It’s “the race that stops a nation”. The 2019 Melbourne Cup is upon us and if finding the winner wasn’t hard enough, the added competitiveness of the race in recent years has seen the weights become far more compressed. This means those lower in the handicap have been asked to carry more while those up in the weights aren’t quite as disadvantaged as they once were.

We preview Tuesday morning’s 24-runner handicap.

European challenge – tough for Cross Counter to win it again

British and Irish raiders have enjoyed a great deal of success in the past two years, with Joseph O’Brien’s Rekindling and most recently Charlie Appleby’s Cross Counter both leading home back-to-back 1-2-3s for European raiders. The overseas challenge looks strong again this time around with 10 confirmed runners including defending champion Cross Counter, Raymond Tusk, Master Of Reality and Hunting Horn.

You have to go back to 2005 for the last horse to win this race in consecutive years and it’s hard to see the son of Teofilo becoming the first internationally-trained horse to win back-to-back Melbourne Cups. He’s been running in top-class races in the UK this season, chasing Stradivarius home twice at Ascot and Goodwood, but this has clearly been the target all season. He was the bottom-weight last year, but shoulders top-weight this time around and although he has the class for this, it would take a pretty seismic effort to win it again.

Cross Counter is 11/1 to give Appleby another day to remember.

Wet weather brings plenty into it

Given the ground at Flemington is already riding on the slow side and there’s still more rain in the forecast, you’ve got to be looking for horses with soft ground form. It’s unlikely to be heavy in Melbourne, but it’s going to be tough work for the field and stamina for this two mile trip is also going to be crucial.

Japan’s Mer De Glace won another competitive handicap, the Caulfield Cup, last time and has been backed into 6/1 favourite as a result. He has won all six starts this year including three 1m2f Group 2 races in Japan as well as that Caulfield Cup victory and must be respected. His breeding doesn’t suggest the two mile test will suit though and there must be reservations around the ground too.

The ground will be to the liking of Ebor winner Mustajeer, formerly with Ger Lyons in Ireland and now trained by Kris Lees, and he looks a fair price at 14/1. However, it could pay to take a chance on another former Irish contender in the shape of Southern France.

A talented galloper on his day, Southern France is also a bit of an enigma who doesn’t always show his best form. Placed in both the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the St Leger at Doncaster as a three-year-old, he ended last season finishing seventh in the Cesarewitch – a route that many horses who have run well in the Melbourne Cup have taken.

This season has once again been mixed, with a very good second to Stradivarius in the Yorkshire Cup before disappointing in his next three starts at Ascot, the Curragh and Goodwood. However, the colt was much better when defeating Downdraft on soft ground in the Irish St Leger Trial at the Curragh before running another good race when third in the Irish St Leger itself on his most recent start.

The form of that run looks strong, with the runner-up Kew Gardens taking the Long Distance Cup at Ascot recently and given his ability to handle a softer surface, the 18/1 on offer with six places looks worth snapping up.

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