It’s hard to imagine a tougher race to handicap than the Kentucky Derby, but the Melbourne Cup (G1) at Flemington racecourse in Australia certainly gives the “Run for the Roses” a run for the money.

HANSON: Horses of interest in the 2019 Melbourne Cup

Held annually on the first Tuesday in November, this year’s Melbourne Cup is slotted for November 5, though racing fans in North America will tune in Monday night at 11:00 p.m. ET. With a full field of 24 horses negotiating a testing two-mile distance under handicap conditions, the Melbourne Cup is a beast of a race for handicappers to decipher.

Fortunately, TwinSpires provides bettors with a handful of free handicapping tools for analyzing “the race that stops a nation.” In addition to past performances, the race analysis card and power rankings sheet provided by Sky Racing World (and available through the TwinSpires handicapping store) can help you quickly cut through the confusion and identify the key Melbourne Cup contenders.

First and foremost among the main players is #1 Cross Counter, who produced a powerful finish to win the 2018 Melbourne Cup by one length. This Godolphin homebred is 2-for-3 running two miles, with his lone defeat over this distance coming when third against the high-class European stayers Stradivarius and Dee Ex Bee in the Goodwood Cup (G1) at Goodwood in England.

Cross Counter has been running well against tough competition this season, so although the Melbourne Cup is a prestigious and competitive race, you can argue Cross Counter will be taking a drop in class on Tuesday. The only problem? He’ll be saddled with top weight of 127 pounds.

Carrying four pounds less is the Japanese hopeful #2 Mer De Glace, a serious threat to derail Cross Counter’s title defense. A stoutly-bred son of Rulership, Mer De Glace has been on fire this season, going 6-for-6 while rising steadily up the class ranks. On October 19, Mer De Glace shipped to Australia and sprung an 8-1 upset in the 1 1/2-mile Caulfield Cup (G1), rallying strongly to win by a length for hot jockey Damian Lane.

The Caulfield Cup marked Mer De Glace’s longest race to date, but with his improving form and strong pedigree, he appears poised to handle the jump in distance just fine. With a good trip, he’ll be tough to hold off in the straight.

Cross Counter and Mer De Glace are the main players, and boxing them in the exacta feels like a sound play for casual bettors. But for those seeking more coverage and a larger score, consider playing the trifecta while adding #3 Master of Reality, #4 Mirage Dancer, #11 Finche, #19 Constantinople, #20 Il Paradiso, and #23 Vow and Declare to the mix. Europeans have held the edge in recent editions of the Melbourne Cup, and runners like Master of Reality, Il Paradiso, and Constantinople have demonstrated high-class form running long in England.

  • $10 to win on #2 Mer De Glace
  • $4 exacta box: 1,2 ($8)
  • $1 trifecta: 2 with 1 with 3,4,11,19,20,23 ($6)
  • $1 trifecta: 2 with 3,4,11,19,20,23 with 1 ($6)

Good luck!