AFTER 17 WINS in a row Winx looks unbeatable in the Cox Plate and her lead-up races. BRIAN MELDRUM reckons she is a certainty for her third Cox in a row, but there is one rival that could suddenly emerge from left field:
WANT TO BACK WINX at odds against in this year’s Cox Plate? Well, you can get $2.20 about the mighty mare on Sportsbet, but only if trainer Chris Waller sticks to his current plan and gives her four lead-up runs.
The corporate bookie is offering $2.20 about Winx, who has won her past 17 starts, winning 22 races in a row. If she has four prep runs and wins them, then she’ll be aiming for her 22nd straight victory in the Cox Plate.
Given Winx is currently a $1.60 chance to win her third straight Cox, it would seem well worth taking the punt on her running in, and winning four lead-up races, to secure the $2.20.
You’d better get on quickly though, because Winx is making her much publicised return to the racetrack in Saturday’s Warwick Stakes at Randwick, and after she wins that the colour black won’t figure in her Cox Plate odds, whatever the bet type.
What if she doesn’t win, you might ask. Be assured, that will only occur if the sun doesn’t rise in the east on Saturday morning, and if that happens we’ll have bigger things to worry about.
The Warwick Stakes was the jumping-off point for Winx’s spring campaign last year, and she won it in a hand canter. More importantly the horse that finished second, three and a half lengths behind her, was Hartnell, arguably the second best weight-for-age horse in Australia.
This time around she is up against seven opponents, two of which have won a Group One race each, and all of which would struggle against Hartnell, let alone hold a candle to Winx.
A week or so ago Winx won a barrier trial at Randwick, the first time she’s won a barrier trial in 16 trial starts, but afterwards Waller said she was going no better, no worse than she had in previous preparations. That’ll be more than enough to trot up on Saturday.
And in the long term, it will probably be more than enough for her to achieve the goal that Waller and her owners have long been focused upon – to equal the great Kingston Town’s feat of winning three consecutive Cox Plates.
It would seem ridiculous that more than two months out from the Moonee Valley showstopper a horse would be at long odds-on to win it. Yet here’s Winx being offered at $1.60, with the rest at double figure odds, and it hasn’t raised an eyebrow.
Among the second favourites at this stage are Aiden O’Brien’s hardy performer, Highland Reel, who finished third, beaten 5.5 lengths, to Winx in the 2015 Cox Plate, and the Godolphin entrant, Hartnell, who finished eight lengths behind her in second place in the race last year. Given those margins it is impossible to imagine either of those horses turning the tables on her, and reports are Hartnell won’t even try, heading instead for the Caulfield Cup.
Of the overseas entries this year, much has been talked about the Japanese contender, Neorealism, who last year beat Japan’s best horse, Maurice, over 2000 metres in the Group Two Sapporo Kinen, and in April this year won the Group 1 QE11 Cup over 2000 metres at Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
He’s obviously very good, but it is interesting to note that three and a half lengths back in fifth place that day at Sha Tin, was the Lloyd Williams-owned The United States, who in his only meeting with Winx, in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick three weeks earlier, was a distant fourth, beaten six and a half lengths.
O’Brien has also entered the (European time) three-year-old Cliffs Of Moher, who in early June was runner-up to his 33-1 stablemate, Wings Of Eagles, in the Epsom Derby. At his only start since the colt missed a place behind Ulysses in the Eclipse Stakes over 2000 metres at Sandown, and that’s not good enough to beat Winx.
The only other place to look for a serious rival to the mare at Moonee Valley would appear to be among last season’s three-year-olds. The Hayes stable’s Catchy won the Blue Diamond, then ran last on a bog track in the Golden Slipper. She’s very smart but so is David Hayes, and he’s unlikely to throw her in at the deep end against Winx.
That also seems to be Tony McEvoy’s thinking with the Caulfield Guineas favorite, Royal Symphony, who only made his first racetrack appearance less than three months ago, and that was in a Pakenham maiden on the synthetic.
In two runs since he came from near last on the turn to win running away in a good quality two-year-old over 1400 metres at Flemington, and wound up his first season with a striking win in the listed Gibson Carmichael Stakes over 1600 metres at headquarters last month.
I reckon there’s something really special about this bloke, and if he won the Guineas in dominant fashion, and it’s on the cards, then McEvoy might have second thoughts about him going to the Cox Plate, given the colt would be getting seven and a half kilos off the mare.
And you know what? If he did have a crack I reckon he’d give Winx a run for her money!
Author: Brian Meldrum
Brian Meldrum has been a racing journalist for more than 47 years, and is a former Managing Editor – Racing, at the Herald Sun.