Another superb day of racing is coming up this Saturday with Moonee Valley featuring the famous (and my favourite of the BIG three) WFA championship of the spring - the Cox Plate. The Cox Plate has attracted a quality field with a mix of tried and true WFA performers and young upstarts. More about that later.
Moonee Valley Racing Club have decided this year to run the Manikato Stakes the night before the Cox Plate. I remember that some years back it was the first Group One race of the Spring racing carnival in mid September, but these days racing clubs change races around at will to fit some vision they have for their club. I don’t intend to go to Manikato Stakes night, preferring daytime racing. The daytime Cox Plate meeting has a better race card with several fascinating Group Two and Three races occurring before the big event.
The Manikato Stakes however does look to be an interesting race, with Sydney mare Sea Siren making her first appearance this spring. She won the BTC Cup/Doomben 10,000 double in the autumn, defeating Buffering in the latter by a short margin. These two will clash again in the Manikato Stakes. Buffering is in excellent form, winning his last two starts, .and has the edge, as he’s raced and won at Moonee Valley recently, whereas Sea Siren has not raced in Melbourne ever, yet with her weight advantage Sea Siren may give Buffering a damn good run for the money. Also in with a chance are Bel Sprinter another with winning Moonee Valley form, the always competitive Satin Shoes, Hallowell Belle and Ready to Rip who ran second to Buffering in the Moir Stakes recently.
So on to Cox Plate day…
The first of the Group races is Race 4, the Group 3 Telstra Phoneworks Stakes, a race over 1200 metres for three year olds. Chosen Moment and Hidden Warrior look the top picks, the former having the benefit of Craig Williams in the saddle. It appears to be an evenly talented field with a number of chances – last start winner Cavalry Rose for one, Stars In The Sky also, and South Australian Essay Raider for another.
Things heat up in Race 5, the Group 2 Mitchelton Wines Vase, run over the Cox Plate distance of 2040 metres and also for three year olds. Unbeaten New Zealand star It’s A Dundeel is the top pick and pretty well a dead cert winner (touch wood). He’s having a practice run before tackling the Victoria Derby the following Saturday. Viking Star, If I Could and Super Cool appear to be the next best dressed and could run a place.
The Group 2 Drake International Cup (formerly the Moonee Valley Cup) is run over 2500 metres and is for stayers still trying to qualify for the Melbourne Cup. I must admit I find the field for this race a tad uninspiring. You’ve got the unpredictable Precedence again, Moudre who finished 14th in the Caulfield Cup last week, Reuben Percival. also ho hum, Ibicenco an International runner from the Luca Cumani stable, and probably the pick of the litter along with Midas Touch who has a bit of form in recent races though nothing spectacular.
Race 6 the Crystal Vase is a completely different and more classy Group 2 race run over 1600 metres. Though only 7 runners have accepted it looks to be a very interesting race. Toorak Handicap winner Solzhenitsyn is the one to beat. Good old Rangirangdoo is top weight, but on his day he is very competitive, like his recent second to his stable mate, Shoot Out, in the George Main Stakes and moreover he won this race in 2009. The consistent Ambidexter cannot be overlooked and Tokugawa has won at Moonee Valley in the recent past.
The Cox Plate will be run slightly earlier this year, so I can relax and not rush for the bus directly after the race as I had to do last year. The change from running the race at 5.35pm to 5.15pm has something to do with the Television coverage. The interval between races will be reduced to 35 minutes as opposed to the usual 40 minutes. Suits me fine as killing time between races can be a bit boring if you’re solo and not partying.
Let us now consider the Cox Plate…
A full field of 14 runners will compete in this powerhouse competition. It looks an excellent field this year with outstanding Group One performers like More Joyous, Green Moon, Shoot Out, Ocean Park, Sincero, Rekindled Interest and Southern Speed all in the mix. Then you’ve got the top three year olds of the year, Pierro, All Too Hard and Proisir in with a lightweight chance. I am torn between Green Moon and Ocean Park as my top fancies, and I would love it if old favourite Shoot Out scored an upset win. He ran in this race in 2010, finishing 4th behind So You Think. Gai Waterhouse is having a disappointing Melbourne spring carnival, with none of her top racehorses scoring a win so far, so I dare say she is hoping one of her three runners can win this prestigious race.
If Pierro hadn’t been beaten in the Caulfield Guineas, I would understand why he is the favourite for this race. At the moment I find it really puzzling. He has never run past 1600 metres and he has not raced in open company before. However, his grandsire Octagonal, who also failed to win the Caulfield Guineas won the Cox Plate in 1995 at the age of three. I was there that day and remember the race vividly. Also, Pierro’s sire, Lonhro, ran in the race in 2002 and 2003, running 6th and 3rd respectively. Remember Helmet last year? He was one of the favourites for the 2011 Cox Plate after winning the Caulfield Guineas and though he ran a game race, he did not feature in the finish. And he didn’t win or place in a race ever again.
The other three year olds All Too Hard and Proisir could be given just as much chance as Pierro, with All Too Hard being the better of the two, no matter what Gai Waterhouse thinks.
The weather on Saturday is expected to be around 17°C with a few showers clearing. The track should be rated good to dead and excellent for racing. I expect the crowd to be large, but as Black Caviar is not part of the action this year, maybe not as crowded as last year.
Whatever the weather and the crowd, I’m really looking forward to seeing my favourite racehorses in action and maybe getting some good photos of Shoot Out in particular.
What a fab day at the races! Full of interesting events and not too crowded, at least where I was standing at the top of the straight. New Zealand star Ocean Park won the Cox Plate overtaking All Too Hard just before the line, with Pierro running third. It’s the first time a New Zealand horse has won the Plate since Sunline in 2001.
The other New Zealand star It’s A Dundeel, a striking and attractive colt, was beaten for the first time in his career by Super Cool.
I’ll write a fuller account of my day at the races soon, with more photos.