While American horse racing fans prep for this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, Australian sports fans will be shutting their nation down for tonight’s Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup 2020
Vow and Declare captured the 2019 Melbourne Cup, known as the “race that stops a nation.” Australia’s most famous race runs without fans Monday night in the US. (Image: Getty)

Dating to 1861, the Melbourne Cup doubles as not only the most important race in Australia, but as one of the country’s most iconic sporting events on every front. That explains its famous name as “the race that stops a nation.”

In this case, however, the nation stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Melbourne was Australia’s ground-zero for the outbreak, and the country’s second-largest city just emerged from a four-month lockdown. The Melbourne Cup will run at 8 p.m. PT Monday without fans at Flemington Racecourse. Meanwhile, pubs near Flemington largely remain empty or already booked to their limited allotments.

Many of the country’s TABs, the off-track wagering facilities, recently reopened. That conveniently allows newly liberated horseplayers the ability to play the 3,200-meter race known for stopping a country.

European Invasion Stalking Melbourne Cup

And horseplayers have a wide-open field to play. Even amid the pandemic, 24 horses, including eight European entries, will enter the starting gate in quest of an $8 million purse and a $4.4 million first prize. Three of those European invaders enter the gate as your favorites, led by a familiar name – Anthony Van Dyck.

The 4-year-old Aidan O’Brien charge carries the race’s high weight (129 pounds) in the handicap format. The 2019 Epsom Derby winner also carries 7/1 odds into the fray after finishing second in his Australian debut in mid-October. That came in the Caulfield Cup, the Melbourne Cup’s traditional prep race.

This is the well-traveled Anthony Van Dyck’s fourth country in his last five races, dating to last December’s Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin. His only victory in that string came at ParisLongchamp, where he captured the Group 2 Prix Foy in September. As for O’Brien, the dynamic Irish trainer is seeking his first Melbourne Cup victory.

Luck and Skill of the Irish Takes Betting Favor Here

Right behind him in the betting window are Irish contenders Tiger Moth (8/1) and Sir Dragonet (9/1). Another O’Brien product, Tiger Moth makes only his fifth career start. He finished second in the Irish Derby before winning a Group 3 by four lengths at Leopardstown in September.

Sir Dragonet, meanwhile, broke a four-race runner-up streak, winning the Group 1 Cox Plate in his Australian debut a mere nine days ago. He’s running to be the first horse to win the Cox Plate-Melbourne Cup double since Makybe Diva in 2005. Coincidentally, Sir Dragonet’s jockey, Glen Boss, also rode Makybe Diva. Boss rode Makybe Diva into Melbourne Cup history as the only three-time winner.

Australian trainer Chris Waller, who trained the iconic Winx, sends Verry Elleegant (12/1) in search of his first Melbourne Cup. The 5-year-old mare comes off her victory over Anthony Van Dyck in the Caulfield Cup. Waller adds Finche (17/1), who was the Melbourne Cup favorite in 2019. The English import finished seventh, then took the next 305 days off before finishing third, third, and then fifth in the Caulfield Cup.

Vow and Declare Stopped an Aussie Cup Drought Last Year

Talking about the Europeans here is natural, considering their recent Melbourne Cup dominance. When Vow and Declare won last year’s Cup, he became the first Australian winner since 2009. Nobody’s expecting a repeat from the O’Brien charge. Since that victory at 10/1, Vow and Declare hit the board once in six races – a third in March. He’s finished 9th, 12th, and 15th (Caulfield Cup) in his last three races, which explains why your defending champion is 60/1 to repeat.

That said, favorites find the Melbourne Cup winner’s circle only 21% of the time. Five years ago, female jockey Michelle Payne captured the Cup aboard 100/1 long shot Prince of Penzance. Jamie Kah, who leads the Melbourne jockey standings, attempts to emulate Payne aboard 11/1 Prince of Arran.

While it’s Kah’s first Melbourne Cup, it’s Prince of Arran’s third. The 8-year-old gelding finished second to Vow and Declare last year, and third the year before.

The Melbourne Cup card from Flemington airs on TVG in the United States on Monday night, beginning at 3:45 p.m. PT.

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