If you’re looking for a definitive answer on who will win the Melbourne Cup – world’s most prestigious two-mile handicap – I’m afraid I’m going to leave you sorely disappointed.
What I can offer is a quick look through the dataset of previous Melbourne Cup champions to identify any common features of the horses who crossed the line first, and to see which of this year’s entrants have those traits in common.
No country for old mares
The most striking trend that jumps out of the dataset of past winners is simple: age matters. In the 153 previous races, only 12 horses aged seven years or above have ever taken home the trophy.
What makes this observation particularly intriguing in the context of the 2014 cup is that four of the ten most fancied runners – including the clear favourite Admire Rakti are all seven-year-olds.
Even more striking is that another of the more favoured entrants, Red Cadeaux, is a nine-year-old. No horse that old has ever been crowned champion.
In short, history suggests that the Melbourne Cup really is a race which favours younger horses – 78% of champions have been four-, five- or six-year-olds.
That’s not to say that this year’s highly-backed elder statesmen won’t deliver on the day, but past precedent suggests that it’s a tough ask.
The weight of history
As with all handicap races, each horse in the Melbourne Cup is assigned a minimum weight (including jockey, saddle and any necessary ballast) which must be carried.
Horses displaying stronger form coming into the race are assigned heavier loads to even out the field slightly.
Since metric weights were first assigned in 1972, the average handicap of a winning horse has been between 53kg and 54kg. Each of the past six winners has run with between 51kg and 55kg.
Much to his owner’s displeasure, this year’s favourite Admire Rakti has been assigned a handicap weight of 58.5kg.
In the metric era, no horse has ever won carrying more than this. In fact, the only horses to win carrying more than 57kg have been repeat winners – Think Big carried 58.5kg to his second consecutive success in 1975 and the final of Makybe Diva’s 2003-2005 hat-trick of victories was achieved carrying 58kg.
The most recent first-time winner to carry more than 58kg was way back in 1954.
No barriers to success
Punters scouring the barrier draw for any clues as to who might triumph will not get much help. Conventional wisdom suggests that higher numbered barriers – those with starting positions wider on the track – are a disadvantage, with the horse potentially facing a tougher task to manoeuvre into a favourable racing line.
The stats really don’t support that view at all. For example, barrier 21 has started three victors in the past 30 years.
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