There is no race on earth like the Melbourne Cup. There are bigger purses, bigger crowds and better horses, but nowhere else does an entire country shut down for a horse race. Schools, the parliament, factories - everything stops while the Cup is run. Rain Gauge is the pick of this year's field to give 84-year-old George Hanlon his fourth Melbourne Cup, a record bettered by only Bart Cummings and the 19th-century trainer, Etienne de Mestre. Hanlon is one of Australia's greatest trainers of distance horses and, although he has only eight horses, two of them line up today, with Rain Gauge joined by Mr Prudent. Never a big-string trainer, Hanlon has still won every big staying race in Australia and, even at this stage of his life, has landed the 2000 Caulfield Cup and 2001 Sydney Cup. Ridden by last year's winning jockey, Kerrin McEvoy, Rain Gauge has always looked a stayer of promise and is putting it all together since transferring to George from his son, Gary. He looped the field in the Moonee Valley Cup over 2,500 metres last time for his third win in four starts, has suffered little in the way of a penalty for those victories and is effective on any ground. Flemington was extremely hard on Saturday and has been watered - though rain was forecast to arrive yesterday and continue today, it is wise to be wary of forecasts of Melbourne weather. This year's Cup falls into the B category, a genuine handicap wherein the winner may not prevail by quality but by a fortunate weight. A quality exception is Ethereal. The Caulfield Cup winner prefaced that with third at terms behind Northerly and Shogun Lodge and this is within her capabilities despite a 2kg (4.5 pounds) penalty. Soft going would bring Caulfield Cup form into higher focus as Sky Heights has not been at his best on firm going since his three-year-old days and would be a potent force with rain. Marienbard is the pick of the visitors and looks the horse Godolphin set for this after winning the Group Two Yorkshire Cup in May. He was well beaten in the Ascot Gold Cup over 4,023 metres subsequently but that is not a bad sign as the competitive horses there rarely have the speed to win the Melbourne Cup. He has run well since at Deauville and in the Group One Irish St Leger and gives Frankie Dettori and Godolphin a great chance to win the Cup at last. Rum is a dour young stayer whose only win was the South Australian St Leger at 2,600 metres, but he has no query about going or distance and has occasionally shown the dash needed. He was a shock third to Sunline over 1,400 metres in September and rushed up late for fifth in Saturday's lead-dominated Mackinnon Stakes. At their meetings, he has been a touch behind Rain Gauge and bookies' favourite Big Pat, but he is lengthy odds and worth including for multiples at least. Big Pat won last season's South Australian Derby, often a good signpost for this, and he has run on in the Caulfield Cup and Moonee Valley Cup. The SAAB mostly confirmed the Moonee Valley Cup form but there are weight drops, notably Shane Dye's mount Spirit Of Westbury, a consistent one-pacer down 17 pounds from Saturday's head defeat by Maythehorsebewithu. He meets the winner favourably but Maythehorsebewithu - winner of six from 10 and by champion staying sire Zabeel - is an improver. Whether this has come too early in his life may be his query. Universal Prince, last season's champion three-year-old, continues to undergo official checks after pulling up lame in a stifle from his Mackinnon Stakes effort on Saturday. He looked reluctant to stretch out and his lameness showed no improvement by yesterday. Unfortunately, he does not appreciate soft going either.