Streaking Winx bids to join pantheon in tonight’s Cox Plate
The Cox Plate honor roll is a “Who’s Who” of Australasian racing. While the great Kingston Town stands alone as a three-peater (1980-81), the list of dual winners ranges from the legendary *Phar Lap (1930-31) to recent celebrity So You Think (2009-10).
Winx stands to become the fourth female to take home two Cox Plates, emulating Tranquil Star (1942 and 1944), Flight (1945 and albeit when the Plate was contested in two divisions in 1946), and the redoubtable Sunline (1999-2000).
In the 2015 Cox Plate, Winx rolled to the biggest win margin of her career – 4 3/4 lengths – around Moonee Valley’s tight 2,040 meters (a little past 1 1/4 miles). Such accomplished globetrotters as Criterion and Highland Reel had to settle for the minor placings.
Winx has retained that aura of invincibility, even after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone chip in early April. Top Sydney trainer Chris Waller has masterfully conditioned her to hit each of her targets, and peak for the big one.
Resuming with a handy victory over Hartnell in the seven-furlong Warwick (G2) on August 20, Winx kept her win streak alive in the George Main (G1) at a metric mile, and made it 12 straight in the October 8 Caulfield (G1) when stepping back up to about 10 furlongs. And she continued to give good vibes at a recent work at Moonee Valley with regular rider Hugh Bowman.
In a statement released Friday, Waller indicated that his stable star is firing on all cylinders:
“…ever since last year the process has been to make sure Winx is in the best possible position to defend that crown this year. I am delighted with her preparation ahead of tomorrow and although she will need that element of luck I am hoping she can again fly the flag proudly after the running of the race.”
Waller recognized the depth of the competition, noting that “many great horses line up” and expressing his “utmost respect for each other runner in the race.”
Her opponents include Hartnell (pictured right), last year’s fourth-placer, who enters in career-best form. Trained by John O’Shea for Godolphin, the British import has racked up a hat trick since his comeback second to Winx at an inadequate trip. All three wins have come in grand style, capped by the October 2 Turnbull (G1) at Jameka’s expense. Hartnell received a form boost when Jameka came right back to dominate the Caulfield Cup (G1), and that ensured his status as the second choice in the Cox Plate.
Godolphin’s second stringer, Hauraki, has himself scored a major win since placing to Winx in the George Main. The Australian-bred got up in time in the prestigious Epsom (G1), earning his first Group 1 laurel. Although that came around a metric mile, Hauraki has prior form in the vicinity of about 1 1/4 miles. Back in March, he was a troubled second to The United States in the Ranvet (G1), and in May, he just missed to Our Ivanhowe in the Doomben Cup (G1).
International interest is provided courtesy of French shipper Vadamos. If Andre Fabre can pull this off, it would rank among his very best training feats – not only to topple Winx, but to do so with an idiosyncratic customer who’s flopped spectacularly in a couple of foreign ventures.
Long highly regarded, Vadamos appeared poised for the world stage after bolting up in last fall’s Oettingen-Rennen (G2) at Baden-Baden. But as soon as he crossed the Channel for the 2015 Champion S. (G1), he compounded in a tailed-off last. The son of Monsun kicked off 2016 with a creditable second to Solow at home at Chantilly, and entered the frame for World Cup (G1) night. Instead of going for the more obvious spot in the Dubai Turf (G1), he rolled the dice for the World Cup itself, and again trudged home a long-way last. Even allowing for his not enjoying the dirt, that evoked memories of his throwing in the towel at Ascot.
Still, Fabre soldiers on with an even longer-range invasion, against an all-world champion in Winx, implying that he’s confident enough to think he’s got Vadamos all sorted out. There’s no doubt about his talent, and he enters riding the crest of a wave. Second in the Pix Jacques le Marois (G1) to classy three-year-old miler Ribchester (who just finished a close second to Aidan O’Brien’s supremo Minding on Champions Day), Vadamos exits his Group 1 breakthrough in the Prix du Moulin (G1).
Vadamos could have used a bit of the Joao Moreira “magic,” but with his intended rider stuck in Hong Kong due to a typhoon, he’s picking up jockey Mark Zahra. Drawn one spot to the inside of Winx in post 2, Vadamos has the tactical speed to stalk early. If he can transfer his French form, Vadamos would be an intriguing 10-1 play. But he’ll have to cope with the cauldron of an enthusiastic Cox Plate crowd at Moonee Valley. Watch to see how he copes in the preliminaries.
Lucia Valentina (right) has longshot appeal as a three-time Group 1 winner at around this distance, including a convincing victory in the A$4 million Queen Elizabeth (G1) over males during Sydney’s Championships in April. She’d also earned international creditability with her useful fifth to Japan’s A Shin Hikari and Breeders’ Cup-bound Nuovo Record in last December’s Hong Kong Cup (G1). This marks the third start of her form cycle, and since she moves up in softish going, Lucia Valentina must be pleased with the rain.
Yankee Rose faces a task to emulate Surround (1976) as a three-year-old filly to win the Cox Plate. But she’s another worth considering at a price, especially since she’s been out of the exacta only once in her career (when returning from a setback). Runner-up in the Golden Slipper (G1), she’s subsequently beaten the boys from her own generation twice in the ATC Sires’ Produce (G1) and in the October 8 Spring Champion (G1). In between, she threw a shoe when second to ensuing Thousand Guineas (G1) winner Global Glamour. Yankee Rose gets in with a feathery 105-pound impost, in receipt of 20 pounds from older mares Winx and Lucia Valentina, and 25 from the males.
Prolific trainer Darren Weir sends out Black Heart Bart, who’s in the form of his life this preparation. But the recent Memsie (G1) and Underwood (G1) winner was just put in his place by Winx in the Caulfield. Awesome Rock, who upset the Dat Tan Chin Nam (G2) over this course three back, pledges to change tactics and go forward early. That’s how he “won” the Australian Cup (G1) back in March before getting disqualified. Happy Clapper has a mountain to climb to reverse form with the principals.
Happy Trails warrants a mention for competing in his fifth consecutive Cox Plate, but the old warrior has fallen off since his near-miss here in 2013.
Photos courtesy of Sky Racing World (Winx, Lucia Valentina & Yankee Rose), Australian Turf Club (Hartnell) and Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club (Vadamos)