IT'S that time of year again when even those amongst us who have never placed a bet become "experts" in punting.
That's right, it's Melbourne Cup time.
Let's face it, no matter what your interest in horse racing, you can't help but be caught up in the euphoria that sweeps across the nation when the first Tuesday in November rolls around each year.
Regardless of whether you like to have a decent flutter on the horses taking centre stage at Flemington or you like to restrict your "punting" to the office sweeps, it is hard to ignore the Melbourne Cup.
It is traditional for everyone to come up with the horse they think will win the Cup. But reaching the point where you are able to declare a certain winner comes via various routes.
You may like the colours, the number, the name or, heaven forbid, you actually had a read of the form.
Regardless, the first Tuesday in November is one of those days where we can all claim "expert" status.
Now many of those "experts" among us may only have a flutter once a year, at Melbourne Cup time.
For those people, we have offered you a "how to" guide, with information on everything from where to place a bet, what type of bet to place and some statistics that may help you find a winner.
Australians bet about $150 million on the Melbourne Cup in 2009.
To give you some idea of just how busy your local TAB will become on Cup day, it is estimated UniTAB's computers will process about 40,000 bets a minute.
All these facts add up to just one thing - get to the TAB early. Don't leave your gambling to the last minute. You don't have to wait until Tuesday to place a bet, with the field declared and bets being taken from Sunday, October 31.
HOW TO BET
The good folk at UniTAB have tried to make having a wager on the Cup as easy as possible. For those of you who rarely, if ever, make the trek through the doors of a TAB, it can be quite daunting to see the huge array of screens, newspapers, forms, fields and betting tickets that adorn the walls. But it's not as frightening as it may seem.
Firstly, head for the yellow tickets. UniTAB releases special Melbourne Cup tickets for the day, which save you the drama of having to fill out the meeting code and race number. These are bright yellow and you really can't miss them. The special tickets allow you to just drop in your selections and how much you want to bet.
We have included a couple of the tickets in this feature so you know what you're looking for when you hit the TAB. Grab one, mark your selection (horse you're backing), how much you want to spend and drop the ticket into the machine. Pay the person behind the counter and make sure you watch the race so you can see how much money you've won - or donated.
There are various types of bets you can place on the Melbourne Cup. Getting a winner can sometimes be hard enough, so correctly selecting a trifecta or first four can appear almost impossible. Still, what's impossible when it's the Melbourne Cup and you reckon you've got a couple of good things running. Trifectas consistently make up more than 30% of Cup betting, compared to around 20% at other times of the year. They're very popular and not a bad way having a bet on the big race. They usually provide a healthy dividend if you can guess those first three finishers correctly.
WIN: Select the runner that wins the race.
PLACE: Select a runner that finishes 1st, 2nd or third.
QUINELLA: select the first two place-getters in any order.
EXACTA: Selected the runners that place 1st and 2nd in correct order.
ANY2: Select any two of the first three place-getters in any order.
TRIFECTA: Select the runners that place 1st, 2nd and 3rd in correct order. You can "box" a number of runners which would mean it would not matter which order those horses finished in as long as they filled at the top three placings.
FIRST4: Select the runners that place 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in correct order. Like a trifecta, you can "box" a number of runners meaning they can finish in any order, as long as they fill the top four placings.
MYSTERY BET: Let the computer select your runners for a trifecta, first4 or combined Trifecta/Quinella bet.
TATTSBET: Fixed price win or place betting on all 10 Flemington races on Cup day, plus a top 10 Cup finish bet, winning Cup margin bet and winning Cup time bet.
FINDING A WINNER
The great thing about having a flutter on the Cup is you can make your selection any number of ways. Some people study form, some have a lucky number, like certain colours, trainers or jockeys and others just simply let the TAB make their selection by way of a mystery bet.
If it's a bit of form you're after, then we've done our best to help you out. Even the most ardent punter will tell you there are some lead-up races to the Melbourne Cup you should watch to keep an eye on those runners headed for a start on the first Tuesday in November. Missed those races? Well it would appear you're in luck. We have found copies of those lead-up races, including the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate, Moonee Valley Cup and the Geelong Cup. We've done the hard work. All you need to do is click on the videos and watch the horses in action. We've also included a video of last year's big race, just so you can see Shocking take victory again.
STATS THAT MATTER
For those not interested in form and more inclined to go with the stats when it comes to finding a Melbourne Cup "winner", here are a few stats that might help you make up your mind.
If you were thinking of backing Shocking to go back-to-back, it might be important to know that only four horses - Archer (1861-62), Rain Lover (1968-69), Think Big (1974-75) and Makybe Diva (2003-05) - have ever won consecutive Cups.
Makybe Diva remains the only horse to win three Melbourne Cups, while Peter Pan won two cups, but not in a row, in 1932 and 1934.
Backing the favourite
For those of you who like to back the favourite, you might like to know Makybe Diva was the last favourite to salute in 2005.
There is only one bloke to saddle up with when it comes to following a trainer. Bart Cummings has trained the most Melbourne Cup winners. He has an astonishing 12 wins to his name, the most recent coming with Viewed in 2008. Few are willing back against him adding a 13th when he lines up superstar horse So You Think on Tuesday. Cumming just seems to know how to have his horses right for the Melbourne Cup and with So You Think being talked about as one of Australia's great horses, with only 10 starts under his belt, you might be a brave person to back against him.
The most successful horse numbers are:
Number 4: 11 wins
Number 12: 11 wins
Number 1: 10 wins
One for the ages
Most successful horses by age:
Three-year-olds: 23 wins
Four-year-olds: 43 wins
Five-year-olds: 43 wins
Six-year-olds: 28 wins
Seven-year-olds: 10 wins
Eight-year-olds: 2 wins
So if you've read through all of that, watched the videos and are still scratching your head in bewilderment as to which horse will carry your weight of expectation - and money - in the Melbourne Cup, then we're going to offer you a tip that will make things easy.
All the talk is about So You Think and rightfully so. It's a horse destined for greatness. We, however, are willing to back against it and Bart.
If you watch the races above there are a couple of things that stand out for me. The Caulfield Cup run of Shocking was as good as you would want to see when it comes to a Melbourne Cup trial. Shocking was caught back in the field and unable to get a run, but when he did he flashed home at the end of the 2400m for an excellent fourth.
Let's go back 12 months (the video is there for you to look at). Shocking was at best three wide the entire Melbourne Cup with no cover and still managed to show what a good horse he is by winning. If Shocking gets just a little bit of luck this time, he will be very, very hard to beat.
So that's our tip: Shocking. You can back it or grab your red pen and put a line through him, thus leaving you only 23 horses to choose from. Either way we've played a role in helping you narrow down a winner.
WHERE AND WHEN TO BET ON THE CUP
There are any number of TABS scattered across Queensland for you to place a bet. UniTAB outlets will be open Sunday from about noon, while they will be open from 11am Monday and 8am on Cup day.
WHAT TIME IS THE CUP RUN
The Melbourne Cup is Race Seven on the Flemington card. It will be run at 2pm Queensland time.
If you're looking to head to a Melbourne Cup event and want to know what's happening around town and what to wear to said event, then don't miss Finda's Guide to the Melbourne Cup.