Pray­ing for speed

Even tempo the key for big-strid­ing in­ter­na­tion­als

The Sportsman Special Issue - - Melbourne Cup 2018 - NEIL EVANS

LET the in­trigue be­gin.

Speed, or lack of it, track pat­tern, pres­sure but­tons, good and bad trails, and so on.

All I pray for is some­thing near a truly run race.

And if that hap­pened, I had long con­sid­ered Red Ver­don ($ 31.00) the best Cup value in years.

But early Thurs­day morn­ing, he suf­fered bruis­ing af­ter shift­ing a plate mo­ments be­fore a sched­uled fast-work ses­sion and so his long-priced date with des­tiny was up in the air.

It’s still hard to swal­low the in­ter­fer­ence Red Ver­don copped from the 1000m un­til early in the straight in the Caulfield Cup. In fact, the sixyearold stal­lion did an amaz­ing job fin­ish­ing as close as he did.

Ad­mit­tedly, he doesn’t boast the win­ning CV or ex­posed class of Godol­phin’s mul­ti­ple Group 1 win­ner and Caulfield Cup hero Best So­lu­tion ($21.00 into $15.00) or even the sta­ble’s promis­ing New­mar­ket-based four-year- old Cross Counter ($17.00 into $11.00), but Red Ver­don was well in on 54kg and has that won­der­ful “edge” from trainer Ed Dun­lop.

For years, this man pro­duced the late, great Red Cadeaux to per­form bril­liantly in the Cup on rel­a­tive light pro­grams and an­other “Red” just may have been headed the same way.

Speak­ing of New­mar­ket, the six-year- old grey Muntahaa ($21.00 into $13.00) is a mas­sive threat and now my on top se­lec­tion.

Af­ter a fair run be­hind Best So­lu­tion in the Group 2 Princess Of Wales Stakes (2414m), he car­ried 61kg to a dom­i­nant win in the time-hon­oured Ebor Hand­i­cap (2816m) in late Au­gust. Two miles is in his strike zone.

And don’t think light­lyraced Cross Counter – barely past his first full prep – isn’t sea­soned enough.

His dom­i­nant win in the Group 3 Gor­don Stakes rated very highly be­fore he was beaten a lip in the Group 2 Voltigeur at York.

A power son of Te­ofilo, he’ll go close.

So, three run­ners I bracket on top to win are CROSS COUNTER, MUNTAHAA and RED VER­DON (if he runs)

I refuse to let Ja­panese star Chestnut Coat ($ 46.00) get to­tally un­der my guard de­spite a poor ef­fort at Caulfield.

He im­proves big time sec­ond-up and on top of the ground and I can’t get that run in the Group 1 Tenno Sho (3200m) out of my mind where he cov­ered plenty of ground but still hit the line beaten one and three- quar­ter lengths. He’s a gen­uine chance at big odds.

Nor­mally, there’s enough speed on down the long straight to find some sort of early po­si­tion.

Know­ing of course the two mid­dle quar­ters are gen­er­ally the slow­est, this is where a com­fort­able trail is vi­tal by the time they pass the win­ning post the first time.

Of course, the crit­i­cal piece to the speed puz­zle is what I call the “trap­door” mile – how slow do they go from the 2400m to the 800m?

This is where sev­eral off­speed horses – most no­tably the big-strid­ing over­seas brigade – lose their room and stride as any early tempo soon dis­ap­pears.

So don’t be sur­prised if you see rid­ers aboard Euro­pean stay­ers like Red Ver­don, The Cliffsofmoher and Muntahaa, and Ja­pan’s Chestnut Coat all shift­ing well away from the fence to­wards open ground be­fore the 1000m mark.

These types, in­clud­ing well­weighted Best So­lu­tion and highly-touted im­prover Magic Cir­cle ($17.00 into $11.00), are trained to sus­tain long runs, even on the fresh side.

Of course, there’ll be no more spruiked horse than dom­i­nant Group 3 Her­bert Power (2400m) win­ner and rul­ing favourite Yu­catan ($ 5.00).

In the Lloyd Wil­liams-led own­er­ship and trained by Ai­dan O’Brien, his win at Caulfield un­der 56kg when he dashed away on the point of the turn and au­da­ciously eased up at the 100m was a beauty.

The ques­tion is whether the five-year- old gets a strong two miles and the sim­ple weight ar­gu­ment says yes.

Although over shorter trips, Yu­catan car­ried 61kg to win the Group 3 In­ter­na­tional at the Cur­ragh in July and 62kg when close-up in the Group 3 Bal­ly­roan.

And un­like many of the over­seas crop who need to wind up, Yu­catan has an ac­cel­er­a­tion gear.

I’m a fan of The Cliffsofmoher’s ($17.00) style, but doubt he can run a strong 3200m; while I con­fess to hav­ing lost faith in Avil­ius ($12.00) whose been up for a long while un­der big weights and head­ing to­wards his first try at two miles.

Muntahaa is Neil’s top pick for the Mel­bourne Cup.

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