7 Factors to Consider When Picking a Winner in The Melbourne Cup

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Key factors to look at when picking a winner in the Melbourne Cup ordered from our most to least important. All Charts and Statistics look at the past 30 years of Melbourne Cup winners.


1. Distance - To win the Melbourne Cup, the horse needs to compete over 3200m

This may seem like an obvious statement, but the fact is that many of the runners will have never won over 3200m and a handful have never run the distance at all. The majority of the European horses in the Cup will have ran and likely won over this distance or greater. Australia produces a lot more sprinters and middle-distance runners than stayers (longer distance runners) meaning many of the local horses will be running 3200m for the first time in the Cup.

If the Horse has no history of racing over 3200m, look at its past 2000-2400m races and judge if the horse was ‘running on’; that is, it had more to give at the finish line. Judging which horses are best placed to successfully run out the full 3200m is a good place to start when picking your Melbourne Cup winner.


2. Weight – The Melbourne Cup is a handicap race

The Melbourne Cup is of course a handicap race, meaning the officials allocate weight handicaps to best bring the race to a level playing field. Put simply, the top weighted runners have proven be to more successful horses over longer distances and are penalised accordingly. Hartnell carries the top weight in the 2017 Melbourne Cup at 57.5kg, while Cismontane carries the lightest at 50kg.

According to Racing Victoria’s Greg Carpenter, a 1kg penalty represents a handicap of 2 lengths over the 3200m distance. While Hartnell placed 3rd in the 2016 Melbourne Cup, he was 4.5 lengths off the winner at a weight of 56.5kg. An extra 1.5kg in 2017 puts him back another 3 lengths. Similarly, 2016 winner Almandin carries an extra 4.5kg in 2017, penalising him by 9-lengths from his previous win. As you can see, weighing up the effect of weights on each horse’s chances is vital. Seeing as runners get penalised with extra weight for notable wins, there is an incentive for trainers/owners to qualify their runner for the Cup ‘lightly raced’, as to not incur any greater penalty.

 Melbourne Cup Winners Statistics by Weight


3. Form – 58% of Melbourne Cup winners have come 1st or 2nd in their last race.

More likely than not, the cup winner will have shown good form in lead-up runs to the Cup. The Caulfield Cup (2400m) and Cox Plate (2040m) were traditionally viewed as the top form races for the Cup, but in reality have produced very few winners over the past 15 years. In-fact only one of the past eight Melbourne Cup winners ran in the Caulfield Cup that year. The Turnbull Stakes (2000m), The Bart Cummings (2520m), Herbert Power Stakes (2400m) and Geelong Cup (2400m) are other top Australian form races.

With more and more foreign horses entering the race each year, the form lines very greater and greater. Many of the top foreign horses will have shown form in the likes of the Ascot Gold cup (4023m), Goodwood Cup (3219m) and Irish St Leger (2800m), to name a few.

As you can see the Australian lead-up races are significantly shorter distances than the Cup’s 3200m. As mentioned earlier, the runner doesn’t necessarily have had to have won these races to be ‘in-form’, but ideally was still kicking strongly at the finishing line and wanting to run further.


4. Odds. There’s a lot of information in the prices.

The memory of Prince of Penzance winning at $101 in 2015 is firmly in everyone’s mind. While it is true that any horse could potentially win, it is also true that you are much more likely to find the winner at much lower odds.  Over the past thirty years the favourite has won eight times. This is a little below the average for all Australian horse races, where favourites win approximately 33% of the time. It makes sense that the favourite would win the Melbourne Cup less often simply due to size of the field, not to mention the other factors that make the Cup so hard to pick.

Eight favourites out of thirty is still a decent strike, and if you had in-fact placed a wager of 1-unit on the favourite of every Melbourne Cup for the past thirty years, you would currently be in profit by around 8.5-units (See Chart Below). Over this time period the mean average odds of winners is $13.80 (despite being skewed by Prince of Penzance’s $101) and the median odds of winners is $10. If you think you have found the next Prince of Penzance, great. Otherwise concentrate on the horses at lower odds.

Melbourne Cup Past Favourites Betting Return


5. Barrier – Are some barriers lucky in the Melbourne Cup?

Well no. While it is true that some barrier numbers are worse than others; this is less important for two-mile races. Don’t pay attention to media articles stating the poor form of barriers 7 or 15 for example. This simply has no statistical significance.

Any barrier from 5 to 14 will give the jockey the best position to choose where they settle for the run, while the inside barriers (1-4) may give limited options and the outside barriers (15+) will mean having to expel energy early to find their position.

Melbourne Cup Winners Statistics by Barrier 


6. Age/Sex – Is there an optimal age/sex to win the Melbourne Cup?

While not many mares have won the Cup relative to geldings and stallions, mares are by far the minority in each year’s line-up. The last mare to win the Cup was the greatest Melbourne Cup winner of all, Makybe Diva. It could likely be concluded that mares actually punch above their weight, given how few are entered each year. Two mares have been entered in the 2017 Melbourne Cup, Amelie’s Star and Single Gaze, and both should be considered.

Stallions have dominated the Cup in recent years, but probably most significant is the horse’s age. 6-year olds appear to be at the optimal age to win the Cup. 2016 winner Almandin, will be attempting to defend his title at the age of 8-years old. No runner has won the Cup at this age in the past 30 years!

Melbourne Cup Winners Statistics by Age and Sex 


7. Jockey Silks – “Jockey’s wearing blue are more likely to win the Cup”

Hopefully we don’t need to explain why the colour of the jockey’s silks have absolutely no impact on the outcome of the race. This is of course a factor to ignore. Other factors you will likely hear Channel-7 news discussing is what letter the horses name start with, how many letters are in the name etc. These statistics work as a good guide of who is in-fact talking horse sh*t.


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