Farmer Graham De Gruchy is entitled to feel a greater attachment than most in Hawke's Bay to the Melbourne Cup.

But Mr De Gruchy, who bred year 2000 winner Brew - from Japan Cup winning mare Horlicks - is, in racing parlance, coming back to the pack as he tries to sort out a winner, and concedes that by the 5pm start he'll be "completely confused".

But, from Netherby, west of Hastings, he was tipping that some of the hefty Northern Hemisphere contingent, may not like the expected firm track for the 32000m race which stops two nation for a few minutes on the first Tuesday of each November, despite the year-by-year dwindling numbers of Australian and New Zealand horses in the field.

"The trouble is," he said, "a lot of the northern horses haven't had a race here, and some haven't had a lot of races at all. I'm not saying they won't win, but a lot of them won't handle it that firm."


The essential point is that racing two miles with its own weight and well over 50kg extra on the back is not something for every horse.

"They carry a big weight on pretty small pins," he said. "The pounding effect can give them a lot of pain, so a lot of the older ones like a bit of give in the ground."

"But we don't want to get too confused," he said. "Probably by the time I listen to all the thousands who've got something to say by the time the race starts, I'll be completely confused."

With the track in mind, and the recent form, his pick late yesterday was the 5-year-old UK galloper Hartnell, which is expected to start TAB favourite after recent form in Australia, as had the German galloper Almandin.

Asked about UK galloper Heartbreak City, he noted it had drawn barrier 23, not that it should necessarily be a worry. After all, when Brew won 16 years ago it became one of only three horses that has won the cup from barrier position 24.

Across Hawke's Bay, several clubs and bars are staging special Melbourne Cup day events, with the TAB expecting more than $10 million to be in this country, on top of the tens of thousands dabbled in workplace sweepstake draws.

At the TAB, the cup is much more than just picking which horses come first, second and third, and, now, fourth, although they were decidedly good investments for punters who had it last year.

Picking the first four in order including longshot winner and New Zealand-bred Prince of Penzance would have earned a reasonable deposit on an Auckland house - with a dividend of $307,081.20.

The New Zealand TAB's range of fixed-odds betting includes such things as the number of the horse (1-8 is the favourite at $1.95. with 17-24 paying $3.20), the handicap weight (55.5kg or less is the favourite at $1.70), Australian or overseas trained (the Aussies paying $1.70), or the age (the horse, not the punter - 6 years or under is paying $1.45).

If you're unbreakably loyal to this side of the Tasman, then you might say "yes" to it being a New Zealand-bred winner (Who Shot Thebarman, Pentathlon or Rose of Virginia). A long way from the halcyon days, and odds that may never be better, at $21.

The weather in Melbourne is forecast to be partly cloudy with a chance of showers and a maximum temperature of 18C. But you can't bet on it.