The Cox Plate is Australia’s premier weight-for-age race. It is a race that sorts out the very good horses from the great ones. There is something special about the best horses in the country charging around the tight, cambered Moonee Valley home turn at what seems just an arm’s length away from the crowd of 30-odd thousand people who are crammed into the intimate amphitheatre that is the Moonee Valley racecourse. It would be pointless to list notable past winners of the Cox Plate as the list would be far too long. Almost all of Australia’s past champions have won it from Phar Lap to Makybe Diva.
This year’s Cox Plate, while not a vintage edition, is still an intriguing contest with a full field of 14 to start. Run over 2040 metres the Cox Plate is worth $3 million, with the winning connections taking home close to $2 million. With a relatively fine week of weather expected, we will assess the form for Saturday with a good to dead track in mind.
1. EL SEGUNDO – The 2007 Cox Plate winner who missed last spring through injury. Ran a cracking race first up, before three pretty average runs by his own lofty standards. Absolutely loves this track and the trainer has said been quoted as saying that this is the only race they have been targeting during this preparation. He also has an outstanding record in this race with a win and a second to Fields of Omagh who beat him by just a nostril. From barrier 13 he will probably settle in the last few on the outside, and while I’m not sure if he is the horse he used to be, it wouldn’t completely shock me to see him steam down the outside.
2. ZIPPING – Last year’s Cox Plate runner up who was unlucky not to win the race, and possibly one of Australia’s most underrated horses. It’s a great shame that it has taken the connections four years to work out that this horse’s best distance range is between 2000-2400 metres. If only they had of set him for races in that range rather than the 3200 metre Melbourne Cup every year then he could have potentially won many group one races. He’s coming off an eighth in the Turnbull, and although he ran third in that race last year the stable thinks he is going every bit as good. Connections have stated they are going to try and use the barrier (2) to take a spot closer to midfield than last, but he is still going to need a ton of luck from the draw. He will be peaking on the day, and while he will need the breaks to come his way, he has to be given a great chance.
3. VISION AND POWER – Last season’s Doncaster Handicap winner who took the Sydney autumn by storm when he got his favoured wet conditions and turned himself around from an open handicapper to a genuine Group One horse. Has looked pretty ordinary on dry tracks so far this preparation until running a good third behind the two favourites for this race in the Yalumba last start. From barrier four he could race anywhere from midfield to last but I expect he will find himself somewhere well back in the field. Needs a genuinely soft track to have any winning chance in the race.
4. NOM DU JEU – Last year’s Caulfield Cup runner up who didn’t settle last start when ridden upside down. Will get a long way back in an attempt to get him to settle and realistically has absolutely no chance in the form he is in.
5. SCENIC SHOT – A genuinely underrated horse who carried 60kg to win this year’s Brisbane Cup. Ran a terrific race last start in the Turnbull where he was trapped wide but still ran third only beaten just over a length. Has been set purely for this race and from barrier six should get a great run midfield with cover. Opened at $18 and in my opinion represents the best value in the race and he’s a great each-way bet.
6. BLACK PIRANHA – This year’s Stradbroke Handicap winner hit a purple patch of form throughout the Sydney autumn carnival, running second in three group ones before winning the Stradbroke. He also ran well at his first two starts back before being slightly disappointing in the Toorak. Will get a long way back and I have serious reservations over him being a 2000 metre group one weight for age horse. Not for mine.
7. SIR SLICK – Many are thinking the only reason this horse got a run is to ensure a genuine pace, which the race has been lacking the past couple of years. Last spring he was terrible running a long last in almost every one of his Melbourne runs and falling through the field like he had been shot. He did show some better form when he returned to New Zealand and in the Brisbane winter and while I don’t think he has any hope at all of even running in the first four, I just hope he doesn’t ruin anyone else’s chances when he gets tired and starts to put in the short ones.
8. ROAD TO ROCK – Has really stepped up another level this preparation after winning the George Main States two starts ago then running a great third in the Epsom last start. From barrier one he will probably settle midfield on the fence and get the run of the race although he will need a bit of luck. Still not sure if his form is good enough to win a Cox Plate though and is a place chance if he runs up to his best and gets the breaks.
9. SPEED GIFTED – Lee Freedman’s boom import who trashed them in Sydney last start to win the Metropolitan on a bog track. Would have been a solid Caulfield Cup favourite but the trainer elected to dodge that race to avoid a potential penalty for the Melbourne Cup. He does possess tactical speed, however in my opinion his main aim is the Melbourne Cup so I think they will settle back in the field and save him for one crack at them. Has been well backed all week but for mine you do not win the Cox Plate as an afterthought, and although he is a very good horse I think he is a much better chance the week after in the Melbourne Cup.
10. WHOBEGOTYOU – Probably the best horse in Australia, and definitely will be acknowledged as such if he wins this race. He has been favourite since the markets opened almost a year ago, and his betting price has only shortened as the race has loomed. Loves the track and boasts an unblemished four from four record. The Mark Kavanagh-trained four year-old had a perfect preparation running in the first two each start, before a great win last start in the Yalumba which put to rest doubts over his ability to run a strong 2000 metres. He will probably settle slightly worse than midfield one off the fence with cover for Damien Oliver, however it wouldn’t completely surprise me to see him further back if they went at a silly pace. A deserving short-priced favourite for mine, and the one to beat.
11. HEART OF DREAMS – He was unexpectedly behind Whobegotyou in the run last start before finishing a good closing second to that horse in the Yalumba. Before that had a great win over that very horse in the Underwood, and from barrier three the connections have stated they will definitely not risk a repeat of last start and will race much closer to the speed, ideally one out one back. Should get a gun run and won’t need the luck the favourite will from further back in the field. This bloke is a very good horse and is without doubt the main danger to the favourite.
12. ROCK KINGDOM – Epsom Handicap winner two starts ago who was arguably the run of the race last start in the Toorak when a half-length third after racing wide throughout. Has had one go over this distance where he was beaten a lip in the Rosehill Guineas and has always looked a potential weight for age horse. Will push forward from the barrier and should find himself right on or just off the speed. Is well over the odds in my opinion, and at $21 is one of the better ‘roughies’ in the race with a realistic chance.
13. MANHATTAN RAIN – One of the two three year-olds in the race who is coming off a third place in the Caulfield Guineas. Trainer Gai Waterhouse has had a massive opinion of this horse from day one, and he will push forward on the speed with the huge weight allowance. If he were to win this race then he could potentially be the most valuable horse in Australia, with his breeding and potential at stud. The last three year old to win the Cox Plate was Savabeel in 2004 and he was no superstar and beat a cracking field. Personally I’m not sold on the notion that this year’s three year-old crop is something special, and I certainly haven’t seen enough from this horse to give him any sort of hope in a Cox Plate. Way under the odds for me.
14. SO YOU THINK – While there was speculation over whether this horse had done enough to qualify a start in the Cox Plate, I suspect that the fact that his trainer is one Bart Cummings may have swayed the decision in his favour, even though So You Think has yet to win a group one race. Outside of the winner, his was probably the best run in the Caulfield Guineas (where he finished fifth) and if one of the two three year-olds is going to win, I would lean towards So You Think over Manhattan Rain. Bart has stated that he wants the horse to settle near the rear of the field from the barrier. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see him win as nothing Bart Cummings does ever surprises you these days.
I expect that there will be a solid pace set by Sir Slick with Manhattan Rain and Rock Kingdom both right on the speed. Heart of Dreams should get the dream run one out one back with Road to Rock next on the fence and Scenic Shot on his outside. Vision and Power and Zipping should be the next two on the fence with Whobegotyou and Black Piranha outside them. So You Think, Speed Gifted, El Segundo and Nom Du Jeu should all settle well back in the field. Of the leading few I expect Rock Kingdom to take over before being claimed quickly by Heart of Dreams who should kick away with Scenic Shot giving chase and Whobegotyou steaming down the outside. I think Whobegotyou will prove he is the best horse in the land from Heart of Dreams with a gap to Scenic Shot. Next best in the race with outside chances are Zipping and Rock Kingdom.
2. HEART OF DREAMS
3. SCENIC SHOT
For more details on the Cox Plate program, including how to get to the track, go to the Moonee Valley Racing Club site.