The Melbourne Cup is Australia's most famous race, but the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley – run this Friday night, has long been the country's best race. The “Cup” is a two-mile handicap, but the “Plate” is a mile-and-a-quarter weight-for-age contest whose winners' list reads like an honor roll of the nation's finest steeds.
“The Valley” is a unique Australian racetrack, with an unusually short home stretch of around a furlong. However, the circumference is 1-1/8 miles, meaning that the course has lengthy “side stretches.” Horses often peel out and commence long runs down the side of the course, to be within striking range turning for home. Thus, the Cox Plate is a stern examination of both stamina and acceleration. Equine athleticism of the highest order is usually rewarded, reflected in the abnormally high strike rate of favorites (41%).
This Friday night's renewal cannot be addressed without acknowledging the vacuum left by Winx's retirement, after the great mare created history by winning a record four Cox Plates – two in course record time. Winx's detractors inevitably point to her not having raced outside her homeland, but that doesn't mean she never encountered quality international opposition. In her first Cox Plate triumph, globetrotting megastar Highland Reel didn't know which way Winx went and was left reeling 6 lengths in her wake. In Winx's final Cox Plate victory, she was chased home by that year's Dubai Turf winner, Benbatl.
In Winx's absence, does an Australian horse step up or does an international raider poach the Plate? The most intriguing local angle is lone 3yo Castelvecchio (8/1), who will carry the “postage stamp” weight of 109 pounds under the weight-for-age scale. Remember that last week's The Everest was won by the field's only 3yo, Yes Yes Yes. However, the more likely scenario is an international victory. There have been several massive upsets in recent Melbourne weight-for-age races, indicative of a somewhat chaotic assemblage of local prospects.
The early “future book” favorite was Mystic Journey (6/1), who extended her win streak to 7 when resuming from a layoff. However, a shock 2nd-up defeat to a 100/1 shot was followed by an unplaced run in the Turnbull. Connections' confidence will be dampened, as Mystic Journey embarks on the 10-hour ferry ride from the island state of Tasmania to Melbourne.
One must tip the hat to a rejuvenated Black Heart Bart (20/1), a topline performer several years ago who won last month's Underwood Stakes at 100/1 (a different 100/1 winner to the one who toppled Mystic Journey!). The 9yo then narrowly lost the Caulfield Stakes at 20/1 – to another 20/1 shot who had an American formline. Irish horse Cape of Good Hope (8/1) won his Australian debut in his first start since finishing 3rd in the Saratoga Derby.
More American form can be found with Aidan O'Brien's Magic Wand (13/1), who twice finished 2nd to Bricks and Mortar – in the Pegasus Turf and Arlington Million – as well as 3rd in the Man o' War at Saratoga and 4th in last year's Breeders' Cup F&M Turf. Danceteria (16/1) brings a G1 German win to the party, but missed his intended Australian debut two weeks ago, when mucus was detected after his arrival.
The most positive angles surround Japanese mare Lys Gracieux (7/2), a dual G1 winner in her homeland and dual G1 placegetter in Hong Kong. Last week's Caulfield Cup was won by Japanese horse Mer de Glace, with whom Australian jockey Damian Lane formed an association during a riding stint in Japan. Lane also won a race in Japan on Lys Gracieux and will pilot her around Moonee Valley for the same owners.
As Melbourne's Cox Plate approaches a century of renewals, Sydney's revamped “spring carnival” includes this Friday's $1 million Bondi Stakes. This new offering for 3YOs is named for one of Australia's most iconic beaches, located less than three miles from Royal Randwick. Bondi is often mispronounced by overseas tourists – the last letter is pronounced “eye.” The only Australian beach as famous as Bondi would be Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast – ironically, a horse named Surfers Paradise won the Cox Plate in 1991!
Top fancies in the Bondi Stakes include Just Thinkin' (a son of two-time Cox Plate winner So You Think) and Goldolphin's Kubrick. However, each exits a race previously earmarked as a prime target. The more appealing play might be the promising, lightly raced Bottega, who will appreciate his first exposure to the expanses of Randwick's mile course.
Cox Plate Day from Moonee Valley and Bondi Stakes Day from Randwick will be broadcast live on TVG alongside cards from Eagle Farm and Kembla Grange. All races will be live-streamed in HD on skyracingworld.com and major ADW platforms such as TVG, TwinSpires, Xpressbet, NYRABets, WatchandWager, HPIbet, AmWager, and BetAmerica. Wagering is also available via these ADW platforms. Fans can get free access to live-streaming, past performances and expert picks on all races at skyracingworld.com.
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