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Cox Plate not a one-horse race

As the odds-on favourite, So You Think has commanded most of the attention ahead of the Cox Plate, but as Evan Harding writes, there are some high-class thoroughbreds ready to spoil the party.

For weeks, So You Think has been at prohibitive odds to win Australia’s finest race, the Cox Plate. The utter destruction of a small but impressive field two weeks ago in the Yalumba Stakes seemed like mere trackwork for the Bart Cummings-trained horse, leaving little doubt in many punters’ eyes that he will repeat last year’s runaway victory.

Last year, it was Glen Boss riding the then three-year-old in just his fifth start. This year it’s Steven Arnold aboard, for whom a first Plate on the still lightly-raced son of High Chaparral would be a career highlight.

‘To win a Cox Plate for the second time in his tenth run is pretty special. I think it would really stamp him as an outstanding horse and, for me, I suppose it’s a dream for a jockey to win a Cox Plate. This sort of horse, he’s such a good horse, its more about the horse and for the jockey to just try and give him his chance to do his best.’

But, as proven by the fall which eliminated hot favourite Naturalism 1992, when Super Impose went on to win, there are no certainties in racing. Arnold knows this and is not counting his chickens.

‘In the Cox Plate, we’ve seen it before, short-priced horses get beat,’ he said. ‘It happens every day in racing, so he’s certainly not over the line, there are some great horses in the race and he’ll have to be right on his game.’

The challengers are lining up in an attempt to spoil the story. More Joyous, trained by Gai Waterhouse, is at the head of the queue on the back of a gutsy win in the Toorak Handicap. Waterhouse’s lead jockey Nash Rawiller will ride a mare he rates among the best he’s ridden.

‘She’s come through her Toorak run in excellent condition,’ he said. ‘I’m quite amazed how much she’s improved from that run. She’s got down here and she’s been out at Flemington now for close to three weeks.’

It’s a huge ask for any horse, but not one that is daunting Rawiller.

‘Yeah I do fancy my chances,’ he said. ‘I just think she’s so good, this mare. I’ve got so much confidence in her. We just need a little bit of luck on the day. It’s a horse race, you know, things can go wrong for So You Think and he doesn’t need much to go wrong to put us up there, right there with him, head and head.’

One of the country’s most consistent horses over the past few years has been Zipping, the reigning Australian Cup champion. Third behind So You Think last year and second to Maldivian in 2008, the Lloyd Williams-owned gelding is having his fourth crack at the Cox Plate.

‘We really set the horse for this race this year,’ said Nick Williams. ‘He’s had other missions – and this has been along the way – in previous years, and we’d expect him to run as he has for his other races this season in career best form.’

Fields Of Omagh, in 2006, was the only nine-year-old to take out the weight-for-age classic but having won in Group 1 company already this campaign, namely the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington three weeks ago, Zipping has given his team every confidence of emulating that feat.

‘On paper his form’s better, said Williams. ‘He won the Turnbull Stakes, which is of course probably the major lead up to this race, beating Shootout, and we’d like to think he’s in as good a shape as he’s ever been in and I think you’ll see him put on a good show on Saturday.’

Three of the most famous Cox Plates of recent times have been won by New Zealanders – think Bonecrusher in 1986 and Sunline’s back-to-back successes in 1999 and 2000 – and leading the Kiwi charge this year is Wall Street.

Trainer Jeff Lynds is, however, looking at three other Cox Plate winners when reflecting upon Wall Street’s program, which has included two straight Group 1 wins at Hastings.

‘He’s gone in a similar program to Surfers Paradise (1988), Our Poetic Prince (1991) and Solvit (1994),’ he said. He’s up to that class; it’s going to be good to see what happens on Saturday.

‘They’re all good horses in this race, and we’ve got a good horse, but just how good he is we’re going to find out.’

All are convinced that, contrary to betting, this year’s Cox Plate is more than a one-horse race.

‘He wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think he could win,’ said Williams of Zipping. ‘Of course he’s come across a truly great horse in So You Think, who of course won the race last year when we finished third, and I don’t think you can discount More Joyous or Shootout. They’re both terrific horses, More Joyous is without a doubt the best mare in the country and I think John Wallace has just done a fantastic job with the horse and it’s in terrific form, so I think it’s going to be a great race.

It’s a similar feeling in the More Joyous camp.

‘It’ll be a sensational race,’ said Rawiller. ‘Anyone that can get the opportunity to come out, they certainly should because it’s, I think, the best mare in Australia taking on the best horse at the moment, it’s just going to be a great race. There are still eight others we’ve still got to beat as well, but my confidence is pretty high.’

Evan Harding is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University and sport editor of upstart. During the Spring Carnival he is working on the Racing World Daily Bite, which can be seen on the Racing Victoria website.

See also: upstart’s Ben Asgari’s Cox Plate Day Preview and ‘Beginner’s guide to the 2010 Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival’.

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