How good will Saturday’s $4 million Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes be?
One only has to go to recall last year’s edition when the English horse Addeybb thrashed Verry Elleegant with the very good Japanese horse Danon Premium third.
Having been a keen racing enthusiast since my late teens, I argue that the top 2000m WFA races are the highlights of the racing season as such horses that excel have exceptional top speed and stamina.
With such qualities, top Australian 2000m WFA horses over the years have often excelled in shorter distances on their way to peak fitness in their targeted 2000m event.
Multiple Group 1 2000m winners like Vo Rogue and Rubiton also won WFA events at 1200m early in their preparation, while Winx and Let’s Elope have started seasons with wins over 1400m.
This is in contrast to many top English horses over the 2000m distance who race mostly around their prime running distance.
For example, Sir Dragonet, who struggled badly over 1400m and 1600m in Australia this preparation before returning to form over longer distances, had never raced at a distance shorter than 2000m in England and Ireland.
I have seen many great 2000m horses over the years.
At my first Cox Plate, I was in awe of the big horse Family of Man launching himself off the bend to win the 1977 Cox Plate.
The easiest Cox Plate win I ever witnessed was by Dulcify who won the 1979 race by seven lengths before breaking down in the Melbourne Cup.
Years later, Dulcify’s jockey Brent Thomson, who also rode some of the best horses in Europe, stated that Dulcify “would have been right up there with the best over a mile and a quarter (2000m)”, and that he had doubts that Kingston Town would have won three Cox Plates if Dulcify had still been around.
One of my favourite 2000m races involving Dulcify was the 1979 Australian Cup when my favourite sprinter Manikato, who won many group 1 WFA races from 1200m to 1600m, led to the finals stages before being run down by the great Dulcify.
Of course, the great Kingston Town did become one of the great Australian turf champions by winning three Cox Plates (1980, 1981, 1982), along with many other WFA races from 1600m to 2400m in both Melbourne and Sydney.
His record would have been even more imposing as injury caused him to miss the 1981, 1982 and 1983 autumn carnivals.
The next 2000m great horse over 2000m I watched many times was the front runner Vo Rogue who won WFA races over distances from 1200m to 2000m during the 1988-1990 period, albeit most of his wins were during Melbourne’s Autumn carnival when the tracks were generally hard.
I first noticed Vo Rogue in the Autumn of 1987 when he won the 2000m Creswick Handicap at Flemington by eight lengths, before he broke the Moonee Valley 2040 metre record when winning the Allister Clark Stakes.
Vo Rogue also ran fourth in the 1987 Cox Plate (behind the top horse Rubiton) after leading by 20 lengths, setting up another track record.
From 1988 to 1990, however, Vo Rogue won many WFA races during Melbourne’s Autumn carnival, although he did suffer one shock defeat in the 1988 Australian Cup in the much-heralded ‘match race’ with the 1986 Cox Plate winner Bonecrusher when the longshot Dandy Andy caught Vo Rogue near the line.
Vo Rogue won the 1989 and 1990 Australian Cups over 2000m when leading, beating home multiple Group 1 champions of the calibre of Super Impose (the 1992 Cox Plate winner), Our Poetic Prince (1988 Cox Plate winner), and Better Loosen Up.
Better Loosen Up was also a very good 2000m horse who won the 1990 Cox Plate, 1990 Japan Cup, and the 1991 Australian Cup when beating Vo Rogue by five lengths. Here he is winning the 1990 Cox Pate, coming form well back.
Another excellent 2000m horse was the mare Let’s Elope whose brief career in Australia included a seven-race winning streak that landed myself some of my biggest ever winning bets back in the good old days before family life tempered my gambling with more moderate bets, probably a good thing.
Having won the 1991 Melbourne Cup at the generous odds of 4-1 (won by three lengths), after winning the WFA Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) and Caulfield Cup (2400m), she came back in the 1992 Autumn to win a few WFA races before winning the Australian Cup (2000m) easily.
Here, Let’s Elope storms home to win the 1991 Mackinnon Stakes, days before her easy Melbourne Cup win.
In the 1992 Australian Cup, at the generous odds of 7-4 odds due to a misguided plunge on the stablemate Shivas Revenge, Let’s Elope lobbed along last before her trademark blistering finishing burst (last 800m 46.6 seconds) to win in a track record two minutes flat.
While wet tracks affected her spring return, she also beat Better Loosen Up in the famous match race at Caulfield before running in the Cox Plate won Super Impose where she was relegated from second to fifth for cutting off the unlucky Better Loosen Up.
It was this race that led Bart Cummings to describe the Cox Plate as the best race in Australia on the worst track (Moonee Valley), something I tend to agree with given Monee Valley’s very short straight which can often not suit big striders who prefer a longer straight to balance and build momentum.
The next 2000m superstar I saw was Might and Power.
As a four-year-old, Might and Power won the 1997 Caulfield Cup by 7.5 lengths in a course record before holding on to win the Melbourne Cup by a nose from the 1995 winner Doriemus after leading all the way and carrying 56kg after receiving a record 3.5kg penalty.
Some of his best 2000m wins at WFA included winning the 1998 Queen Elizabeth Stakes by 10.5 lengths when defeating some other good horses such as Juggler, Champagne and Intergaze (winner of the 1997 and 1999 Queen Elizabeth Stakes).
Might and Power also won the 1998 Cox Plate in a course record after leading most of the way.
Northerly was another great 2000m horse, albeit mainly in Melbourne, and probably the toughest horse I ever saw with his grinding wins in big races.
At the WFA level, Northerly burst on to the scene in the 2001 Australian Cup (2000m) by just over three lengths in course record time of 1:59.4, despite racing three wide.
With regard to the 2001 Cox Plate, Northerly won narrowly when defeating the great mare Sunline who won two Cox Plates herself. Having a substantial bet on Northerly, I was both relieved and surprised that he survived a protest from the jockeys of both Sunline and Viscount.
In the 2002 Cox Plate, a week after winning the Caulfield Cup carrying 58kg, Northerly again won beating a field that included Sunline, Fields of Omagh (who went on to win the Cox Plate in 2003 and 2006), and Lonhro who won many WFA 2000m races including the 2002 and 2003 Caulfield stakes, the 2002 Mackinnon Stakes and the 2004 Australian Cup.
Northerly also won the 2003 Australian Cup by four lengths before injury hit him.
While Makybe Diva came into WFA racing late in her career, her WFA efforts were outstanding when winning the 2005 Australian Cup in a still standing track record of 1:58.73, and the 2005 Cox Plate.
Of the few top Australian 2000m horses to venture overseas, none were better than So You Think who won the 2009 and 2010 Cox Plates.
After his third in the 2010 Melbourne Cup behind Maluckyday and winner Americain after winning the 2020 Mackinnon Stakes, So You Think was sold to Coolmore Stud to race in Europe.
What an incredible horse.
Finally, I recall the great Winx who, despite never running overseas, was an incredible horse over 2000m winning four Cox Plates (2015-2018) and three Queen Elizabeth Stakes from 2017 to 2019.
While Winx was at her best on wet ground, probably due to her efficient stride (6.76m) that has been estimated to be much shorter than other champions (8.5m for Black Caviar and Phar Lap), she was also most impressive when winning the 2018 Queen Elizabeth Stakes on a good track by nearly four lengths after being near the tail approaching the turn into the home straight.
I have never been interested in rating the top horses above or below each other.
Rather, I have enjoyed watching all of these very good 2000m horse as they come along.
On Saturday, we will witness another great 2000m race between top horses, including Addeybb, Verry Elleegant and Sir Dragonet, a race which may indeed rank amongst the great 2000m races given that all three horses are already Group 1 WFA winners at the 2000m distance.
I look forward to the race as the highlight of the sporting week.