The Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m), often referred to as the ‘race where legends are made’, is a true spectacle of equine excellence.
This year, the anticipation is palpable as we gather to witness a clash of the titans on the hallowed turf of Moonee Valley on Saturday afternoon. The weight-for-age contest attracts the best horses from around the globe, making it a showcase of skill, speed, and sheer determination.
Hong Kong superstar Romantic Warrior (+280) heads the market, with local weight-for-age guns Alligator Blood (+450) and Mr Brightside (+600) on his heels. Throw in the X-factor three-year-old Militarize (+650), reigning Melbourne Cup champion Gold Trip (+800), the European-based Victoria Road (+700) and last-start King Charles III Stakes winner Fangirl (+800), and we have yet another cracking edition of the Cox Plate coming up.
The speedmap looks to be a simple one. Alligator Blood will lead the field up from barrier five, while Zaaki will cross from barrier 12 to sit at his flank throughout. Romantic Warrior and My Oberon look set to land behind the speed, with Mr Brightside likely to be three back on the fence. Gold Trip, Militarize, Fangirl and Victoria Road will be midfield or just worse.
Keep reading for HorseBetting’s full runner-by-runner preview and $100 betting strategy for the 2023 Cox Plate.
1. ROMANTIC WARRIOR (7)
5yo Gelding | T: Danny Shum | J: James McDonald (59kg)
How much has Romantic Warrior benefited from his run in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m)? That’s the big question. He was clearly in need of that run, but the Hong Kong star will be raring to go second-up into his Australian sojourn. A three-time Group 1 winner in Hong Kong, Romantic Warrior is up there as one of the best horses in the world. The Cox Plate has been a long-term goal for Danny Shum and his team, and based on his trackwork, Moonee Valley should prove no issue for the gun middle-distance runner. James McDonald will look to land a spot in the first four from barrier seven and ride Romantic Warrior much the same as he did Anamoe in last year’s Cox Plate. He is the horse to beat, but his run in the Turnbull left us wanting more. The (+280) seems a bit tight on face value, but Romantic Warrior will be there when the whips are cracking.
Is Zaaki the forgotten runner? The eight-year-old has put in two super runs this campaign, and we’re getting +2200 to find out if he can measure up in a Cox Plate. He went down by a half-length first-up in the Group 1 Winx Stakes (1400m) behind Fangirl, before being grabbed on the winning post by Think It Over in the 7 Stakes (1600m). In the latter, he put 1.92 lengths on Fangirl back in third, and we are getting almost three times the price about Zaaki than we are for Fangirl. We know Damian Lane will have Zaaki settled outside Alligator Blood and have him clear of trouble throughout. He loves racing the ‘Melbourne way’, and despite being six weeks between starts, we can make a case for Zaaki causing an upset.
3. MR BRIGHTSIDE (2)
6yo Gelding | T: Ben, Will & JD Hayes | J: Craig Williams (59kg)
Two weeks ago, Mr Brightside was deemed the best horse in the country. He then ran into a red-hot Fangirl in the King Charles III Stakes (1600m) at Randwick and suddenly it seems he can’t win a Cox Plate? Every horse (unless your name is Winx or Black Caviar) has found one better on any given day on a regular basis, and that’s what we’re putting the 2.67-length defeat down to. He put 1.5 lengths on Alligator Blood in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) two runs back and was just as impressive in the Group 1 Memsie Stakes (1400m). He may be three back on the fence in running, but we’re confident Craig Williams will have him in clear air when it matters most. He loves Moonee Valley (4: 3-0-0), and despite being well beaten in this race last year, he is a better horse 12 months later and will be fighting out the finish.
4. ALLIGATOR BLOOD (5)
7yo Gelding | T: Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott | J: Tim Clark (59kg)
Who can run down Alligator Blood? The seven-year-old made a mess of his rivals in the Group 1 Might And Power (2000m) and put to bed any doubts that he couldn’t see out a strong 2000m. The ‘Gator was forced to bring the field up to a tearaway leader, but not only did he do that, he never gave them a chance. He has had two starts at The Valley for a fourth and a fifth, but much like Mr Brightside, he might be going as well as ever. He looks the natural leader under Tim Clark from barrier five and should get it relatively easy out in front. He will be feeling it late inside the final 100m, however, and we think he will be struggling to hold off a couple of rivals.
5. GOLD TRIP (5)
6yo Horse | T: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace | J: Mark Zahra (59kg)
Is Gold Trip deserving of a +800 quote with horse racing betting sites? Potentially so. The six-year-old was massive when finishing third in the Caulfield Cup (2400m) last weekend and is certainly the one to beat in the Melbourne Cup (3200m). Is the 2040m what he wants at this stage of a preparation? In our eyes, it’s a firm ‘no’. He is the best stayer in the country and will get his moment on the first Tuesday in November. Gold Trip will be hitting the line hard late, but we can’t have him as short as the bookies do.
My Oberon has been racing in consistent form without winning. The second of Annabel Neasham’s runners finished on the heels of Mr Brightside in the King Charles III Stakes but was aided by a low barrier draw and a positive ride. He hasn’t won in 12 months, and despite the consistent efforts this campaign, My Oberon will be outclassed in the Cox Plate.
7. PINSTRIPED (11)
5yo Gelding | T: Enver Jusufovic | J: Ben Allen (59kg)
Pinstriped gained a start in the Cox Plate by claiming the Group 2 Feehan Stakes two runs back. On that day he beat Attrition by the barest of margins, but he would go on to be beaten 2.95 lengths in the Group 1 Toorak Handicap (1600m) by the same runner. This will be Pinstriped’s first go at 2000m, and there look to be a few too many negatives against him from barrier 11.
8. FANGIRL (9)
5yo Mare | T: Chris Waller | J: Zac Purton (57kg)
Where does Fangirl end up from barrier nine? The five-year-old mare was the beneficiary of a more positive ride in the King Charles III Stakes and it paid massive dividends. Zac Purton will need to be at his best early to land either in the one-one or three pairs back in the moving line. She will most likely settle towards the rear of the field, and over 2040m, that is a big deterrent to her chances. If Purton can land midfield, she comes into calculations, but there are a few drawn better who will want to hold that spot. Fangirl is a gun over 1600m, but the 2040m might just see her out against a field like this.
9. DUAIS (1)
6yo Mare | T: Edward Cummings | J: Damien Oliver (57kg)
Can Damien Oliver claim a Cox Plate win on his farewell tour? Simple answer: probably not. Duais ran on strongly into third in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) and then again in the Might And Power. She needs to make up at least two lengths on Alligator Blood from when they met at Caulfield, and from barrier one she will be giving her rivals a massive start and will need a plethora of luck.
If anyone can pull off a Cox Plate win with a Northern Hemisphere three-year-old, it is Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien. The market support suggests he is a genuine contender with Victoria Road, but there are some queries around his form. He is a Group 1 winner at two in what shapes as a weak form reference, and he looks to be a step or two behind some of the key contenders. He put in an eye-catching run at Leopardstown on September 9 when finishing third behind Flight Plan, but he will need to go to a whole new level to be contending against the likes of Romantic Warrior, Mr Brightside, et al.
Can a three-year-old win the Cox Plate? They simply went too slow for Militarize to feature in the finish of the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m), but he produced some of the best closing splits of the day, which suggests it was a great trial for the Cox Plate. His win the start prior in the Group 1 Golden Rose (1400m) was breathtaking, and with just 49.5kg on his back on Saturday, he is going to take a power of holding out. If the leaders make this a genuinely run Cox Plate, which we think they will, the race looks perfectly set up for Zac Lloyd to hold a midfield spot on Militarize. His turn of foot is arguably the best in the race, and with the lightweight, this guy looks well poised to further enhance his stallion prospects with a win in the Cox Plate.
12. KING COLORADO (4)
3yo Colt | T: Ciaron Maher & David Eustace | J: Michael Dee (49.5kg)
Despite beating home Militarize on the back of a tough run in the Caulfield Guienas, King Colorado is a deserving outsider in the Cox Plate. He has struggled to show much in weaker races than what he faces on Saturday, and despite being from the right barn, he looks up against it. They could roll forward on him from barrier four with the lightweight – and if so, it certainly throws a spanner into the works – but it is unlikely that King Colorado beats many of his rivals home.