THE COX PLATE looks like a walk in the park for mighty mare Winx. But, BRIAN MELDRUM has found a longshot that might just steal her thunder:
WHILE SUPER MARE Winx is presumably belting her opposition over 1600 metres at Randwick on Saturday, punters at Flemington will looking to see if anything there can lay claim to beating her in next month’s Cox Plate.
The logical place to look would seem to be the field for the Group One Makybe Diva Stakes, also over 1600 metres, of which 10 of the 12 runners are nominated for the Moonee Valley showpiece.
The favourite is Hartnell, arguably the second best weight-for-age galloper in the country, but even though he’s entered in the Cox Plate he’s played second fiddle to Winx too many times for the likes of his connections, and instead is being aimed at the Caulfield Cup.
Then you have Black Heart Bart, Le Romain, Gailo Chop, Humidor and Hey Doc, all very good horses but in the minds of most not quite good enough overcome Winx.
But hang on a second! A race will be run at headquarters a couple of hours before the Makybe Diva, and it could just be that field is hiding a horse who could spoil the party when Winx steps up to be crowned a three-time Cox Plate champion.
The horse in question, to some degree has come out of left field, or to be precise, west field, and he is trained by a bloke who has a bit of a reputation for bursting bubbles.
The horse’s name is Scales Of Justice, he’s in the Group Two Bobby Lewis Quality, and he is trained by one of Western Australia’s, indeed Australia’s best horsemen, Lindsay Smith.
So why, you are entitled to ask, might a horse who’s never raced outside of WA, be the one to topple the world’s best turf horse, when for the past two years high class neddies from home, plus others from around the globe, have tried to topple her… and failed.
Well, for starters the five-year-old Scales Of Justice is a serious horse. In 17 starts he’s never been out of the placings, and his nine wins have included four at Group level, including the Group One Railway Stakes over 1600 metres at Ascot last November, in which Hong Kong’s ace jockey, Douglas Whyte, had him in the lead throughout.
In fact Scales Of Justice has made the running in most of his wins at 1600 metres and beyond, and that includes his last start, in the Group Three Strickland Stakes over 2000 metres, the Cox Plate distance, at Ascot on July 1.
It was that run that convinced Smith to head for Melbourne, something he does only if he thinks there is a realistic chance of winning a big race. He did it with a three-year-old called Plastered in 2004, to win the Victoria Derby, and he did it two years prior to that with a horse called Old Comrade, who we will hear more of later.
With his eye on the Cox Plate you can bet your life Smith took close note of Winx’s run in the Chelmsford Stakes over 1600 metres at Rosehill early this month, and even closer note of the run put in by the second placed horse, Red Excitement.
Ridden a planned race by Josh Parr, Red Excitement bounced in front and set a solid pace, and with 700 metres to run had a lead of nearly 10 lengths on Winx. It took her almost the length of the straight to run him down and record her 19th straight win, and afterwards jockey Hugh Bowman admitted that, for the first time since the winning streak started, he’d been worried she might not get there.
Given Scales Of Justice is a natural leader, you would expect him to make the Cox Plate running, and Smith will positively relish the opportunity to devise tactics that will bring about the undoing of the mighty mare.
He will cast his mind back 15 years, to the autumn of 2002, when he headed east with Old Comrade, the 2001 Railway Stakes winner. On this occasion his target was the Australian Cup, and a clash with another West Australian, the champion galloper Northerly.
The Fred Kersley-trained gelding had come east 12 months earlier to win the 2001 Australian Cup, and returned in the spring that year to beat the champion mare, Sunline, in a memorable Cox Plate.
Prior to the 2002 Australian Cup the WA pair had met on two occasions. Northerly easily beat Old Comrade in the 2000 Railway Stakes, but 15 months later, nine days before their Australian Cup clash, Old Comrade went down by less than a length to Northerly in the St. George Stakes over 1800 metres at Caulfield.
That day Old Comrade looked likely to catch Northerly inside the last 100 metres, but the older horse saw him coming and fought back to hold him out. Smith and Paul Harvey, WA’s best jockey, were determined this wouldn’t happen at Flemington.
They devised a plan whereby Harvey and Old Comrade would leave it as late as possible to make their challenge, and not give the champ time to rally. It was also intended they make their run wide on the track, where Northerly couldn’t see them.
In racing such plans are rarely executed, but this one worked to perfection. Northerly went to the lead inside the 300 metres but stalking him out wide was Old Comrade. With less than 200 metres to run he pounced, ran past the title-holder, then held his renewed challenge to win by a neck.
So, is Smith’s latest challenger good enough to lead and run well in the Cox Plate, let alone bowl over Winx? Well, his limited exposed form would suggest he is.
After winning the Railway Stakes, Scales Of Justice stepped up to the 1800 metres of the Group One Kinsgton Town Stakes. He drew the outside barrier, 15, and Whyte had to use him up a fraction to try and get the lead. He couldn’t, and was forced to sit at the girth of Chris Waller’s Theo Marks Quality winner and Epsom Handicap third, Mackintosh.
Getting the perfect trail behind these two was the Darren Weir-trained Stratum Star, a Group One winner at Caulfield and many times Group One placed, and when Mackintosh compounded before the turn Scales Of Justice was left a sitting duck.
Yet it took Stratum Star the entire length of the straight to run him down, and he only got the verdict by a nose, in the very last stride. It appeared that Whyte dropped his hands a stride from the line, which precipitated a frenzy of criticism on social media, but Smith quickly leapt to the defence of his jockey.
If further proof is required, earlier in 2016 Scales Of Justice produced another performance that lends credibility to his Cox Plate mission. In a 1200 metre 3YO Handicap at Ascot he gave two kilos in weight to a horse called Vega Magic, and failed by only a neck to run him down.
It’s the same Vega Magic who, back in May this year won the Group One Goodwood Handicap at Morphetville, then at his latest start, at Caulfield just a week or so ago, easily accounted for high class gallopers the likes of Black Heart Bart, Tosen Stardom and Hey Doc in the Group One Memsie Stakes, and is now equal second favourite for the $10 million Everest to be run at Randwick next month.
Given I won’t be backing Winx at little more than money back, what about Scales Of Justice at 100-1? Worth a punt, I reckon.
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.