrowly missing by ½ a length. He followed that up with a poor 5th from 6 finish at Leopardstown in listed grade before winning at the same level at Down Royal as a $3 favourite. 

On that day Master of Reality appeared to be back to his best when winning Her Majesty’s Plate with a solid turn of pace. 

The one blot on the copy book appears to be the recent St Ledger performance at the Curragh where a fast pace found him wanting and after sitting just off the lead for the majority of the race, fell away to finish last whilst other Cup contenders battled out the finish. 

Verdict:

We think it’ll take a big lift in performance to overturn recent results against stable mates and other Melbourne Cup contenders. Could be there just to make up numbers and will be looking elsewhere on the day.

Twilight Payment

8yo Bay Gelding

Breeding: Teofilo x Dream On Buddy

Trainer: Joseph O’Brien

Career Stats: 36: 9-11-8

Min/Max Distance Wins: 2414m/3218m

Career Best Win: Melbourne Cup, November 3 2020, Flemington

Last year's Melbourne Cup winner is back for another crack at the 3200m handicap for the Lloyd Williams team and presents as his best chance of going back to back in 2021.

After winning at Flemington in 2020, Twilight Payment was spelled until the summer of this year, to allow sufficient recovery time and go through the winter months unscathed back in the UK.

It was a brilliant performance by jockey Jye McNeil in 2020 to see Twilight payment win the cup. Jumping to the front the then 7yo Gelding led from the front, quickening at the 1000m to see off a number of rivals before finding all the way to the line to see off late comers in Tiger Moth and Prince Of Arran. 

On returning to the track in Ireland and the UK the 2020 Melbourne Cup winner struggled to regain his form finishing 3rd in a field of 6 his first two starts and 9th of 12 third up. 

A spell between the end of June and mid August appears to see Twilight Payment hitting his straps however with a win at Group 3 level before chasing SonnyBoyListon all the way home in the Group 1 Irish St Ledger at the Curragh.

Verdict:

Definitely Lloyd Williams best chance of winning another Melbourne Cup and looks to be travelling down under just at the right time. The one concern is the change in weight and under the heaviest mark can he replicate a post to post performance in 2021.

Comes in with good form though around another leading international contender and should be leading from the front again this year. 

Sonnyboyliston

4yo Chestnut Gelding

Breeding: Power x Miss Macnamara

Trainer: J P Murtagh

Career Stats: 14: 6-0-3

Min/Max Distance Wins: 1800m/2200m

Career Best Win: Irish St Ledger, 12th September 2021, The Curragh 

There has been strong form in recent years for 3 and 4 year olds coming from overseas to win the Melbourne Cup. The examples of Cross Counter, Rekindling and the fast finishing Tiger Moth all live in recent memory.

Sonnyboyliston for Irish trainer Johnny Murtagh appears to be the latest in an emerging trend of runners looking to conquer the race that stops a nation.

The four year old gelding however comes over with proven Group 1 experience having mixed it up recently with a number of contenders also entering the Melbourne Cup from overseas. 

Most impressively was his most recent win in the Irish St Ledger at the Curragh where he beat both Twilight Payment and the disappointing Master of Reality in a thrilling finish that was run over a ridiculously fast pace carrying 62kgs. 

Before that Sonnyboyliston had also shown travel was no issue when hopping across the Irish Sea to York racecourse where he won the Group 2 Ebor Handicap, beating home Quickthorn and a field of 20 to win the English feature on the flat. 

With two such significant wins in recent months however, the handicapper has got hold of the top weight and assigned the Irish raider a top weight of 58kgs for the contest on the first Tuesday of November. 

Verdict:

Even with the top weight Sonnyboyliston rates as one of the best chances for the Melbourne Cup Handicap over 3200m. 

He looks unlikely to have a run before the big dance however the stable are confident that Sonnyboyliston has all the credentials of a Melbourne Cup winner. 

Away He Goes

6yo Bay Gelding

Breeding: Farhh x Island Babe

Trainer: Ismail Mohammed

Career Stats: 16: 3-4-3

Min/Max Distance Wins: 2012m/2414m

Career Best Win: Handicap, September 12 2020, Doncaster.

Presents as a very interesting contender for the Ismail Mohammed stable having never shot the lights out in a race but always been battling out the finishes with 7 placings and 3 wins in 16 starts. 

If we’re looking at recent form lines he did finish off strongly in the Group 1 Goodwood Cup where he placed second behind Trueshan. However, he did look to travel up well in the final furlongs and fail to let down. 

The interesting form are the four races in Meydan between January and March of this year. During that time he finished second to Subjectivist who would frank that form at Ascot during the summer. 

He definitely has the potential to run out the distance and has no issue with travelling to run over the distance. Could the Australian turf hold the key to this 6 year old, only time will tell.

Verdict:

He must have potential or the stable wouldn’t be flying him all over the world to compete but he doesn’t seem to be showing his best. With just a handicap win at Doncaster to his name it’s hard to pick him on that form of a second at Goodwood alone. Would be looking elsewhere. 

Rodrigo Diaz

4yo Bay Gelding

Breeding: Golden Horn x Kitty Wells

Trainer: David Simcock

Career Stats: 12: 4-3-1

Min/Max Distance Wins: 2212m/2815m

Career Best Win: Handicap, June 5 2021, Doncaster, Good Surface

You know what we were saying earlier about how there had been a strong trend of lightly raced 3 and 4 year olds travelling to Melbourne and winning the Melbourne Cup under a lightweight. Well Rodrigo Diaz is this year's example. 

The 4 year old has had a 12 start career with 4 wins and 4 placings to boast about however is yet to attempt anything better than a Group 2 contest which means the handicapper has let him slide into the Melbourne Cup weights with just 51kgs on his back. 

Probably the youngsters best run to date was a battling fourth in the Doncaster Cup when finished a gap behind super horse Stradivarius. On that day nothing was stopping one of the worlds best rated horses but there was a lot to like about the run. 

With the race over 3600m, Rodrigo Diaz showed a nice turn of foot around the 2800 metre mark and travelled with Stradivarius into the home straight without seeming phased. In the final 400m  he battled on well under 59.5kgs and you’d imagine a shorter distance and much lower weight could throw concern to the bookies. 

Verdict:

History shows us there are opportunities for youngsters under light weight penalties with the likes of Rekindling for Lloyd Williams and Cross Counter for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin winning well the past few years. 

Rodrigo Diaz travels under that umbrella and will be one to watch in betting as race day looms large. 

Spanish Mission

5yo Bay Horse

Breeding: Noble Mission x Limonar

Trainer: Andrew Balding

Career Stats: 18: 6-4-3

Min/Max Distance Wins: 2012m/3600m

Career Best Win: Belmont Derby, September 7 2019, Belmont Park

A real contender for the Melbourne Cup and possibly the best chance the internationals have of running away with the Cup.

There has been a lot of hype around Spanish Mission after the five year old stitched together an impressive record in recent months which included a thrilling finish with Stadivarius in the Lonsdale Cup at York.

It was a thrilling contest where Spanish Mission headed Stradivarius in the straight before Frankie Dettori dug deep and dragged the worlds highest rated racehorse over the line in first. 

Add to this a narrow defeat to Subjectivist in in this Ascot Gold Cup as well as victory in the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup against a small field Spanish Mission has extremely strong form lines heading down under. 

Travel should not be an issue for the Andrew Balding runner who’s biggest win to date came in the Belmont Derby in the US where he won the race by a nose to Pedro Cara when priced a $3.10 favourite. 

Verdict:

Presents the best opportunity for the Internationals having form around some of the worlds best as well as victories abroad. One to watch in betting and if he travels well, he should be going close here. 

Who has the best chance of winning The Melbourne Cup:

There may not be as many this year but there are still plenty of racehorses with great chances of winning the Melbourne Cup from the international pool. 

The ones that stand out have to be Spanish Mission, given his recent performances, Rodrigo Diaz, where history tells us to follow the trends and Sonnyboyliston who travels to Australia having won one of the most prestigious races in Ireland. 

You could even make a case for last years winner Twilight Payment going back to back, but what is for sure is that it will be a race for the ages when all eyes turn to Flemington on the 2nd of November. 


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