This year’s Epsom Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck and All-Star Mile heroine Mystic Journey are amongst the 187 horses aiming to inherit Winx’s crown after the star-studded nominations for the Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) were announced this afternoon.
The 99th edition of the Cox Plate appears set for a fascinating clash between the southern and northern hemispheres, with a total of 27 overseas raiders – from four different countries and 12 stables – in contention to tackle the finest thoroughbreds from across Australasia.
The local brigade includes Adam Trinder’s magnificent mare Mystic Journey, Godolphin galloper Avilius – one of 10 horses entered by James Cummings – plus Verry Elleegant and Arcadia Queen, who between them perhaps represent Chris Waller’s leading hopes of securing a fifth straight win in the $5 million showpiece.
There are 48 three-year-olds among the 160 Australasian entrants, including Group 1-winning colts Prince Fawaz and Castelvecchio, trained in Sydney by Anthony Cummings and Richard Litt respectively.
Should Anthony Van Dyck, who is trained by legendary Irish horseman Aidan O’Brien, make the trip to Melbourne to compete at The Valley on Saturday, 26 October, the northern hemisphere three-year-old would become the first winner of Britain’s richest race to run in Australasia’s weight-for-age championship.
O’Brien has nominated a total of 11 horses, including tough Royal Ascot victor Circus Maximus and his fellow Group 1 winners Japan and Hermosa, as he bids to secure a second Cox Plate victory having tasted success with Adelaide in 2014 – since when Winx has dominated the race.
“To win a Cox Plate, you need a horse with plenty of tactical speed that gets a mile and a quarter well,” O’Brien told Racing Victoria from his Ballydoyle Stables in Co. Tipperary, Ireland.
“We have entered 11 horses that we think might suit the race, but of course some of them don’t always progress as well as we were hoping. But Anthony Van Dyck and Circus Maximus are two very hardy colts with good tactical speed, and both should handle nice ground.
“It’s probably too early at this stage to say who our number one seed is, we usually nominate a number of horses and then we will see how they progress from now.”
O’Brien’s son Joseph, who trained Rekindling to Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m) glory two years ago, has also entered four horses, with three of them – Latrobe, Master of Reality and Buckhurst – owned by Hall of Famer Lloyd Williams. O’Brien’s fourth nominee is Iridessa, an emphatic winner of the Group 1 Juddmonte Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh in June.
Other notable overseas entrants include high-class Japanese horses Lys Gracieux (trained by Yoshito Yahagi) and Kluger, the Tomokazu Takano-trained stayer who has accepted The Valley’s invitation. Kluger chased home Winx in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in Sydney earlier this year, whilst Lys Gracieux also earned a Cox Plate invitation after winning the Group 1 Takarazuka Kinen under Australian jockey Damian Lane in June.
The home challenge is led by Mystic Journey, currently the bookmakers’ favourite for the Cox Plate after registering six straight wins including the inaugural All-Star Mile (1600m), Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m) and Group 2 Fillies Classic (1600m) on Cox Plate Day last year.
It was that victory, and the atmosphere created by Winx’s historic achievement, which first persuaded Tasmanian trainer Adam Trinder to plot a path towards this year’s Cox Plate with Mystic Journey.
“The atmosphere on Cox Plate Day last year was surreal,” said Trinder.
“When I was walking the track early in the day, the grandstands were already full of people in anticipation of Winx’s final Cox Plate. I’ve never seen anything like it on a racetrack before, it was just an honour to be part of the day and I thought to myself then that I’d love to come back in 12 months’ time with a runner of my own.
“It’s been a long-range plan with Mystic Journey, and while there’s still a lot of water to go under the bridge between now and October 26th, hopefully the plan can come to fruition. It will be interesting to see the make-up of the field, but I’m sure it will be an incredibly competitive race as always with a very strong local and international presence. There will be nowhere to hide, and we just hope that our filly can match up.”
Sydney’s premier trainer Chris Waller has nominated 23 from his stable as he bids to continue the extraordinary success enjoyed by his recently-retired superstar, Winx.
Multiple Group 1-winning mare Verry Elleegant heads the Waller team alongside Kings Will Dream, who continues his comeback from the injury he sustained in the 2018 Cox Plate, and new recruits Arcadia Queen and Enticing Star, who were recently sent east by leviathan Western Australian owner Bob Peters.
Godolphin Australia’s head trainer James Cummings has entered 10 horses including Avilius, a winner of eight races – including two at the highest level – since he arrived in Australia from Europe last year.
“Avilius moved beautifully throughout his trial this morning, and he was able to get to the line really sweetly with a lot up his sleeve,” observed Cummings.
“This off-season he went into the paddock full of confidence after a light but impressive autumn campaign, and he has come back a really confident horse. He will kick off on August 24th in the Winx Stakes over seven furlongs, which gives us good options stepping him up in distance afterwards.”
Kiwi interests are represented by the Jamie Richards-trained duo Te Akau Shark and Melody Belle, both Group 1 winners in their native New Zealand.
First declarations for the Cox Plate will be taken at 12 noon (AEST) on Tuesday, 10 September.
To view the full list of nominations for the Ladbrokes Cox Plate, please click here.