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Cox Plate Day a rollercoaster ride unlike any other

October 23, 2011

It must be extremely rare to experience a raceday with such conflicting emotions as yesterday’s Cox Plate day.

I have never experienced it before, and in many ways, I hope I never experience it again.

The wide gamut of sensations was on display, and quite frankly, I left Moonee Valley feeling a sense of despair.

It didn’t start too well – a brief but intense shower struck Moonee Valley as I arrived on track, leaving me wet to the core.

But it was Cox Plate day! Such petty occurences can be laughed off quickly.

As the crowds began to swell, especially in the early parts of the meeting, it became abundantly clear that the day’s feature race would not be the Cox Plate.

Indeed, it was the Moir Stakes, this year sponsored by Schweppes, that captivated and intrigued audiences.

Well, that may be slightly incorrect – it was the headline act, Black Caviar, which had punters hanging from the bleachers.

As she was being walked in the parade ring before the race, one drunken spectator yelled out, “Wow, she looks really slow!”

He yelled it in jest, trying to impress his mates, but the racing fans standing nearby were quick to belittle and berate him.

I was privileged to be in the mounting yard as she paraded, and it was a sight I’ve never seen before.

Every vantage point was packed, even those which were a mile away.

All wanted to see Black Caviar.

In the end, she didn’t disappoint – but for me, rather than paying attention to her pulling away from her rivals, I was closely examining the crowd.

I never thought I would hear a roar like that which I’ve experienced for the Cox Plate or the Melbourne Cup in any other race.

But the reaction of the crowd, as Sam Hyland so accurately described for TVN after the race, “would send shivers up the spine of any racing fan.”

It was extraordinary.

Incredibly, with every win, the reaction becomes even more intense, even more special.

I thought the crowd went insane when she won the Newmarket Handicap, but really, it was tame compared to what I experienced at Moonee Valley yesterday.

And it was obvious from well before I arrived on track that the anticipation would be palpable.

There were three separate parts of yesterday’s Herald Sun which dealt with her, as well as the coveted middle section of the racing liftout.

And that was not all – she was even the centrepiece of the paper’s cartoon for the day.

This is what every racing fan loves to see – mainstream attention in our great sport.

It was a clear highlight of the day.

I didn’t expect the next race to compete, but the best Moonee Valley Cup in recent times saw a dominant victory to Americain.

He’s right on track to become just the sixth horse to win multiple Melbourne Cups.

While dominance has become part of the Black Caviar tradition, such a dominant win was not expected from Americain.

He had plenty go wrong in the run, and at one stage – around the 500m mark – one member of the press was heard to remark, “he can’t win from there.”

It was clear a few moments later, however, that he was set to eat his words.

The runs of Tullamore and Illo, from a Melbourne Cup perspective, were solid and both aren’t without a hope in the big one.

A so-so Crystal Mile, won by the improving Testa My Patience, was the prelude for the Cox Plate.

Smartly, the traditional pre-race entertainment from Daryl Braithwaite was moved forward so as to avoid a repeat of last year’s calamitous events.

Perhaps it was the inner bogan in me, but I seriously loved Daryl Braithwaite.

The crowd singing his signature tune, The Horses, en masse was something extraordinary.

To be honest, I got caught up in it all and started joining in.

Contrary to many racing fans who derided the crowd and the entertainment, I thought it was perfectly fitting.

The connections of the immortal Bonecrusher, trainer Frank Ritchie and jockey Gary Stewart, delivered the Cox Plate to the podium.

However, what I found disappointing was that they didn’t play the audio of that famous call by the legendary Bill Collins.

Imagine that – the horses may not have been there but it would have allowed every punter there to take a step back in time, to imagine what it was like as those two great Kiwis went to war.

As the start approached for Australia’s weight for age championship, there was drama aplenty.

Jimmy Choux burst through the front of the stalls, Wall Street seemed reluctant to stay in his gate and noted rogue Glass Harmonium became edgy.

In the end, the complexion of the race changed at the start, with Glass Harmonium bombing the start.

He was expected to apply pressure to Helmet, but instead of landing in the box seat or up on the speed, he was left in a trailing position.

His hopes were gone before they passed the post the first time.

In what was not a vintage Cox Plate, it quickly became apparent that Lady Luck and a jockey’s skill would reward one set of connections with victory.

But which horse was it to be?

For a while, it appeared that Jimmy Choux was destined for glory…until a blue and pink flash emerged from nowhere.

As they crossed the line, I was shellshocked – how could Pinker Pinker, yet to win a Group 1, win a Cox Plate so decisively?

All honours to the connections, but seriously, Pinker Pinker, a Cox Plate winner?

I think I’m yet to recover.

But that was not all.

We were aware in the media area that the ambulance was over at the 1600m mark.

But as it was obscured by the large television screen, we couldn’t see that the ominous green screen had been raised.

Just as I was set to leave the grandstand, Juat Horse Racing’s editor Morgan Payne yelled out – “Lion Tamer’s been put down.”

I’ve seen horses put down before, some which I loved dearly.

I didn’t think I could have been more upset than the May day that Empires Choice was put down.

An old favourite of mine, Empires Choice broke down while I was working at Canterbury, and sadly he was euthanised in front of the winning post.

I saw the whole thing, and shed a tear that day.

But yesterday, when I heard of Lion Tamer’s sad demise, I was shocked.

Inexplicably, I started crying.

No horse deserves to die, and there are plenty every week that pass away for one reason or another.

But Lion Tamer, quirky as he was, had ability. He had attitude. And, trust me, he would have gone very close to winning the Melbourne Cup next week.

I will never apologise for being emotional – but I couldn’t understand why Lion Tamer’s death affected me so.

Perhaps the heavens were mourning his loss, as a severe thunderstorm lashed Moonee Valley moments after the Cox Plate.

It forced the last race to be delayed, and I decided I wanted to get out before the bulk of the crowd.

Big mistake.

The taxi queue was already long, the lack of cabs noticeable, the exercise futile.

In the end, it was a sorry, sad and soaked man that climbed upon a tram to Essendon an hour later.

The Cox Plate may have been a disappointment, but I never think I will experience such a topsy-turvy raceday as I did yesterday.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol J Auck permalink
    October 23, 2011 11:22 pm

    Truely a very sad turn of events , it just breaks my heart to witness these things, my heart goes out to all his connections, I have been there myself, you never quite forget it, ever.

  2. October 24, 2011 11:21 am

    My impressions of Cox Plate day were quite different to yours Andrew, I had a great day wandering around and taking photos and watching from a position on the fence. I’ve written about it on my blog (with lots of photos).of you care to visit. I left directly after the Cox Plate so didn’t hear about Lion Tamer until I got home – very tragic indeed.

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