Romantic Warrior wins the 2023 Ladbrokes Cox Plate by 0.1L

History at The Valley on Ladbrokes Cox Plate Day

It was a day of firsts on the weekend at The Valley in both feature races, as Imperatriz became the first horse ever to complete the Group 1 sprinting triple crown in the Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes, while Romantic Warrior became the first Hong Kong trained horse to win the Ladbrokes Cox Plate.

Imperatriz had won her last three starts at The Valley coming into Saturday, and was priced as if unbeatable at $1.40 on race morning. With the lone Everest runner Buenos Noches scratched at the gates after bleeding from the mouth, followed by expected leader Jigsaw being slowly away, Opie Bosson took up the initiative and took the star mare to the lead for the first time in her career.

What proceeded was a painless watch for her backers and her connections, with the daughter of I Am Invincible controlling affairs to streak away a dominant 3.2 length winner. With that victory, Imperatriz became the first horse ever to win the William Reid Stakes, Moir Stakes and Manikato since all races have had Group 1 status, in the same year.

In other record-breaking news, it was also her eighth Group 1 victory overall and her fifth of the season, surpassing Paddington to become the world’s leading Group 1 winner of 2023. Trainer Mark Walker was full of praise for her jockey Opie Bosson, stating the tactics change mid-race was a stroke of brilliance.

“That’s the genius of Opie”, Walker said.

“He jumped so well, so why take away that advantage? I think she had it in the bag a long way from home really.”

Opie Bosson has ridden some of Te Akau’s best horses in recent memory, including Melody Belle and Te Akau Shark, but says Imperatriz is the best he’s ever ridden, and by some margin.

“She’s just something special… she is by far (the best horse I’ve ridden).”

Racegoers only had to wait 50 minutes to witness another special piece of history at The Valley, as Romantic Warrior won an epic renewal of the Ladbrokes Cox Plate and became the first Hong Kong trained horse to win Australia’s Best Race.

The 124-rated international was poor by his lofty standards first up in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington, but he did have genuine excuses, and both jockey James McDonald and trainer Danny Shum were keen he had made the necessary improvement to figure in the finish at his next outing.

They were right. Romantic Warrior was crunched in betting late on the World Pool, starting $2.80 on the tote and $3.60 fixed, and found the perfect spot in running perched fourth, one off the fence. It was almost a carbon copy ride to the one James McDonald gave Anamoe 12 months ago in the race, but the Hong Kong champ had to work much harder in the final 100 metres to secure victory.

Alligator Blood shot for the lead on the home turn, but Mr Brightside and Romantic Warrior soon passed him, one on the fence and one in lane six, creating the best Ladbrokes Cox Plate finish in the last decade.

The drama was intensified by the fact team Hayes thought they had won, as did much of the crowd, while Danny Shum celebrated on the winning post as they passed him, thinking he had indeed won. Race caller Matt Hill soon announced Romantic Warrior had gotten the photo – illation for Hong Kong, dismay for Lindsay Park.

“I’m very happy. I don’t know how to tell you how happy I am!” trainer Danny Shum said post-race.

Jockey James McDonald, who won his second consecutive Ladbrokes Cox Plate, echoed the excitement of Shum, but didn’t share his same certainty on the finish line.

“Oh my god, I thought I got beat”, McDonald said.

“I can’t believe we’ve won the Cox Plate. It means so much, I’ve had so much to do with him. I’ve been singing his praises in how much he’s improved.”

In winning the 2023 Ladbrokes Cox Plate, Romantic Warrior becomes the fifth international to win the race, following Adelaide 2014, Lys Gracieux 2019, Sir Dragonet 2020 and State Of Rest 2021.