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Hawk’s Spring Selections – Cox Plate Analysis and Selections

October 24, 2015

The second of the big three is upon us – arguably Australia’s best race, the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

It is a fascinating contest – three internationals (and one quasi-international), 11 Group One winners, a couple of cult heroes, the old school tale of the battlers taking on the leviathans. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Cox Plate.

This year’s card looks strong with a number of betting opportunities, while the Cox Plate may potentially provide the highlight of the spring.

Unlike the Caulfield Cup, I’ve been set on my Cox Plate selection for months and see no reason to change now. Here are my thoughts on Australasia’s weight-for-age championship.

Race 9 – GROUP ONE COX PLATE (2,040m)

Definitely one of the more interesting Cox Plates of recent times. Many are proclaiming it the best ever, and while I think there are a few that have been better in the last 25 years – 1992 comes to mind, so too 2002 – this is one of the most fascinating, and definitely one of the more difficult Cox Plates to dissect.

I have been on HIGHLAND REEL since the first markets were posted on the Cox Plate and the bookies priced him up at $51. It was an absurd price then, and it looks an even more absurd price now. At that stage, he was a Prix du Jockey Club runner-up behind New Bay and he had just won the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood the week before. With his Australian bloodlines and given Adelaide’s win for the same connections last year, he always shaped as a likely visitor and within a week he was into $21.

Less than two weeks later, he took the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington in a canter after dominating from the front. It was a race Adelaide won last year, so immediately comparisons were drawn. I was in Chicago that day and while it was wet when the race was run, the rain didn’t start until they were behind the gates and so the ground was fairly firm – just like he’ll strike at Moonee Valley. Also, he sweated up badly, but the humidity just before the race was intense and so it would have been surprising if he wasn’t lathered up.

Last start, he finished fifth, four lengths behind Arc winner Golden Horn, in a controversial Irish Champion Stakes. I have seen a number of descriptions calling it a “flop” and a “disappointment” – it definitely wasn’t a flop, he ran well enough, and a replica of that run will see him winning here.

He should get a nice run from barrier four, just off the speed but within striking distance of the leaders. He has proven in recent runs that he can be tactically versatile, so wherever he ends up in the run he should be able to produce. Ryan Moore will need to ensure he’s not boxed in on the home turn, but with clear running he’s the likely winner.

The main danger is Caulfield Stakes winner CRITERION, who also has Golden Horn form. He has been on his globetrotting ways this year, winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick comfortably before a third to Blazing Speed in the QE II Cup in Hong Kong, a fifth to Free Eagle in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes and a sixth behind Arabian Queen and Golden Horn in the Juddmonte. He showed he was ready for the Cox Plate with his last start win at Caulfield, a race that has already produced the Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan. Surprisingly for a horse that won the Todman Stakes as a two-year-old and the Rosehill Guineas and Australian Derby double as a three-year-old, he looks to be improving with age and he looms as the biggest threat.

I think GAILO CHOP has been slightly underestimated by bookmakers. The French galloper was a dominant winner last time out in a Group Three at Maisons-Laiffite, but it is his early season performance behind Solow that stands up well here. On that run, he looks evenly matched with AROD. He would be better suited if there was rain around, but I think he is just fine on top of the ground and he can potentially get a nice run just off the speed. The major concern with him is that he’s a little quirky and can get worked up a little bit. You will have a good idea of your fate with him early on – if he settles, he’ll be somewhere in the mix.

At odds, I also think COMPLACENT can surprise a few here. He has been racing well this preparation, with wins in the Chelmsford Stakes and Craven Plate and a placing in the Hill Stakes. His last start win over Hauraki was a mighty, typically game effort. Hauraki disappointed in the Caulfield Cup and so there’s obviously a concern there, and his formlines probably don’t stack up as well as some of these. That said, in what is likely to be a scrappy 2,040m contest, his stamina may come into play and I could see him making it into the placings at odds. He’s an exotic play.

The third international, AROD, deserves respect, although I think he is slightly one-dimensional. He has run his best races when he has been able to make all and it would be shocking to see him leading THE CLEANER here. I also think there’s still some query over his ability to see out a strong 10 furlongs, especially in this sort of a setup. Yes, he ran fourth in the Epsom Derby, but perhaps that was just a matter of having brilliance that many of his rivals didn’t have. There are question marks around his 10-furlong runs to date, too, so I think he shapes as one to oppose.

Of the rest, I love WINX as a horse – she has the best turn of foot in Australia – but I think from barrier one she may strike traffic issues. She’ll be saving ground but I’m not sure that really suits her, would prefer her sweeping around them with her potent turn of foot. As for stablemate KERMADEC, I don’t doubt his ability to see out the trip but I think he’d need a soft 2,040m in order to come over the top of them – something he won’t get here. Happy to oppose.

PREFERMENT and HARTNELL are racing well but are Melbourne Cup-bound, so you would want to see enough from them to suggest they’ll be competitive 10 days from now.

THE CLEANER is in career best form and is always tough to pass, although I’m not sure the Underwood Stakes form is the right guide for this (that said, it did produce Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan).

13 – HIGHLAND REEL
1 – CRITERION
10 – GAILO CHOP
9 – COMPLACENT

Here are the rest of my thoughts for Moonee Valley today:

Race 1 – INGLIS BANNER (1,000m)

11 – PEARL CONGENIAL
12 – TWIST TOPS
9 – SWEET SHERRY
3 – CREDIBLE WITNESS

Race 2 – CITY JEEP HANDICAP (955m)

2 – DIAMOND OASIS
6 – TAWTEEN
4 – VATICAN
1 – UNANIMOUSLY

Race 3 – GROUP TWO MOONEE VALLEY FILLIES CLASSIC (1,600m)

1 – MY POPPETTE
6 – SEMPRE LIBERA
4 – SEEKING ASYLUM
9 – SILENT SEDITION

Race 4 – GROUP THREE TELSTRA PHONEWORDS STAKES (1,200m)

10 – ATLANTIC CITY
3 – MAWAHIBB
1 – HOLLER
2 – DEMONSTRATE

Race 5 – LISTED WILLIAM CROCKETT STAKES (1,200m)

10 – VALLEY SWEETHEART
3 – HAYBAH
1 – SERENE MAJESTY
4 – HARLEM RIVER

Race 6 – GROUP TWO MOONEE VALLEY GOLD CUP (2,500m)

1 – PRECEDENCE
3 – PRINCE OF PENZANCE
7 – THE UNITED STATES
10 – BONDEIGER

Race 7 – GROUP TWO MOONEE VALLEY VASE (2,040m)

8 – TALLY
11 – JAMEKA
10 – PASADENA GIRL
4 – TARZINO

Race 8 – GROUP TWO CRYSTAL MILE (1,600m)

11 – TURN ME LOOSE
6 – BOW CREEK
1 – LUCKY HUSSLER
3 – STRAWBERRY BOY

Race 10 – GROUP THREE G1X.COM.AU STAKES (1,600m)

12 – AZKADELLIA
2 – GIRL GUIDE
5 – CORONATION SHALLAN
10 – BALLET SUITE

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