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2014 Cox Plate: It's time for a Champion to step up to the plate

Previous winners of the Makybe Diva Stakes include Dissident, in 2014. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
24th October, 2014
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1259 Reads

Two out of every three runnings of the W.S. Cox Plate have been won by champions. Since we’ve already forgotten the names of the last three winners, it must be more than time for a champion to win on Saturday.

Who were they again? Oh yes, it’s coming back to me. Shamus Award. Ocean Park. Pinker Pinker.

They were all very well, but you wouldn’t put them in the same paddock as So You Think, the last real champion to win the race, in 2009 and 2010.

Yes, it’s about time for a legend to go onto the winners’ list if the Cox Plate is to maintain its reputation as the greatest weight-for-age race in Australia.

Not nearly as old and venerable as the other two super races of the Australian spring, the handicap Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup, the Cox Plate can boast a much higher strike rate by recognised champions.

Reel them off just from memory. In recent decades, Sunline, Northerly – both of them twice – Makybe Diva, Kingston Town three times, Might and Power, Saintly, Octagonal.

I think I’d include Fields of Omagh, with two wins, as a champion.

And the rest. What great names. Super Impose. Better Loosen Up. Rubiton, Bonecrusher, Red Anchor and Strawberry Road.

They carry a heritage that leads you back along the high road of Australian racing history. The scenery takes your breath away. Gunsynd. Tobin Bronze. Tulloch. Rising Fast. Carbon Copy.

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I could go on. Tranquil Star, twice. Flight, twice. Right back to Phar Lap, twice. Nightmarch, Amounis, Manfred and Heroic into the 1920s when the race began.

So, please, can we pull out a champion to win the race in 2015?

The problem is that not one of them in the field truly deserves that status. Yet.

The small print is that a win in the Cox Plate can confer champion status on a horse that has not previously proved the point. A win on Saturday could elevate one of the contenders to that pinnacle.

Fawkner is the one who could do it. The grey seven-year-old ticks many of the boxes already. He’s won and been placed in 17 of his 24 starts. He has two Group 1 races to his name, both at Caulfield, including last year’s Caulfield Cup.

But Fawkner can handle Moonee Valley too. Placed at three of his four runs here, he won a 1600 metre race at the Valley earlier in his career, in the spring of 2011. His jockey Nick Hall has an affinity with the horse.

Fawkner has shown a special liking for Flemington with five wins there and a near miss in the Group 1 Emirates Stakes. His sixth in the Melbourne Cup last year was full of merit and he should finish closer in the big race this year.

On the harsh measure of comparisons with the likes of Might And Power, Sunline or Northerly, I can’t rate Fawkner as a big ‘C’ Champion yet. If he wins the Cox Plate and places in the Melbourne Cup, of course I will.

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I am yet to be convinced he is quite up to the quality of his fellow grey, raced in the same interests a few years ago, Efficient. The 2006 Victoria Derby win by Efficient was one of the most impressive I’ve ever witnessed, and it was no real surprise to see him take the following year’s Melbourne Cup.

Yet Efficient ran unplaced in the Cox Plate ahead of the Cup, won by El Segundo – a good horse but no champion. Efficient was kept so much out of trouble during the running that he never really had a chance of getting into the finish.

Because of injuries and because he was raced too sparingly we never really got to acclaim him as the champion he deserved to be.

I don’t quite see Fawkner in the same class. I’d love to be proved wrong.

As for the rest of the field, good as they all are, every one of them would need a win in the Cox Plate to begin the process of sanctification.

Yes, Sacred Falls has won two Doncasters in Sydney, but both were on heavy tracks. Zac Purton will be full of confidence after the Caulfield Cup that the spring could be his, whatever he rides.

And yes, the English horse Side Glance won the Mackinnon on the bigger track at Flemington after a meritorious introduction to Moonee Valley this time last year. Since then he and his successful English jockey Jamie Spencer have been notching up frequent flyer points internationally without quite managing a win together anywhere.

And yes, again, wouldn’t it be a thrill to see the little Tassie battler, The Cleaner, lead all the way and win. In terms of rags-to-riches, The Cleaner could force his way into the Champion league by reputation if he could win the Plate.

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The three three-year-olds in would be hoping to emulate So You Think and start earning their champion status with this race.

I’m not saying they can’t do it. Nor would it surprise to see the other two horses trained by Chris Waller win – Foreteller and Royal Descent.

Happy Trails, Guest of Honour, Criterion and Silent Achiever all have their claims.

All I am saying is that even a Cox Plate win by any of them won’t quite elevate them into my book of Australian champion racehorses.

What about Adelaide? Just as an English horse called Australia could win the English Derby, so an English horse called Adelaide could win a Cox Plate and become an Australian champion at Melbourne’s Moonee Valley.

We are looking at an unknown quantity here, for Adelaide is a four-year-old stallion who has only had seven starts for three wins, never yet unplaced. He’s raced already in four countries – Ireland, England, France and the United States.

I’m not mesmerised by the fact that Aidan O’Brien of Ballydoyle is the trainer, though naturally impressed. He doesn’t win everything when he travels. as his four unsuccessful tilts at a Kentucky Derby have proved.

But I’m a bit more mesmerised by jockey Ryan Moore who is listed to ride Adelaide. Is it something about the Moore name – he is not related to all the famous Moore jockeys – that brings out the killer instinct in the saddle?

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I was certainly mesmerised by Moore’s English Derby win on Workforce in 2010. He’s won another Derby since then.

His fifth-placings on Dandino in last year’s Melbourne Cup and on Mount Athos in 2012 – Moore’s first ride in Australia – both had a hint of over-confidence. Some will say that Moonee Valley will be a test for a first-time rider there, but he’ll be fine.

Ryan Moore currently has a 33 per cent strike rate, meaning he is winning one in every three rides.

Adelaide, the horse, nearly won New York’s Belmont Derby back in June, in a smart time, and in August won a 2000 metre race at Arlington, Chicago. A third at Longchamp in Paris six weeks ago was supposed to freshen him up for his Australian adventure.

Our racing world is changing all the time, as Admire Rakti told us with his win in the Caulfield Cup. I wonder how Fawkner would have gone (had he still been three) in the Belmont Derby.

If Adelaide has travelled well, he must be hard to beat. If Ryan Moore wins, we’ll have another name on the roll of Cox Plate champions.

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