Equine flu might be a real worry for some of the best horses in the land, but anyone who suggests that this year’s visitor-deprived Melbourne Cup will be no classier than a Bendigo Maiden should be hosed down with disinfectant and marched up Flemington’s straight six with a penetrometer up their posterior.

After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that Australian Rules football could conjure up a perfectly acceptable final series without reaching beyond the talent pool of the southern metropolis (and its south-western satellite).

On tomorrow’s enhanced program at Caulfield (11 races, now that’s one for stayers), just two races are fielding enough genuine contenders to raise the prospect that this year’s Cup will be bubbling over with worthy contenders.

So dust off your binoculars and watch the D’Urban Quality Stakes at the “middle” distance of 1700m (we’re getting into staying territory here) at 1:45pm tomorrow.

I’d be keeping an eye on the top six here: Ice Chariot, who has won at the Cup distance and came third in the Brisbane Cup in June; Leica Falcon, who was fourth in the Melbourne Cup two years ago; Cefalu, who featured in several staying races last spring; Rubiscent, who shows signs of becoming one of Victoria’s classier stayers; Dane Empire who won a 2000 meter race at Caulfield last start; and Haddle McDaddle, who spaced them by six lengths in a mile race at the Valley last start, and has won to 1800m.

And throw in Zavite (winner of the 2400m McKell Cup at Rosehill in June) and The Fuzz (who won in Auckland at 2200 m on New Year’s Day) if you’re looking at longshots with a genuine prospect of upside.

Then at 3:30pm the 1400m Memsie Stakes which may, despite its shorter distance, hold even more interesting clues amongst its classy collection of contenders. These include:

  • Maybe Better – third in last year’s Melbourne Cup to the Japanese duo.
  • Efficient – won the Victoria Derby last year, and lightly raced.
  • Lad of the Manor – 8 years old now, but has the class and has won up to 2000 meters.
  • Miss Finland – won the Vic Oaks (2500m). (And is also entered in Adelaide in case she can’t travel to Melbourne.)
  • Falstaff – an Irish horse who has been winning big races in Singapore – could be the one to take our cup away this year.
  • Haradasun – the boom 3 yo last season who won the Doncaster and showed promise at distance by coming second in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at 2000m.
  • El Segundo – has won up to 2040 and good first up third in a sprint
  • Blutigeroo – fifth in the Sydney Cup after winning the 2400 BMW at Rosehill. That Hobart Cup win earlier in the year now seems bracingly relevant too.
  • Activation – fourth in last year’s Caulfield Cup.
  • Tipungwuti – won the 2000m Tulloch stakes in March which would normally be a good pointer.
  • Cinque Cento – Won the Doomben Cup at WFA (2020) in May.

And keep an eye on Race 7 in Adelaide where SA Derby winner Lazer Sharp resumes at 3:47pm. If he lives up to promise, we could already have a Cup field of 18, and that’s without calling on 2yos, sprinters, steeplechasers or retired brood mares, although admittedly a smattering of those would make the Cup more interesting for punters than a race which looked like it was going to be dominated by enigmatic Japanese.

Robbie Waterhouse: Not a champagne Spring Carnival but a home brew beer year.

By Sydney bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse

A glance at the Melbourne Cup market of Mark Read’s International All Sports tells the story of what this year’s race will be like if the worst comes to the worst and the field is confined to Victorians only.

Of the 34 horses quoted at 50/1 or less in the now suspended market, only six are from Victoria – Maybe Better, Maldivian, Zipping, Pompeii Ruler, Blue Tigeroo and Lazer Sharpe.

On my ratings the potential field will be 10 kilos inferior to normal – still fun to bet on perhaps but more like a Listed Race than a Group One. Victorian horses on their own just aren’t up to making the Cup and the weight-for-age Cox Plate the great international races they have become.

As evidence of that, consider that in the last 40 years only six Victorian trained horses have won a Cox Plate. In the Melbourne Cup the record is slightly better with 12 Victorians out of the last 40.

So we will be looking this year not at a champagne Spring Carnival but a home brew beer year.