The first Tuesday in November is memorable for very little in the Northern hemisphere, but down under, it's a different kettle of fish, as the Melbourne Cup takes centre stage. And in recent years, horses trained in Europe have learned how to win against an Aussie contingent determined to keep the prize at home.
Since Dermot Weld finally laid the bogey of runners from European nations in 1993, the trophy has headed back to countries in Europe five times, most recently to Charlie Appleby's in Newmarket with Cross Counter in 2018 for the international Godolphin stable. The two mile race is fiercely contested - code for a rough old race among Aussies keen to piut one over on the visitors.
"The race that stops a nation" will definitely get your attention and it would be a shame to miss out on all the exceptional betting offers for the Melbourne Cup. Sadly though, the atmosphere on course will be very different, as spectators are excluded for the first time in the 159 year history of the race, as the dreaded Covid restrictions impact another piece of sporting culture. Even owners have been prevented from attending.
Run on the legendary Flemington racecourse, the Melbourne Cup is the main attraction in Australia this time of the year, and is athe biggest Group 1 handicap of the international horse racing calendar. This year's race will see a maximum field of 24 participants on good ground, for a grand prize of over AUS$4 million.
It comes as no surprise that the biggest jackpot in the handicap category sees riders, trainers and horses from the world over so look out for one of the strongest British and Irish efforts yet. Within the last decade, favourites have won only once, and the race is normally a magnet for Northern hemisphere's foremost riders. Covid has played its part once again this year in keeping the likes of Dettori, Ryan Moore and others from attending.
However, British and Irish horses lead the betting, with Aiden O'Brien's Tiger Moth favourite at 11/2, two points shoerter than his stable companion Anthony Van Dyck. The leading British contender is Charlie Fellowes' Prince of Arran. Joseph O'Brien fields a pair of 20/1 shots in Master of Reality and Twilight Payment, whilst that habitual globetrotter Willie Mullins sends over the lightly raced Stratum Albion. Andrew Balding's Dashing Willoughby is an unflattering 80/1 which belies his real chance.
Sadly, at a time when women riders are really making their presence felt on the UK scene, this year's race is without a woman rider, but the glass ceiling was broken in 2015 when Michelle Payne stunned the crowd at Flemington riding Prince of Penzance to victory, history and glory as the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup, at odds of 100/1.
Closer to home, we are less than 2 weeks to The November Meeting in Cheltenham. As the momentum of the season escalates with this week's Haldon Gold Cup, it's good to see that Paddy Power is back behind the race they made their own for 10 years. Whatever this year brings in constraints on Irish runners, it will lack nothing for Gloucestershire horses mixing it with the best around Prestbury Park.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)