Melbourne Cup by Numbers

by Stubborn Mule on 2 November 2009 · 35 comments

I don’t know anything about horses. Ever since I was bitten by one at the Easter Show as a small child, they have ranked very low on my animal preference list: only just above geese. Still, at this time of year almost everyone in Australia gets caught up in some way with the Melbourne Cup, the race that stops the nation.  As usual, I expect that my involvement will only stretch as far as participating in the $2 sweep at the office, thereby avoiding the need to actually make any kind of ignorance-based horse selection.

But, with a mule as this blog’s mascot, you would think that I could do better than that, so I have thrown my charting skills at the history of previous winners in as slap-dash a manner as I can to see where playing the historical odds would get me.

I thought I would start with colour because, even as a racing-form novice, I suspect that should have no bearing on the result and so it seems like a safe place to start. Based on the winners going back to 1861, here is the distribution of winning colours.

Cup Colour Histogram (II)

Cup Winners by Colour (1861-2008)

This suggests that bay-coloured horses have an edge (or maybe it is just a common colour for a horse). What about the “sex” of horse (please do not ask me what all of these terms mean, but apparently “horse” is a sex)?

Cup Type Histogram

Cup Winners by Type (1861-2008)

So, a plain old “horse” seems like the best bet. I notice no geese have ever managed to win. A quick check confirms that there are no unfortunate interaction effects (although this does also suggest that bay geldings and brown horses could be worth considering).

Cup by Age and Type (III)

Cup Winners by Colour and Type (1861-2008)

Heading towards statistics that may actually mean something, here is the distribution of winners by age.

Cup Age Histogram (II)

Cup Winners by Age (1861-2008)

So far, we are heading towards picking a five-year-old bay horse. Last, and perhaps most important (but what would I know?), here is the distribution of winners by handicap weight*.

Cup Weight Histogram (II)

Cup Winners by Handicap (1861-2008)

Now the median handicap weight is 51.5 kilograms (I have to admit I do not know what units that is in, but it cannot be kilograms, unless these are very light horses: at least I know they are not very heavy geese) and the mean is 51.2. So, ideally I would pick a five-year-old bay horse weighing around 51 to 51.5.

Unfortunately, a few cursory google searches have not turned up any pages giving the colour, age or type of the current field for the 2009 race, the best I could come up with just has handicap weight. If you have a better source, let me know! In this list, there are three horses weighing 51.5 and one weighing 51. Not knowing anything more about the three weighing 51.5, I cannot separate them, so on that basis alone, I will pick the one weighing 51.

So, here is the Stubborn Mule Melbourne Cup pick: Shocking.

At this point, I should remind you of how little I know about horse racing, so don’t blame me if this horse comes closer to the back of the pack than the front.

* Thanks to commenters Stilgherrian and mkl for pointing out that the weight here represents handicap weight: jockey, saddle plus ballast. It seems unlikely that this would have much bearing on the outcome as it is actually designed to level the field. In case you had any doubt before, which you should not have done, this confirms just how weak the prediction here is.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Shocking will, sadly, be starting from barrier 22, which is very unlucky from a historical perspective.

Cup Barrier

Cup Winners by Starting Barrier (1861-2008)

Since the median barrier of past winners is 4, this leads me to a secondary tip: Spin Around, which will start from barrier 4 today. It’s handicap is 52, which is not too far from my preferred 51.5 to 51 kilogram range.

FURTHER UPDATE: It was a long shot, but I managed to draw both Shocking and Spin Around in the office sweep. I feel obliged to share the comment on the Spin Around slip:

I do not think the horse should even in in the race. He is realistically a 500/1 chance.

So, it seems that my secondary tip is an appalling one. Longer odds even than drawing my two tips in the sweep.

FINAL UPDATE: Shocking won. Shocking, isn’t it? Perhaps I have a new and glorious career picking race winners. Then again, perhaps not.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stilgherrian November 2, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Erm, while I’m not an expert on horse racing by any means, I’m reasonably sure that you’ll find that “weight” is indeed in kilograms — but it refers not so much to the horse but to the little human sitting on top.

2 stubbornmule November 2, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Well there you go…they are little aren’t they!

3 Stilgherrian November 2, 2009 at 6:23 pm

Yes. Yes they are. I believe that’s kind of the point.

4 Michael Michael November 2, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Does Rudd read the Mule? Cos “Shocking” is his tip, too.

5 mkl November 2, 2009 at 7:49 pm

I also know very little, but I think you’ll find the weight is neither the horse nor the jockey. It’s the handicap weight. Meaning how much weight they have to carry in their saddle (or wherever).

Therefore, the horses carrying the most weight are those judged to be favourites if they were not running a handicap race.

6 Stilgherrian November 2, 2009 at 8:20 pm

@mkl: Your information adds a certain complexity, yet it is confirmed by the evil Wikipedia. And the Melbourne Cup is a handicap race.

I now suspect all that the Mule has charted is the average handicap of horses. However age may still matter.

This is altogether too complicated.

7 stubbornmule November 2, 2009 at 8:26 pm

Stilgherrian and mkl: thanks for steering me straight on the weights. I have updated the post accordingly. This really does mean that those jockeys are light if the figures include saddles and possibly ballast weight as well!

Michael Michael: sadly, I don’t think that Rudd does read the Mule, judging from his current stance on the boat people, but he clearly should.

8 evo November 2, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Hey mule – do you recommend that tip as each way, or on the nose?

9 Danny Yee November 2, 2009 at 10:42 pm

I don’t see why a mule can’t win the Melbourne Cup.

10 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 5:38 am

evo: I have to say on the nose, because it sounds good. Also, it’s an all or nothing thing. Most likely nothing though.

Danny: Thank you for your support of the cause of the mule. They are much maligned. Perhaps there could be a movie made about a mule who, despite the odds, wins the Melbourne Cup. It would be inspiring stuff.

11 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 8:21 am

Sadly, the pick has been shot down in flames. It seems that Shocking will be starting from barrier 22, which does not bode well. The median successful barrier historically is 4 and the mean 7. Here is the distribution.

12 Stilgherrian November 3, 2009 at 8:25 am

But, Gentle Mule, it’s all swings and roundabouts! If you hedged your investment by buying a few shares in a glue factory…

13 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 10:55 am

This is getting ridiculous! I bought two tickets in the office sweep and picked, yes you guessed it, Shocking and Spin Around. What are the odds? (Well, they’re 1/231 ignoring what had already been picked…and I didn’t get to see that).

14 JamesGlover November 3, 2009 at 12:47 pm

I have put $10 on the trifecta for Shocking, Alcopop and Master OReilly.

15 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm

James: sounds like the sad story of a young Irishman led astray.

16 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm

I shouldn’t be happy about this, given how silly the analysis was, but…woo-hoo!

17 evo November 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Mule rules…

One thing for sure – you won’t have to spend so much time on next year’s analysis! Well done!

18 dan November 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm

i’ll have a word to dad, he might have an opening for you…

19 westius November 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

you’re a star! I’m backing whoever you pick next year!

20 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 3:58 pm

By the way. in case you were wondering about the times, the last few comments were indeed written after the race, but the blog had not been adjusted for daylight saving. That has now been fixed and I have manually adjusted the last few comments (yes, I have that power).

21 JamesGlover November 3, 2009 at 4:10 pm

I can now officially say I am friends with a “colourful racing identity”

22 Mark O November 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

Now I know how the Mule did it , if he has the power to change time he simply went forward and saw the race-end and then did his blog…I wonder if these powers could be put to any other use…..hmmmmm?

23 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Mark: My plans for time-travel: today blog comment time-stamps, tomorrow the world!

24 Binsains November 3, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Hey Mule… I dumped Shocking based on the analysis of barrier draw. You owe me another bottle of wine! ;-)

25 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Binsains: Now that was a rookie error. I hope you didn’t go the whole way and back Spin Around. As well as pulling Shocking in the sweep, I put $5 on each way at the TAB (yes, evo, I know I said on the nose). So all up I did ok out of the Cup, which is a rare thing.

26 Fusion November 3, 2009 at 9:22 pm

Thanks for the Melbourne Cup tip Stuuborn Mule, you are offically a legend. As a result of your tip I backed Shocking which put a glow on the day.

27 stubbornmule November 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Fusion: I’m very happy to have put a glow in your day…but I can’t promise to manage such a hot tip again.

28 Matt November 4, 2009 at 8:39 am

Bit arsey mate!!! Hope you got a few bucks on the nose. I was actually going to follow your random tip yesterday and forgot to get to the TAB… might say that I was a little unimpressed when Shocking won.

29 Tall Paul November 4, 2009 at 8:59 am

Thanks Mule! Put $25 each way on Shocking – funded a fantastic (and fantastically hot) Cup day! I owe you some oats and a carrot

30 muze November 4, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Wish I’d seen your blog before the race. I’ll keep an eye out next year.
Can’t believe nobody has commented on your remark about “horse” being a sex. A horse is a horse, of course, of course. A filly is a young female horse, a colt is a young male horse which still has his gonads. A mare is a more mature female horse. a horse is a more mature male horse which still has his gonads. I’m sure there must be a specific age that a filly becomes a mare and a colt becomes a horse, but I don’t know what that is. A gelding is a male horse which no longer has his gonads. I don’t think age is important, but they don’t usually geld horses too young in case they prove to be potential stud material. So maybe instead of “horse” they should call them “stud”.

31 stubbornmule November 5, 2009 at 3:54 pm

muze: thanks for clearing that up! I was hoping that someone would. So, now I’ve learned all about handicaps and what sex “horse” is. Stud does make more sense though.

32 Muze October 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Hey mule,
Will you have a tip for this year’s race on Monday? I’ll be checking early this year. :)

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