Jamie Spencer’s mount goes into the Melbourne Cup in top form and our new ambassador is confident of a big run from the imposing 5yo after his fifth-placing last year.
The only poor race that Big Orange has run all season is when Frankie tried to break the land speed record on him in the Jockey Club Stakes in April – I think he thought he was riding Lochsong again – and he goes into the Melbourne Cup in far better shape than he did last year.
He went into that race on the back of a disappointing run in the Lonsdale Cup, yet still managed to finish fifth, so there is every reason to be very optimistic about his chances this time around.
Firstly, he lost only 13kg travelling over, as opposed to 30kg last year. That means that he must have eaten and drunk well on the journey. I was sent a video of him settling in earlier this week, and he seemed in very good form with himself.
And then you have his well-being in terms of form. I don’t think there is any doubt that he is an improved horse this season, and he comes here on the back of Group 2 wins in the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket and the Goodwood Cup last time.
I actually think that his single best of piece of form this year is his neck second to Vazirabad in the Dubai Gold Cup in March – the winner has a turn of foot and is one of the best stayers around, if not the best, as he underlined once again in the Prix Royal-Oak last weekend – and a reproduction of that level of form will make him very competitive in this field.
He has the experience of travelling now, and we know that he is a horse who goes well when fresh, so the fact that he hasn’t run since late July is a big plus. He has been trained specifically for this race since Goodwood.
One potential negative would be rain. He just isn’t the same horse with cut in the ground, as his record shows. But nine times out of ten it is fast ground here; here is hoping it is 10 out of 11 come Tuesday morning.
The draw, and early position, is obviously another potential cause for concern. Big Orange (12/1 at 32Red Sport) is not blessed with early speed, and the home horses are generally sharp away, so I am hoping for a berth in stalls 10 to 14 before the draw is made on Saturday. But it is a jockey’s job to play the hand that he is dealt, as best he can.
This will only be my third ride in the race – it didn’t work out from stall one on Dunaden in 2013, and luck is undoubtedly a big factor – but I have won a Mackinnon on Side Glance around here, and hopefully I will get a ride or two to get my eye in before the big one on Tuesday.
Of the opposition, the one I fear most is Bondi Beach (9/1), for whom you suspect that this has been the plan all season, and giving him 2lb won’t be easy.
He is a basically a Classic winner in all but name, having had the St Leger given to him and then taken away again, and he certainly caught my eye when third to Zhukova and US Army Ranger over 1m4f at Leopoardstown last time.
Back up to a more suitable trip, and off a decent mark, then I expect him to run far better race than he did in this race last season. I think Ryan could be the one we all have to beat.
He certainly strikes me as a more dangerous opponent than Wicklow Brave (16/1) off the same mark, as I think he could be flattered by his Irish St Leger win, as Order Of St George probably wasn’t at his best that day. He was 3 ½ lengths behind Big Orange off levels at Goodwood, too.
But there aren’t many finer trainers in the world than Willie Mullins, who has had winners all over the globe, and he has a wrong to right after Max Dynamite’s unlucky second in this race last year.
Of the other European horses coming over, Heartbreak City (12/1 at 32Red Sport) is up there in the betting after his impressive win in the Ebor, but for me he has something to prove.
Although he won that race at York by 4 lengths, it didn’t look the strongest of Ebors and he was winning that off a mark of 103. Big Orange is rated 117, and I would fancy my chances of beating him here giving him 6lb. And I would be disappointed if we didn’t finish in front of Geelong Cup winner Qewy, too.
A lot has been made about how stayers coming over from Europe to be trained here suddenly find the speed to win over 7f and 1m, and the 2014 Queen’s Vase winner Hartnell is a case in point.
Basically, I think it is because the 1m races are not as strong as at home. But Hartnell (currently 4/1) has clearly established himself as a leading contender for this prize.
That said, I thought he had a hard enough race when second to runaway winner Winx in the Cox Plate, and I just wonder about that form in general.
For Vadamos to still finish fourth in that race, just 1 ¾ lengths behind Hartnell, given how hard he pulled leads me to question the strength of form. And I know questioning Winx’s form is blasphemous in these parts.
However, Hartnell seems to be thriving on a tough schedule, and had earlier beaten Jameka easily in the Turnbull Stakes over 1m2f here, and the runner-up went on to win the Caulfield Cup by 3 lengths. So his chance is there for all to see.
You don’t have to look too far for other dangers in this field as well – Almandin is a lightly-raced course winner who is improving, and we have the winners of the Mackinnon and Lexus on Saturday morning to possibly consider, too – but I will be disappointed if Big Orange isn’t in the first four.
For the latest betting on the Melbourne Cup, head to 32Red Sport.