I’ve never been to Australia, but not by choice. One of the main reasons for a visit would be to immerse myself in one of their big race days, and in case you do not know … big race days down under are very big indeed. Winter may be on the horizon for us, but it is the middle of springtime in Australia and the racing season is at its peak. Australia is a nation of sports fanatics and racing is high on their list. The AFL, or Australian Rules Football as we know it, is the biggest of all the sports in the nation, but after that, the great sport of horse racing is right there in the hearts of the sport minded. This week just happens to be one of the most important weeks of the year for racing down under, as we are just days away from the running of the Cox Plate.
The Cox Plate was inaugurated in 1922, and it was named in honor of the founder of Moonee Valley Racing Club, William Samuel Cox. Moonee Valley is one of the major race courses of Australia and is found just outside of Melbourne. Melbourne being the second largest city in Australia is located in the Southeast corner of the nation. The Cox Plate is held in late October each year and falls between the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in the Spring Racing Carnival. The Cox Plate is considered by most as the second biggest race held in Australia only behind the Melbourne Cup. Although to some, it is the ultimate race in the country.
Ryan Martin, a former jockey down under explained it to me this way, “The race I look forward to the most is the Cox Plate. It is the greatest race in our country. It’s run at Moonee Valley, which is my favorite track. The pressure is always on, and then they go early at the valley down past the school at the 600m, only the toughest of the toughest survive and win....To me this is the one single race I would love to win as a jockey!”
Whether or not it is regarded in the same fervor as the Melbourne Cup by Australians, the Cox Plate is regarded as the best weight-for-age race in the country and it carries as much history as it does prestige.
The Cox Plate has always attracted a field of the best horses in the nation with a national honor roll of champions. The famed list of stars to win the race include: Phar Lap in 1930 & 1931, Rising Fast in 1954, Tobin Bronze in 1967, Gunsynd in 1972, the ill-fated Dulcify in 1979, Kingston Town in 1980-1982, Strawberry Road in 1983, Might and Power in 1998, Northerly in 2001 & 2002, Fields of Omagh in 2003 & 2006, So You Think (above) in 2009 & 2010 and the great mares Sunline in 1999 & 2000, and Makybe Diva in 2005. Make no mistake; stamping your name on the trophy is a huge accomplishment. The Cox Plate is contested at 2,040 meters (slightly more than 1 ¼ miles) over the Moonee Valley turf course, and the horses run in the same left to right direction familiar to us in the States.
In this year’s edition, a full field on 14 runners will vie for the prize, including:
1. Shoot Out
3. Glass Harmonium
4. Green Moon
5. Rekindled Interest
7. Happy Trails
9. Ocean Park
11. Southern Speed
13. All Too Hard
(Note the program numbers do not correspond with the post position or barriers as they are called in Australia.)
Pierro looms the likely favorite for the race and is trained by the first lady of Australian racing, Gai Waterhouse. As a matter of fact, Waterhouse has three of the horses to beat in this year’s Cox Plate. Pierro is a three-year-old son of the top sire Lonhro, and was a perfect 8-for-8 before tasting defeat for the first time in the recent Caulfield Guiness to Cox Plate entrant, and younger brother of Black Caviar, All Too Hard. A slow start may have been the reason for that narrow defeat, and the youngster would become an instant star down under if he can quickly return to his winning ways. Speaking of national heroes, that is exactly what another Waterhouse runner is, in More Joyous. The remarkable six-year-old mare has been a mainstay in Australian racing for years and would gain her 22nd and most important career victory if she were to be successful on Saturday. The final Waterhouse favorite is the lightly raced, but quickly improving Proisir, who hopes to join So You Think as a winner of the big race in only his fifth lifetime start.
I will not be attending the Cox Plate this year, but it is a dream of mine to visit the country, after all the racing is too good not to visit. Someday, yours truly will be there in person living out a dream.
Photo courtesy of Tim Carrafa / Sunday Herald Sun