Melbourne Cup 2021 form guide: Runner-by-runner preview, tips, betting strategy, odds

The Melbourne Cup is almost here and if you’re wondering who to bet on, we’ve got your covered with our ultimate runner-by-runner form guide.

The race that stops the nation is upon us for another year, with the G1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) set to jump at 3pm (AEDT) on Tuesday.

The forecast is for fine weather on Monday and high temperatures (29C) on Tuesday, so a Good 4 surface is the most likely scenario. The only way that wouldn’t be the case is if Wednesday’s rain (10 to 25mm) hits Melbourne early.

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This is our comprehensive runner-by-runner preview followed by a predicted first four and the best betting strategy for spending $100 on the race.

1. TWILIGHT PAYMENT — Barrier 2 — Jockey: Jye McNeil — Trainer: Joseph O’Brien — Weight: 58kg — Odds: Win – $13, place: $3.70

The 2021 Melbourne Cup winner has history against him as a 9YO but his form this year has been good for this. He finished 3rd in last year’s G1 Irish St Leger (2816m), beaten 2.4L, but went one better this time around when runner-up to Sonnyboyliston. He was a dominant winner at the Curragh two-back, with his only real flop this year coming in the G1 Gold Cup (4014m). The rise to 58kg is obviously testing material but he maps to lead from barrier two without burning too much early petrol. He ran strong sectionals when leading last year.

Why he can win: He was brilliant leading throughout to win this race last year in good time. His lead-up form is just as good and this looks a weaker edition, bar the presence of Incentivise. O’Brien just won the Cox Plate with State Of Rest.

Why he can’t win: He carried 55.5kg in last year’s Cup but rises to 58kg here. He’s also a year older and history is well and truly against him, with no 9YO ever winning this race.

2. INCENTIVISE — Barrier 16 — Brett Prebble — Peter Moody — 57kg — Win: $2.45, place: $1.40

The new weapon of Australian racing, Incentivise has backed up his Queensland winter form with a hat-trick of G1 wins since joining the Victorian stable of Peter Moody. He was tough winning the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) and G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m), but took things up a notch with an arrogant 3.5L demolition in the Caulfield Cup. He was penalised 1.5kg for that win – taking him to 57kg – but it’s still hard to see anything that finished behind him at Caulfield turning the tables on him. Barrier 16 is not ideal but Prebble certainly didn’t panic when rolling forward from barrier 18 last start.

Why he can win: He’s the best stayer in the country and won the Caulfield Cup by 3.5L, with the runner-up Nonconformist putting 1.75L on 3rd. He’s going for his 10th win in a row and seems to be getting better with each start.

Why he can’t win: The old saying, ‘weight stops trains’. He carried 55.5kg in the Caulfield Cup but rises to 57kg here. The last Cup winner to carry 57kg+ was the legendary Makybe Diva in 2005. Before her, it was Think Big in 1975.

3. SPANISH MISSION — Barrier 14 — Craig Williams — Andrew Balding — 57kg — Win: $9, place: $2.90

Spanish Mission boasts some strong international form for this. He finished 11L clear of Melbourne Cup winner Cross Counter over this distance at Sandown (UK) last year and was a dominant 3L winner of the G2 Doncaster Cup (3600m). He has mixed his form a bit since then but his most recent effort jumps off the page – a 0.2L 2nd to champion stayer Stradivarius over this trip at York. They put an absolute space on the rest and you’d struggle to find a better Melbourne Cup trial. The worry is that it’s been far from smooth-sailing since arriving in Australia, with a leg knock almost derailing his Cup aspirations.

Why he can win: Gave champion stayer Stradivarius an almighty scare in the Lonsdale Cup over this trip last start, finishing 7L clear of 3rd. His record at 2400m and beyond makes for impressive reading (14:5-5-0).

Why he can’t win: Setbacks since arriving in Australia. He has had to pass a number of vet checks to be cleared to race here, with the Balding stayer only receiving the green light on Saturday. Any leg/feet issues at all, especially for international runners first-up in Australia, are never ideal.

4. VERRY ELLEEGANT — Barrier 19 — James McDonald — Chris Waller — 57kg — Win: $12, place: $3.50

It was a mixed bag for Verry Elleegant on Saturday, gaining back regular rider James McDonald but drawing barrier 19. While she gets back anyway, the draw means she’ll likely settle in the last five or six. That was her problem in this race last year – she drew out, got a mile back, and simply had way too much to do. Her form leading into this year’s race isn’t quite as strong, finishing 3.5L off Incentivise two-back before finishing 3rd in the Cox Plate. Connections will be hoping the downpour forecast for Wednesday arrives a day early.

Why she can win: She’s a genuine star – a nine-time G1 winner from 1400m to 2400m. She won last year’s Caulfield Cup, defeating an international gun in Anthony Van Dyck, and her Cox Plate run was good.

Why she can’t win: She was airborne when well-held in this race last year, finishing 3.85L off Twilight Payment. She rises 1.5kg in weight and you could argue her lead-up form isn’t as strong this year. No rain forecast hurts her chances.

5. EXPLOSIVE JACK — Barrier 4 — John Allen — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — 54kg — Win: $41, place: $9

Explosive Jack has been anything but explosive this preparation, finishing worse than midfield in all three outings. He was okay in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) two-back when beaten 3.9L but he beat just one runner home in the Caulfield Cup after racing a bit keenly on the inside of horses. Allen will be desperate to keep him off the fence here from barrier four (just seems to hate racing on the inside of other gallopers) but even with the perfect run in transit, he looks a fair way off the top-liners.

Why he can win: He was a Derby star last season, winning the Tasmanian, ATC and South Australian derbies. He found the line quite well in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) in his most recent run here, passing the post with Verry Elleegant.

Why he can’t win: He was dreadful in the Caulfield Cup and was vetted clear, so there were no obvious excuses for that performance. He hasn’t looked like placing in three starts this campaign.

6. THE CHOSEN ONE — Barrier 5 — Damian Lane — Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman — 54kg — Win: $51, place: $11

This Baker and Forsman-trained galloper finished 3rd in last year’s Caulfield Cup and backed that up with a 4th in the Melbourne Cup. He has only placed in two of his seven starts since and was beaten 11.35L behind Incentivise a fortnight ago. You can’t completely pen him on that performance because he is an enigmatic galloper, but he looks to have lost a couple a couple of lengths over the last 12 months. Barrier five helps his cause.

Why he can win: He was excellent in this race last year, finishing 4th, and only goes up 0.5kg. His run in the G2 Herbert Power (2400m) two-back was a lovely Melbourne Cup trial.

Why he can’t win: He couldn’t possibly beat Incentivise based on his Caulfield Cup run where he finished 15th, beaten 11.35L. His form was better last year when finishing 4th in this event as a $41 chance.

7. DELPHI — Barrier 3 — Damien Oliver — Anthony & Sam Freedman — 53.5kg — Win: $41, place: $9

Delphi looked to be tracking beautifully for this race after winning the G2 Herbert Power (2400m) in strong fashion but then he bumped into Incentivise in the Caulfield Cup. The two up-and-comers both went forward from wide gates but Delphi couldn’t handle the pressure after working early, dropping out sharply in the straight to be beaten 11.05L. His record suggests he wants dry ground, so perhaps it was just too wet for him last time (Soft 6), but it would be a monumental training effort if he was to find 10L+.

Why he can win: He was excellent winning the G2 Herbert Power (2400m) two-back, coming off a close 2nd to Nonconformist over 2000m prior. He beat Master Of Reality (beaten 0.2L in this race in 2019) over 2816m in the G3 Irish St Leger Trial last year.

Why he can’t win: He was terribly disappointing in the Caulfield Cup last start, finishing 11.05L off Incentivise. He had basically the same run as the winner, rolling forward from a wide gate, but punctured a long way from home.

8. OCEAN BILLY — Barrier 13 — Damien Thornton — Chris Waller — 53.5kg — Win: $81, place: $17

Ocean Billy is a G1 winner over this trip, but that was in New Zealand and the horse he beat there in Sir Charles Road would be monstrous odds in this. The Waller stayer picked up a couple of tired ones in the Caulfield Cup last start but he still finished 8.95L off Incentivise. He doesn’t have the gears to win a Melbourne Cup.

Why he can win: He won the G1 Auckland Cup over this distance, coming from well back to score by 2.3L. He got past a few in the run home in the Caulfield Cup, suggesting he’s now looking for this trip.

Why he can’t win: He hasn’t placed in four starts this campaign – three of those in New Zealand – and a number of his rivals here were better than him in the Caulfield Cup.

9. SELINO — Barrier 24 — Ron Stewart — Chris Waller — 53.5kg — Win: $101, place: $20

It’s hard to make a case for this horse after finishing 11.75L back in the Caulfield Cup as a $201 chance. He was fair in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) prior to that but Grand Promenade and Tralee Rose were better. Barrier 24 certainly doesn’t make things any easier.

Why he can win: He won this year’s G1 Sydney Cup (3200m) on a Good 4 track. He was solid in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) at this track two starts ago.

Why he can’t win: The Sydney Cup is an average form race and he hasn’t placed in four runs since. He was beaten 11.75L in the Caulfield Cup as a $201 shot.

10. JOHNNY GET ANGRY — Barrier 22 — Lachlan King — Denis Pagan — 53kg — Win: $71, place: $15

‘Johnny’ has been beaten a combined margin of 48L at his last couple of starts, which obviously makes him hard to recommend. However, Pagan has stripped the gear off him – blinkers off, crossover nose band off – and he reportedly worked incredibly well here without any head gear following his Geelong Cup failure. On exposed form though, it would be a miraculous victory.

Why he can win: He won the G1 Victoria Derby (2500m) here 12 months ago. His trainer boasts a terrific record in grand finals.

Why he can’t win: He has barely beaten a runner in four starts since the Derby. ‘Johnny’ was beaten 29.25L in the Turnbull and 19.05L in the Geelong Cup.

11. KNIGHTS ORDER — Barrier 9 — Daniel Stackhouse — Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott — 53kg — Win: $126, place: $22

Knights Order was a destructive winner of the G2 Brisbane Cup over this trip back in June, but the runner-up Carif hasn’t exactly franked the form. Since that win, Knights Order has been beaten 4.15L, 9L, 9.55L and 5.85L in races weaker than this. He led in Saturday’s G3 Hotham (2500m) but weakened right out to beat just two runners home.

Why he can win: He led all the way to win the G2 Brisbane Cup (3200m) by 4.75L earlier this year. He’ll likely race in the first couple and there could be trouble in behind in the big field.

Why he can’t win: He was beaten 5.85L in the G3 Hotham (2500m) on Saturday, which was a very ordinary race outside of the top two (Great House and Mankayan). His overall form this preparation has been poor … and that’s being polite.

12. PERSAN — Barrier 11 — Luke Currie — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — 53kg — Win: $34, place: $8

Persan came from nowhere to finish 5th in this race last year. His improvement was rapid but he regressed this year, putting in a couple of poor efforts over 2600m and 2800m here in May. Maher and Eustace tipped him back out for a spell and he’s been much better since resuming, placing on resumption before gripping on to 3rd in the Caulfield Cup after racing on-speed. It’s hard to see him turning the tables on Incentivise but a minor placing is there for the taking if he produces something close to last year’s effort.

Why he can win: He finished 5th in this race last year at the end of a very taxing preparation that started in a Wangaratta maiden. He carried 51kg there and only rises 2kg, coming off a 3rd in the Caulfield Cup. Maher and Eustace appear to have him peaking at the right time.

Why he can’t win: He finished 3rd in the Caulfield Cup but was 5.25L off Incentivise and was given every possible chance to win. The last time he raced over this sort of trip, 2800m in the Andrew Ramsden, he was beaten by Grand Promenade and Miami Bound.

13. CARIF — Barrier 8 — Blaike McDougall — Peter & Paul Snowden — 52.5kg — Win: $126, place: $24

Carif was excellent first-up in the G3 Cameron (1500m) at Newcastle but he hasn’t really fired a shot in three runs since. The dour stayer got back and stayed there in the Tattersalls Club Cup (2400m) last start and it’s impossible to recommend him based on that effort.

Why he can win: He’s a real two-miler, winning the Listed Sandown Cup over this trip last spring. He’s in the right silks (colours synonymous with Bart Cummings) – yeah, I’m clutching!

Why he can’t win: Simply put, he’s too slow. He was beaten 6L by Warning over 2600m two-back and was 12.81L off Torrens in the Tattersalls Club Cup (2400m) last start.

14. MASTER OF WINE — Barrier 6 — Fred Kersley — Michael, Wayne & John Hawkes — 52.5kg — Win: $71, place: $15

Master Of Wine has been a real disappointment after showing plenty of early promise for the Hawkes team. He placed at massive odds in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) two-back but has finished 10th, 10th, 10th and 12th in his other four starts this campaign. He was beaten a long way in the Caulfield Cup last start and would need to find nearly a dozen lengths.

Why he can win: He ran a real eye-catcher for 3rd in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) here two-back, coming from 9th at the 800m.

Why he can’t win: Outside of the Bart Cummings, where he was beaten by Grand Promenade and Tralee Rose, Master Of Wine hasn’t fired a shot this campaign. He got back and failed to run on in the Caulfield Cup, finishing 10.65L off Incentivise.

15. PONDUS — Barrier 1 — Rachel King — Robert Hickmott — 52.5kg — Win: $51, place: $11

This Lloyd Williams-owned stayer was huge running 2nd in last year’s G3 Bendigo Cup (2400m), before backing that up with another 2nd in the G3 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2600m) here. His form when returning to Ireland was solid rather than spectacular and the same could be said for his two efforts since returning to Australia. He covered additional ground but loomed up ominously at The Valley last start before peaking on his run at the 100m. It was a poor finale but he should strip much fitter third-up and he does drop 3.5kg in weight.

Why he can win: Lloyd Williams boasts a terrific record in this race and this horse was under the care of Cup-winning trainer Joseph O’Brien before coming to Australia. He was brave first-up in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) here and will strip much fitter third-up.

Why he can’t win: He loomed up to win the G2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m) last start but ended up missing a place. This is a much harder assignment and he’s still yet to break through in Australia after four starts in lesser grade.

16. GRAND PROMENADE — Barrier 21 — Kerrin McEvoy — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — 52kg — Win: $19, place: $5

Grand Promenade is extraordinarily genuine, placing in 14 of his 19 career starts. He generally makes his own luck on-speed, but he can also come from off the pace. He led all the way to win the Listed Banjo Paterson (2600m) here back in July and was a comfortable winner of the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) last start. He’s tough and rarely does things wrong in his races but has been placed to advantage and has never come up against the likes of Incentivise or Spanish Mission. The likelihood of a dry track is a positive.

Why he can win: He was dominant winning the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) last start and has won his last three starts at 2500m+. He loves Flemington and is very adaptable in terms of his racing pattern.

Why he can’t win: He’s never even raced in a G1, let alone won one. In fact, G3 company is the stiffest he has faced, so class has to be a query.

17. MIAMI BOUND — Barrier 17 — Patrick Moloney — Danny O’Brien — 52kg — Win: $101, place: $20

The Oaks winner isn’t going well at the moment, finishing no better than 5th in four starts this campaign. She worked home okay in the G2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m) last start but this is significantly harder. The application of blinkers for the first time could lead to some improvement but she looks appropriately-priced at $101.

Why she can win: She’s a G1 winner here over 2500m (2019 VRC Oaks) and has placed in her last two starts beyond 2800m – 3rd in the Sydney Cup (3200m) and 3rd in the Listed Andrew Ramsden (2800m).

Why she can’t win: She was beaten 10.55L in this race last year, with the Good 3 track blamed for her sub-par performance. It’s likely she’ll strike similar conditions here and her form this campaign has been poor.

18. PORT GUILLAUME — Barrier 23 — Harry Coffey — Ben & JD Hayes — 52kg — Win: $126, place: $24

Port Guillaume showed a stack of ability in Europe but he just hasn’t brought that form to Australia. His first start here, in the G2 Feehan Stakes (1600m), came almost a year after his final European start and his performances here suggest he hasn’t quite acclimatised to local conditions/racing. He couldn’t possibly win on his efforts in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) and the Caulfield Cup, when beaten 13.9L and 9.15L respectively.

Why he can win: He was only 3.9L off superstar galloper Mishriff over 2100m at G1 level last year.

Why he can’t win: He hasn’t been able to get out of his own way since coming to Australia, with his best performance in four starts a 3.45L 6th in the G3 Naturalism Stakes (2000m). He got passed a few tired ones late in the Caulfield Cup but was still beaten 9.15L.

19. SHE’S IDEEL — Barrier 20 — Craig Newitt — Bjorn Baker — 52kg — Win: $81, place: $17

This daughter of Dundeel was very good winning the G3 Kingston Town (2000m) at Randwick three starts ago but her two runs since make her a tough sell. She was incredibly one-paced in the G1 Metropolitan (2400m) when beaten 3.12L and she only just held her ground in the Caulfield Cup last start after settling midfield. Barrier 20 means she’ll likely be spotting the leaders a huge start and a firm-ish track is a big negative.

Why she can win: She has produced a couple of excellent runs this preparation, finishing a close-up 3rd behind Mo’unga and Verry Elleegant in the G1 Winx Stakes (1400m) on resumption, before beating Montefilia in the G3 Kingston Town (2000m) two starts later.

Why she can’t win: She failed to place in the Sydney Cup (3200m) – a much weaker race than this. Her last two starts have been average, beaten 3.12L in the Metrop and 6.75L in the Caulfield Cup.

20. FUTURE SCORE — Barrier 15 — Dean Yendall — Matt Cumani — 51.5kg — Win: $251, place: $40

This OTI-owned galloper hasn’t really fired this preparation after being off the scene for over 300 days. He finished 6.25L off Delphi in the G2 Herbert Power (2400m) and weakened out to finish 6th in the G2 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m) won by Lunar Flare. His most recent wins have come over 1600m and 2025m in weaker affairs.

Why he can win: His Banjo Paterson (2600m) win here a couple of years ago was excellent, overcoming trouble to savage the line.

Why he can’t win: He’s been soundly beaten in three starts this campaign and his only win since 2020 came in the Listed Cranbourne Cup (2025m) as a $15 chance.

21. TRALEE ROSE — Barrier 12 — Dean Holland — Symon Wilde — 51kg — Win: $15, place: $4.20

Tralee Rose has been a model of consistency, only missing a place three times from 15 starts. She was given a peach of a ride in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) last start and did enough to run down Dr Drill, who finished 2.75L clear of 3rd-placegetter Hasta La War. She was utterly dominant winning the Listed Bagot Handicap (2800m) here, but was well-beaten in the G2 Adelaide Cup over this distance. On the Adelaide Cup run she can’t possibly win, but she’s improved since then and will get every chance to run two miles with only 51kg on her back.

Why she can win: Is a horse on the rise and a mare in form, coming off a gritty win in the G3 Geelong Cup (2400m) last start. She has placed in all four starts this campaign and was a 7L winner of the Listed Bagot Handicap over 2800m back in January.

Why she can’t win: She failed her first two-mile test, finishing 4th as a $1.85F in the G2 Adelaide Cup earlier this year. The horses that beat her home there would all be three figures in this. Grand Promenade had her measure in the G3 Bart Cummings (2520m) here two-back.

22. FLOATING ARTIST — Barrier 10 — Teodore Nugent — Ciaron Maher & David Eustace — 50kg — Win: $17, place: $4.60

This Maher and Eustace-trained import was just an even performer in the UK – well-beaten by Dashing Willoughby and Le Don De Vie in 2141m and 2303m races respectively – but he has really thrived in Australian conditions. If it wasn’t for a couple of average steers at his last couple, he’d potentially be shooting for his sixth straight win here. He’s only had two previous starts beyond 2800m, both overseas, and both were ordinary – so the rise to two miles has to be a little query.

Why he can win: He’d almost be 5 from 6 in Australia if it wasn’t for pilot error at his last two starts. He really savaged the line over 2500m last start and should handle the distance rise with only 50kg on his back.

Why he can’t win: He was beaten by Duais two-back, who then bombed spectacularly in the Caulfield Cup at her next outing (beaten 14.5L). While he was a ‘good thing beaten’ last start, this is a significant step up from that.

23. GREAT HOUSE — Barrier 7 — Michael Dee — Chris Waller — 50kg — Win: $23, place: $6

This Waller stayer has really found form at the right time, winning the G3 Hotham Stakes (2500m) after solid efforts in the Caulfield Cup and Metropolitan. The worry is that Incentivise beat him by 5.55L in the Caulfield Cup and appears to have more scope for improvement than this gelding who will be having his sixth run at 2000m+ since August 28. He’ll appreciate a huge drop in weight from Saturday, going from 57.5kg down to just 50kg.

Why he can win: He was quite dominant winning the G3 Hotham Stakes (2500m) on Saturday when coming from the tail of the field. Shocking (2009) and Brew (2000) did the Hotham/Cup double and Prince Of Arran won the 2018 Hotham before placing in the Cup.

Why he can’t win: He ran well in the Caulfield Cup but was still 5.55L off Incentivise. After a taxing campaign it’s hard to see him finding the necessary improvement to turn the tables here.

24. SIR LUCAN — Barrier 18 — Glen Boss — Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott — 50kg — Win: $26, place: $6

Sir Lucan was beaten 13.8L in the G1 St Leger (2922m) at Doncaster last start but was close-up in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2385m) prior. He has really mixed his form throughout his eight-start career to date but the Ozzie Kheir (Sir Dragonet)/Gai Waterhouse combination has to be respected. He was impressive winning over 2615m at Navan four-back after tracking the leaders.

Why he can win: He was only 1.9L away in the G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2385m) two-back, which is often a strong form race. Lightly-raced European stayers have had good success in this race in recent times (Rekindling 2017, Cross Counter 2018).

Why he can’t win: He was beaten 13.8L over 2922m last start, which is hardly ideal lead-up form. His biggest career win to date came in a Listed race with only six runners.


Like the Caulfield Cup, the wide gate for Incentivise (2) may just mean we get a better price. You don’t see too many better Melbourne Cup trials than what he produced last start, and a 1.5kg weight increase might not be enough to pull him up. Twilight Payment (1) was outstanding winning this race in 2020 and his form is just as good this year. Spanish Mission (3) has the form but the vet checks in the lead-up are a concern. Pondus (15) could be the best roughie – he was disappointing last start but may have been a run short.

2. Incentivise

1. Twilight Payment

3. Spanish Mission

15. Pondus

$100 Betting strategy

$90 on Incentivise @ $2.50

$10 on Pondus to place @ $9

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