Eight high-class runners will accompany Sunline on the occasion of her final race on Oct. 26. It is fitting the career send-off for the long-serving New Zealand champion will be in the Cox Plate (Aust-I), Australia's weight-for-age championship an event she collected twice.
Her three-peat attempt fell short by three-quarters of a length when she was second to Northerly last year. A flurry of protests involving the pair and the third-placed 3-year-old colt, Viscount, followed the 2001 edition.
Sunline has drawn post four in her final attempt to win a 14th grade I event. A win would take her earnings past $14 million (Australian funds). The three-time Australian Horse of the Year and Greg Childs went from the same post in Sunline's first Cox win in 1999. The race is contested over 2,040 meters.
Godolphin entry Grandera goes from the post three Saturday, the same which housed last year's winner. Northerly is two slots wider and current favorite. Lonhro has drawn post seven. The last winner from there was Strawberry Road in 1983.
Bel Esprit, attempting to become the first 3-year-old winner since Lonhro's sire Octagonal seven years ago, came up with post two. Dehere's son Defier, a potential knockout horse, has post six.
No Emirates World Series winner has yet contested the Plate, but Grandera is the current series leader with 24 points. Apart from the local talent, which includes champions Sunline and Northerly, the major obstacles facing Grandera are the tight oval and the crowd.
As well-travelled as the Grand Lodge 5-year-old is, he will find the confines of Moonee Valley claustrophobic compared to most courses he has experienced, as the raceday gates are close to a packed crowd. Moonee Valley has an ampitheater quality, the stands far closer to the end of the shortest stretch in Australia, at 163 meters. The wall of noise can be intimidating to some horses.
The oval is tight, only 1,800m around. It would hold no fears for North American turf runners accustomed to tight courses inside the main track, but the four turns add a degree of difficulty for European horses.
Grandera finished fifth on less-tight oval in the Queen Elizabeth Cup (HK-I) at Sha Tin, although other factors night have also militated against him that day. Eishin Preston, the Japanese winner of the Hong Kong feature, had to miss the Cox because of quarantine difficulties. His presence would have rounded out this field beautifully, but it still unsurpassed in this part of the world.
Northerly arrives at his defense of the Cox on a streak without precedent in Australian racing, with wins in the four major weight-for-age events before last Saturday's [Oct 19] Caulfield Cup (Aust-I) triumph over .
The last horse to win a Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate in the same year was Tobin Bronze 35 years ago.
As the Cox countdown continues, rain is a possible additive to this historic mix. Apart from being unwelcome it would be ironic to the extreme with most of Australia in the grip of a drought.
Carlton Draught Cox Plate (Aust-I), 2,040 meters, Moonee Valley, Oct. 26.
Purse $3,000,000 (Australian funds). First $2,000,000 and trophies of $15,200 to owner $1,800 trainer $2,200 jockey $800 & strapper. For 3-year-olds and up. Standard weight-for-age.
No, Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Wgt., Odds
1--Northerly, Fred Kersley, Patrick Payne, 128, 3-1
2--Assertive Lad, Gai Waterhouse, Jim Cassidy, 128--66-1
3--Grandera, Saeed bin Surror, Frankie Dettori, 128, 6-1
4--Defier, Guy Walter, Chris, Munce, 128, 8-1
5--Fields of Omagh, Tony McEvoy, Damien Oliver--128, 14-1
6--Lonhro, John Hawkes, Darren Beadman, 125, 11-4
7--Ustinov, Bart Cummings, Steve Arnold, 125, 50-1
8--Sunline, Trevor McKee, Greg Childs, 122, 7-2
9--Bel Esprit, John Symons, Kerrin McEvoy, 107, 10-1
Listed in order of saddlecloth and pari-mutuel tote number, not by gate number as in North America.