Cross Counter given modest top weight ahead of 2019 Melbourne Cup

Last year’s winner of the Melbourne Cup has been given a “gift” of weight for this year’s defence of the trophy. That’s according to racehorse syndicator, Luke Murrell, whose firm Australian Bloodstock syndicated the 2014 Melbourne Cup champion, Protectionist. The Godolphin-owned stayer Cross Counter prevailed in the 2018 Melbourne Cup running off the weight of 51kg. Following his success last year, he has been given topweight this time around, but Murrell still believes that at 57.5kg Cross Counter will be able to run extremely well.

Murrell seems more than happy to heap the pressure on Cross Counter and his connections by saying that his relatively modest topweight means he “has been gifted the race” before it’s even begun. It’s therefore little surprise that Cross Counter is heavily favoured alongside Marmelo and Constantinople to prevail once again at Flemington in November. It’s hard to argue against Murrell when you consider that Cross Counter backed up his success at Flemington by going on to win the highly lucrative Dubai Gold Cup.

Cross Counter underlines prodigious talent in Dubai

Cross Counter went into the Dubai Gold Cup in March off the back of a lengthy lay-off following his Melbourne Cup victory last November. It was a fascinating race in which two Godolphin stablemates ended up pulling away from the field, with Isopolini going neck and neck with Cross Counter. However, the latter showed great spirit and determination to take the lead an eighth from the finishing post and record the third-fastest time in the race’s 11-year history.

In other past races, Cross Counter has also only come up short against Stradivarius, who is widely considered to be the world’s number one stayer at present. Murrell was the first to admit that the modest topweight for Cross Counter has left Mustajeer’s connections somewhat deflated after feeling that he would be in with a chance running at 55kg. Mustajeer won the $1 million Ebor Handicap, more than proving his worth to his Australian Bloodstock connections. Nevertheless, Murrell believes his stablemate Raheen House could have the best chance of upsetting the form book and toppling Cross Counter off a weight of 53kg.

What have we heard about Marmelo and Constantinople?

The Hughie Morrison-trained Marmelo, who finished runner-up to Cross Counter in last year’s Melbourne Cup, is booked for a third successive tilt at the title. His connections have opted against entering Marmelo into the Irish St Leger and have instead decided to enter him into November’s Melbourne Cup without a single run. Nevertheless, Marmelo fans will have been heartened to see his comfortable win in Deauville last month in the Prix Kergorlay.

Morrison insists that he and his team will maintain the same plan for Marmelo as previous Melbourne Cup outings, giving him some time off before flying out to Australia in plenty of time to acclimatise. Morrison also believes that people shouldn’t write off Marmelo’s 2017 Melbourne Cup ninth-place showing on good ground and say that he’s incapable of winning on faster tracks – despite coming second last year on soft ground. Morrison said that Marmelo has “broken track records over a mile and six on the quicker ground” so it would be foolhardy to write him off on that basis.

Can Constantinople join Dunaden and Fiorente on the Melbourne Cup honours list?

 Photo by Chris Phutully, CC BY 2.0

On the flip side, Constantinople’s connections believe that he is something of a “false favourite” ahead of the Melbourne Cup. All-conquering Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien has part-sold him to the Lindsay Park stable, who will train Constantinople on his arrival ‘down under’. His new co-trainer David Hayes says that although he hopes he runs well this year he is “more keen for the future”. Hayes said that though he will be working Constantinople “very conservatively” this year, he “cannot wait” to get his hands on him.

It seems like most experts believe the interesting betting markets on the 2019 Melbourne Cup will be those that don’t contain Cross Counter. Picking the potential runner-up could be more of fine art. Luke Murrell predicts that if Cross Counter arrives in Melbourne “on the day” he is likely to “start 4/1”. This year’s Melbourne Cup will almost certainly pay tribute to a 22-year-old female jockey, who recently died after falling off her horse at a Melbourne racecourse. The woman from Clyde fell at Cranbourne Racecourse and the Melbourne horse racing community will want to do all it can to pay their respects when the sporting spotlight is back on the city.