MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 06: The Melbourne Cup is displayed during the 2017 Melbourne Cup Parade on November 6, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

The Spring Racing Carnival is now well underway and punters across Australia are excitedly counting down to the Melbourne Cup. It is by far and away the most prestigious race in the southern hemisphere, if not the world, and it is the centrepiece of this glorious festival of thoroughbred racing. First nominations were made on August 30, the handicaps have been declared and we are now awaiting the first declarations on October 9. The race takes place on November 6, with final declarations taking place a few days earlier, but many punters will hope to steal a march and grab some early value. Here are five early contenders that could well run and thrive in the Melbourne Cup:

Cross Counter

Charlie Appleby’s Irish raider is in fine form ahead of the Melbourne Cup and the trainer has pledged to send him to Victoria for the big race. The Goldolphin-owned bay gelding won the Qatar Gordon Stakes at Glorious Goodwood last month with a track record of 2m 31.39s, blowing away Investec Derby runner-up Dee Ex Bee in the process. He then finished a head behind Old Persian in the Great Voltigeur Stakes, but finished comfortably ahead of the highly-rated Kew Gardens in third. Kew Gardens then went on the win the St Leger, the third leg of the British Triple Crown, while Cross Counter was ineligible as a gelding. But he looks perfectly poised for a crack at the Melbourne Cup, and he will generate a great deal of attention in Ireland and the UK. Check out the Melbourne Cup odds and you will see him as an early pace setter, but there is a long way to go yet.

Magic Circle

Another raider is Ian Williams’ classy six-year-old Magic Circle, who has impressed in winning the Chester Cup and the Henry II Stakes in England this year. The son of Makfi has come on leaps and bounds since joining Willaims’ stable, although the Melbourne Cup represents an enormous step up in class from anything he has faced thus far. But jockey Fran Berry is tipping the progressive stayer to give a strong account of himself in the 3200m race that stops a nation. “Magic Circle has improved out of all recognition since joining Ian Williams this season and to back up his Chester Cup victory with a six-length win in the Henry II Stakes at Sandown just two weeks later was very, very impressive,” she said. He has not seen action since, but Berry insists that will not be a problem. “He showed in Chester that he’s fine after a long break between races and he obviously stays really well,” she added. However, Berry will not be aboard Magic Circle, as local star Corey Brown is booked in.

Withhold

Raiders secured a 1-2-3 in last year’s Melbourne Cup, and they dominate the early odds among the 2018 nominations. The five-yea-old seized the Northumberland Plate in July and was instantly installed as the market leader for the Melbourne Cup.

“At the moment the plan is to go to Flemington without a preparation race, so he’ll go into quarantine nice and early and we’ll arrange for him to do some work,” said Charlton after the race. He has since been overtaken narrowly by Cross Counter and Magic Circle in the market, but he could be the best of the three. Towards the end of 2017 he won the Cesarewitch with a dominant performance, trouncing highly rated rivals like Lagostovegas and Who Dares Wins, and there is a lot more to come from this exciting stayer.

Torcedor

Legendary British trainer Jessica Harrington turned Torcedor into a force to be reckoned with and the Australian Bloodstock syndicate snapped him up for a tilt at the Melbourne Cup. “We believe he’s one of the best-credentialed horses available for this year’s Melbourne Cup, so we’re thrilled to have got him,” said syndicate member Luke Merrell. There is a sense of disappointment that Stradivarius, widely rated as the world’s best stayer, is not heading over to Australia for the Melbourne Cup. But Torcedor has twice got within a length of him this season, a feat no other horse has achieved, and he could be set to follow in the footsteps of Protectionist and earn victory for Australian Bloodstock in the Melbourne Cup.

Kings Will Dream

Darren Weir’s charge is the clear favourite to win the Caulfield Cup and that often serves as a key pointer for the Melbourne Cup. He put in an eye-catching performance to finish fourth in the PB Lawrence Stakes, he finished third in the Group 1 Memsie Stakes to kick off the Spring Racing Carnival and then he impressed again in taking second to Grunt in the Makybe Diva Stakes last weekend. He is on a fantastic upward curve and he continues to enjoy the step up in distance, so he should relish a crack at the richest two-mile race in the world. He is a seasoned stayer now, and he always seems to be there or thereabouts at the end of every race he competes in, so he will be really dangerous if he goes for the Melbourne Cup.