In 1922, William Samuel Cox had a big idea. He couldn’t have dreamed it would look this good.
On Saturday, 100 years after the first running of his envisaged weight-for-age championship of Australasia, a stupendous field of 12, including a handful of the best gallopers in these parts, and another high quality raider from Britain, will contest Australia’s greatest two minutes in sport – the W.S. Cox Plate.
We, the people, have already been spoiled by a breathtaking dress rehearsal. Six of these went around at Caulfield two weeks ago in a very similar race – the Might And Power Stakes – over roughly the same distance, under the same weight-for-age conditions, and at the top of racing’s class tree, as a Group 1.
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That was as stirring as they come. Anamoe, a four-year-old stallion from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin empire, and probably the best horse in the country, gathered all his famous strength to lift himself over the line and win, by a head, his third straight G1 and his sixth overall from 19 starts (10 wins), taking his earnings to $6.4 million.
He won by a head after a torrid battle in the closing stages with I’m Thunderstruck, the New Zealand-made, Australian-trained superstar and winner of $7.3 million.
Next came Zaaki, the eight-year-old former Brit clinging to greatness and his $7.6 million, then emerging star Mr Brightside, the at-times miraculous Alligator Blood and – after a couple who went to the Caulfield Cup – the tough stallion Mo’unga, who while last of the eight that day was finishing well to be less than three lengths off the winner.
Those six line up again, along with a dark horse trying to emulate last year’s winner State Of Rest by stealing in from Europe to claim the race. This one is El Bodegon, who was a last-start second in England to the current Melbourne Cup favourite – Deauville Legend. He profiles similarly to State Of Rest last year. He’s called a four-year-old stallion down here, though only three biologically having been born in the northern hemisphere, six months before Australian four-year-olds. This means he comes in carrying a kilo less weight than southern 4YO Anamoe.
A major difference, however, is while State Of Rest came in and out with his Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien, El Bodegon’s owners have transferred him for his Cox Plate campaign to an Australian-based (Kiwi-bred) trainer in Chris Waller. He knows a bit about winning big races – he took last week’s Caulfield Cup with Durston, and last year’s Melbourne Cup with Verry Elleegant, and has won the Cox Plate a ridiculous four times! Even more ridiculous, it was with the same horse, a mare by the name of Winx.
With a perfect barrier – four – Anamoe has a golden chance to improve on his close second to State Of Rest as a 3YO last year (when he should have won on protest regardless of which Fox Sports correspondent had a reasonably large bet on him that day) and as always it’ll be must-watch viewing.
There’s also a high quality meeting at Randwick in Sydney, highlighted by the $2m G1 Spring Champion Stakes (2000m), where Caulfield Guineas placegetter Elliptical heads the market; the $1m Callander-Presnell (1600m) headed by Caulfield Guineas winner Golden Mile; and The Invitation, a $2m 1400m race for fillies and mares headed by Icebath, who was second to Anamoe at the same track two runs back.
It’s not the 100th edition. And, even though it was first run in 1922, last year’s wasn’t either. Because it was held over two divisions in 1946, back when odd things used to happen, the centenary staging came in 2020. But in any event, the Cox Plate is the one which always gets the racing purists in a frenzy.
Let’s take a look.
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WHAT IS IT?
Class-wise, it’s consistently pretty much the best race Australia has, and regularly one of the finest in the world, according to the international ratings people. (It was equal 15th on official world rankings last year, Australia’s equal-No.1 with Randwick’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes).
The Melbourne Cup is of course Australia’s grandest phenomenon, racing or anything, but the Cox Plate can lay claim to being this turf-mad country’s highest-quality race, since it’s held under weight-for-age. That’s the scale devised to eradicate the hiccups of handicaps, so that horses carry weights according to their age, not their form, or the judgement of handicappers, so that the best horse may win. That’s why some of the best horses you’ve heard of have won this one.
A Group 1 for three-year-olds and up, the race is named after W.S. (William Samuel) Cox, an entrepreneurial man who in 1883 founded the club and track where the event is run, Moonee Valley. Cox had bought the land from a man who’d bought it from “Long” John Moonee.
Affectionately known as “The Valley”, it’s a quirky little rectangular course, only 1800m in circumference. Flemington, by contrast, is a big old place, 2400m around and with a long home straight of 420m, as opposed to the Valley’s 180m dash to the line. Hence, a lot of horses who might like Flemington don’t fancy the Valley, especially the big, long-striding ones. Conversely, there are the much-loved “Valley specialists”, who excel here.
While the Valley is often a challenge for horses, especially at their first try, it does have a friendly, spongy surface and cambered turns to help horses negotiate its tight corners.
And the Cox Plate is held over probably the best, most testing, distance in racing – a mile and a quarter – in which horses need both those ingredients of speed and stamina more than any other. (A mile and a quarter is more like 2000m. The Valley runs this over 2040m, to use the full length of its home straight at the start).
The field jumps from the top of the straight and it’s a jostle for positions, often at high speed, before the first tight turn after 200m. Things usually stay fairly calm up the Dean Street side and over the back, but then heat up down the School Side. From the 800m to the 600m, passing the country’s most famous educational institution (to racing fans anyway) – Moonee Ponds Central School – the runs start to come, bearing down to the home corner, before the run to the line and a place for one horse among the very best in this country’s history.
WHAT’S IT WORTH?
$5 million. The winner will take home $3 million, and there’s strong incentive just to make it into the race, with second prize $900,000, and even eighth bagging $100,000.
WHEN’S IT ON?
Stop everything this Saturday at 5.10pm.
WHERE CAN YOU WATCH IT?
At the course in Melbourne’s inner north, on Racing.com, Sky Racing or Channel 7. You can also huddle round the family wireless, or follow the day live on foxsports.com.au.
BEST BARRIERS: 6 with seven winners in the past 32 years – including State Of Rest last year; 11 has had five in that time, 7 has had four. Worst barriers: 8 has had no winners in that timeframe (nor have 12 and 14).
AGE: In the 21 runnings since 2000, six-year-olds and four-year-olds have won seven times each, five-year-olds and three-year-olds three apiece.
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Since setting up in Australia in 2008, the Godolphin operation of Dubai’s racing-mad ruler Sheikh Mohammed, and its conjoined Darley breeding wing, has produced and raced some very fine horses. Anamoe might just be the best of them so far.
He’s superbly bred, being by Street Boss, a very potent son of Winx’s dad Street Cry, and from a strong female family. And he showed he was headed for the top early on, running placings in the country’s biggest 2YO races – the Golden Slipper and the Blue Diamond – then winning another juvenile G1 in Randwick’s Sires Produce Stakes.
The question is always: Can they carry it on at three? Anamoe has, and then some. Last spring he won the stallion-making Caulfield Guineas, in very tenacious style, then stepped up for his first test at 2000m – always a big question – and should’ve won the Cox Plate. He crossed a lip second to State Of Rest after the latter bumped into him repeatedly up the straight. His jockey Craig Williams lodged a protest, stewards spent an extremely long time deliberating, and ultimately decided not to take the race off the Irish visitor.
No matter. Anamoe has become even better this year, winning the important G1 Rosehill Guineas in March, and then coming back from his winter break to win three G1s on the bounce, most notably the aforementioned Might And Power Stakes at Caulfield.
It’s now pretty safe to call Anamoe Australia’s best horse over more than a sprint distance, using official world rankings. Nature Strip, the sprinter who conquered Royal Ascot this year, is the world’s third best horse overall, with a rating mark of 126. The next Australian name is Anamoe, in a large group sharing 22nd spot on 121. In there with him is Zaaki, but now aged eight, and having had to settle for third behind young bucks Anamoe and I’m Thunderstruck in the Might And Power Stakes, you feel he’s clinging to that ranking rather than surging up the list.
Or might the Annabel Neasham-trained former English galloper be able to land a late killer blow, like a 1978 Muhammad Ali or 2022 Joel Sellwood? Zaaki was at very short odds for this race last year before being scratched on race morning due to an elevated temperature. This campaign the gelding has only won a 1400m G2 against a small Sydney field, before thirds against the bigger boys in the two Melbourne G1s that were warm-ups for this – the Underwood Stakes and the Might And Power. He’ll be primed for this race, and fitter for his last run, as he seeks to put the younger pups in their place.
Similarly, Gold Trip – a surprise late entry for this after his second in the Caulfield Cup – will be out to make up for last year. He was imported from Britain with the Cox Plate his main goal, but was controversially scratched late on when official vets deemed him to be suffering lameness. His trainers refuted this, saying those vets were misled by the way the horse walked, but were overruled.
I’m Thunderstruck nearly beat Anamoe in the Might And Power yet is only around fourth-favourite for the Cox Plate, largely because last start’s 2000m presented a distance doubt, and this one’s that 40m further. But he’s a five-year-old gelding you underestimate at your peril.
Mr Brightside won six in a row last year from starts three to eight, took Randwick’s prestigious G1 Doncaster in April, and won his first two of the spring at G2 level to be tagged a budding champion. He’s then run fifth in the Underwood (1800m) and fourth in the Might And Power (2000m) against most of this lot to raise some questions, particularly about this distance, but did run the fastest last 400m and 200m in the second of those, the Might And Power, to imply he’s being brought alone nicely for this grand final.
Alligator Blood is an enigma who’s made some of the wrong sort of headlines, involving unfulfilled potential and an ownership dispute solved when his breeder Gerry Harvey, of the Harvey Norman world, stepped in to buy most of him three months ago. He led and hung on impressively in the Underwood (which featured this race’s “Super Six” minus Anamoe), but then led and faded to fifth in the Might And Power. That raises serious distance doubts, but you also can’t underestimate his trainer Gai Waterhouse, and her training partner Adrian Bott.
And then, from outside the circle, comes El Bodegon, the stallion by the formidable British sire Kodiac, who’s only lightly raced by our standards, but has a French G1 title to his name alongside three wins and five placings from nine starts.
There’s a couple of other locals from outside the big six who could spoil the party, notably Maximal, who was scratched from the Caulfield Cup for the hope of a drier track in this. And Annabel Neasham – the expat Brit who only started training, in Sydney, a couple of years ago – has three starters in Zaaki, Numerian and Mo’unga.
The barrier draw has made it interesting. Chances like I’m Thunderstruck and Mr Brightside will likely go back from wide gates. Thus, they’d like a fast tempo, so that the leaders grow tired in the home straight. The pace in a Cox Plate is usually fairly strong, but this time Tim Clark will certainly cross and lead on Alligator Blood, and with that horse suspect at the trip, Clark may seek to set a slower tempo, which favours front-runners. Anamoe, from a perfect gate four, will likely be in the front half dozen, and be very hard to run down.
The prediction of rain may add another dimension by bringing wet form into it as well, but quite simply, this is one of the most exciting Cox Plate fields in years, and this amazing race has had quite a few of them.
FIRST WINNER: Violoncello (1922)
LAST WINNER: State Of Rest (2021)
FAMOUS WINNERS: Just about all of them. But let’s keep it to Phar Lap (twice), Ajax, Hydrogen (twice), Rising Fast, Redcraze, Tulloch, Gunsynd, Dulcify, Kingston Town (thrice), Bonecrusher, Might And Power, Sunline (twice), Northerly (twice), Makybe Diva, So You Think (twice) and of course, the one and only four-time winner, Winx (2015-2018).
OTHER MAJOR RACES ON THE DAY
INGLIS BANNER – 1000m, Race 1, 12.10pm: A scamper for this season’s fresh batch of two-year-olds worth $500,000.
FILLIES CLASSIC – Group 2, 1600m, Race 5, 2.35pm. A $300,000 race for some quality three-year-old females.
SCHWEPPES CRYSTAL MILE — G2, 1600m, Race 6, 3.10pm. Some good types going around in this $300,000 event, including Tuvalu, Gentleman Roy, Visinari and Callsign Mav, a G1 winner two starts back.
DRUMMOND GOLF VASE – Group 2, 2040m, Race 7, 3.45pm. Some smart three-year-old colts going around mostly with the hope of progressing to the VRC Derby – a filly set for the Oaks – both over 500m longer. There’s Berkeley Square, a deserved short favourite for this and second-fave for the Derby next Saturday, J-Mac’s Virtuous Circle, Godolphin’s Pericles, and the filly Jenny
Jerome from the successful Paddy Payne stable.
MOONEE VALLEY GOLD CUP — G2, 2500m, Race 8, 4.25pm. It’s not the most fashionable way, but it’s one of the last chances Melbourne Cup contenders have to secure their ticket into that big race. It’s also had a major prizemoney boost this year to $1m. Some Big Cup winners have come through this event, like Michelle Payne’s mount Prince Of Penzance in 2015. This year it features Persan – back in form after some middling runs after his fine fifth int he 2020 Melbourne Cup. There’s also Grand Promenade, who was sixth in last year’s Melbourne Cup, and Chris Waller’s in-form pair Desert Icon and Francesco Guardi.
THE COX PLATE FIELD
1. ZAAKI (Starting gate: 1) Approx PointsBet win/place odds: $4.60/$2. FOR: Is a seasoned campaigner at this top WFA level, with no doubts about the trip, having won up to 2200m. Has the perfect inside gate from which he should take up a forward position, saving ground and making others work to his outside. Top jockey in Jamie Kah, and goes well in all types of going. AGAINST: Has had his colours lowered by four of his opponents here when third in his past two starts, and you wonder if, at eight, his really best days are behind him, and you need those days to win a Cox Plate. Perhaps his big window was last year, when scratched on race morning as a raging fave due to an elevated temperature. Will likely give the younger punks something to worry about, but can he hold them out? Anamoe has the same international rating – 121 – but carries a handy 1.5kg less, and is four years younger. Soft: 7:2-1-1; Heavy: 3:2-1-0. Each way.
2. I’M THUNDERSTRUCK (10) $11/3. FOR: Ability and heart. This 5YO has marked himself perhaps the best of his year with a string of gutsy top-level wins, and has more fight in him than most. Scotched doubts about 2000m last start when just pipped late by Anamoe in the Might And Power. Handled Moonee Valley comfortably in winning his only start here in good company last year. Handles wet or dry. Great jockey in Mark Zahra and a gun stable. AGAINST: He can get 2040m, but can he cover it as strongly as Anamoe? Especially since he’s drawn wide in 10, and will need luck to not be caught wide and cover even more more ground. Tactics will be crucial. Zahra would likely have hoped to be well ahead of Anamoe entering the short home straight and try to hold him out. But their respective gates make that unlikely, setting this horse the onerous task of running Anamoe down. Soft: 6:3-2-1; Heavy: 3:1-1-0. You wouldn’t write him off, but each-way best.
3. ALLIGATOR BLOOD (12) $21/$5. FOR: Has loads of talent on his day and in the care of the Waterhouse-Bott team, who have a knack of cajoling horses into doing what’s not expected. He’ll lead (theirs always do), and try to hang on. Has a great front-running jockey aboard in Tim Clark. AGAINST: Tried to lead in his first go up at 2000m in the Might And Power, and weakened at the end to finish fifth. Moonee Valley, with a shorter straight, might suit that agenda better, but this high quality race is also 40m longer. Plus he’ll have to burn up petrol from the widest gate to get across and lead, and his wet form is average, if the rain comes. Soft: 5:1-1-0; Heavy: 1:0-0-0. Place best.
4. MR BRIGHTSIDE (11) $15/$4. FOR: This bloke has a ton of ability, shown in his Doncaster win last April. He’s having it put to its sternest test this spring. He passed with flying colours winning his first two of the campaign, then came fifth and fourth amidst the “Super Six” going round in this. Was doing great work at the finish in that fourth, his first try at 2000m. Has Craig Williams aboard, pumped up from his win in the Everest (and with $310,000 in his kick for that minute-and-a-bit’s work). Trainers have added winkers (mini blinkers), which should be a plus and he’s won two from two at this horses-for-courses track. AGAINST: The wide gate’s not great. He was likely to settle in the back half of the field anyway, but now might have to ease to last. He will be making ground at the finish, but doubtful he can come from behind Anamoe and beat him, for one. Soft: 8:5-1-0; Heavy: 1:1-0-0. Each way.
5. MO’UNGA (9) $21/$5. FOR: Bit of a forgotten horse, who was a good fourth in this race last year, and who’s been running solidly if not winning. Best guide was his second two starts back in the Underwood, making good ground from the back after a solid pace was set up front. Strong, experienced jockey aboard in Nash Rawiller. AGAINST: Found it harder to sprint at the end when last of the eight in the Might And Power, after a slower pace was set. It could be similar in this, and he’ll go back again from the wide gate. Hasn’t won in 10 starts and wet form not the best. Soft: 6:1-0-1; Heavy: 2:1-0-0. Place only.
6. GOLD TRIP (7) $21/$5. FOR: From the all-conquering Maher-Eustace stable, who know what they’re doing, including – they hope – the substantial issue of dropping a horse down from the 2400m of his superb second in the Caulfield Cup to the 2040m here in just a week. Good middle barrier from which he should find an optimum spot in running. Also has blinkers added this week, which should sharpen his focus and help with that distance drop. Suited at WFA. AGAINST: That change back from the Caulfield Cup to this. It’s rarely even attempted, let alone done with success, especially as a late change of mind. The last horse to win the double was Northerly in 2002, and it’s doubtful Gold Trip is up to his exceptional level. Also hasn’t raced at Moonee Valley. He was about to, in this race last year, before his controversial scratching by stewards. He was being prepared for the Cox Plate then, not the vastly different task of a 2400m race as he has been this campaign, and had a tough run in the Caulfield Cup. Soft: 9:1-3-2; Heavy: 3:0-1-1. Place only.
7. LAWS OF INDICES (3) $41/$10. FOR: Former Irish stallion who has John Allen in the saddle, the expat Irishman with a great knack for wining G1s, including this race last year on State Of Rest. Astute trainer in Annabel Neasham. Great inside barrier, so Allen should find his desired spot in running. Tuned up with a second in the G1 Toorak Handicap, his best run in 10 in Australia. AGAINST: Not much of a winner, with two placings from those 10 Aussie runs. Won a G1 in France, but that was over 1400m. Rises from 1600m for his first crack beyond that distance, which is always a tough step up. Soft form OK, but heavy form not so much. Soft: 7:3-1-0; Heavy: 7:0-0-2. Others preferred.
8. YOUNG WERTHER (2) $34/$8. FOR: Inside gate and a great big day jockey in Damian Lane, who won this three years ago. Is a lightly-raced 5YO, thanks partly to injuries, and he’s caught the eye with placings in several major races, including four G1s. AGAINST: Despite those placings, he doesn’t scream out “Natural born winner”, especially in a race of this standard. His only win in his 14 starts came in his first race – a lowly Geelong maiden (for horses who haven’t won yet), two years ago. Wet form moderate. Soft: 4:0-2-0; Heavy: 0:0-0-0. Probably not.
9. MAXIMAL (5) $91/$20. FOR: British import with superb bloodlines, being by the great sire Galileo, and now prepared by gun Sydney trainer John O’Shea. Mostly struggled in his first year here but showed he might’ve acclimatised with last start second in the G1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m). AGAINST: Hasn’t raced at Moonee Valley, and his Turnbull second was behind Smokin’ Romans, who then disappointed in the Caulfield Cup. Doesn’t handle the wet, and in fact was scratched from the Caulfield Cup for that reason. He was being prepared for the 2400m of that race last Saturday, now has to change course back to 2000m. Soft: 3:0-1-0; Heavy: 0:0-0-0. Placing would surprise amongst this lot.
10. ANAMOE (4) $2.20/$1.10. FOR: A great deal. Best jockey in the world aboard. (James McDonald has an official IFHA jockeys’ rating of 124. Next best is Britain’s Jim Crowley – on 72!) Great trainer in James Cummings. He’s at peak age as a 4YO stallion, has many great wins to his name, and should’ve won this race last year but for the stewards dismissing his protest. On top of this, has drawn perfectly in gate four. Handles the wet. AGAINST: Very little. Granted, that was said about short-priced Caulfield Cup favourite Smokin’ Romans last week, and he came only seventh. He had a bigger field to contend with though – 18 compared with 12 here – and his jockey got a bit blocked. Soft: 7:5-2-0; Heavy: 3:1-1-0. Extremely hard to beat.
11. PROFONDO (6) $51/$12. FOR: Decent barrier. Strong bloodlines, being by champion Japanese sire Deep Impact. Is a lightly-raced 4YO stallion with a G1 win over 2000m to his name at three. AGAINST: Hasn’t kept up that vibe from his 3YO season. Last start ninth in the 2000m Turnbull. This is his first race at Moonee Valley. Wet form poor. Soft: 3:0-0-1; Heavy: 2:0-0-0. He’s a horse that makes you think, profoundly. The main thought is “What’s he doing here?”
12. EL BODEGON (8) $8/$2. FOR: Is the dark horse/foreign raider/European smokey of the field, sent out for this race after three wins and five placings from nine starts. Last start was a third, pretty well beaten, behind current Melbourne Cup favourite Deauville Legend over the longer 2385 at York, England. But his one G1 victory was over 2000m in France. Goes well in the wet, has the veteran Damien Oliver in the saddle, who’s won this twice, and Chris Waller’s now his trainer. Handles the wet. AGAINST: That ever-present fear with Europeans that it’s his first look at Moonee Valley – a far tighter course than anything in Europe. Doesn’t have a great barrier considering that. And you hate to say it, but while Oliver’s been one of our best ever, he’s 50 now and since August 1 has 11 winners from 123 rides at 8.9%. Those two Cox Plates of his came in 1997 and 2001. Soft: 6:2-2-2 Heavy: 1:1-0-0. Each way.
TIPS: 1. ANAMOE, 2. I’m Thunderstruck, 3. Mr Brightside, 4. Zaaki.