Incentivise red hot favourite for Melbourne Cup

Australian-bred stayer Incentivise will look to cap a golden spring with victory in the $8.4 million Melbourne Cup today as the runaway favourite in "the race that stops the nation".

The Peter Moody-trained gelding has captured the imagination of the sports-mad country, winning its last nine starts and blitzing the field in last month's 2400-metre Caulfield Cup, a traditional formguide for the Cup.

Incentivise's attraction has been boosted by the lack of international entrants in the world's richest two-mile handicap, with foreign stables shunning the race due to a combination of strict, new veterinary checks and Covid-19 logistical issues.

Only two horses prepared outside Australia and New Zealand will be among the 24 at Flemington Racecourse, where a Covid-capped crowd of 10,000 will gather after last year's race won by Twilight Payment ran at a closed track due to the pandemic.

Even in a weak field, victory for Incentivise ($2.70) would be hard-earned. The five-year-old, ridden by 2012 Melbourne Cup-winning jockey Brett Prebble, will carry equal-second weight of 57kg and jump from a wide barrier 16.

"I think everyone's been pretty surprised with the way he's progressed, but we're happy to put up with it," said trainer Moody, famous for preparing unbeaten sprinter Black Caviar.

"He's a deserved favourite on form ... I've just tried to maintain him and hold him together and I've been able to do that quite comfortably through his resilience and the way he's done around the stables."

Twilight Payment, prepared by Irish trainer Joseph O'Brien, will bid to become the first back-to-back winner since the great Makybe Diva, which claimed a hat-trick from 2003-05.

Though carrying top weight of 58kg and a ripe age, the nine-year-old gelding ($13) has good lead-up form, finishing runner-up in the 2800m Irish St Leger in September.

His father, the master trainer Aidan O'Brien, has declined to saddle any runners.

O'Brien's entrant Anthony Van Dyck, a former Epsom Derby winner, was euthanised after breaking down in last year's race, two years after his 2018 runner Cliffsofmoher was put down after pulling up lame.

Already under pressure from animal rights activists, the growing tally of horse deaths prompted authorities in Victoria state to introduce stricter veterinary protocols, including bone scans that require horses to be sedated.

Trainers have panned the measures as excessive, including Joseph O'Brien, who prepared last month's Cox Plate winner State Of Rest.

"If I'd known how difficult it would've been to get through all the hoops, I'm not sure we would've even went down in the first place," O'Brien said.

British stayer Spanish Mission, the other non-Australasian runner, is second-favourite ($9), despite a troubled lead-up.

The Andrew Balding-trained stallion failed two vet inspections last week after taking a knock to its right foreleg.

Cleared on Saturday, Spanish Moon has proven form over two miles, and finished a close runner-up at the Lonsdale Cup in August behind Stradivarius, the dominant stayer of recent seasons in Europe.

There are seven New Zealand-bred horses in the race, but just two New Zealand trained, The Chosen One and Ocean Billy.

The Chosen One, trained by Murray Baker and Andrew Forsman, ran fourth last year.

The Chosen One is paying $26 in fixed odds on the New Zealand TAB.

Ocean Billy is trained by Bill Pomare in New Zealand, but was transferred to Australia to be trained by ex-pat Chris Waller.

Ocean Billy is paying $41.

The race jumps at 5pm New Zealand time.