2023 Cox Plate: runner-by-runner preview

24 OCTOBER 2023
Author

CAMERON ROSE

EDITOR

The 2023 Cox Plate is upon us, and while there may not be a hot favourite like Anamoe last year, Lys Gracieux in 2019, or Winx through her four year reign, rarely has there been a more intriguing betting proposition in recent years. If punters don’t warm to Romantic Warrior on the day, we could be seeing $4.50 or even $5 the field, with up to seven runners in single figures.

ROMANTIC WARRIOR

Trainer: Danny Shum

Jockey: James McDonald

Group 1 record: 1st Queen Elizabeth II Cup (twice), 1st Hong Kong Cup, 2nd Hong Kong Gold Cup, Stewards’ Cup, Chater Cup

Romantic Warrior was something of a divisive horse before his Turnbull Stakes run last start. One school of thought said that he was one of the best horses to ever visit this country, and would just win whatever he contested, while plenty of people were in the opposite camp, suggesting that he was a bit overrated and Hong Kong form rarely stacked up in Austraila.

He was sent out a $2.45 favourite in the Turnbull, carrying top weight of 59kg’s, and James McDonald got him into a nice position behind the on-pacers. It was certainly a swoopers race, but West Wind Blows did lead the field and stock on for second, while Gold Trip gave Romantic Warrior (and the rest of field) windburn from last.

Romantic Warrior is one of six horses in the field that hasn’t raced at Moonee Valley before, and mounting yard judges as well as the stable have said the horse will improve significantly from the Turnbull. The barrier draw will give him some chance to assume a box seat position, depending largely on what the three-year-old’s do, and we’ll get to see exactly what he’s got from there.

ZAAKI

Trainer: Annabel Neasham

Jockey: Damian Lane

Group 1 record: 1st Mackinnon Stakes (twice), Doomben Cup, Underwood Stakes, All Star Mile, 2nd Queen Elizabeth Stakes, All Aged Stakes, 3rd Caulfield Stakes (twice), Doomben Cup, Underwood Stakes

The old warhorse Zaaki has had a chequered history with the Cox Plate, scratched on the morning of the 2021 edition, and drawing barrier 1 last year when the inside was off due to persistent rain, before still running bravely to be beaten just over a length after leading the field along.

He comes into this race much fresher than he usually would for a grand final assignment, six weeks between runs, having run placing in the Winx Stakes and 7 Stakes over 1400m and 1600m in August and September. Perhaps having the freshness kept in his legs will prove a masterstroke, as he is usually a very good first-up performer.

Zaaki had no luck at the barrier draw, left with gate 12, and you’d imagine Damian Lane will try and shoot him out of the machine and try to tack onto Alligator Blood, depending on how hard that horse goes in the early stages. He’ll also be more than capable of taking up the running if need be.

MR BRIGHTSIDE

Trainer: Ben, Will & JD Hayes

Jockey: Craig Williams

Group 1 record: 1st Doncaster Mile (twice), All Star Mile, Makybe Diva Stakes, Memsie Stakes, Cantala Stakes, 2nd King Charles Stakes, Futurity Stakes

Mr Brightside finally had his colours lowered last start, after five wins in a row that included three Group 1’s and an All Star Mile. Fangirl dominated him in the King Charles Stakes, and a few factors seemed to be at play – the ground was very firm, he was a month between runs, and was perhaps now looking for 2000m rather than his specialist 1600m trip.

He has been tested only three times beyond 1600m in his 27 start career, all of them at this time last year when running in the Underwood Stakes, Caulfield Stakes and Cox Plate. He wasn’t disgraced in any of them, being beaten by an average of 2.5 lengths, but didn’t give any impression he was a true mile and a quarter horse either.

Can Mr Brightside run out a strong 2040m now? He’s certainly a better horse than he was last spring, and the extra year of training should help him too. It will be the big question mark for those backing him, and one that can only be answered in the final 400m on Saturday. From barrier two, he should camp just behind the speed and be given every chance.

ALLIGATOR BLOOD

Trainer: Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott

Jockey: Tim Clark

Group 1 record: 1st Caulfield Stakes, Underwood Stakes (twice), Cantala Stakes, Futurity Stakes, Stradbroke Handicap, Australian Guineas, 2nd Makybe Diva Stakes (twice), Caulfield Guineas

Similar to Mr Brightside, Alligator Blood has carried with him the suspicion that he wasn’t really a 2000m horse, despite running respectably at the distance and winning two Underwood’s at 1800m. He put those doubts to bed with a superb performance in the Caulfield Stakes last start, winning a brutally run race with authority.

Connections had the pick of the barriers for Alligator Blood, and chose five. He will be able to either lead on his own merits, with Zaaki crossing to sit outside him, or if Damian Lane on that horse decides to keep pushing forward, Tim Clark can take the trail.

He’s won five Group 1 races in his last 11 starts, with another couple of placings besides, and looks well placed to improve on his fifth-placed finish in the Cox Plate last year. If he produces the same performance on Saturday as he did at Caulfield two weeks ago, he’ll be right in the race.

GOLD TRIP

Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: Mark Zahra

Group 1 record: 1st Melbourne Cup, Turnbull Stakes, 2nd Caulfield Cup, Prix Ganay, 3rd Caulfield Cup, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, Grand Prix de Paris

What a mighty horse Gold Trip is becoming, or already has become. Having run in all of the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup last year, he is on track to do so again. Few have attempted it once this century, let alone twice in a row.

Gold Trip is in at least as good a form this spring as he was last season. Then, he ran a head second in the Caulfield Cup and won the Melbourne Cup, and in-between was unlucky on multiple occasions in the Cox Plate when beaten a tick under three lengths. This time around, he was a stunning victor of the Turnbull Stakes, and was a superb third under a big weight in a stronger Caulfield Cup than 2022.

He’ll be ridden patiently from barrier 8, and the quicker the speed in the race is will suit him more than any other runner. There’s a strong case to say Gold Trip could be the best horse in this race, he’s had a run at the Valley already this prep, and he’ll be strong at the end of 2040m when a few in the field are yet to be proven at it.

MY OBERON

Trainer: Annabel Neasham

Jockey: Jamie Mott

Group 1 record: 2nd Doncaster Mile, 3rd King Charles Stakes, Prix d’Ispahan

My Oberon is one of the least credentialed horses in the field, one of two that has not yet won a race at Group 1 level, but has shown enough glimpses of quality in his time to deserve his place in the field.

Cox Plate day last year was his first run in Australia, when relishing the heavy conditions to take out the Crystal Mile, and in the autumn we saw him run second to Mr Brightside on a wet track in the Doncaster Mile. He’s been running well on dry ground against top class opposition at his last few starts, including finishing third to Fangirl and Mr Brightside in the King Charles Stakes.

The 2040m of the Cox Plate may well test his endurance levels, but he’ll appreciate the natural cushion of the track even if there isn’t any rain around, but it would certainly help him.

PINSTRIPED

Trainer: Enver Jusufovic

Jockey: Ben Allen

Group 1 record: 5th Toorak Handicap, Australian Guineas

Pinstriped won his way into the Cox Plate field with a classy win in the Feehan Stakes last month. Attrition ran second to him there, and has since won the Toorak Handicap, while Tuvalu was third and has subsequently split Alligator Blood and Duais in the Underwood Stakes – so you don’t have to dig too deep to tie Pintriped form into this race.

He is facing a significant class rise however, and is also tackling a mile and a quarter for the first time, but he is a very, very honest horse who has seldom run poorly across his career. Ultimately though, he’ll be big odds and deserves to be.

FANGIRL

Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Zac Purton

Group 1 record: 1st King Charles Stakes, Winx Stakes, Vinery Stud Stakes, 2nd Chipping Norton Stakes, George Ryder Stakes, Golden Eagle, Winx Stakes

Fangirl has come of age as a five-year-old this season, having stepped out of the shadow of Anamoe. She ran four placings to last year’s Cox Plate winner across the 2021-22 season, as well as a second in the Golden Eagle to I Wish I Win.

Her first-up win in the Winx Stakes was well-deserved, and second-up in the 7 Stakes she was the run of the race despite finishing third, after Kerrin McEvoy got her into a horrible spot. Last time out she put in a career peak performance in absolutely bolting away from Mr Brightside in the King Charles Stakes.

Fangirl is yet to race at 2000m, but did win a Group 1 over 1850m as a three-year-old. It’s hard to read too much into that kind of win, and this is many classes above. There is a slight question mark on breeding, and she will have to do it in her first race at the Valley. Still, she may well still be on an upward spiral, and is one of only horses in this Cox Plate coming in off what you could call a career-best run.

DUAIS

Trainer: Edward Cummings

Jockey: Damien Oliver

Group 1 record: 1st Australian Cup, Tancred Stakes, Queensland Oaks, 2nd ATC Oaks, 3rd Caulfield Stakes, Underwood Stakes

Duais has become a non-winner since she struck a mini purple patch in the autumn of 2022 when taking out the Australian Cup and Tancred Stakes. Since then she’s had 12 starts without a victory, but to her credit has been in good form this prep, running on well in her races albeit without ever truly threatening.

She couldn’t reel in Alligator Blood in either of her last two starts, in the Underwood and Caulfield Stakes, even though the strong tempo of the latter should have played more in her favour than his. It’s hard to see her being good enough to beat this entire field, let alone from barrier one given her get-back style.

VICTORIA ROAD

Trainer: Aidan O’Brien

Jockey: Blake Shinn

Group 1 record: 1st Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf

Victoria Road is the more intriguing runner of the 2023 Cox Plate, being the only horse in the race where it will be his first start on Australian soil. He brings a similar profile to the race as the 2014 and 2021 winners, Adelaide and State of Rest, as northern hemisphere three-year-olds that come here with a Group 1 win in America under their belt.

The only real formline that we can tie into Australia is his last start when third in the Dillingham Park Stakes, a race where Buckaroo ran second. We saw that horse run in the King Charles Stakes behind Fangirl and Mr Brightside, beaten some five lengths.

Victoria Road is a very difficult horse to tie in, but these days the strike rate of the O’Brien’s when they travel to these shores is lethal. If he has acclimatized well, and continued to progress as a younger horse, then he is very hard to leave out of calculations. The betting on him late in the piece will tell a story.

MILITARIZE

Trainer: Chris Waller

Jockey: Zac Lloyd

Group 1 record: 1st Golden Rose, Champagne Stakes, Sires Produce Stakes

We didn’t see an Australian three-year-old in the Cox Plate last year, while 2021 saw Anamoe get nosed out in a protest off the back of his Caulfield Guineas win. 2021 also had Captivant run last and 2020 saw Grandslam run last as well. It’s been a mixed bag for that age group in the last few years.

Miltarize hits the Cox Plate with three Group 1 victories under his belt, and while he didn’t win the Caulfield Guineas as a very warm favourite, he was hardly disappointing given where he was in the run and the way the race panned out. He ran the quickest last 200m, 400m, 600m and 800m of the race, so could hardly have done any more than he did, and the way he hits the line along with his breeding suggests 2040m should be no problem for him. Is he good enough though?

His racing pattern has always been to get back, which is not usually a winning formula for three-year-old’s in Cox Plate’s, and connections chose barrier three, which does hint at a more positive ride. Debate will rage from now all the way up until start time whether he is a genuine winning chance or should be a 20-1 shot only.

KING COLORADO

Trainer: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace

Jockey: Michael Dee

Group 1 record: 1st JJ Atkins

King Colorado is the most lightly-raced horse in the field, having only had six starts, and is yet to run poor race. He won the JJ Atkins in the Brisbane winter, a carnival which has produced a lot of success in Melbourne this spring, and has put in three good but not amazing runs this spring.

First-up he was unlucky not to finish closer to Fangirl when taking on the older horses in the Winx Stakes, second-up he didn’t have the acceleration required in the 1400m Golden Rose but was still within two lengths of Militarize, and last time out he couldn’t reel in the leaders in an on-pace dominated affair.

Maher & Eustace will likely send him forward from a wide draw, given it will be their best chance of prizemoney, but he does look up against it compared to some others.

SUMMARY

Alligator Blood gets the chance to control the race from a perfect draw, while Zaaki will press forward too. Mr Brightside will certainly hold a position from an inside draw, Romantic Warrior wants a box seat position and James McDonald should be able to make that happen, while My Oberon could sit second or third pair from a kind gate. The flies in the ointment will be Militarize and King Colorado – they may want to make use of their light weights and also find a position near the speed.

Duais, Pinstriped, Fangirl and Gold Trip will be ridden patiently and hope they overdo it upfront, but if not we could see a repeat of 2005 and Makybe Diva’s famous “wall of horses” with horses taking off early, and Gold Trip would be the one most likely to make that work in his favour. Victoria Road was slowly away in his Group 1 win, and could end up awkwardly placed if he does so again here.

SELECTIONS: 1.GOLD TRIP 2.ALLIGATOR BLOOD 3.ROMANTIC WARRIOR 4.MR BRIGHTSIDE

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