It proved a winning recipe last year and punters are happy to stick with it again in this year’s Cox Plate to be run at Moonee Valley on Saturday. Last year Adelaide won the Cox Plate for Aiden O’Brien and Jockey Ryan Moore at only his eighth start. This year O’Brien and Moore will combine again with Highland Reed – who’ll be having only his tenth race start. Like Adelaide, Highland Reel was an impressive winner of the G1 Secretariat Stakes (2000m) in impressive fashion. He shares the top position in betting with Criterion at $5.50 each of two. Chris Waller’s trio of Winx ($6.50), Kermadec ($7.50) and Preferment ($13.00) are all well in contention whilst Arod is the only other runner under double figures at $9.00.
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1. CRITERION – M Walker (7)
He returned from Europe and off a seven week break, produced a strong win in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m), making it two wins and four placings from his last eight Group 1 races in Australia. Rounded them up in good style from the second half of the field last time out in what was the perfect trial for this race. The 5yo stallion ran seventh in this race last year, beaten 1.5 lengths by Adelaide and with the Caulfield win and run under his belt; can get even closer this year.
2. FAWKNER – D Oliver (14)
Excellent in winning the G1 Makybe Diva Stakes first up, and was only nosed out by Mourinho in the G1 Underwood Stakes (1800m), which made his sixth of eight in the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) an unexpected and worrying. He settled close to the speed at Caulfield but was the first under pressure as they rounded the home turn and like most in a similar position, really struggled in the straight. Very uncharacteristic performance last time out but not one you want to see heading into a Cox Plate. The wide draw only adds to the concern.
3. HAPPY TRAILS – M Zahra (13)
This will be “Roy’s” fourth Cox Plate and in his last two attempts, he has finished within a length of the winner when sixth (0.7 lengths) to Adelaide last year, and a head second to Shamus Award in 2013. He has followed the traditional path into this year’s event and after experiencing limited luck at several of his starts this campaign, ran a head second to Criterion at his most recent start in the Caulfield Stakes, where he chased him home from the back of the field. The 8yo gelding looks set for another competitive effort here; he’ll enjoy the solid tempo, has an in-form hoop aboard and loves the Valley. No reason to think he wouldn’t run a race.
4. HARTNELL – (3)
Held his ground after sitting on the pace when fourth (2.9 lengths) to stable-mate Complacent when first up in the Chelmsford Stakes (1600m). It was then a month before he raced again, producing a sixth (1.4 lengths) to Preferment in the Turnbull Stakes. Last and following the eventual winner, he looked a genuine place chance as they passed the clock-tower before not surprisingly, peaking late. Fitter again and is a talented horse.
5. MOURINHO – V Duric (12)
Winner of two of his three starts this campaign, including his most recent outing in the G1 Underwood Stakes (1800m). He secured the perfect run throughout from an inside gate, the sixth time from his last seven starts that he has drawn six or better, and toughed out well late to defy the late challenge of Fawkner, winning by a narrow margin. Winner of five from twelve starts at the Valley but will need to find a position on the speed early from barrier twelve, and with the pace expected to be solid, may have to do some work early to secure one.
6. THE CLEANER – N Callow (2)
Ran them along in last year’s edition of the Cox Plate before struggling the final 100m and running ninth (3.4 lengths). The popular Tasmanian 8yo has been in great form for this race, dominated his rivals in the G2 Dato Tan (1600m) here two starts ago, before only being bettered in the final few strides by Mourinho and Fawkner in the G1 Underwood (1800m). Will jump straight to the front from gate two and won’t wait to make his run for home either. He’ll give a great site, is as tough as his trainer Mick Burles, but like last year, may just find the last 100m in such a quality field, the big challenge.
5. PORNICHET – K McEvoy (11)
Led and took the in-form pair of Royal Descent and Kermadec to claim him in the G1 George Main Stakes (1600m), his third ran this campaign, before coming to Melbourne for the G1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m). He raced a bit keen going up the hill last start before settling on the leader’s back. He angled out into clear running top of the straight but likes those who also settled on pace and made their runs home closer to the fence, he struggled to finish the race off, crossing the line last of eight. Imagine he too goes forward early from a wider draw but has mixed his form a little this time in and hard to be confident about his chances her.
6. AROD – C Williams (5)
The 5yo stallion hasn’t raced since finishing a half-length second to Solow in the G1 Sussex Stakes (1609m) back in July. Solow was last weekend’s winner of the QEII. The lightly raced son of Singspiel has quickly built an outstanding record and although he regularly takes up the running in his races, jumping from gate five should see him get all the favours behind what will be a solid tempo. Hasn’t been over the 2000m for a while and when he last was, it was in weaker company earlier in his career however, that would be the only concern as otherwise, he gets every opportunity and recent form reads very well.
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7. COMPLACENT – (6)
Excellent all-the-way win in the G2 Chelmsford Stakes (1600m), beating Kermadec and Royal Descent, before being caught late by Preferment and Magic Hurricane – great form-line, in the G2 Hill Stakes when third (1 lengths). Most recent start saw him kick back after being headed by stable-mate Hauraki to take out the G3 Craven Plate. Maps well here and has winning/good form around him. Each-way chance.
8. GAILO CHIP – B Rawiller (9)
The son of Deportivo comes to Australia after registering a commanding four length win over seven rivals in the G3 (2000m) in France on a heavy track. That was his seventh career win from only twelve starts, four of which have been on slow or heavy ground. Beaten in each of his three Group 1 races in the past twelve months with a second to Solow (only four in the race) his best result at the level. Unless there’s rain, would be prepared to leave him out in such a competitive field.
10. KERMADEC – G Boss (10)
Settled worse than midfield and had plenty of work still to do inside the furlong when contesting the G1 George Main Stakes (1600m) however, the smart galloper still proved too good for the likes of Royal Descent and Pornichet, recording a half-length win. His only outing since saw him make his run home from the tail of the field with subsequent Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan, when fourth (1.4 lengths) to Criterion in the Caulfield Stakes (2000m). Run peaked a bit late but it was his first run over 2000m and he’ll be better for it and, it appears the strongest form reference for this race after last weekend, so he must be considered a good hope.
10. PREFERMENT – N Rawiller (9)
Last season’s VRC Derby winner has come back bigger and better than ever, recording excellent wins at his past two starts, the G2 Hill Stakes (2000m) and G1 Turnbull (2000m). He made a sweeping run in the G2 Hill Stakes and kicked back late when headed before finishing powerfully from the second half of the field in the Makybe Diva, beaten Royal Descent by a nose. Last two victories have been perfect trials for this with the only query being his ability to handle the tighter Valley circuit however, the pace on up front will help and the $13 on offer is very tempting.
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11. HIGHLAND REEL – R Moore (4)
Bolted in to record his fourth career win (from only eight starts) when a 5.3 length winner in the G1 Secretariat Stakes (2000m) at Arlington before a more than credible fifth of seven (3.8 lengths) a month later, to Golden Horn in the G1 Irish Champion (2012m). Stable and jockey won this race last year with only well-performed and lightly raced colt in Adelaide and no surprise to see they are sticking to the same formula here. Generally races on the speed so from gate four, will get a lovely trail off a good pace and prove extremely hard to beat.
12. WINX – J Bowman (1)
Made it two outstanding wins from as many starts this campaign when overcoming plenty of trouble on the home-turn of the G1 Epsom Handicap to claim the Randwick feature by a convincing 2.3 lengths. That was four wins on the trot for the four year old mare, two at Group 1 level, and with Bowman, the inside draw and a great turn of foot, she’s more than capable of continuing to build on that record here.
RACE OVERVIEW –
Real good speed here with The Cleaner, Mourinho, Arod and Pornichet all likely to go forward and be kept honest by Highland Reel, Complacent and Hartnell. Going with Criterion her after having a closer look at his Australia Group 1 record – which is outstanding – as was his first up win in the Caulfield Stakes. He finished close up behind Adelaide last year and going better this time around. Highland Reel gets the perfect run and we have benchmark to which to judge him by in last year’s winner – and he shapes up very well. Hartnell represents great value here for mine. Gets a great run and will be better for the having the Turnbull run – only the second of his campaign. Of those swooping – Preferment is going to well to leave out and Winx – not sure we know just how good she is yet, who might just get the sneaky run from one.