Maldivian sails home in the Cox Plate.

Maldivian sails home in the Cox Plate.

Mark Gatt

Maldivian Annexes Australia's Cox Plate

There was Aus$3 million up for grabs when the field lined up at Moonee Valley racecourse on Oct. 25 in the 10 furlong W.S. Cox Plate (Aus-I).

The visiting New Zealand mare Princess Coup was the favorite, followed brilliant multiple group I winning 3-year-old filly Samantha Miss. Zipping, who has finished fourth in the past two runnings of the Melbourne Cup (Aus-I), was sensationally backed just half an hour before the race to win it also.

And then there was Maldivian, the fallen idol of Australian racing who this time last year was being hailed the best stayer seen in Australia for 20 years. His campaign was cut short when a freak accident in the barriers as a short priced favorite to win the group I Caulfield Cup, forced his withdrawal. He required several stitches and we didn’t see him for several months. When he did come back he wasn’t the same horse so trainer Mark Kavanagh sent him out for another long spell. He finally resumed in August with this race in mind as his main mission, but in six starts since resuming he hadn’t won – and he failed to stay in last week’s group I Caulfield Cup over 12 furlongs too - so many punters thought he wasn’t the horse he used to be.

His form probably supported that claim and he went into the gates at 10-1 odds.

But cream has a way of rising to the top and wearing blinkers for the first time in his life, 6-year-old gelding Maldivian (Zabeel-Shynzi by Danzig) was sent straight to the front by his regular rider Michael Rodd – who won last year’s Melbourne Cup on Efficient.

Apart from a momentary bit of madness by recent group I Epsom Handicap winner Theseo, who charged forward for about a furlong to pester Maldivian, before realizing Maldivian’s designs were to stay on the top end, Rodd managed to slow the tempo down in front lobbing along at his own pace.

“When I was allowed to do that, I knew he’d take running down,” said Rodd.

As they sprinted three furlongs from home, Maldivian was swamped by several runners for a few strides – but he was on the fence and still in front. On the home bend, he was asked to really roll and kicked a length clear of the chasing herd. Princess Coup, who was ridden by her New Zealand jockey Opie Bossom, was back near last early in a slowly run race. The mare had never been to the track before and Bosson had never ridden in a Cox Plate before. Both these things went against her and she was set an impossible task – in the end beating just two home.

Zipping (Danehill-Social Scene by Grand Lodge) ran a cracking race for second. His rider Dan Nikolic, recognizing the speed in the race was muddling, set him alight around the outside of the field with four furlongs to run. He was on the winner’s back coming to the turn and ground home in gritty fashion. Samantha Miss (Redoute’s Choice-Milliyet by Zabeel) was attempting to be the first 3-year-old filly in 32 years to win the Cox Plate. And she looked a big show coming to the bend when she loomed up to Maldivian. But this was her first race on the track, her first race against older horses, her first race over this distance, her first race with Glen Boss in the saddle and her first race going this direction. It was a terrific run under the circumstances but her run of five wins on the trot (two at group I level) came to an end – still, she was far from disgraced in finishing third.

But it was emotion charged Mark Kavanagh’s day. He could barely talk to the press after the race. Tears rivaled smiles after the win. “This means everything to me because of what this horse has been through,” he said. “Today was it. We had nowhere to go. I knew there was a top horse in there but we had to do something to make him come out and the blinkers were pretty much my last resort.”

Rodd won Maldivian’s only other group I race about 12 months back and he has been up and down with this bold horse.

"The Cox Plate has always been the race I put up there, probably in front of the Melbourne Cup, because the best of the best win the race," Rodd said. “So it is an enormous thrill for me to win it and especially on this horse. It is just amazing. I have had everything to do with this horse this preparation. I don't know what to say. It is just a dream. The run we had in front could not have been better as we were left alone around the back and that’s what got him the win I think."

Maldivian has now won $2,541,550 from his 8 wins and 10 placings to date. He’s had 26 starts, Zipping, however has had 32 starts and his earnings now march up to $1,935,695 from his 11 wins and 8 placings, while the youngster Samantha Miss has won $1,129,000 from her 6 wins and three placings.

Incidentally, in a day Kavanagh and Rodd may never forget, their boom 3-year-old Whobegotyou (by Street Cry) won his fifth race from seven starts when brilliantly winning the group II Aami Vase Stakes over the Cox Plate distance. He ran over a full second faster than Maldivian did – and Whobegotyou is now a raging hot favorite to win next Saturday’s group I VRC Derby at Flemington.