There have been plenty of nags to attract the label ‘cult horse’.
Most of them do it by winning races, not losing them. But such is the curious case of Tom Melbourne.
Well, that’s probably a little unfair. Tom has won races. He put together a couple at Sale and Sandown in late 2015, before an attractive victory at Flemington on Australia Guineas Day in the Autumn of 2016. Following that, there was a slashing win in the Albury Cup, which had most predicting pretty big things for him.
He was then sent into the Mornington Cup as odds-on favourite, and things started to go wrong.
The tale of woe that’s unfolded reads thus…
In summary: 19 starts, 0 wins, 8 seconds, 2 thirds.
Twelve times he’s started $5 or shorter, six of those as favourite.
To further confound the punters, on top of his strong earlier form, Tom has been surrounded by some of the highest profile and most accomplished people in racing.
He’s owned and raced by OTI Racing, a highly successful bloodstock management and ownership group. He was trained by the highly successful and respected Freedmans in Melbourne before being transferred to possibly Australia’s premier trainer in Chris Waller.
The list of riders who’ve been on his back throughout this run of outs reads: Ben Melham, Steven Arnold, Glen Boss, Dwayne Dunn, Mark Zahra, Joao Moreira, Craig Williams, Blake Shinn and Damien Oliver. That’s a parade of some of Australia’s best jockeys, plus the bloke widely regarded as the world’s best.
So what the hell gives, Tom?
Some argue that he’s simply not good enough. However his early form and competitive showings since (without winning) don’t indicate that. Does the market simply overrate him?
There’s been others like him… the horses that just don’t win. Is it mental? As a herd animal, are some thoroughbreds just not comfortable out in front, not surrounded by their mates?
I asked a few of the Champion Bets professional analysts and got their thoughts on the riddle that is Tom Melbourne. They came up with a range of views, and as usual, it’s more than possible that the results are a combination of all these things.
Over to the experts…
Cameron O’Brien, Key Bets
His ratings are pretty good – around 114/115 on mine – but unfortunately for him that makes him just below the top level. There always seems to be one or two floating around who can out-rate him, and he has an uncanny knack of running into them on race day!
He may also be a bit of a ‘herd horse’, i.e. a horse who likes to run alongside other horses instead of running past them. Horses like to run in a herd like this in the wild, and unfortunately some of them get that way on the racetrack too.
Trevor Lawson, Melbourne racing analyst
I think he’s what I call a ‘rolling miler’. His best runs are when he bowls along in front at his own tempo. They’ve tried to ride him too pretty.
The day I liked him in the mile race at Flemington (Cantala Stakes) I thought Boss erred by letting the winner get up to him before going for him. He should have let him roll a bit earlier because he lacks a turn of foot.
The horse is probably gone now because they lose confidence. It’s probably too late to go back to what worked best for him, because that confidence has been lost.
Mark Van Triet, WA racing analyst
My theory is that he’s just a natural front runner. He got run down late a couple of times at Flemington in the 2016 Spring Carnival, but he did actually have to do a lot of work in those races.
Then when they brought him back for the Autumn (2017), for some reason they tried to change his pattern and style and started riding him off the speed… and I reckon that’s totally stuffed him.
They were riding him off the speed in races where they didn’t need to. He would’ve been right in the finish if they had have gone forward. If they had have kept his normal pattern, I think he could’ve been winning. I’m convinced of it.
I’d prefer to see them just let him rip. That’s just my theory.