Luke Murrell is a regular Spring contributor to our site and he is struggling to contain his excitement this week. Not just because the Melbourne Cup is only days away, but because he is a part-owner of Protectionist who is second favourite for the Melbourne Cup. Luke joins us on the podcast to explain why he believes Protectionist is a second-to-none chance of winning our biggest race. He also lines up the form of all of the imported runners as well as the two strongest local hopes.

Punting Insights You’ll Find:

  • Why he doesn’t think Admire Rakti deserves to be favourite
  • Why he believes Protectionist is the ideal horse to win the race
  • How almost half the field have next to no chance

Today’s Guest: Luke Murrell

David Duffield: It’s a pretty exciting time of year but especially this year for you, with Protectionist.

Luke Murrell: Yeah, really excited about it. Counting off the sleeps now like a kid at Christmas. It’s all going well.

David Duffield: How is it going? I know that Victoria’s chief vet paid you a visit.

Luke Murrell: Yeah, he was one of 3 or 4 that got an extra visit the other day, and he passed in; no problems. I actually had a chat with the trainer this morning. He hasn’t seen him for a couple of days, and he was thrilled with how he’d tightened up. He went into that Herbert Power probably I think, by trainers had admission probably a little bit underdone, but that was to be expected. He’s certainly thrived being out here. There was rumor that he was been sore but we are in nearly hourly contract with connections down there, and there’s never been an issue. I think it’s clearly the opposition trying to put a few doubts and get some of the better chances out of the race. It’s happened before.

David Duffield: The Herbert Power run that you mentioned, how exciting was that for him to finish so strongly, because like you said, he wasn’t fully wound up for it?

Luke Murrell: It was funny actually. Andreas the trainer, he’s one of the best in the world, he was actually quite disappointed with the run. Not in the horse itself, but probably just how the race turned out. You could just tell after the race, that won’t be happening again. He’ll be cherry ripe on the day. Yeah, that’s what he reported this morning. The horse even to the eye, he did have a little bit left in him, looked little bit burly and not completely tucked up that you want you see in a stayer. We were thrilled with the run. 20 metres past the post, he’s obviously clearly in front. The pleasing thing is he was getting quicker as he got balanced up. Certainly didn’t handle that Caulfield turn. Thankfully we’ll be at Flemington on Tuesday.

David Duffield: Once you’d reviewed the sectionals, did they confirm what you were impressed with by the eye?

Luke Murrell: Just amazing look. I know nothing improves ownership like a horse, but being subjective, he was outstanding. I’d suggest if that was a Geelong Cup type run, everyone would be all over him. It’s fair enough that everyone pots the Herbert Power but a lot of people probably aren’t taking into account that it’s only in the last couple of years that the internationals have been allowed one week less in quarantine they have to spend, so that race has been an option, I suppose.

There was a temptation to run in the Caulfield Cup, and I think he would have run very well, but for a lot of these Europeans, it’s completely foreign for them to run within 2 weeks. Even 3 weeks, our connections had some reservations about him, because that’s not done over there. Not that he wouldn’t handle it, but it’s just not done and it’s an unknown. We see every year, all these horses come for the Melbourne Cup, and try and go and do a first-up.

That’s been proven time and time again, that just doesn’t work. It’s interesting grouping the horses issue. You look at the Caulfield Cup; from first to end, I think there was about 3 lengths between the lot of them, and run at such a dawdling pace. You see question marks around a number of horses. For mine, from a form point of view, it’s a much weaker year than your Americain’s and those type of horses. I think there’s not the quality there that there has been in previous years.

David Duffield: We did speak before the Caulfield Cup and you mentioned at the time that you were keen on Lucia Valentina’s chances in the race, and she ran very well. What do you think of her chances in the Melbourne Cup?

Luke Murrell: It’s funny. I think if the Japanese horse was any other horse, I don’t think he would be getting the media attention that probably he is. Obviously they’ve got a great record. If you break the race down the last 1400m home; she was quicker home, and more dominant sectionally. To be fair, obviously he was first up, and he’s a stallion.

You think he’d improve, but you got to remember he hasn’t won a race for nearly 2 years prior to that, and now the betting public is wanting this horse to back up within 2 weeks, and do it all over again, and carry a record with it. I’ve been watching with interest all the media. Fair enough, the run was great, but I think if you swap the runs with him and with Lucia Valentina, she wins.

Probably wins a little bit more comfortably than what he did. She was certainly quicker in most part of the race. From a weight’s point of view, it’s fairly similar. I personally think she will beat him home. If you look at his form, he can be pretty inconsistent, that horse. I think a lot of his chances on him will depend on the barrier draw. If he draws inside, I reckon you couldn’t lay him for enough.

I think the bookmakers would really take him on. He’s certainly a horse that needs to not be in a pocket if you like, or have horses on his outside. While it looked ugly, he did have momentum and they went so slow. That allowed him to sit wide and perhaps look dominant, where I think a lot of those horses in that race … Sea Moons and that … I don’t know, even to say they probably shouldn’t have been in the race, and clearly out of form. A lot of the horses on the inside stopped. It probably flattered those coming down the outside. He’s an interesting one, certainly short enough.

David Duffield: So you think Lucia Valentina will beat Admire Rakti home. What about Fawkner amongst the locals … We will get onto the imports in the moment, but I know you’re a fan of Fawkner’s chances as well.

Luke Murrell: Yeah, he’s a funny one because they’ve obviously had an absolute gut-buster in Cox Plate. I think he will either run top 2 or he won’t finish in the top 5. I think he’ll either be flat, or he’ll come out and if he runs to that level that he’s done in the Cox Plate run, to me he’s only one of 2 winning chances. He’s certainly a scary prospect. He’s a very good horse. He has done it before off a tough run. He’s bounced back and put another good run together, so I’m saying he’s probably the real live chance now. Someone said he was $12; I haven’t had a look at the markets too closely, but if he is at ridiculous price for that horse.

David Duffield: I think he’s closer to around $9 at the moment. but I haven’t looked at all the markets at the moment. Just about Protectionist then, you’ve mentioned before you like the tough German horses. What was it about him that made you want to get involved and buy a share in him?

Luke Murrell: We always look for these Weight For Age type of horses, not necessarily the handicap horses, you typical characteristics of your Weight For Age horses are those horses that can carry a bit of weight, and have got a turn of foot. I think that’s what makes some of their previous champions so good, because they can go on a hot tempo. Protectionist showed that the other day in the Herbert Power.

It was a really fast run race. I think it was the second quickest in last 20 years or 15 years, and it would have won most of the Caulfield Cups if he had just go on raw times. For a horse first up to be in a fairly brutal pace like that, that was a good sign. In his previous runs, he sat the back last and just shown an amazing turn of foot.

You look for those horses that, for me, travel on the bit for as long as possible, that aren’t dropping the bit and urged along … because that says they’re doing it easy and they’re comfortable for what they’ve asked to do. He’s a horse in some of his other runs. He’s made 2 runs and 3 runs; not many horses can do that and sustain it. Naturally, he’s a horse bred that he should only be next year starting to hit his straps, and whatever he does now is a bonus.

It’s pretty rare the whole European bloodstock market, there’s a bit of lack of older horses and quality horses. A lot of them have retired or broke down. I think you’re seeing that around the world, that the quality’s probably not there that it was a couple of years ago. They’re just goingthrough a bit of a low or a weaker patch at the moment.

David Duffield: A few years back Americain won the Prix de Kergorlay and then went on to win the Melbourne Cup. That’s what Protectionist did this year, but it was a 4-horse race. How strong is that form?

Luke Murrell: Look, to be frank, the second horse, he’s probably in the top 2 or 3 horses in France as a staying prospect. The other couple that he beat, I didn’t have much of an opinion of. There was another horse in the race that has since come out and run 2nd in a Group 1, admittedly over a little bit further. The actual form out of that race was quite strong. It’s funny these French races … I suppose it’s a little bit to be wary of for those guys, that they’re looking at some of these other French horses that are going to be in the race.

The French staying races, you could run faster backwards in your rubber boots, for the first 1000m of the race at least. Then what happens is they really start to crank it up. You’ve seen horses go out on the track faster than what they do in some of these races. There’s a real crawl, and then they really put the pressure down. They’ll go from running 15 seconds to the furlong, and then at the 1,000, they’re increasing by a length or two constantly.

They’re hitting the line and running 10-8s and 11 seconds furlongs at the end of 3,000. It sounds very impressive, but there’s a lot of horses there that have wins at 2,400. They’re probably 1800m and 2000m horses. While it was over a staying trip, for this horse I’ve got no doubt he’ll get the trip, but it’s probably not a good guide just to look at the real facts and figures, and say he won at 2400m or whatever it happens to be.”

David Duffield: You said that there’s no worries about him running the trip, but compared to the mile and a half of the Herbert Power versus 2 miles obviously for the Cup, do you think that’s a more suitable distance or not?

Luke Murrell: Absolutely, he’s been trained that way, this prep. If anything, you’d say 3000m is going a sitting better than a 2200m or 2400m race. That’s a pleasing aspect when you go through some of these horses, or the chances in a race, at least. You can’t say that about a lot of them. So that’s another tick for mine.

David Duffield: All right. We’ve chatted about Admire Rakti. You don’t think he deserves to be favorite. What about Red Cadeaux? If memory serves me right, you thought last year might have been his last hurrah but he’s back again.

Luke Murrell: He’s amazing. Last year, he came into the race with some pretty poxy form. This year, amazingly it’s got worse. He’s a year older; I couldn’t have him personally. I know it will be hard in the markets, in everyone’s bit of favorite. The word is he’s working really well out there, but he’s got one good run on his CV since he ran in Australia last, and that was a third or a fourth to Seismos. And they were treading water those horses, they were caught in the ocean. It was a fairly common type race.

He’s going to need to really pull something out of the air, to really challenge and be a top 4 contender. The only thing he’s got playing for him is obviously he’s done this before. He’s had pretty rubbish form, and he’s arrived and done something. Look, he’s going worse than he was last year, and he’s a year older, and he’s had more travel. I’m more than happy to leave him now. I don’t think he’s a winning chance, and he’s probably not even a top 4 chance.

David Duffield: What about another veteran in Cavalryman?

Luke Murrell: It’s funny you mention him. The old school of thought is, if he’s been here before and had a go at the race, you can probably pot them fairly easily and he’s had a couple of gos. But he’s just never been going better. For mine, his sectionals are outstanding this time, and he seems a lot sharper.

He is by a sire that they do improve with age, but I can’t believe how well he’s going. For mine, he’s the best of probably the overseas horses. I reckon he’ll be a really decent price. The form’s good, the times are good. Is Craig Williams on him, I think? Craig if he is will just give him every chance. I think he’s one of only 4 or 5 that could win the race. I think he’s probably a level down on Protectionist and Fawkner, but I’m certainly going to include him in those wide first fours, because he’s flying this horse.

David Duffield: What about the mare My Ambivalent?

Luke Murrell: Probably no hope for mine. All her form and all her sectionals, she really walks the last 200m and 400m of the race, and it’s fairly commonly held that she’s had a lot of issues, and she’s arrived. All the 2400m runs have been really weak. Any slow-time races where she’s got away with them. She’s a good quality horse, and I actually give her a decent chance in the Caulfield Cup, but I think the fact that there was never the plan to run in the Melbourne Cup. It was always Caulfield Cup. I think the fact that they’re here, they’re thinking, “We might as well have a crack at it.” Not for mine, I don’t know she’s going to get the trip at all.

David Duffield: Seismos, who did have some form in Germany and then in the Caulfield Cup was beaten about 5 lengths?

Luke Murrell: He was previously trained by Andreas. Again, Craig Newitt got off of the Caulfield Cup and said he takes dour to a new level. I think that describes him. He beat Willing Foe and Red Cadeaux in that Geoffrey Freer race. It was one of the slower run races here all day. You probably don’t even need to watch the last 600m and it tells you the story. They were going up and down in the one spot. Seismos is, for me, not even a top 10 chance. I’d be happy to leave him out.

David Duffield: Would you say the same about Royal Diamond?

Luke Murrell: Yeah, absolutely. Another one batter and an older horse. I think he’s really probably out here as a traveling companion for the other horse. He’s not a top 10 chance. Wwhich unfortunately in this race of 24 horses. I think there’s 12 or 13 that you could say, probably aren’t even going to run top 10, which is a bit unusual in previous years; normally you could make a case for a few of them.

David Duffield: Maybe that Tom Waterhouse offer that’s billions to one might go off then?

Luke Murrell: Exactly, yeah.

David Duffield: What about Mutual Regard?

Luke Murrell: He changed trainers for the last 3 or 4 runs, and probably has improved. Personally I dislike the fact that he starts 9 or 10/1 in a 7 horse listed race. He went okay there, and then he was sent out 20/1 in an Ebor. For mine, he’s a funny horse. He grinds at about 12.5 seconds of film, and he can maintain it. He got a 200m sprint and then he really grinds. He can’t win, but he could certainly be one of those fluker or completely left field ones that can be fourth or something. He’s more probably in the race, I think, running for that fifth to tenth spot.

David Duffield: What about Gatewood? How well is he going this year?

Luke Murrell: Form guide looks excellent. I’ve watched him very closely, obviously because we knew him from out here. Again, I think he’s one of these horses that all his wins this time and have been extremely flattering. He won one day in France on a real heavy track and he really put him away. He looked impressive, but when you break the race down, the time and the form was pretty ordinary. He’s been here and done it. He’s probably going in good form, but he’s not a winning chance or he’s not a top 5 chance either.

David Duffield: How do you line up Willing Foe?

Luke Murrell: Three runs in 2 years, I suppose that’s a major concern in that Geoffrey Freer respect, that Seismos won. They’re all going up and down in the one spot. He had a little bit of a spurt there, and you could argue that he’s probably conditioned right now … I think he was first up or second up there … off a long break. His run was almost okay. I did see he was $17, and personally I wouldn’t take $17 for him to run top 10. I think Gatewood is the one out of that stable that’s a chance. I think he’s last run at Goodwood was okay, but he got beaten 7 or 8 lengths to Brown Panther. Brown Panther is going okay, but he wouldn’t be a winning chance in this.

David Duffield: To finish up then Au Revoir who was third on the weekend?

Luke Murrell: For mine, he was the best of the OTI horses that they’ve brought out. He’s a deadset 2000m horse. You could pot him in the Melbourne Cup. His run was okay, but he just doesn’t get that extra trip. He’s one of these French ones I spoke about, that looks really good with his 2400m form, but he’s a 2000m horse.

David Duffield: Just to wrap up then, obviously you’re very keen on Protectionist. Part of that’s your heart and part of that’s your head. Of the local horses, who would you have in front? Fawkner or Lucia Valentina?

 

Luke Murrell: For mine, the two they’ve all got to beat is Protectionist and Fawkner. Then I think you’ve got Lucia, Cavalryman and Admire Rakti. They’re the only 5 winning chances. If you box them up, I think they’ll just run the first 4. For mine, I think for third and fourth, the flukers hopes I think you’ve got Green Moon, Junoob, Brambles, and obviously Araldo and Signoff are question marks whether they’ll make the race. Possibly Mutual Regard at a huge price. The rest I don’t think can run top 5. Obviously you get through it, and there’s so many horses that either don’t get the trip … which is normal, I suppose, for a Melbourne Cup … but there’s a few who are out of form, and probably there on previous form. I think Whoshotthebarman at $13 or $17. I cannot see him run in top 10. He’s a nice consistent horse, but he’s a number of levels down on some of these.

David Duffield: If you had to set the over/under for Admire Rakti finishing position, where would it be?

Luke Murrell: I think he’ll run fourth. Like I said, if he draws 1 to 5 in the barriers, I reckon he won’t finish anywhere. He’s definitely a horse where the instructions are, even in Japan, when he’s drawn in you see the jockey all he’s trying to do is get off the fence, and get out wide. The Caulfield Cup suited him the other day when they went so slow, because he could sit wide first up, and still have a decent sprint. For mine, he’s not much. There is another horse down bottom there is Lloyd Williams’ Amralah. He’s another one. If he happened to fall into a place, I think that actually qualifies him up the market for in the race. He’s a genuine 2000m horse as well.

David Duffield: I appreciate you coming on the show. We always get some good feedback when you’re on. Of particular interest this year with Protectionist. All the best, it’s a really exciting time, and not too long to go now.

Luke Murrell: Yeah, we’re getting excited. We just need a decent ride. I think the horse will probably settle a lot closer than some people think. He probably will be midfield. If he gets clear running, I’d like to say that it’s probably Fawkner and one or 2 others that he’s got to run down. Very exciting.

David Duffield: Thank you and good luck.

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