Avilius has been installed as the clear favourite to triumph in the Australian Cup after storming to victory in the Group 3 Carlyon Cup earlier this month. James Cummings’ galloper looks primed to compete in the biggest races in the country this coming spring, but the Australian Cup has always been his autumn target. He is in superb form and he will take some stopping in the big race, but competition will be fierce and it promises to be an enthralling contest.

The Group 1 Australian Cup is one of the most important races in the Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival. With a prize purse of $1.5 million, it is also the joint-richest, while the prestige associated with winning it is huge. It takes place over 2000m at Flemington and it is known as the autumn equivalent of the Cox Plate. It is a weight for age race for horses aged three and above, and seasoned gallopers have had huge success here over the years.

The Australian Cup has a long and illustrious history, having been inaugurated in 1863, when Barwon held on for victory over 18 furlongs (3621m). It was shortened to 2000m in the early 1960s to attract talented middle distance gallopers and it has remained a highlight in the racing calendar ever since. True titans of the sport have won this race since the turn of the century, including Makybe Diva, Northerly, Lonhro, Zipping and Shocking. The leading lights in Victoria and further afield will bid to join that great pantheon on March 9 this year.

It takes place on Super Saturday, a day that is always popular among punters as it also includes the Group 1 Newmarket Stakes. Both are huge races, but the Australian Cup is the feature race of the day and it will generate huge interest across the country. Last year it generated a huge media buzz after $61roughie Harlem pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the race’s history.

The previous year had seen $4.25 favourite Humidor triumph with a classy performance, and many punters expected 2018 favourite Gailo Chop to deliver in similar style. They lumped on Darren Weir’s gelding and he went off at $2.60 from barrier 10. Gailo Chop looked to have the race in the bag when he hit the front at the 300m mark, but Harlem, Lindsay Park’s French raider, sneaked up the inside rail and managed to savage the line in sensational fashion to claim an unlikely win.

It was the roughest Australian Cup result since Dandy Andy defied odds of $125 back in 1988. “Closer to the fence is like lightning,” said jockey Michael Walker. “I had a beautiful run the whole way.” The most successful barriers over the last 35 years are actually 7 and 8, which have each yielded five winners. However, the outside barriers are the least successful, and many riders will be keen to stick to that inside rail at the 2019 Australian Cup.

Gailo Chop is not the only short-priced favourite to be vanquished, as Jeune ($1.66), Theseo ($1.80), Northerly ($1.80), Vo Rogue ($2), Shiva’s Revenge ($2.20) and Princess Coup have all finished second in recent times. Yet a number of big favourites have won, including Northerly and Vo Rogue. Veandercross won at just $1.36, the shortest price in recent memory, but Bonecrusher was $1.44, Better Loosen Up was $1.73, Fiorente was $1.90 and Lonhro was $2, so punters will not be put off if the price on Avilius drops further.

Cummings is giddy with excitement about the five-year-old’s prospects this year and beyond. “He’s a pretty serious horse that I think is capable of graduating to weight-for-age,” he said after the Carlyon Cup win. “The Australian Cup is his autumn target. We’ll regroup after that but I am of the view that a light autumn will suit the horse. He’s an extremely good addition to our stable and we’re extremely grateful to have him and we want to look after him. He kept motoring to the line in good fashion. He’s got a great amount of heart about him and good to see him win first-up over 1600 metres.”

Avilius was third last in the field of 10 in that race and looked at a serious disadvantage due to the track pattern, but Kerrin McEvoy got to work on him and he responded with a brilliant burst of pace to overhaul the leaders. He ended up winning by three-quarters of a length from Sikandarabad and Night’s Watch, and Cummings said he has now recovered from being knocked down in the Melbourne Cup.

A look at the horse racing betting at Punters will tell you that Avilius is the clear favourite to triumph in the Australian Cup, but the field is stacked with talent. There were 33 horses left standing after the first acceptances, with six entries each for stars like Park and Waller, along with a strong contingent of runners that have left the Darren Weir stables. Chief among them is second favourite Night’s Watch, who lost out to Avilius in the Carlyon Cup but is still highly regarded. The field is studded with superstar talent, including Johannes Vermeer, Alizee, Land Of Plenty, Extra Brut and Rekindling, so it is sure to be an engrossing race.

The Peter Young Stakes is the primary lead up for the Australian Cup, as 13 of the last 17 winners have come through that race. That race takes place on Saturday and it will feature the likes of Avilius, Night’s Watch and Harlem, so it is bound to affect the odds on the Australian Cup. The Group 2 contest at Caulfield has produced more Australian Cup winners than any other race, with the likes of Fiorente and Lonhro completing the double. It is a big event in its own right, but the Australian Cup is the key distance event in Victoria this autumn and it should prove to be another fascinating race.