The WS Cox Plate is widely renowned as the best horse race in the country and it is commonly considered to be the weight-for-age championship of Australasia.
Unfortunately, on paper, this year’s edition doesn’t look to be one for the ages but nevertheless there are a number of fantastic stories and the race looms as a truly fascinating affair. The $3,000,000 purse ensures an epic battle and a life-changing result for all involved in the winner.
Amazingly, 2013 saw Shamus Award create history as the first horse to win the race as a maiden. The Danny O’Brien-trained three-year-old engraved his name into racing folklore as he led all the way. Considering he had never won a race previously, it was unprecedented that he made the field in the first place, a decision that was not without plenty of controversy. The win also gave 19-year-old apprentice Chad Schofield his first taste of Group 1 glory.
The horse dubbed the Longford Lion, THE CLEANER, has become a one-horse juggernaut who has singlehandedly taken care of the MVRC marketing campaign leading into this race. Mick Burles, who puts the polish on THE CLEANER, certainly isn’t the typical trainer you’d expect to find at the Spring Carnival. Mick has just recently given up his pack-a-day habit and will instead be nervously pacing the mounting yard with his E-Cigarette hanging from his mouth. Burles was forced to sell the horse when suffering financial hardship but thankfully it was purchased by three long-time golfing mates with whom he shares this incredibly journey.
He is an amazing horse. Steven Arnold will send the 7YO son of Savoire Vivre to the front from barrier 14 and run the field along at a breakneck speed. Arnold will get THE CLEANER going at the 800m mark and attempt to break the hearts of those behind. The horse doesn’t possess the brilliant turn of foot of a Super Impose but he is able to sustain brutally fast sectionals and Arnold will use this to his advantage.
It would be another chapter in THE CLEANER’S fairytale story if he could claim the WFA championship of Australasia and there will be a sea of black and blue in the crowd cheering the Longford Lion as he leads the Cox Plate field of 2014 past the school and into the home straight. Racing will benefit enormously if Burles’ champion from across the Tasman is able to win on Saturday and this unlikely hero has certainly earned his spot in the field.
People talk about the three-year-olds being advantaged in a Cox Plate but in truth their record is not that strong with only five winners in past 30 years (2013 a surprise). Often they provide favourites and don’t run to expectations. Since Octagonal’s win in 1995, 25 more have run for three wins and five placings.
This year we have three 3YO’s greeting the starter; ALMALAD and WANDJINA for the all-conquering Gai Waterhouse and SWEYNESSE from the John O’Shea yard representing Godolphin.
Gai quipped earlier in the week that she would like to add a “saucer” to her mantlepiece and she certainly has a nice chance in ALMALAD. In typical Waterhouse fashion she announced ALMALAD one of the best horse she had trained after the son of Al Maher was able to win a star-studded JJ Atkins at Group 1 level over the Brisbane Carnival.
ALMALAD has been set for the race all campaign and his win at this track in the Stutt Stakes was awesome. Looking through recent history it is 3YO’s who can race on speed that have the best record and that is where ALMALAD will be positioned in the run. He does look the pick of the babies and gives Gai a nice chance to claim her first win in the race.
CRITERION is trying to be the first AJC Derby winner since Bonecrusher in 1986 to win the Cox Plate the next season. He has largely snuck under the radar this campaign but look at the videos of his four runs this time – he is progressing beautifully and looks ready to peak on Saturday. He should enjoy a lovely run from barrier six and looms as a major contender.
Three internationals are taking their place in the 2014 Cox Plate – ADELAIDE, GUEST OF HONOUR and last year’s Mackinnon Stakes winner in SIDE GLANCE. ADELAIDE creates the most interest of these horses being a recent Group 1 winner of the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in the United States. His most recent run was a good third at Group 2 level in France. The fly in the ointment might be the wide draw which will see him forced to drift a fair way back in the field. Looking through his recent runs he is a horse with a few quirks and getting around the unique MV circuit could well provide a difficult task for this son of Galileo.
Three of the past five Cox Plate winners had not won at a mile and a quarter before taking the race – several of this field including one of the favourites, SACRED FALLS, are in this category. SACRED FALLS is a star, and with over $4.6 million in prize money, no one can dispute that. His run last-start in the Caulfield Stakes was enormous behind FAWKNER and he is clearly going well. Look for him to be running on hard late but will he have to do too much? Have to respect him but leaning to others.
Many horses have a history of placing in this race and coming back to win it in later years. The likes of Fields of Omagh, El Segundo and Super Impose have all done this and after a fantastic second in last year’s race, HAPPY TRAILS is looking to join them. He was luckless in The Turnbull Stakes two starts back before being beaten on his merits by FAWKNER and CRITERION in the Caulfield Stakes last start. He does possess a good record at the track and shouldn’t spend much petrol in the run from gate two. Suspect he might need to go to a new level to win on Saturday.
ROYAL DESCENT has become a perennial bridesmaid. She has run second in all four outings this campaign, all at the highest level. She is a very honest mare who is looking for the 2040M at this stage of her preparation. Ideally drawn in barrier three this daughter of famed sire REDOUTE’S CHOICE should enjoy a very soft run in transit and will be there when the whips are cracking over the final furlong.
Lloyd Williams prepares this year’s Cox Plate favourite, FAWKNER. This horse ticks all the boxes. He won a Caulfield Cup last year and has been faultless this preparation. He ran into a rock hard CRITERION over 1600m first up in the Makybe Diva before settling in the box seat and taking out the Caulfield Stakes at 2000m last start. Nicholas Hall will lob the 7YO gelding into a perfect trailing position from barrier four and when they pass the school on the run into the home straight expect this bloke to look the winner.
Controversy surrounded the selection of this field and criticism might be justified. For the record we feel the race needs to return to the halcyon days of the early 2000s where it was a select few who were good enough to compete. Just eight runners greeted the starter in 2001 but punters were treated to one of racing’s truly memorable moments as Northerly, Sunline and the 3YO upstart, Viscount put on the equine equivalent of The Rumble In The Jungle. It was a truly memorable race and amazingly a capacity field wasn’t required to make it happen. Undoubtedly the decision to increase starter numbers in the Cox Plate comes down to betting turnover but surely we can ignore the almighty dollar for one race and choose only the very best equine athletes?
That aside we are very keen on the favourite FAWKNER in the 2014 edition of the Cox Plate.
4th ROYAL DESCENT
5th THE CLEANER
Moonee Valley – Friday Night
Race 7 – Group 1 Manikato Stakes
One of the best sprint races we have seen for some time. Plenty of interest with Terravista coming down from NSW with a fantastic career record and a huge amount of confidence from his trainer Jo Pride. Leaning to 2 LANKAN RUPEE who can lead if desired and put himself into the race. Expecting him to be at his best. Saving on 5 REBEL DANE who will go around at a decent price. They may go extremely hard out in front and this 5YO has a superb turn of foot and can blouse them late. Have to respect 1 BUFFERING who is as tough as they come. Superb race.
2 LANKAN RUPEE
5 REBEL DANE
6 ALEGRIA (win)
Caught the eye in a trial at Warwick Farm before stepping out on debut and winning in fine style beating a horse that has since performed well. Talented and can go on with it.