1. Bandersnatch (Team Hawkes): Made his way into the Big Dance by winning the Tamworth Cup with 62kg back in April. There's no doubt the form around him in two runs back from a break is strong given he was beaten a length by I Wish I Win first-up then beaten by a small margin at Caulfield after looking the winner. No doubting his honesty when right, the big issue for him is where he finds himself in the run from the gate.
2. Surf Dancer (Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott): The South Grafton Cup winner from July, he's taken on some solid races himself in two runs back. Group 2 winner of the Shannon first-up over 1500m downing Old Flame, a winner since, and Ellsberg, who has won twice since including the Group 1 Epsom. Might have found the 1800m just a touch beyond him in the Craven Plate but it fits him nicely for this race. Drawn ideally and should be in the first few in running.
3. Rustic Steel (Kris Lees): Scone Cup winner in May and his three runs back from a spell have been mixed but he's had excuses with an interrupted preparation. The barrier didn't help his chances in the Five Diamonds Prelude but he hit the line well into sixth, beaten four lengths by Ellsberg. Still a small question mark over how well he's going but if he can find the form that saw him with The Coast and the Scone Cup he's capable of being a major player.
4. Charmmebaby (Bob Milligan): The winner of her home town Taree Cup back in November to give her a place in this race. She was a stakes winner in Brisbane in June and wasn't beaten far in the Group 1 Tatt's Tiara. One run back from a spell in a race that was well short of her best and with 62kg but she ran on okay. Fitted with another barrier trial since then and on her best efforts would be an each-way chance.
5. Hosier (Kris Lees): Unbeaten for the Lees stable and his Coffs Harbour Cup win saw him secure a spot in the Big Dance. He was two months between runs when scoring in a slowing run race over the Randwick mile a month ago where he led and dictated to suit himself. Frankie Dettori has the ride and it'll need to be a good one as he's drawn near the outside fence but he is a go-forward horse and the mile start is very fair. Has to be a leading contender.
6. Aleas (Chris Waller): Wagga Cup winner in May. His form since then has been patchy. Spelled after a failure in the Lord Mayors Cup but looked in good order when resuming with a close third behind Old Flame over 1400m. Again failed second-up before a fair effort in the Five Diamonds Prelude. Three back on the fence there and didn't pick up when the inside run presented and gave ground. You'd have to doubt he's up to it on what he's put in lately.
7. Sibaaq (Annabel Neasham): An impressive win of the Wellington Cup (run at Dubbo) in June put him in the Big Dance. You'd have to say he's returned in excellent fashion with seconds in both starts to prepare for this. Attacked the line hard behind Finepoint over 1400m then chased Ellsberg home in the Five Diamonds Prelude. Set to peak for this and drawn kindly, handles all conditions so has a good case.
8. Quality Time (Chris Waller): Port Macquarie Cup winner two starts back but after his failure on Saturday in the Rosehill Gold Cup you'd be surprised if he backed up. If he is here you'd have to forgive that failure, where he led and while he didn't seem to settle that well he's being asked to come back in distance and that's not in his favour.
9. Cognac (Richard & Will Freedman): All the way winner of the Bathurst Cup in September to put himself in this race. Have to say he was disappointing back to a Benchmark 78 at Randwick two Saturdays ago where he was handy in the run but didn't go on with it. On the plus side he drops 5.5kg and will roll forward but place would be his best result.
10. Ready To Humble (Nick Olive): Last win was the Snake Gully Cup at Gundagai in November last year and that win booked his place in the Big Dance. He's run a few cheeky races in the past 12 months with a Narrandera Cup placing his best result. Has the right platform with two runs from a freshen up and out to a mile but on form he's hard to entertain.
11. Kedah (Kris Lees): A narrow winner of the Ballina Cup in January, that win put her in the Big Dance field. She's had a good prep for the main event with three runs back and the best of those runs was her latest when a close second over 1500m at Port Macquarie a few weeks back under 59.5kg. On face value she'll find this tough but she drops sharply in weight and is peaking so if you like her she's been well prepared.
12. Cisco Bay (Gerald Ryan & Sterling Alexiou): Wild Card winner at his last start over this track and distance. He'd been working up to something all prep, fair in the Dubbo Cup three starts ago but since then he's been excellent. It was a big win in the Wild Card coming from near the tail and weaving through to score running away. Barrier no issue for him, probably wants a soft track to bring out his best and if he gets things to suit is not the worst.
13. Wicklow (Chris Waller): Beaten favourite in the South Grafton Cup in July. Three recent runs have been honest. He was back with Cisco Bay in the Wild Card and got to the outside in plenty of time but the winner had a better turn of foot when it counted. Has the blinkers on first time, the negative is the outside barrier and suspect he's reached his level for the time being. Place chances best for mine.
14. Casino Kid (Jan Bowen): Model of consistency and found his place in this race by scoring an easy win in the Dubbo Cup in September. Only the one run since and he rushed home when it was all over into second behind Hosier which is a good pointer for this race that is sure to be a lot stronger gallop than that race was. Meets that horse 2.5kg better and draws to get a smother. More than capable of featuring if the breaks go his way.
15. Impasse (Matthew Dunn): Swept home from last to win the Murwillumbah Cup in August to book his place. Freshened up and dropped to 1200m in his only run since and while he it was far too short for him he found the line as he usually does. He's the type of horse that can bob up at big odds at times and from a tricky gate in this company he's entitled to be healthy odds. A win would surprise but you know he will be running on.
16. Regal Stage (Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott): All the way Muswellbrook Cup winner in April and that's why he's here. Contested the Scone, Tamworth and Wellington Cups since then and didn't feature. One run back from a break with 61.5kg over 1200m and he was far from disgraced making some late ground. Straight to a mile now, an on pacer but not so sure he's had the right prep for this test.
17. Al Mah Haha (Tash Burleigh): Goulburn Cup winner at the end of October last year, the first race eligible for the Big Dance. Didn't come up in two runs last time in and set to tackle this first-up. It's an interesting preparation for him to go a mile fresh but he's trialled up and it's obviously by design. To be fair it'll be a remarkable performance if he's able to win under these circumstances from a wide gate.
18. Caesars Palace (Anthony Cummings): Was seven weeks between runs when he scored a strong win in the Coonamble Cup, run at Dubbo, to get into this race. Given a good sound out in winning a barrier trial on Friday as his lead up to this race. He can be hit and miss, the positives for him are he's coming off a strong win and he drops 9kg on it. A few others in this event have had his measure previously though.
19. One Aye (Barbara Joseph, Paul & Matt Jones): Became eligible through running second in the Mudgee Cup but her Forbes Cup win in July puts her in the field. She's very handy on her day and wasn't too far from Casino Kid over this course three runs back and game in a Group 3 on a heavy where it was hard to make ground. Better for her last run going from 1200m to a mile and has a soft draw. Not beyond her to finish top half or better.
20. Spanish Point (Kris Lees): Safely held in the Murwillumbah Cup three runs back but a runaway winner of the Lismore Cup, run at Grafton, gets him into the Big Dance. On his side is a nice gate but you'd have to say his best form is beyond a mile and in easier company than this. Couldn't make a strong case for him.
21. (1E) Shameonus (Bjorn Baker): Won the Orange Cup in April. Fair to say he's taking his time finding some form since his break but his last couple have been a bit more promising. He's obviously going well at home as he's been well supported in his two Warwick Farm attempts lately and only beaten a length last start. You'd have to think he needs to improve.
22. (2E) Beckford (Troy O'Neile): Won the Armidale Cup on his home track at Tamworth. Not seen since a placing in the Maclean Cup at the Grafton Carnival and his preparation has likely been hampered by a couple of washouts of late. He's won a couple of trials so he's going well but this is a big ask if he gets a run from a wide gate.
23. (3E) Not Negotiating (Peter W Stanley): Mudgee Cup winner back in December but her form has been only fair, unplaced in eight starts. That said her last couple have been solid as she's hit the line late, the latest a fourth at Warwick Farm in a Benchmark 72 for the mares. Better off in the Little Dance.
24. (4E) She's All In (Barbara Joseph, Paul & Matt Jones): Nowra Cup winner in December made her eligible but her rating has dropped quite a bit since then. Raced on pace in her last couple including the Bathurst Cup and weakened and she's not going well enough to be a factor in this race should she gain a start.
SPEED MAP (excluding emergencies): With a field of 20 you'd have to expect there to be at least a solid tempo. There should be, but it's not guaranteed. Hosier has to go forward from the gate and Bandersnatch could have the chance to follow him over and hope to get in. Surf Dancer draws ideally to lead if desired or take the sit. Caesars Palace didn't lead at Dubbo but is generally an on-pacer, Regal Stage has also been known to settle on speed. Quality Time, if here, would also be a factor in the speed picture.
14 CASINO KID
2 Surf Dancer