There are two meetings to look at on Sunday, with Gunbower and Newcastle getting my attention.
We’ve had enough time to capture our breath after the spectacular feats of Incentivise in the Caulfield Cup and the electricity of The Everest, and now we turn our attention to the 101st running of the Cox Plate.
A fascinating field has been assembled with the gloss coming off a couple of favourites after some last start disappointments, a champion three-year-old emerging to stake his claim, and two lightly raced internationals sure to make their presence felt. What a race it promises to be.
Jockey: James McDonald
Trainer: Annabel Neasham
Not many six-year-olds arrive onto the Australian racing scene and take it by storm the way Zaaki did earlier this year.
He didn’t win either of his first two races in the Sydney autumn, but he went to the Queensland carnival shortly thereafter and peeled off three wins in a row, including a seven-length demolition in the Doomben Cup that saw him installed as Cox Plate favourite.
Was he going to be a flash in the pan up in Queensland, beating the likes of Homesman, Toffee Tongue and Fifty Stars, or could he take on the cream of the crop in the Melbourne spring?
He returned in Sydney with a stylish win over Aramayo, who went on to go down in the Epsom by a nose, before travelling down to Melbourne. He never looked completely comfortable while still winning the Underwood Stakes at Sandown, and went even worse in the Might and Power Stakes at Caulfield when Probabeel was able to turn the tables.
Theories are starting that Zaaki doesn’t appreciate the Melbourne way of going, even though he did win left-handed in Europe. But if he doesn’t love it, Sandown has the most generous turns and Caulfield can be tricky, but Moonee Valley is even more demanding.
Some were in love with his work at the track on Tuesday morning, but I wasn’t one of them. He was still pulling, reefing and hanging a bit for mine. You just have to wonder if he hasn’t fully settled into Victoria and has been a bit cranky with the whole experience.
Zaaki is going to have plenty of admirers, and was backed into $2.60 from $2.80 on Tuesday. If you think he’s going to deliver his best, then he’s probably the only horse in the race that can make it a one-act affair. If you think it’s too much to respond off a poor Caulfield run and he isn’t going to improve at the Valley, there’s certainly value to be had elsewhere.
Jockey: Daniel Moore
Trainer: Leon McDonald and Andrew Gluyas
Dalasan is arguably the most underrated high-quality galloper currently in work. While he’s never won a Group 1, he’s run a placing at the highest level four times and has finished top five a further five times.
This year alone he’s run third in the Doncaster, Queen Elizabeth and Epsom at starting prices of $31, $41 and $14.
In the Queen Elizabeth, the last time he was seen at a mile and a quarter, he was less than a length behind Addeybb (four Group 1 wins around the world) and Verry Elleegant (nine Group 1 wins), and behind him were the likes of Cox Plate and Tancred winner Sir Dragonet, All Star Mile winner Mugatoo, and dual Group 1 winner and fellow competitor here Mo’unga.
While it feels like he’s been around forever, Dalasan is only five years old, and as an October foal has only just turned that. It’s often underrated how much a horse can improve from four to five, and we can argue that this horse might have done just that.
Dalasan’s 1600m-2000m record is very good, and his third in the Epsom last start suggested he is ready to peak fourth up here at the Cox Plate distance. He can put himself in the race and will do so from a perfect draw, and has proven that he won’t lie down when it gets tough. He’s over the odds in a big way.
3. Gold Trip
Jockey: Damien Oliver
Trainer: Ciaron Maher and David Eustace
Gold Trip has been the street-corner tip of the Cox Plate international runners for a few weeks, particularly since Zaaki was beaten a fortnight ago and it was clear Incentivise would focus only on the Cups double. He’s trying to follow in the footsteps of Sir Dragonet last year, who also came into the care of the Maher and Eustace stable not long before the big race.
This horse has only won one race from his ten starts, remembering that he is only a four year old by Australian standards, but has already tested himself against the best in the world when tackling the Arc a year ago. He was beaten just over two lengths in that event, behind a horse that was rated one of the best in the world.
Off the back of that alone, Gold Trip arrives as one of the best credentialled international horses to contest the Cox Plate. Unlike the other international, State of Rest, who has only seen wet ground once, Gold Trip has only seen dry once. He is comfortable and accomplished when the cut is out of the deck, which may well be the case on Saturday.
In Gold Trip’s run before arriving in Australia, he was beaten a length by the strong Irish horse Broome, who has form around Sir Dragonet and Anthony Van Dyck (second in the Caulfield Cup last year). Tying all that together, it’s easy to see why he was targeted for Australia and this race.
4. Callsign Mav
Jockey: Luke Nolen
Trainer: John Bary
With the retirements of Melody Belle and Avantage, and allowing for the fact that Probabeel hasn’t raced in New Zealand in almost two years, Callsign Mav is the current Kiwi weight-for-age star, having recorded three Group 1 wins across the Tasman – two of them this preparation at his last two starts coming into the Cox Plate.
He is another that has continued to improve at four and five, and was on the heels of Melody Belle and Avantage a couple of times last season, claiming the latter’s scalp once. It’s not easy to bring that New Zealand form to Australia and beat our horses at WFA, as those two mares found out more than once.
Callsign Mav has only been to 2000m once before, where he was well beaten as favourite, which is another question mark. He’ll go forward from barrier five and try to control the race at a moderate tempo, unless he gets taken on by Zaaki or Captivant. He looks a deserved outsider.
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Trainer: Annabel Neasham
While Zaaki and Incentivise are older horses that have stamped themselves stars during the course of 2021, Mo’unga is the rising star of the racing scene as the four-year-old that has bridged the gap between three-year-old success against his own age to already be a genuine WFA contender.
His unlucky Randwick Guineas second and subsequent Rosehill Guineas win earlier this year showed off his electric turn of foot, but he wasn’t quite seasoned enough in the Doncaster and Queen Elizabeth to tackle that class of horse.
He resumed this campaign with a Winx Stakes win over Verry Elleegant, suggesting he was going to be a force to be reckoned with. His second in the Makybe Diva Stakes was arguably even better, and certainly as close as anyone has got to Incentivise in a long time. He was very good with a big weight and a wide run in the Epsom last start.
He’s a class horse, Mo’unga, and is building a very nice career. Whatever he produces on Saturday, you can almost guarantee he’ll be better next year.
6. Verry Elleegant
Jockey: Damian Lane
Trainer: Chris Waller
Verry Elleegant has been Australia’s middle-distance champion for almost two years, a nine-time Group 1 winner that has taken on and often beaten the best horses the world can throw at her. And while she does have a major to her name with the Caulfield Cup, the winner of six weight-for-age races doesn’t yet have the Cox Plate on her CV.
She has raced in the Cox Plate once before, when she wasn’t the star she is now, and started $21 before being well beaten by Japanese gun mare Lys Gracieux. Two years later she’s back, but there is a niggle about whether she’s still at her absolute best.
Verry Elleegant was beaten first-up in the Winx Stakes, a race she won last year, by Mo’unga. Second-up she got her win, but took everything to get past Riodini at WFA – that horse then flopped in the Epsom when carrying only 51.5kgs on his back. Tying in those formlines alone, you’d prefer Dalasan and Mo’unga to her.
She then started $2.10 favourite again Incentivise in the Turnbull Stakes, on her favoured soft track, before running fourth. It was the first time she’s missed a place in soft or heavy conditions in 18 months, and the first time she’s ever missed the quinella at 2000m or beyond from seven starts on the wet.
Did Damian Lane ride her too close to a strong tempo in the Turnbull? Probably so. While she can race on the speed when they are not rattling along, she’s also proven she can sit midfield or worse and blend into the race. From barrier nine of ten runners, Lane will have a tricky decision to make about where he settles the mare, but if the forecast rain falls it will be right up her alley.
Jockey: Brett Prebble
Trainer: Jamie Richards
Probabeel returns for her second crack at the Cox Plate after her seventh-placed finish last year. While she still beat more home than beat her that day, she wasn’t at her best on the shifting ground that Sir Dragonet plowed through on the way to victory.
While her class carried her a long way on wet tracks as a three-year-old filly, her only Group 1 win that season won on the good. As an older mare, her good track record stands at 9: 6-2-0, including three wins at the highest level.
The last of those wins was in the Might and Power Stakes two weeks ago, a mighty effort at Caulfield where she flew past the struggling Zaaki and held off Nonconformist in a driving finish – that’s the horse that ran a magnificent second to Incentivise in the Caulfield Cup last week.
Many had doubts about Probabeel at 2000m, but she’d never tackled the distance on dry ground before, so she’s ticked that box now. And beating Nonconformist especially, now proven as strong as 2400m, says it was all merit to her at the end.
Here’s the rub though – more rain is forecast as we get closer to Saturday, and if it happens during Friday night’s Manikato Stakes meeting the ground will cut up further. That will all but remove her chances. On a good track, though, she’s right in the game.
8. State of Rest
Jockey: John Allen
Trainer: Joseph O’Brien
State of Rest is the second international runner of the field, a northern hemisphere three-year-old in the mould of Adelaide, who won the Cox Plate in 2014. That horse received the benefit of a brilliant and bold ride from Ryan Moore taking off early and circling the field to win a blanket finish.
State of Rest is coming off a Group 1 win in America, similar to what Adelaide did, and the acceleration he showed in that race suggests he has more than enough quality to mix on Australian turf.
Given he’s only had eight starts, it’s hard to draw much more of a line on him, and arguably the biggest thing to recommend him is his trainer, Joseph O’Brien. The son of Aidan (who trained Adelaide) already has two Melbourne Cups to his name at the age of 28, and has proven that when he brings horses to Australia, they are here to win.
Similar to Probabeel though, Head of State’s best efforts have all come on dry ground. The only time he’s ever run poorly in his short career was on a heavy track a year ago in the UK. Again, if the rain comes, he’s going to be hard to have. If not, he’s a genuine threat.
Jockey: Craig Williams
Trainer: James Cummings
What a star Anamoe is already, despite not much being handed to him on a platter.
The Golden Slipper and Blue Diamond are the two biggest races for two-year-olds, and the Golden Rose and Caulfield Guineas are the two main races at three.
In the first two he drew barriers 13 and 15, the widest and second-widest respectively, before producing clearly the run of the race both times to finish in the placings. In the Golden Rose he drew awkwardly again and had to race against an on-pace bias before just failing to win. In the Guineas, despite drawing 13 of 15 and going back again, he finally got his major and recorded the fastest Guineas time in history.
Here we are in another major, this time a Cox Plate, and once again he’s been handed the widest barrier. What does Craig Williams do?
When we think of three-year-olds that win Cox Plates, they go forward. Shamus Award and So You Think led and won. Savabeel sat third. Viscount, who probably should have won if not squeezed by Northerley and Sunline in 2001, sat second.
Miss Finland went back in a winnable Cox Plate as a three-year-old filly and got buffeted. God’s Own was the same. It’s just not the right recipe for a younger horse with a light weight on their back.
Going forward hasn’t been Anamoe’s go up to this point in his career, but this might be the race for Godolphin to chance their arm. If not, he’s going to be behind a lot of high quality horses and have to make one hell of a move to round them all up. He may well be up to it.
Jockey: Dean Yendall
Trainer: Peter andamp; Paul Snowden
Captivant is the second three-year-old in the race, and after drawing barrier one for the fourth time this campaign will almost certainly go forward and hold a position in the second pair. While not a natural on-pacer as such, he has shown in the past he can do it and run competitively, and it would present him with his best chance of winning the race.
He has mixed his form a bit this preparation, and was okay in the Golden Rose without doing anything to recommend him for the Caulfield Guineas. But getting to 1600m for the second time in his career saw him produce a career peak – yes he won the Champagne Stakes as a two-year-old, but this Guineas second to Anamoe was better.
There’s nothing about Captivant’s pedigree that suggests he should be a 2040m horse, but there’s nothing there that suggests he should be at his best at 1600m either. Yet he’s now proven at both two and three that stepping up to that distance is what he is after, so how far can he go.
Still, the face remains that he’s met Anamoe three times, and that colt has had his measure each time. It’s fair enough to think the same again here, but the light weight keeps him in the game. Manhattan Rain wasn’t the horse So You Think was either, but they ran the Cox Palte quinella as three-year-olds in 2009.
Good track: 1.State of Rest 2.Anamoe 3.Probabeel 4.Dalasan
Soft/Heavy: 1.Gold Trip 2.Anamoe 3.Verry Elleegant 4.Dalasan