The Melbourne Cup is one of the most prestigious races in the world and once again many of the finest horses on the circuit will descend on Flemington Racecourse in early November.
In 2016, German horse Almandin won the crown in a thrilling contest with Heartbreak City, edging out his rival down the final stretch of the meet.
He is expected to return to Melbourne to defend his title, although the bay gelding will be tested by a number of quality competitors that have been in action over the course of the season.
Almandin has not competed in 2017, although he had slow build-up in the last campaign before he reeled off back-to-back victories and then took the Melbourne Cup by winning his third race on the bounce.
The seven-year-old will have time to get up to speed ahead of the event, but trainer Robert Hickmott will have to ensure that his charge is operating at the peak of his powers to join elite company in winning two titles, otherwise, there could be several contenders ready to snatch away the crown.
Here are four horses that could be ready to knock Almandin off his perch in Melbourne, having enjoyed solid campaigns thus far in 2017.
The bay gelding began his career at the Maiden Stakes in Wolverhampton towards the end of 2015. He was considered one of the leading contenders for the win in his opening race, but lacked the pace to challenge the favourite Bess of Hardwick, finishing in second.
In his second Maiden Stakes three weeks later, his strong performance in the opener earned him the favourite berth. However, he was narrowly off the pace once again, losing out Good Judge by half a length.
Red Cardinal only needed a slight improvement to get over the line to record his first victory and that came at the start of the 2016 season. He produced a fine performance to beat out Mawaany by a neck in Bath to break his duck, while his second followed in his next outing at Newbury.
The bay gelding notched his third win on the bounce at the WaterAid Charity Handicap in Weymouth, securing his triumph by a comfortable margin. His flat season ended on a low note, however, as he finished third in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes at Newbury behind Kings Fete.
Following the race, Red Cardinal’s owner Australian Bloodstock opted to change his trainer from David Simcock to Andreas Wohler. In his first race under Wohler’s charge, he was unable to produce a victory in Cologne at the Preis Von Europa, finishing in second.
In his first outing of the 2017 season, the five-year-old recorded the fourth win of his career and first overseas at Hoppegarten. That set him up perfectly for the finest performance of his career at the Belmont Gold Cup. The bay gelding had to produce a flawless outing and rose to the occasion to narrowly edge out St Michel by a neck to claim the crown.
The Irish horse had an inconsistent start to his career, placing down all the way in eighth in his opening race at Fairyhouse. However, his response to the disappointment was emphatic, delivering back-to-back victories in Naas and at the Gabriel Curran Memorial Madrid Handicap in Curragh.
Aidan O’Brien’s charge followed up his fine displays with one of the worst of his career, placing in 18th out of a field of 20 in the Irish Stallion Farms.
Francis of Assisi needed to bounce back and he did just that with a brilliant outing at the Knockaire Stakes, making his move two furlongs out to secure a victory by one-and-a-half lengths. After being gelded he missed the majority of the 2014 campaign, but returned to defend his crown at Leopardstown, only to be denied by Kanes Pass.
The Irish horse’s owners Godolphin changed his trainer to Charlie Appleby, but after just one race they made another switch to John Ferguson. The bay gelding had immediate success with his new trainer, winning the opening three races of his jumping career, although that came to an abrupt end when the quality increased with underwhelming displays at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Once again a change was made to end his jumping career to revert back to Appleby. After a slow start to his return to the flat in his first two races, he notched a victory in the Jayco Bendigo Cup. He followed that at Flemington at the end of last year, clinching a dominant win at the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, highlighting his credentials for the cup.
The horse had a poor start to his career in the flat as he failed to make a significant impact in the opening three races. His best result came at the Maiden Stakes at Windsor, but he followed that with an underwhelming outing at Sandown Park.
Thomas Hobson found his form with a brilliant outing at Leicester to win the Bosworth Field Handicap by a comfortable margin, while he notched successive victories by triumphing at Newbury. He took a small step back when he was well beaten at Yarmouth, only to bounce back with a dominant outing at Goodwood before edging out Kashmir Peak by a head at Doncaster.
He took a year out after being gelded and changed trainers moving from John Gosden to Willie Mullins’ stable. Thomas Hobson fell in his first jump race at Listowel, but quickly found his rhythm to triumph at Galway.
The bay gelding continued to impress and after a second-place outing in Navan, he got back on the winning track at Puncheston and Warwick. However, he pulled up in his first outing at Cheltenham and lost his form completely over the next year, highlighted by his return to the course when he finished 18th in the Coral Cup at the start of the year.
He delivered his first victory in 16 months at the Glascarn Handicap Hurdle, while he backed that performance up at Royal Ascot. The seven-year-old delivered a brilliant outing to win the Ascot Stakes by six lengths ahead of his nearest rival. He almost notched two crowns in the same week, only to be narrowly defeated in the Queen Alexandra Stakes by Oriental Fox.
The German horse had not raced at the two-mile length before winning the Melbourne Cup last season, but his endurance allowed him to beat out Heartbreak City by a head to claim the crown.
However, that was his last racing action in nearly a year, which could make him vulnerable to horses that have been operating throughout the European season. The bay gelding did not hit his stride until three races into his comeback, which then allowed him to kick on and win the title.
Only five horses have won the race more than once in the illustrious history of the Melbourne Cup – therefore it would be a major achievement for Almandin.
Makybe Diva is the only competitor that has triumphed three times and if the seven-year-old can secure back-to-back wins then a bigger place in history could be within sight in 2018.
The talented field will push him all the way over the two miles, but he certainly has proven that he has the quality and stamina to secure the win.