The time-honoured W.S. Cox Plate, the best race in Aussie racing, the WFA championship over a proper racing distance (plus about 40m). It's not the best field of all time, but it's not a bad time by any stretch. The HK visitor had been a dominant favourite before he ran unplaced on local debut. Can he bounce back to the winner's circle?
LADBROKES COX PLATE
AU$5m, Group 1, WFA, 2040m
Moonee Valley, 1710 local, 0710 UK time.
1. Romantic Warrior
The champ of Hong Kong takes on Australia's best race. Is HK form up to Australia's? His figures by any international form measure do, if he ic close to his best. He could only run fourth in a fast-run Turnbull at his local debut when the trainer said he was only 80% fit. After first having a moan about his feed variety not being allowed into Australia (the US supplier refused to divulge the ingredient details so Aus quarantine refused it), he's been having a moan about the Werribee facilities not having a swimming pool or variety of gallops that he is used to in the principality. Is that a trainer getting the excuses out in advance or trying keep his odds realistic? Or, and probably the most likely, have innocuous little statements been taken completely out of context by the local media? The form ahead of him in the Turnbull is red hot - the top three were all great runs in the Caulfield Cup; the winner, third and a horse who missed the start by six lengths and finished closer than that at the line. James McDonald, who had ridden the horse previously for three wins out of three rides, didn't push the horse at all. He was very gentle on him in the final stages, further highlighting that that run three weeks ago wasn't his target. He looked very good at track gallop at Moonee Valley on Monday morning. Drawn perfectly, Alligator Blood should push forward on his inside and Zaaki will slide across from his outside, so he'll either be outside the leader or one back in the running line. The one to beat but don't back him on the tote, the World Pool price will be ridiculously short.
A 9yo who led and finished fourth last year, beaten 1.35L on a heavy track. This season I doubt he's going as well, his only win of the year was the far weaker G2 Hollindale Stakes at the Gold Coast, but this time in he's been beaten no more than half a length over shorter trips behind Fangirl and Think It Over. Racing Post figures though mark him just off his peak, recorded when winning the Champion (ex Mackinnon) Stakes at Flemington over the Cup carnival. Gets Frosty Lane for the first time in the saddle, almost certainly goes forward from the outside gate and probably doesn't have to work too hard to get there without many pace alternatives. I can't have a 9yo winning this race, but it has been done before (just once in 100yrs)) and not that long ago - Fields of Omagh winning his second Cox Plate in 2006. If the pace is relatively soft, he's going to be hard to get past. One for exotics.
3. Mr Brightside
The unfashionably-bred $10m winner is running at least as well as he has in previous seasons, winning five in a row this season (AllStar Mile, Doncaster, PB Lawrence, Memsie and Makybe Diva) before being picked off by Fangirl last time in Sydney, when the race was perfectly set up for her (ground also said to be too hard for him). He has a great record at the track, winning three from four but the defeat was in this race last season and he has not run a place in two starts at the trip. But those two races last season were both in the wet - will a firmer track help his see out the distance? Connections picked gate two, enabling him to take the cosy sit one or perhaps two behind the leader, rather than having to make his run from last. Can't rule him out if things fall into place.
4. Alligator Blood
Had similar form to Mr Brightside in that he was none from two over 2000m (same races last year) but broke that duck in the Might And Power a fortnight ago under a very calm ride from Tim Clark. A runaway leader led by 8-10L down the side then without panicking, Clark eased him into the race coming to the turn and waltzed away in the straight. He is 8:1-1-0 in soft or heavy going which also contributes to his poor 2000m record (2022 M&P soft, Cox heavy) but was beaten no more than 2.5L each time. Can lead but will probably let Zaaki cross him. Gai Waterhouse has tried many times but is yet to win this one. Strong chance.
5. Gold Trip
Impressive Turnbull Stakes winner three weeks ago (first win from seven attempts at 2000m, also his first dry track success) who 'felt the weight' last week in the Caulfield Cup with the relentless pace and didn't get the best of luck in the straight, though it only made a difference to the margin, not the result. Iron horses who ran Caulfield Cup-Cox Plate-Melbourne Cup last season and is likely to do the same again. Finished just behind the placegetters here last year, never really getting clear air in the straight, which turned out to be the perfect tune-up for the Cup. Has had virtually the same lead-up campaign as last year, is he a better horse now, has he peaked earlier? Mark Zahra is back aboard after taking the ride on Without A Fight at Caulfield. Will sit back and work into the race down the side. If he has the sprint he unleashed at Flemington, he's hard to hold out. If he's more the sustained surge without real zip, then it will be pressure on from the turn. With topweight and a firmer track likely ahead for the Cup, this seems like his better chance of spring success. Big race performer. In the mix.
6. My Oberon
On breeding, you'd think he'd be a Cup horse but his career has centred around the mile. Won the Crystal Mile on this day here last year (heavy ground), but has only run two placings from ten runs since, yet rarely beaten far. Third in the King Charles behind Fangirl and Mr Brightside last time shows he's likely to be in the pack, but not contending.
Provincial-trainer galloper who is the true 'one for the battlers' with seemingly a cast of thousands in his ownership across various syndicates. Two from two at the Valley, he won the G2 Feehan in September to qualify for the race, having finished second to Mr Brightside in the P. B. Lawrence the start before. Ran home nicely to finish fifth in the Toorak Hcp when he had to settle further back than usual and was held up around the bend. Untried at 2000m, not sure he quite got home over 1800m in a BM100 race back in the autumn. A great day out for the owners, he's earned an entry here winning over $1.1m but he'll be outclassed.
Looked incredible in the mounting yard (parade ring for UK folk) at Randwick and duly saluted in the King Charles, ahead of Mr Brightside and Pinstriped after a perfect ride parked in behind the lead. That was a career-best performance for her. The mile is her best trip and it's concerning that last season as a 3yo, she won the G1 Vinery (usually over 2000m but moved to Kembla Grange due to weather and run at 1850m), usually a traditional lead-up to the ATC Oaks, but then she dropped back to 1600m for the Queen of the Turf on the same day. Although it was heavy on that day, which she didn't handle anyway, perhaps connections thought she was more likely to plough through it at a shorter trip. Can win if in similar condition to her last run, listen to the paddock experts. But with Zac Purton aboard, back her fixed odds rather than tote.
Damien Oliver's last ride in a Cox Plate, on a Cummings-trained mare at big odds, eerily similar to his first win here in 1995, aboard Dane Ripper, a G1-winning mare who poked through on the rail. A multiple G1 winner (QTC Oaks, Australian Cup, Tancred Stakes), she specialises in snapping up some of the weaker ones. This isn't one of them. Three thirds this year, behind Without A Fight and Alligator Blood (twice). Handy form but not up to these.
10. Victoria Road
The unknown quantity from the Aidan O'Brien stable, although not for much longer as he has been bought by Ozzie Kheir and friends, so I assume he'll stay on with Maher & Eustace. He was an exceptional 2yo, progressing from a Listed race win (over Blue Rose Cen, one of the best fillies in Europe) at Deauville up to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. Any BC win is impressive, but let's take it in context - turf racing in the US is limited and it's over the longest distance a 2yo races in the US, it's not the elite level test it quite seems. As a northern hemisphere 3yo, he has raced twice - beaten 6.75L by Arc winner Ace Impact in a G2 and then third in the G2 Dullingham Park (wfa) at Leopardstown, just touched off for second by Buckaroo, who debuted in Australia five lengths behind Fangirl a fortnight ago. I can't see it but you'll go broke underestimating Aidan O'Brien. He won this with Adelaide in 2014 and his son Joseph won it two years ago, while a former O'Brien colt, Sir Dragonet, won for Maher & Eustace in 2020.
He was the boom colt at the end of last season winning the Sires Produce and Champagne Stakes Group 1s in Sydney (notably both on wet tracks). This time in, he won the Golden Rose but could only finish fifth in the Caulfield Guineas a fortnight ago after being drawn wide. That race shape heavily favoured the leaders and he was the best of the horses running on from the back. He drops down to the local 3yo weight here and gets 9.5kg from his older rivals here from gate three. Good 3yos go close in this, if Zac Lloyd can settle him in the front half, he's a big chance.
12. King Colorado
The G1 JJ Atkins winner from the Qld winter carnival who hasn't quite found that form this time in. He had no luck in the Winx Stakes against open wfa class, then finished 2L behind Militarize in the Golden Rose and only fourth in the Guineas when he travelled wide but had the advantage of being on-pace. He finished just ahead of Militarize on that day but I'd be surprised if it finished in that order again. Does have Micky Dee aboard though.
Last year we had Zaaki leading with Alligator Blood on his outside, with the winner Anamoe (ridden by James McDonald) sitting right in the perfect spot behind them in fourth. Keep your eye on the track pattern over the two meetings at Moonee Valley. I'm expecting to be dry and quite fast, which usually benefits front runners but it could easily start cutting up with a drop of rain.
Will it be deja vu for J-Mac? I reckon it might be, with the Alligator close behind and the 3yo making the frame. Throw in Zaaki for exotics.