PLATE BATTLE A MOMENT IN TIME
The variables in temperature, wind, rain, track condition and the like make winning times sometimes irrelevant in horse racing. But there are moments when that most basic data tells no lies.
Saturday’s Cox Plate contest – where arguably Hong Kong and Australia’s best weight-for-age horses, in Romantic Warrior and Mr Brightside, hit the line together in the year’s most thrilling racing contest – is a fine example of such.
Of Winx’s four Cox Plates, her most impressive was possibly her second when she ran past Hartnell as if he’d just stopped to win by eight lengths on a Soft 5. Yet it was done in the slowest time of her quartet of Cox Plate victories.
In two other wins, she became the only horse since the Strathayr track was laid at The Valley in 1995 to break 2.03s when she ran 2.02.98s on a Good 3 in 2015, before bettering that with a new course record of 2.02.94s on a Good 3 in 2017.
On Saturday, Romantic Warrior, rated in the top 10 racehorses in the world this year, with a current international rating of 124, ran on an upgraded Good 3 track to register a 2.03.16s to record the best non-Winx time in history on the surface.
Mr Brightside was only tenths of a second slower and along with Humidor, who ran 0.4 lengths behind Winx in her record run in 2017, can claim to be the next quickest horses around the unique 2040-metre course.
It must be remembered that, as a mare, Winx carried 55.5kgs in her first win as a four-year-old in 2015 under the weight-for-age scale and 57kgs in her three subsequent wins. Both Romantic Warrior and Mr Brightside lumped 59kgs on Saturday.
While there have been many wet tracks in the 28 years since the Strathayr surface was put down, it is notable that only three other horses have broken 2,04s in that time.
They are Aidan O’Brien’s star three-year-old Adelaide in 2014 with a 2.03.76s while the then three-year-old So You Think covered the journey in a 2.03.98s in his first win in 2009. In 1998, the previous season’s Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winner Might And Power ran 2.03.54s.
WATCH: The 2023 Cox Plate
NACHO IS ONE FOR THE DREAMERS
Archo Nacho ended Cox Plate day with a rousing sprint victory in he G3 Red Anchor Stakes (1200m) to reinforce to the countless owners out there that small racing dreams can come true.
Picked up for just $10,000 as a weanling, Archo Nacho has earned some $325,000 from his five races, which feature three wins, including two at stakes level.
Trainer Matt Laurie knew a little of the family history. “I just happened to find this bloke at the weanling sale and I bought him for $10,000. So, we threw him in a paddock and this is where we’re at. It’s a good story. We're gonna celebrate."
For jockey Mark Zahra, it was one of his four winners for the day, but he cautioned about rising too sharply in grade to next Saturday’s G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes at Flemington.
“I wouldn’t go to a Coolmore,’’ he said. “You’ve got to back up then. I know the money is great, but I think he just finds his way to another 1200-metre race.’’
WATCH: Archo Nacho's win the in the G3 Anchor Stakes
HEADQUARTERS NEXT FOR PROWESS
Champions Stakes Day at Flemington beckons for classy Kiwi mare Prowess following her triumph in the G2 Crystal Mile at The Valley on Saturday.
The dual G1 winner had been touted as a Cox Plate contender ahead of the spring, but a minor injury she suffered in August meant trainers Roger James and Robert Wellwood had to come up with an alternative campaign for her.
“It is great to be back over here and winning again,” Wellwood said.
“Ideally, we would have like to have been running in the Cox Plate, but she just had a few little niggles. They weren’t major but just stopped her natural improvement at times.
“We’ve been able to get the preparation back on track, but all going well from here we’ll head to the last day at Flemington and really looking forward to seeing her over further too.
“She’s in awesome order and in hindsight the setbacks have probably been a blessing in disguise. She’s developed and I really think come next year she’ll be even bigger and stronger.
“She’s pretty immature.”
Prowess provided James with his second win in the Crystal Mile, after he trained Silent Achiever to victory in the 2012 renewal of the event.
WATCH: Prowess pounces to win the Crystal Mile
SKY'S THE LIMIT FOR FREEDMAN FILLY
Mitch Freedman’s successful spring carnival continued when his three-year-old filly Skybird made it three wins from three starts after she came from an awkward position to win the Group 2 Moonee Valley Fillies Classic (1600m, 3yo fillies).
Freedman combined with Beau Mertens again, as they did when they won the Toorak Handicap, and the trainer said it was another great ride.
“He (Mertens) can’t do much wrong for us at the moment,” Freedman said.
Mertens said he was happy to ride a patient race and follow Carina Queen into the race.
“She’s such a professional and handles herself so well,” the jockey said.
WATCH: Skybird's win in the G2 Fillies Classic at The Valley
ANTINO SUFFERS ANOTHER UNLUCKY DEFEAT
Queensland star Antino’s luckless Melbourne campaign continued when he was narrowly beaten by New Zealand mare Prowess in the Crystal Mile at The Valley after a luckless run.
Racing Victoria stewards questioned Blake Shinn after his losing ride but didn’t take any action.
Antino’s trainer Tony Gollan said he was again proud of his effort.
“He’s a very good horse. He’s been a bit luckless in Melbourne; today Bankers Choice came around us at a crucial time and we couldn’t get out of that spot and Blake then waited,” Gollan said.
Shinn had Antino in a perfect position, but he lost that spot at the 600 metres when Banker’s Choice made a run around the outside of the field. He was then held up in the straight and chose to go back to the inside and he just failed to defeat Prowess.
“He pulled up beautifully and hopefully that’s not the last we see of him this spring,” he said.
Gollan said the VRC Champions Mile on November 11 at Flemington was one of the possible options for him.
“He’s a very competitive horse. We’re disappointed in defeat but there’s always another day.”
Antino’s spring campaign has so far netted a win at Sandown, a second in the Toorak handicap and also an unlucky fourth at Flemington at his Melbourne debut.
NUGENT'S WINNING RETURN
Talented young jockey Teo Nugent celebrated his first winner since his comeback to race riding when he took out the opening race on Saturday’s card, the Strathmore Community Bendigo Bank Handicap, aboard Ashford Street.
Nugent suffered a neck fracture in a fall at The Valley on All-Star Mile Day in March which saw him sitting on the sidelines for seven months.
Saturday’s winning ride aboard Ashford Street was his first trip back to The Valley since his accident, while the occasion was made even more significant due to his lengthy association with the Ken Elford-trained gelding.
“It is great to be back,” Nugent said.
“I’ve been riding now for a touch over two weeks.
“I’ve had four seconds, gone close, but couldn’t find a winner. Great to be back here in the winners’ stall, especially on a horse like Ashford Street.
“He’s been so surreal to my career and coming out of my apprenticeship as my first winner as a senior (jockey).
“It is great to get the job done and he’s a specialty over 1000 metres. He had to carry the weight today, but he was tough in the end of it.”
WATCH: Nugent’s comeback winner
THE LASS KEEPS ON WINNING
Warrnambool-trained mare Wishlor Lass took her record to six wins from eight starts when she made it successive G3 victories with a comfortable all the way win in the Tesio Stakes (1600m, mares) at The Valley.
Bill Wilde, father of her trainer Symon, said Wishlor Lass was likely to run in the G2 Matriarch Stakes (2000m) for her next start on November 11 rather than the G1 Empire Rose Stakes (1600m) next Saturday.
Wilde said they were keen to get Wishlor Lass out over more ground as she had the build of a stayer.
Although Damian Lane led, Wilde suggested Wishlor Lass was better when she took a sit.
Lane, who also was successful on her at her previous start, said she felt a better horse in this win.
“It just just feels like she’s come on from the run again. She’s a relatively lightly experienced horse, so I feel like she’s still learning her craft,” Lane said.
He said that when he asked her to quicken she was more responsive.
Lane said he was happy to use her natural gate speed to lead and he thought, rather than let her being crossed, he was better off letting her stride.
Wishlor Lass ($2.20 fav) defeated Thalassophile ($6.50) by a length and a quarter with Osmose ($6.50) a half head away third.
WATCH: Wishlor Lass win at The Valley
McEVOY RELISHES THE INVITATION
Kerrin McEvoy’s domination of The Invitation continued when he made three wins from three runners after he rode Espiona to victory at Randwick.
McEvoy charged home late on the Chris Waller-trained mare to defeat the Ciaron Maher and David Eustace-trained Ruthless Dame by a half neck, with another Victorian Magic Time a short head away third.
“It’s a nice race to be winning. It makes up for not being there for Cox Plate day, but it’s a great racing day up here as well,” McEvoy said.
McEvoy’s other wins in The Invitation were on Icebath in 2021 and Promise Of Success last year.