Incentivise heads into Tuesday’s Melbourne Cup as the shortest-priced favourite since the legendary Phar Lap more than 90 years ago as Australia’s “race that stops a nation” welcomes back crowds.
Held on the first Tuesday of November since 1876, the punishing 3,200 metre (two-mile) handicap was raced behind closed doors last year for the first time in its long history as coronavirus ravaged the city.
But with one of the world’s longest series of lockdowns over, some 10,000 punters — the maximum allowed and well under the usual 100,000 — will flock to Flemington once again for a traditional boozy day out.
Regarded as the ultimate test of stamina and staying power, the Melbourne Cup has Aus$8 million (US$6.0 million) at stake with the winner of the 24-strong field banking Aus$4.4 million.
Incentivise is the raging favourite to cross the line first on what is forecast to be a fine and warm day, despite being drawn out wide in barrier 16.
Considered the most exciting horse in Australia, the five-year-old gelding has the shortest odds ($2.80) since the legendary Phar Lap — one of the world’s greatest ever — at $1.73 in 1930.
He has earned it after winning nine in a row starting in April — including three Group 1 races — which culminated in demolishing the field by three-and-a-half lengths to win the Caulfield Cup in Melbourne over 2,400m (one-and-a-half miles) a fortnight ago.
Brett Prebble will be in the saddle again and is excited after that romp.
“What this tells me is look out Melbourne Cup,” Prebble said. “He’s going to eat up the 3,200 (metres).”
If he wins on Tuesday, Incentivise will become the first horse in 20 years, and only the 12th ever, to complete the Caulfield and Melbourne Cup double.
He is under the wing of master trainer Peter Moody, who wrote his name into the history books by steering now-retired superstar galloper Black Caviar to 25 straight wins.
– ‘No stopping him’ –
“He’s not the prettiest horse in the legs department. He’s a bit knock-kneed and toes out on both legs, particularly his off foreleg, and that’s why he struggles on the turns,” Moody said of Incentivise after the Caulfield Cup.
“But when he’s in a straight line he builds … the further he builds in that straight line, he gains momentum and there’s no stopping him.”
The only downside to cementing his status as a champion horse is that Covid has kept a lot of international raiders away, meaning it isn’t the strongest field.
Spanish Mission, one of only two genuine foreign-trained horses this year, is currently second favourite.
Trained in Britain, the six-year-old stallion, ridden by Craig Williams, has enjoyed recent good form, going close to knocking off European champion Stradivarius at York in August.
Other fancies include Grand Promenade, Floating Artist and Verry Elleegant.
Last year’s winner Twilight Payment — an Irish import who led all the way — lines up again with Jye McNeil once more in the saddle of the nine-year-old gelding.
But it’s a hard ask winning back-to-back — the last time was by mare Makybe Diva during her famous three-peat between 2003-05. Before that it was Think Big in 1975.
Whoever wins will instantly become a household name in Australia. The race is a cultural institution with the day considered so important it is declared a public holiday in its host state of Victoria.