The Melbourne Cup: The Handicap That Destroys the Favorites Winning the Melbourne Cup is a dream for most jockeys, trainers, and owners. And to realize this dream, it’s fairly obvious that you’re going to need one of the world’s best horses. The November showpiece – the undisputed highlight of the Australian racing year – is one of the world’s iconic handicaps, and one of the toughest tests in racing. Like the other great races around the globe – the Kentucky Derby, the Grand National, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – to win it is to own a piece of history. But while a Melbourne Cup winner becomes great by definition, many great horses have failed to win the race. Those primed for glory in the lead up to the race, i.e., the favorites, are more often than not made to look ordinary in the gruelling test. Here’s how the favorites have fared since 2010: 3rd, 4th, 14th, 1st, 22nd (last), 13th, 3rd, 9th & 12th (2017 race had co-favorites), 11th, 7th, 13th, and 2nd (2021). So, since 2010, you are looking at an average placing of 9th for the pre-race favorite – not great for a race that usually features 22-24 runners. So You Think Slipped Up in 2010 We chose 2010 as a starting point deliberately, as it was the race that featured one of the hottest favorites for the Melbourne Cup in recent memory, So You Think. The horse had blitzed the competition in the Yalumba Stakes, Cox Plate (one of Australia’s ‘Big 3’ races), and Mackinnon Stakes in the weeks leading up to the 2010 Melbourne Cup. The big Australian bookmakers, like Tatts (Tattsbett sport and racing services – now amalgamated under UBet), had priced So You Think at +200, but he failed to deliver on the day, losing out to Americain (+1200). So You Think was the shortest price of any Melbourne Cup starter this century until Incentivize started at +190 in 2021. The story was much the same, with the favorite running a decent race but ultimately losing out to a horse with much bigger odds (Verry Elleegant won in 2021 at +1700). In between those years, we have had 10 races throwing up a very mixed return for the favorites. Sure, Fiorente won as a favorite in 2013, but Admire Ratki finished last of 22 when favorite the year after. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that Fiorente’s victory came in a year when the market leaders were given long odds - +700 was his starting price. Always Look Across the Entire Card What, then, is the point we are making here – not to back the betting favorites in the Melbourne Cup? Not necessarily. There have been instances in the past – Makybe Diva (2004 & 2005) where everything has gone to plan. Everyone expected Makybe Diva to win in 2004 (she had won the year previously, but not as favorite), and they were even more convinced when she returned to reclaim her crown in 2005. Broadly speaking, though, our point is that the Melbourne Cup provides a good lesson for bettors, one that says you should not get sucked into what the market says. Too often in horse racing, we are led to follow the money. Yes, there are good reasons for sportsbooks to have specific horses as market leaders and often good reasons to back them. But if you are betting ‘blindly’ and simply backing the horse because it is the favorite, the Melbourne Cup is a good example of how you can get burned. As with all handicaps, you should do your research and evaluate all candidates before selecting. If that turns out to be the market leader, great. If not, well, you’ve clearly still got a shot.