Can you be an animal activist and still support horse racing? In short, yes.
I believe the greatest thing in sport is a champion racehorse, which makes Saturday’s WS Cox Plate at Moonee Valley a must-be-there event for me.
Winx is a champion. Hartnell threatens to be one. They are going to sort it out in the greatest race in Australia. It’s irresistible.
The Melbourne Cup is the biggest race in the country, but the Cox Plate is the greatest.
I’ve been to many editions of each and they are both magnificent, but for different reasons.
The cup is an event, an occasion. It has the tradition and it gets the people in – most of whom take little or no notice of racing for the rest of the year. It can’t be matched by any other race on any of those scores.
To be at Flemington on the first Tuesday in November is simply an amazing and so very Australian experience. It’s a privilege.
The plate is the heavyweight championship on four legs. It is generally where the greatest horse of his or her time in this part of the world truly establishes its superiority.
Not every year is it won by a champion, but the best horses of the time are usually there on the day.
Think recent winners like Winx, last year, So You Think, in 2009 and ’10, Makybe Diva, in 2005, Northerly, in 2001 and ’02 and Sunline, in 1999 and 2000.
Fiorente, Pierro, Haradasun, Starcraft and Lonhro are just some of the horses who ran it in and couldn’t win it during that time.
Some people say the Moonee Valley track itself is a knock on the race, that the weight-for-age championship of Australasia should be decided at Flemington, or Randwick.
I say the Valley makes it the race that it is.
The small track, tight turns and short straight combine to turn it into a magnificent tactical race in which the pressure over the last 800 to 1000 metres is enormous.
It’s the quick or the dead from there.
Watching it live at that unique amphitheatre of a racecourse, you’re so close to the action you can’t help but feel connected to it.
If you love horse racing, it’s the most personal experience you can get.
I sometimes think which sporting events around the world during my time that I didn’t see would I most love to have witnessed.
As a huge Muhammad Ali fan it would be easy for me to put one of his greatest title fights, either the Thrilla in Manila against Joe Frazier or the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman, at the top of the list.
But always at number one is Kingston Town’s third Cox Plate, in 1982. The Valley would have really been rocking that day. What a race it was. What a win by still the greatest horse I’ve seen.
As soon as Hartnell’s connections decided they would head for the Cox Plate rather than the Caulfield Cup with their horse, it set this race up as a potential classic.
Before that it looked like Winx had the race at her mercy, but now it’s not so clear. I still think she’ll win, but she’s going to have to beat the biggest contender to her crown as the nation’s number one horse to do it.
There is, of course, still the possibility that neither will win it, that something will knock them both out. It is, after all, a race, where many factors can come into play, and there are several other damn good horses in the select field.
But a win by Winx would make the day and also create the possibility of her coming back as a six-year-old mare next year to try to do what Sunline couldn’t and win three in a row.