By Kristen Manning
Considered Australia’s premier test of weight-for-age class, the $3 million W.S Cox Plate (Aus-I) boasts a long and proud history—won by some of the real heavyweights of Australasian racing from the legendary Phar Lap in 1930 and 1931 to last season’s star So You Think, who also won the big race on two occasions.
More often than not, as the championship for the season, there is a stand-out competitor in the Cox Plate, maybe two. But this year’s running sees a particularly even field with a 3-year-old the early favorite.
Last season’s second best 2-year-old after Sepoy, the Peter Snowden trained/Darley-owned Helmet put on a brilliant display to claim the Caulfield Guineas (Aust-I) two weeks ago—surviving a hectic early pace to lead throughout.
An eye-catching chestnut son of Exceed And Excel, Helmet has a bit of history to overcome with the last nine Caulfield Guineas winners to have contested the Cox Plate failing to place. The last winner of both races in the same season was Red Anchor in 1984, considered one of the finest 3-year-olds Australia has produced.
The Caulfield Guineas has provided Cox Plate winners, however, with horses such as So You Think and Octagonal running well in that race before claiming victory at Moonee Valley.
The biggest concern for many seems to be the 2,040 meters, and Helmet has yet to race beyond the mile. Even Snowden is wary.
“It’s a tough race,” he said. “He is going up against older horses for the first time at 2,040 meters for the first time.”
Helmet—a strong, scopey athlete—has considerable weight advantage over his more seasoned rivals, however, and Snowden is very happy with the horse’s condition.
“He came through the Guineas as good as he has ever been,” Snowden said.
Barrier 11 for an on-pacer may be tricky but Snowden feels Helmet can be versatile. “He doesn’t have to lead,” he said. “He’ll be handy and how far forward depends on the pace of the race. That light weight is going to kick in somewhere and hopefully it’s in the last 600 meters.”
Vying Helmet for favoritism is New Zealander Jimmy Choux, who impressed local racegoers with a tough Rosehill Guineas (Aus-I) victory back in March.
In stellar lead-up form in his home country, the John Bary-trained 4-year-old has won grade I races in his last two starts and while barrier 10 is not ideal, Bary feels there is an omen attached.
“The last horse to come from 10 and win was Bonecrusher (1986) and the All Blacks [New Zealand's national rugby team] won the World Cup that year, so it could be a big weekend for New Zealand sport if he wins the Cox Plate.”
The Jim Conlan-trained Rekindled Interest firmed in markets after a favorable barrier draw (3) and an outstanding piece of work at Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning.
“He worked the place down,” said stable representative Rod Douglas after the 4-year-old finished clear of Jimmy Choux in his gallop.
“His preparation has been perfect,” added Conlan. “Right from day one he hasn’t put a foot wrong, and he loves this track—he seems to get up on the bend and come of it sharply.”
A horse purchased from overseas with the Cox Plate in mind, Glass Harmonium is yet to race at Moonee Valley but trainer Michael Moroney has taken the steely grey to the track several times over the past few weeks and has been happy with his work.
Known as a leader, Glass Harmonium breaks from an ideal gate (4) and he can, however, take a sit, said Moroney. “He found himself leading in many of his races because there was no speed. He is always slightly slow out of the gates and then he musters speed. I would like to see him sit just behind the leaders.”
Moroney is confident that the 6-year-old’s race experience and consistency places him in good stead. “He is a tough, tough horse,” he said.
Blinkers will be added to the gear of another leading Cox Plate fancy, New Zealander Lion Tamer.
A disappointing second last as favorite in the Caulfield Stakes at his most recent outing, the Murray Baker trained 4-year-old had been impressive defeating subsequent Caulfield Cup winner Southern Speed in the Underwood Stakes (Aus-I) in his previous start.
It is not often that handicap form is held in high regard for the Cox Plate but up-and-coming mare Secret Admirer has her fans after her strong Epsom Handicap (Aus-I) victory.
One of those is trainer Graeme Begg, who feels that a strong pace will suit his charge.
“She’ll get off them a little bit and hopefully she’s strong at the finish,” Begg said, happy with the barrier draw of 8 and with the daughter of Dubawi’s work at the track. “She got around very well and she was relaxed which is very important for her because all the way through her career she has been a filly very anxious in her work and as a result we only do short, sharp work with her.”
Black Caviar’s trainer Peter Moody saddles up King's Rose, a former New Zealand-trained mare who has been one of the finds of the Melbourne spring—winning the Memsie Stakes (Aus-III) and the graded Stocks Stakes (at Moonee Valley) before a gutsy second in the Toorak Handicap (Aus-I).
“She had a month between runs before the Toorak and I expect her to take good improvement from that run,” said Moody. “I am looking forward to the race because her form lines are as good as any and she has won at Moonee Valley and over 2,000 meters”
Legendary trainer Tommy Smith holds the record for the most number of Cox Plate wins with seven, but his famous daughter Gai Waterhouse is yet to win it.
Other Cox Plate runners of interest include come-back galloper Efficient (the 2007 Melbourne Cup winner who has had just the two runs back from a two-year injury enforced spell), popular Wyong galloper Sincero (an 11-time winner from 17 starts), consistent mare Pinker Pinker (to be ridden by Caulfield Cup winning jockey Craig Williams) and tough Western Australian Playing God.