Can you ever call the Melbourne Cup a "weak" race? Purists will recoil at the thought but the 2022 edition has the feel of what might have been due to the absence of so many horses who until recent times were considered prime contenders.
Gone early were a batch of notable overseas entries, leaving us with the lowest northern hemisphere-trained representation in years. Those that are left – just Deauville Legend and Without A Fight – are prepared by trainers (Simon & Ed Crisford; James Ferguson) who have never had previous Melbourne Cup starters.
You can extend the overseas contingent to four if you add the other two sight unseen imports – Camorra and Hoo Ya Mai – who have been guided through their final preparations since they landed in Australia by their new trainers Ben & JD Hayes and the Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott team.
Of course another eight acceptors with well exposed local form boast northern hemisphere breeding and racing origins, so at a stretch we can say the international flavour that has become the promotional banner for the Melbourne Cup over the last two decades covers half the field.
At this point I should also dip my lid to the Kiwis as there are six NZ-bred runners among the 12 Australasian sourced acceptors – a bit like old times!
But back to the depth – or lack of it - in this Melbourne Cup and is it ever the same without the reigning Caulfield Cup winner (Durston) in the field? The upside is we do have seven runners from the 2022 Caulfield Cup including the six who finished second to seventh so it still stands up as the most relevant local prep race.
We also don't have Surefire, the winner of Saturday's historical lead-up (The Lexus) at Flemington and none of the WS Cox Plate placegetters are contesting the Cup this year. We are also missing the winners of the ATC Metropolitan, Herbert Power Stakes and Moonee Valley Cup, other key Melbourne Cup prep races.
Also consider that only two last start winners Emissary and High Emocean are in the field - both coming off provincial Cup wins at Geelong and Bendigo - and only one locally-trained runner boasts a G1 weight-for-age/set weights win (Smokin' Romans/Turnbull Stakes) in any of their last three starts.
And, oh, did I mention the once time-honoured Mackinnon Stakes is now gone from the agenda completely?
The flip side is the field contains winners of the Sydney Cup, Adelaide Cup, Brisbane Cup, Tancred Stakes, Australian Cup and Randwick St Leger but are viewed as races that have long expired histories as worthy Melbourne Cup guides.
The much needed veterinary protocols that are now in place to ensure the great race is not subject to animal welfare ridicule claimed some big scalps in the last week with two of the top rating internationals Loft and Makram failing to pass the stringent scanning procedures before the final field was declared.
Another, the Andrew Ramsden winner Point Nepean, fell victim in the last 24 hours and reports suggest there may be others before race time.
Point Nepean's scratching leaves seven-time winning owner Lloyd Williams with only Serpentine – the Epsom Derby winner of 2020 and second in Saturday's Lexus in one of his better Australian performances - to carry his famous blue and white silks.
He's at least one better than last year's winner Chris Waller and James Cummings – two of Australia's major stables – as they are left devoid of representation. The veterinary security also goes a long way to explaining why the likes of Ireland's maestro trainer Aidan O'Brien, a Cup constant for so many years, is again without a starter.
Taking a wider international view there are numerous overseas races that are looked at almost every year as a platform to the Melbourne Cup - York's Ebor Handicap and Lonsdale Stakes, the Goodwood Cup, Royal Ascot's Hardwicke Stakes, the Northumberland Plate, Geoffrey Freer Stakes and Prix Kergolay at Deauville – that have no bearing in 2022.
Which leaves us with an interesting and on paper at least a very even field of stayers with the key assessment being how to measure the northern hemisphere form against what we have seen in the local prep races.
Let's start with the topweight Gold Trip, a former European star boasting placings in three top class G1 events in France from 2100m to 2400m.
He was also fourth in Europe's iconic G1 Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe (2400m) in 2020, raced only three times in 2021 and had 12 months off before his Australian debut in July for the Maher/Eustace partnership, a team that has become the new powerhouse of Australian racing with a penchant for winning big staying races evidenced by their five acceptors in this Cup field.
Gold Trip added a fourth G1 placing to his record with his head second in last month's Caulfield Cup (2400m) where he gave the winner 6kg, backed up by a luckless ninth in the WS Cox Plate (2040m) where he was beaten only 2.9 lengths.
It's the benchmark local form but it's a sobering fact that he remains the winner of only one race in 15 starts and faces the challenge of carrying the top weight of 57.5kg. Since 1975 only one horse, the legendary Makybe Diva, has carried more weight to win the Melbourne Cup, lumping 58kg to her historic third win in 2005.
With rain, even storms and hail, on the forecast he does tick the soft/heavy box and with Cox Plate form a reliable guide to Cup winners – think Verry Elleegant, Green Moon, Fiorente, Efficient, Makybe Diva, Saintly etc. - he is definitely in the mix.
The sight unseen Deauville Legend – still a three-year-old to northern hemisphere time - is the Cup favourite based on the comparisons that have been drawn through his UK performances with previous Cup raiders.
He lands here as the last start winner against his own age of York's G2 Great Voltigeur Stakes (2385m), a race that became a significant Melbourne Cup guide in 2018 when Cross Counter finished second before overwhelming his rivals at Flemington.
Deauville Legend won the Great Voltiguer by an impressive 2.8 lengths for his third victory in seven starts over distances from 2012m to 2615m. El Bodegon was four lengths back in third place and the quality of the form was franked in the Cox Plate when he ran a worthy third in his Australian debut.
Deauville Legend also has the experience of Kerrin McEvoy in the saddle, a jockey with three Melbourne Cup wins to his credit and needing only one more to equal the record held by Bobby Lewis and Harry White.
It's all positive stuff but there are negatives.
Deauville Legend is an unknown quantity on soft to heavy tracks and the forecast doesn't bode well for those untested on soft to heavy surfaces. He has also been challenged by the handicapper as his 55kg is no luxury when compared to the weights carried by other northern hemisphere three-year-olds Cross Counter (51kg) and Rekindling (51.5kg) in their Cup wins in 2017 and 2018.
Without A Fight appeals as the raider who has beaten the handicapper as he is not severely tested under 55kg as the winner of seven races from 17 starts up to 2816m with five of his wins on soft ground.
He recorded back to back wins in Listed and G3 races over 2816m under wfa and set weight conditions at York in June and July and was topped off for his trip to Australia with a soft second in the Listed Godolphin Stakes (21414m at Newmarket under 62.5kg, significantly a week after Melbourne Cup weights were released.
He gives champion UK jockey William Buick the chance to answer his local critics after four previous unplaced Melbourne Cup rides and a bleak day at Flemington on Saturday where his eight mounts all finished out of the money.
Hoo Ya Mai, like Deauville Legend, is a northern hemisphere 3YO with benchmark form as the runner-up in this year's Epsom Derby.
He was secured by clients of the Waterhouse/Bott team after that placing, racing twice at Goodwood for a third in the G3 Gordon Stakes (2414m) – Deauville Legend was second - and a win in the March Stakes (2816m) before a well beaten failure on a soft track in the St Leger (2921m) at Doncaster in September.
Hard to see him beating the other imports off his St Leger performance but having had time at Werribee under the training of Waterhouse and Bott is a factor that cannot be ignored.
Camorra is a well tried 6YO gelding who has done all his racing in Ireland where he won four of his 17 starts, his peak performance coming two starts back in June when he won the G2 Curragh Cup (2816m) under 62kg before an eighth in the G1 Irish St Leger (2816m).
They are races with a proven Melbourne Cup history going all the way back to Vintage Crop in 1993. With plenty of experience on soft and heavy tracks he could be the unheralded surprise packet among the overseas contingent for his young gun trainers Ben and JD Hayes.
(6) WITHOUT A FIGHT is my preferred choice of the four from the northern hemisphere. I like his form and racing style and he should not be concerned by the expected track and weather conditions.
As always the Melbourne Cup market throws up numerous runners at value odds – my inclusions for the exotics, again with a loading for those with the current form, proven stamina and wet track qualifications are (1) GOLD TRIP; (4) MONTEFILIA; (9) STOCKMAN; (10) VOW AND DECLARE; (11) YOUNG WERTHER; (17) EMISSARY; (24) REALM OF FLOWERS.
(1) GOLD TRIP: Best Caulfield Cup finisher and luckless in the Cox Plate. Has had the right prep.
(4) MONTEFILIA: Unlucky fourth in the Caulfield Cup. Loves it wet and rates highly as a four-time G1 winner.
(9) STOCKMAN: Excellent form through his prep underlines how much he enjoys affected tracks. Strong final trial over 2000m on Saturday.
(10) VOW AND DECLARE: The 2019 winner has worked his way back to worthy form. Set for a peak run.
(11) YOUNG WERTHER: Boasts multiple Derby and G1 placings at WFA. Drops 5kg off pleasing prep under WFA scale in the Cox Plate.
(17) EMISSARY: Strong Geelong Cup win over the top of subsequent Lexus winner. Geelong Cup form keeps standing up as a Cup guide.
(24) REALM OF FLOWERS: Dour staying mare with good Flemington form and no weight. Wet track no concern.