Carnival comes to town: The races that make Cup week

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It might be the race that stops the nation, but the Melbourne Cup is just one of 37 races across a week-long carnival of horse racing at Flemington.

Let’s take a look at all the highlights scheduled for Cup week at racing’s headquarters.

Riff Rocket ridden by James McDonald wins the ABC Bullion Super Impose Stakes at Flemington earlier this month, a victory that helped confirm its status as a favourite for the VRC Derby.Credit: Getty

Saturday, November 4: VRC Derby day

A day for the traditionalists, the $2 million VRC Derby for three-year-olds is one of the longest-running races on the Australian calendar.

First run in 1855, it covers a testing 2500 metres. The honour roll of winners is what makes this race so special.

Phar Lap triumphed in the race in 1929, while Tulloch (1957), Tobin Bronze (1965), Taj Rossi (1973) and Dulcify (1978) are some of the greats of the turf to have won the race.

This year, Chris Waller and James McDonald have Riff Rocket shaping up as the horse to beat, but after he went under last start, the race is perhaps more open than that.

Sunsets was the horse who beat him at Caulfield last start, and he’s high up in the early markets.

Other features on the race card include the $2 million group 1 Coolmore Stud Stakes over 1200 metres for the three-year-olds, a race which can turn a colt into a stallion, and the $1 million group 1 Empire Rose over 1600 metres for fillies and mares.

The Coolmore, in fact, is arguably the highlight, given the speed on show down the Flemington straight.

Sunsets ridden by Johnny Allen.Credit: Racing Photos/Getty Images

Some of the main hopes include Cylinder, Shinzo, who raced in the Everest, King’s Gambit and I Am Unstoppable.

What they said: “He’s definitely progressing in the right direction, and he’s got a good attitude, which goes a long way for those races. He’ll go there and give himself every chance” – jockey Johnny Allen, on the Derby chances of Sunsets.

Tuesday, November 7: Melbourne Cup day

There’ll be 10 races on the card, but only one worth remembering: the $8.4 million Melbourne Cup.

First run in 1861, it’s a handicap race for stayers over 3200 metres, recently it has attracted quality horses from overseas who have brought superior staying bloodlines and pedigree to the race.

Mark Zahra rides Gold Trip to last year’s Melbourne Cup win.Credit: Getty

This year’s edition doesn’t look rich in depth. Last year’s winner Gold Trip and Caulfield Cup winner Without A Fight boast great form, while Cleveland is shaping as Lloyd Williams’ best chance as the businessman guns for his eighth Cup win.

There are two horses off the plane could upset the party, however. Willie Mullins has sent stablemates Vauban and Absurde, who will race in Australia for the first time in the Cup, both bringing winning form from Europe.

What they said: “You’ve got to have a crack [at the Melbourne Cup]. That was second-up from a spell. A great training performance from the Freedmans to get him right today, so you think there’s got to be a little bit of improvement” – jockey Mark Zahra after winning the Caulfield Cup on Without A Fight.

Thursday, November 9: VRC Oaks day

Traditionally known as Ladies’ Day, the $1 million VRC Oaks is the Derby equivalent for the three-year-old fillies over 2500 metres.

Often the winner of the Wakeful Stakes, one of the undercard races on Derby day, starts favourite five days later in the Oaks, but there are many form lines that can point to an Oaks winner.

Danny O’Brien, who won the Oaks in 2019 with Miami Bound, has as good a chance as any after his filly Served Cold won at Geelong last week.

Gai Waterhouse’s Tropical Squall is the early Oaks favourite.

What they said: “She’s a very natural staying filly and just has that natural cardio which means she could probably run 2000 metres in her first start. Fitness-wise, that will be enough for her to go the Flemington and the Oaks.” Trainer Danny O’Brien on Served Cold after her Geelong win.

Saturday, November 11: Champions Day

The old “Stakes day” was revamped last year, to give the carnival the crescendo it deserves.

Three weight-for-age races – over 1200 metres, 1600 metres and 2000 metres – aim to bring the best of the best to Flemington on the final day of Cup week.

The Champions Sprint will have the quality sprinters from Sydney’s Everest take on those who competed in the group 1 Manikato Stakes on Cox Plate day, as well as the three-year-olds, such as Cylinder, potentially, who decide to back up from the Coolmore Stud Stakes.

Meanwhile, the Champions Mile and the Champions Stakes provide two options for horses coming out of the Cox Plate to have one more run, either again at 2000 metres or back to 1600 metres.

Following a prizemoney injection, all three feature races are worth $3 million each.

What they said: “At the top of the straight I thought I was a sneaky chance. Quickened with the winner and in the last 200 metres found a few a bit stronger than him at this stage. He’s a great colt” – jockey Zac Lloyd after Cylinder ran fifth in the Everest.

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