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The last word on the 2020 Melbourne Cup field

The Melbourne Cup trophy is seen during a Melbourne Cup press conference at Flemington Racecourse. Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The AFL Grand Final might have been moved, the cricket looked shaky, and just about everything else was called off. However, one thing that has weathered the COVID-19 storm is the 2020 Melbourne Cup.

It is in so many ways a great achievement that the race has the opportunity to stop the nation yet again while so much else has come to a grinding halt. The turnstiles won't be clicking over, a beer won't be poured, and much anticipated outfits won't be at risk of being ruined if Flemington is drenched in rain. But that won't happen either with a forecast of sunny skies and 28 degrees.

Here's ESPN's look at this year's Melbourne Cup field of 24 runners. Plus, one of Australia's best form analysts, Deane Lester, gives his thoughts on why each horse is there and whether they're in the running for the prize.

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1 - ANTHONY VAN DYCK
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien
Jockey: Hugh Bowman

Deane Lester says: "Epsom Derby winner and Caulfield Cup runner-up so has outstanding 2400m credentials. Well drawn and dry track suits, just needs to run the 3200m with 58.5kg. Rider Hugh Bowman finished second aboard Marmelo in 2018."

What the jockey said: "It's rare to see the very top-class European middle-distance stayers come over here for our signature races and the fact that Aidan O'Brien decided to bring such a high-class horse over here, I think just shows how well our racing industry is going on the world stage."

ESPN verdict: It's so hard to look past the great Caulfield Cup run where he was only beaten by a very classy mare in Verry Elleegant. He's $8 equal favourite with TAB and right in this race, too.

2 - AVILIUS
Trainer: James Cummings
Jockey: John Allen

Deane Lester says: "Finished 22nd in the 2018 Cup when he met with severe interference. Ran well when 6th in the Caulfield Cup. Quality horse but still to prove himself at 3200m."

What the jockey said: "He definitely appreciates a soft track and he has a big weight but he's a class horse."

ESPN verdict: Allen's comment was in the lead-up to the Caulfield Cup and the same can apply here. There was nothing wrong with the run in that race and you just can't discount this horse's ability nor the glaring factor of the Cummings name.

3 - VOW AND DECLARE
Trainer: Danny O'Brien
Jockey: Jamie Mott

Deane Lester says: "Last year's winner with 52kg, rises to 57kg this year and his current form is inferior. The blinkers are going on for the first time and needs to improve sharply."

ESPN verdict: Jamie Mott hops aboard this time and mightn't be the only change of plans for the returning champ. He was ridden by Damien Oliver in the Caulfield Cup and his comment after it seems telling and re-enforces the need for improvement: "I think we have to ride him a bit more forward to see if he can keep grinding away that way, because he's just not showing any change of speed."

4 - MASTER OF REALITY
Trainer: Joseph O'Brien
Jockey: Ben Melham

Deane Lester says: "Second past the post before being relegated to fourth in last year's Cup. Looks to be racing in better form this season. Last start winner of the Her Majesty's Plate (2816m) at Down Royal in UK. Should race near the lead and very competitive again. Rider Ben Melham finished 2nd in 2017 aboard Johannes Vermeer."

ESPN verdict: Very wary to knock this horse after going so well in last year's Cup. If Vow And Declare does go forward in the run, the contest could be on early. $26 with TAB but has to go into your trifectas.

5 - SIR DRAGONET
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace
Jockey: Glen Boss

Deane Lester says: "Last start winner of the Cox Plate (2040m). Only run beyond 2458m was his 4th in the 2018 English St Leger (2922m). Best form has been on soft ground, jockey Glen Boss aiming for his 4th win in the race."

What the jockey said (after the Cox Plate): "The way he gave me a feel today, he might be running in a Melbourne Cup and running very well in one."

ESPN Verdict: Who is willing to pot a Cox Plate winner? We're not and nor is TAB with Sir Dragonet being the $8 equal favourite. Although there mightn't be enough rain before Tuesday -- as there was at Moonee Valley 10 days ago -- Glen Boss was so positive about Sir Dragonet being able to continue on the winning form that there's no way you should leave him out.

6 - TWILIGHT PAYMENT
Trainer: Joseph O'Brien
Jockey: Jye McNeil

Deane Lester says: "11th last year. Racing in good form this season with two wins from four outings. On pace stayer that should make his own luck. Jye McNeil's first ride in the Cup."

ESPN Verdict: Spent much time in Riyadh lately? This horse did earlier in the year and while that location isn't usually a pointer to Melbourne Cup success, the stable says that it helped his preparations throughout the year. He's $34 with the TAB and his trainer won the Cup with Rekindling. Not discounting totally.

7 - VERRY ELLEEGANT
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Mark Zahra

Deane Lester says: "Five-time Group one winning mare with three wins from four starts at 2400m and beyond. Game win in the Caulfield Cup and rises just 0.5kg. Superior form has been on soft tracks."

What the trainer said: "It was not a decision we took lightly but we felt it would be wrong to break up the partnership that Mark and Verry Elleegant have created winning both the Turnbull Stakes and the Caulfield Cup."

ESPN Verdict: There was a chance that Mark Zahra wasn't going to ride Verry Elleegant in this race but, as Chris Waller said above, there is a winning formula there. She's got a ton of class and her Caulfield Cup win was very good in one of the best fields in that race in many years. $13 with TAB might well be over the odds?

8 - MUSTAJEER
Trainer: Kris Lees
Jockey: Michael Rodd

Deane Lester says: "23rd in last year's Cup when he overraced on a slow speed. Honest run when 8th in the Caulfield Cup. Won the 2019 Ebor Handicap over 2787m. Rider Michael Rodd won on EFFICIENT in 2007."

ESPN Verdict: The Ebor Handicap is consistently an eagerly studied race in the UK for Cup form so that counts for something. Outside of that it is hard to tip this one with confidence and the odds of 80-1 reflect that.

9 - STRATUM ALBION
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Jordan Childs

Deane Lester says: "Won the 2019 Cesarewitch (3621m). Mixing hurdle and flat racing. Trainer Willie Mullins has had two previous placings with MAX DYNAMITE in 2015 and 2017. Rider Jordan Childs finished 5th on SURPRISE BABY last year."

What the trainer's assistant in Melbourne says: "I think in the last week he's come on plenty. Barrier nine is good, gives us options and there's a couple of fancied horses around him. Anthony Van Dyck isn't far away, so is Surprise Baby, that'll give us options to go forward or go back."

ESPN verdict: Willie Mullins is a racing legend in the UK and Ireland and it would be a golden mark on his record if he could win the Cup. Jordan Childs scored the ride early last week after losing the mount on Surprise Baby. At $41 with TAB to win, he's also $3.20 to finish in the top ten.

10 - DASHING WILLOUGHBY
Trainer: Andrew Balding
Jockey: Michael Walker

Deane Lester says: "Winner of two races this season. Led and weakened badly to run last in the Caulfield Cup. Likely to be one of the outsiders. Rider Michael Walker has been placed in three of the past five Cups."

What the jockey said: "I know I'm in the race with a live chance. Whether it's this year or next, he's going to feature in a Melbourne Cup. I am definitely thinking the improvement he has made since (being well beaten) in the Caulfield Cup, is huge. Bring it on, I say."

ESPN verdict: Walker was especially bullish after riding the horse in work on Sunday morning. If anything he's another worth considering for a top 10 finish at $5.50.

11 - FINCHE
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: James McDonald

Deane Lester says: "4th in 2018 and 7th in 2019. Only won one of his 10 Australian starts. Last start 5th in the Caulfield Cup, looks well drawn. Rider James McDonald finished 2nd on Fiorente in 2012.

What the jockey said: "The good gate is a big help for him. We can get into a rhythm pretty quickly. He hasn't drawn a good gate (yet) this preparation and this time there's no excuses.

ESPN verdict: James McDonald is one of Australasia's best jockeys and it pays to listen. Just doesn't win often enough as Deane points out and may find a few better. He is $1.70 to finish in the top 10 with TAB so he isn't the worst hope.

12 - PRINCE OF ARRAN
Trainer: Charlie Fellows
Jockey: Jamie Kah

Deane Lester says: "3rd in 2018, 2nd in 2019. Eye-catching 4th in the Caulfield Cup. Melbourne's leading rider Jamie Kah takes her first ride in the Cup."

What the trainer's assistant in Melbourne says: "Barrier 1 is much better than drawing out wide like we have the previous few years. It just gives Jamie more options and makes her life easier. He's feeling great in himself. What he feels like at home, he feels even better here."

ESPN verdict: It's like this horse grows another leg when he comes to Melbourne. No reason to knock him especially after the Caulfield Cup run and a big plus is having Jamie Kah aboard who is riding so well. Can't argue with four winners for her on Cox Plate Day and a winner on Derby Day. Don't let him under your guard at $10.

13 - SURPRISE BABY
Trainer: Paul Preusker
Jockey: Craig Williams

Deane Lester says: "5TH in last year's Cup. Only had two runs since that race and had no luck when 9th in the Turnbull Stakes (2000m). Last year's Cup winning rider Craig Williams takes the mount."

ESPN verdict: Craig Williams told ESPN earlier this year that he had his eye on grabbing the ride on this horse right after last year's Melbourne Cup. Lightly races in 2020 but still well fancied in betting all along. At $9 he's just outside the favourite line but he's definitely going into all calculations.

14 - KING OF LEOGRANCE - SCRATCHED
Trainer: Danny O'Brien
Jockey: Damian Lane

Deane Lester says: "Cemented his placed in this year's Cup field with a win in the Adelaide Cup (3200m). Last start 3rd in the Geelong Cup. Last year his rider Damian Lane won the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate before finishing 6th in the Cup aboard Mer De Glace."

ESPN verdict: This one does have staying ability but might also find a few better than him in this race. It wouldn't surprise if he ran a good one and if you think he can run in the top five placings, you can get $7 for that.

15 - RUSSIAN CAMELOT
Trainer: Danny O'Brien
Jockey: Damien Oliver

Deane Lester says: "Long time favourite for the Cup following his win in the South Australia Derby (2500m) in May. Completed his preparation with a 3rd placing in the Cox Plate. Rider Damien Oliver aiming for his 4th Cup win."

ESPN verdict: Outside of the internationals, this has been the buzz horse of the Spring Carnival. Damien Oliver wasn't disappointed with his effort in the Cox Plate and nor was his trainer. If it weren't for COVID-19, this horse might have been taken to England for a tilt at the their Derby. That would have been quite the task and has the class to do it. It's D-Day for Russian Camelot now and at $13 presents a very interesting prospect.

16 - STEEL PRINCE
Trainer: Anthony & Sam Freedman
Jockey: William Pike

Deane Lester says: "9th last year. Won his spot into this year's Cup with a determined victory in the Geelong Cup (2400m). Leading Perth rider William Pike has his first Melbourne Cup ride."

Co-trainer Sam Freedman says: "He beat a pretty quality field. The second horse (Le Don De Vie) we've got a decent opinion of and he will be a nice horse in time."

ESPN verdict: Was really good in the Geelong Cup, a race that has produced notable Melbourne Cup winners. He's a $34 chance here and maybe Sam has the key in his comment that others might be better.

17 - THE CHOSEN ONE
Trainer: Murray Baker & Andrew Forsman
Jockey: Daniel Stackhouse

Deane Lester says: "17th last year. Produced a career best when finishing 3rd in the Caulfield Cup. Trainer Murray Baker had 1990 runner-up THE PHANTOM while it is rider Daniel Stackhouse's first Cup ride."

ESPN verdict: Dashed to the lead in the straight in the Caulfield Cup only to be beaten by two classy horses who are both in this field. From a very smart stable, you know he'll be ready to go. At around $9 the place, he has to go in as a wider first three hope.

18 - ASHRUN
Trainer: Andreas Wohler
Jockey: Declan Bates

Deane Lester says: "The last horse into the field following his win in the Hotham Handicap (2500m) on Saturday. Trainer Andreas Wohler won the Cup in 2014 with PROTECTIONIST whilst Declan Bates has his first Cup ride."

What the trainer says: "He has come through the win on Saturday really well. I'm surprised the way he is. Such a race takes it out of horses but he's eaten up, looks great. Very happy."

ESPN verdict: Did winning the Hotham on Saturday take a bit out of this horse towards the Cup? Only this race will tell but the trainer has bothered to come all the way from Germany including spending two weeks in quarantine to put the finishing touches on the preparation. Good luck to him but Ashrun might be more a top 10 hope at $2.

19 - WARNING
Trainer: Anthony & Sam Freedman
Jockey: Luke Currie

Deane Lester says: "Last year's Victoria Derby (2500m) winner. Yet to win in nine subsequent runs including his last start 12th in the Caulfield Cup."

ESPN verdict: Deane has hit the spot with this one, too. Just hasn't followed up on the Derby victory in 2019 well enough to suggest that he's a winning chance in this Melbourne Cup.

20 - ETAH JAMES
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace
Jockey: Billy Egan

Deane Lester says: "Won this year's Sydney Cup (3200m). Only had two runs this campaign for a last start 4th in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m). Prepared by Melbourne's leading trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and rider Billy Egan's first Cup ride.

ESPN verdict: One of the key pointers in doing your form for the Melbourne Cup is to look for the horses that are proven at the trip and this is certainly one of them. The winner? Probably not, but a top ten chance? Why not at $8.

21 - TIGER MOTH
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy

Deane Lester says: "One of the lightest raced horses to contest a Melbourne Cup in modern history with just four career starts. Runner up in the Irish Derby (2414m) before a dominant win in the Kilternan Stakes (2414m) at Leopardstown. Trainer Aidan O'Brien aiming for his first Cup win after a 3rd with IL PARADISO last year, whilst Kerrin McEvoy strives to ride his 4th Cup winner."

What the trainer's assistant in Melbourne said of Tiger Moth and stablemate Anthony Van Dyck: It's hard to compare them, but we've always brought horses that we thought would do well here. Horses that would have well in English St Legers. Anthony Van Dyck is an English Derby winner and Tiger Moth has run second in an Irish Derby at only his third run. At the same time his last run was an impressive win at Leopardstown. The ground seems all in their favour as well."

ESPN verdict: The word from the international training centre near Melbourne is that this is the horse that seems to have flourished the most since arriving at the start of October. That is a really good sign and is often a pointer to really good performers in the Cup. There's a lot positive to be said for this horse now, and very likely even more after the race is run.

22 - OCEANEX
Trainer: Mick Price & Michael Kent Jnr
Jockey: Dean Yendall

Deane Lester says: "Won an exemption into this year's Cup with a win in the Ramsden Stakes (2800m) at Flemington in May. Last start 3rd in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup was her best effort in four runs this preparation."

ESPN verdict: It was a different situation for Oceanex's preparation in that qualification for the Melbourne Cup was achieve six months ago. Being guaranteed a run does take the urgency out of performing well in lead-up races as co-trainer Mick Price has noted. Hard to have on recent form as a winning hope and at $71.

23 - MIAMI BOUND
Trainer: Danny O'Brien
Jockey: Daniel Moor

Deane Lester says: "Last year's VRC Oaks (2500m) winner that returned to her best form with a win in the Moonee Valley Gold Cup (2500m). The last horse to complete the VRC Oaks-Melbourne Cup double was LIGHT FINGERS in 1965."

ESPN verdict: It was hard to know what to make of this mare's runs prior to winning the Moonee Valley Cup 10 days ago but being an Oaks winner you know that she does have ability over a longer distance. Whether she can win a Melbourne Cup, not sure, and history is against her and so it the market at $41.

24 - PERSAN
Trainer: Ciaron Maher & Dave Eustace
Jockey: Michael Dee

Deane Lester says: "Winner of six of his past nine starts including his last start qualifying win in the Bart Cummings (2500m) at Flemington on October 3. The third runner in this year's Cup for the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace stable."

ESPN verdict: This horse has been a revelation over the distances during winter racing and does like Flemington. The type that everyone would love to have in their stable and so consistent. A Melbourne Cup win is likely to be a bridge too far though.