The hype machine has been ramped up to record levels this week as the Clash of the Champions, linking beautifully to the 30 year anniversary of the 'Race of the Century'. If it can live up to the all the hyperbolae spouted this week, then what a race we are in for. But how often does an event like this live up to the hype it has whipped up?
It's my crack at this one, you know where to send the bouquets or brickbats after the race!
William Hill Cox Plate
G1, WFA, 2040m
Moonee Valley, 1700 AEST, 0700 BST
Happy Trails - run one placing in his last 15, not won for two years. Ran second to Shamus Award years ago, that was his moment. An indictment on the quality of this race that he is in the field.
Black Heart Bart - star of the early spring winning the Memsie and Underwood, with a second in the Makybe Diva at Flemington in the middle. Last time he was beaten by Winx in the three-runner Caulfield Stakes. While the margin was comfortable, there's a huge risk in taking that form literally. The pace in very small fields is always completely false unless there's a bolter in there who is a mad leader. BHB is not a natural leader, it was a sit & stalk race, and against the best horse in the Southern Hemisphere, there was only going to be one winner. Concern from some parties on staying the distance, on breeding alone (by a VRC Derby winner out of a mare sired by a Melbourne Cup winner), I don't see an issue but it's never that simple. Very classy, the others won't want to be giving him a head start down the side.
Hartnell - star of the spring who demolished all-comers in the Chelmsford, Hill and Turnbull Stakes. Just how deep were those races though? The Sydney races had Waller two-milers running second, albeit a long way back. The Turnbull was the big performance, smashing the clock and beaten Jameka by 3.25 lengths. We all know Jameka did last week. Has he suddenly grown a leg, is it the benefit of further acclimatisation or is he just a late-maturing type? Important to note he is a gelding so it's no certainty the Godolphin stable rate this race ahead of the Melbourne Cup, there's no stud record to protect. Will sit in the front half of the field - but if there's no real speed on, does that mean he could be caught wide, even from gate seven? The obvious danger.
Hauraki - earned his spot here but clearly the back-up for John O'Shea. No worse than second in his last five, struggled to get his head in front in Brisbane in the late autumn (second to Leebaz and Our Ivanhowe at WFA) but better this campaign, winning the Epsom with a storming run home and a reasonably close second to the mighty mare in the George Main. Dwayne Dunn's a gun in .Melbourne, drawn wide but he'll understand the track pattern better than anyone.
Happy Clapper - Group 2 horse taking his chance here at cricket score odds. Ran second to Winx in the Doncaster receiving 6kg from her. Eight kills worse off here and while weight is only a relative measurement, it is a clear indicator of the class gap. Nicely drawn but likely to waste that and drop back worse than midfield. No hope, none, nada...
Vadamos - the mystery horse. Has won eight from 18 and seven from 10 on firmer tracks. Last five runs have all been at 1600-1800 which, considering he's by Monsun out of a Peintre Celebre mare, seems short of his best trip. Started 4/1 against A Shin Hikari in that devastating Chantilly win back in May, and was narrowly beaten by high-class UK 3yo Ribchester in the G1 Prix Jacques Le Marois during the Deauville festival. Andre Fabre is a gun. Does he measure up to Winx and Hartnell? His ratings say he's pretty close and probably gets a soft lead. Adelaide won two years ago, Highland Reel was placed last year - he's certainly in that class, not a WFA superstar of the northern hemisphere but a pretty darn good horse always in contention. Ignore at your peril.
Awesome Rock - lost the Australian Cup on protest in March which just shows how much of a gap there is between the spring and autumn in Melbourne. Won the Feehan/Dato Tan Chin Nam here over a mile to show he can handle the track, but he is several lengths off these on a championship day. Nice run last time in the Toorak conceding weight to the winner but this is on another level.
Winx - the best horse in Australia since Black Caviar. $7.5m in the bank and that's without cherry picking the riches of Dubai or Hong Kong. The picket fence extends back to winter 2015 and there hasn't really been a battle in any of those recent runs. Got the dream run last year to break Might And Power's track record but nothing has got near her since. Drawn three, sits box seat, the biggest thing Hughie Bowman has to worry about is getting blocked in. If she sits directly behind Vadamos, you'd think she just peels off his back about 500-600 out, stalks and lets go as they enter the turn. The pressure's on this time around, last year she was just a hunter, not the hunted.
Lucia Valentina - won the obscenely overvalued Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the autumn, beating home The United States (in a G1, really??) adding a couple of million to the owner's wallet. Third up, very honest but she's a few lengths off the creme de la creme in this part of the world - unless of course the rain has got into the track and chopped it up a bit. Put in your exotics. Something to consider - the gurus from the B Set racing podcast rate her as the best value of the day. She'll be in the back half of the field but with all the pace up front....you can imagine the scenario.
Yankee Rose - breathes a bit of life into the race carrying almost 10kg less than the mighty mare. Impressive record: ran second in the Slipper first up for three months, something no horse had done before; raced away in the Sires Produce; uncharacteristically led first-up in the Golden Rose and ran fifth; tried hard running second in the Flight Stakes behind Thousand Guineas winner Global Glamour; flew home in 33.14 to beat the C&G in the Spring Champion, something no filly had ever done before. Unfashionable workhorse bush jockey, trainer was a former heroin addict who moved out of Sydney to slow the pace of life down on the Sunshine Coast. It's hell of a story but she can't, can she? Forty years since Surround last did it for this age and sex, but some of the 3yo colts who've won haven't been superstars. Samantha Miss ran third a few years ago. Maps two back the fence, needs luck but at the same time, could get the magic gap like Winx found last year.
Vadamos leads, on his own or inside a roughie like Awesome Rock.
Winx sits one back, but will be trying to get off the fence as early as possible. Black Heart Bart on her outside trying to hold her on the rail, while Hartnell lands outside him, hoping they stretch out enough for him to slide in. If no jockey goes forward to sit outside Vadamos, then one of these two slides forward a half-length - they have to try to lock Bowman on the fence.
Midfield it's Yankee Rose on the rail awaiting for the gap when Winx goes outside and Vadamos takes the bend wide. Happy Clapper gets in the way midfield and Hauraki stalks him or sits outside in a three-wide line.
Out the back it's Lucia Valentina and Happy Trails strung out. If Baxter doesn't push forward on Awesome Rock, he's probably stuck on the fence well back.
We know every race is an independent event but the last two G1s in Melbourne show you how easy/hard punting can be. Last week Jameka absolutely box-seated and all her main rivals had problems - missed start/caught wide/pulled hard etc. Then last night in the Manikato, the fav goes back from the inside draw, the leader drifts off the rail and the 60/1 shot pushes through on the rail and wins. Luck makes a hell of a difference and can make all the difference between a price being gross understatement or massive unders! While probably irrelevant, the weather will be utterly horrible, 13C (pleasant for England, bloody freezing for Melbourne in October) with a decent chance of hail.
The hype machine has been working up a frenzy on Winx vs Hartnell this week and I really hope it's as big as they are building it up to - but as a punter I have no problem pissing on someone else's parade when it suits - and the weather gods have lined up the pissing down part!
Lay the pair of them below 2.10 and 3.5 respectively for better than 3/1 the field. Three absolute no-hopers but five Group 1 winners on your side who won't need much to go wrong with the favourites to stake their claim.
Take your pick which one steals their thunder, the next tier are very evenly-ranked.