When the third Bledisloe Cup test kicks off this Saturday evening, tv viewers across the ditch are likely to have their eyes elsewhere. That’s because at exactly the same time, at Moonee Valley racetrack in Melbourne, the Cox Plate is due to begin.
First run in 1922, the Cox Plate is run over 2040 metres. It has Group One status (the highest level) and is for horses aged three years old and over. Total prize money is AUD $5 million and it’s known as ‘The Race Where Legends Are Made.’
A legend is already in the line-up. Winx, the seven year old homegrown mare appears on a racecourse for the 39th time. Since May 2015, she has won an incredible 28 races in a row, including the last three instalments of the Cox Plate, which have seen a record 8 length victory in 2016 and a course record last year.
Winx is a genuine Sporting Superstar. With official Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, this week saw the release of an official biography. In the last few days, this week’s Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been photographed holding a can of Winx official beer and the leader of the opposition Bill Shorten has been posing for pictures with Winx’s previous Cox Plate silverware. It’s good for business to be associated with a winner.
This time around, seven horses oppose her. Winx is unsurprisingly a short priced favourite to extend her sequence of wins. The main challenge appears to be from Benbatl, a four year old colt, trained primarily in Newmarket, England, by Saeed bin Suroor, the head trainer for the Godolphin racing empire, which is owned by the Maktoum family; otherwise known as the Royal Family of Dubai.
Benbatl won the Group One Caulfield Stakes a fortnight ago over 2000 metres, and was just half a second outside the course record. His trainer confirmed that he and the owners have had the Cox Plate in mind since January, when the horse was in Dubai, a common winter home for this stable. Bin Suroor has been bringing horses to Australia for 20 years and said:
‘He’s the best horse we’ve brought out. He’s a class horse. But the superstar Winx is in the race (the Cox Plate). It’s hard to beat her. She’s the best of the best.’
Humidor looks to be next in line behind Benbatl. A six year old trained by Darren Weir, he was runner up to Winx this time last year, and third to Benbatl in the Caulfield Stakes. Connections are quietly confident; no-one dares to say they can or will beat Winx in public.
In terms of New Zealand interest, Riccarton’s four year old Savvy Coup takes her place in the lineup. Savvy’s trainer, Michael Pitman, underwent surgery for bowel cancer less than three weeks ago, but will be making the trip to Melbourne. Last time out on 6th October, she won the Group One Livamol Classic in Hastings over the Cox Plate distance. After that victory Michael said:
‘I might not get there myself but the horse will. I’m having an operation but I’ve said all the way along if we win the Livamol we’re going to the Cox Plate.’
Although an outsider, she’s a Group One winner and undoubtedly deserves her spot in the race.
When all is said and done though,the stage is set once again for Winx, arguably Australia’s greatest ever horse. Form says she will win again but you just never know. If she does, a nation will celebrate. If she doesn’t, then a nation will be in shock. Either way, I don’t think that the Bledisloe Cup will get a look in.
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