Winx is the greatest racehorse we have ever seen.
Her record in the W.S. Cox Plate stands alone as the only four-time winner of the race, and her remarkable career on the racetrack stands alone in Australian racing history.
The superstar mare, trained by Chris Waller and ridden by Hugh Bowman, will be remembered for her incredible four-year run of 33 consecutive race wins, which included 25 Group 1 wins. Both – most consecutive wins and most Group 1 wins - are an Australasian record.
After being ranked variously as the world's best mare and the world's best horse on turf, what was already known by many was confirmed officially in 2018… Winx was ranked the world's outright best racehorse in the World's Best Racehorse Rankings.
Winx is also just the third horse, after Black Caviar and Sunline, to be inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame whilst still racing.
Winx's four Cox Plates were each different in their own way. In 2015 her greatness was unknown, but a rail-hugging ride by Hugh Bowman saw her easily win the race and stamp herself as a champion. In 2016 it was billed as 'The Race of this Century' as she went head-to-head with Godolphin star Hartnell, but at the 600 metre mark the race was over, with Winx winning by a staggering eight lengths, a record margin for the race. 2017 she was setting out to equal the great Kingston Town's record of three Cox Plate wins and the heaving Valley crowd held its breath as Humidor and Blake Shinn rallied to push the champ all the way to the line. Despite offers to head overseas, immortality awaited Winx as Chris Waller set her for a record fourth W.S. Cox Plate, and while overseas raider Benbatl provided some strong competition, Winx went on to create history as racecaller Matt Hill screamed euphorically, 'COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE LEGEND - GREATNESS'.
The Winx ownership in Debbie Kepitis, Peter Tighe and Richard Treweeke all played a vital role in sharing Winx's story with the nation as she captured the hearts and minds of those outside the racing industry. Her name was creative in its inception thanks to Richard Treweeke, as the daughter of Street Cry out of Vegas Showgirl was given Winx due to 'Vegas’ girls winking at audience members at their shows.
The great mare holds an undisputable place among the very best horses to ever grace the racetrack in Australia. She was an icon, an immortal and a racehorse of the like that we may never see again, and her bronze statue now stands proudly at The Valley in eternity in Tote Park.
So You Think
If a Cox Plate was won on looks alone, So You Think would win by the length of The Valley straight. A striking bay colt that sometimes appeared almost black with a long flowing dark mane, So You Think stamped himself as a champion at just his fifth start when the Bart Cummings trained three-year-old took out the 2009 W.S. Cox Plate with Glen Boss onboard.
The son of High Chaparral had won two of his first four starts and the debate raged in the lead-up as to whether his form warranted a place in the W.S. Cox Plate field, with the Committee deciding he was worth the gamble. History suggests they were more than vindicated.
In a slick time of 2:03:98, Glen Boss didn’t give his competitors a chance in the race with a front-running victory by two and half lengths, with race caller Greg Miles rightfully claiming “Bart’s done it again” with the champion trainer’s fourth win in the race that had included Dane Ripper (1997), Saintly (1996) and Taj Rossi (1973). It was also owner Dato Tan Chin Nam’s second Cox Plate victory following Saintly’s win.
So You Think returned 12 months later and at just his tenth start he started one of the shortest priced favourites in the race’s history. This time Steven Arnold took the ride and it while he opted to take a sit on More Joyous rather than lead throughout, the then four-year-old was never troubled and won with ease. Jockey Steven Arnold joked that he thought So You Think was so special he used to wipe his feet before he got onto the horse.
Cummings’ track rider Joe Agresta also paid a special tribute to So You Think, saying that apart from being a champion, such was his status, that he was a “horse of a generation”. Foreman Reg Fleming also had an emotional response when quizzed on his opinion of the stallion… “You want to know how special he is? If I’m having a bad day, I’ll go in his box with him, after that, I’m having a good day!”
So You Think’s stunning second victory in 2010 had now put him on par with the feats of champions like Phar Lap, Tobin Bronze, Sunline and Northerly as a dual winner of Australia’s greatest weight-for-age race. While Cummings was a genius trainer, he was never overly forthcoming with his praise given he trained so many superstars, but did offer this on So You Think. “It takes a special horse to win a Cox Plate, it takes a great horse to win two.”
The question remains, how many Cox Plates could So You Think have won had he stayed in Australia? Having been sold to Coolmore for a princely sum reported to be around $30M and more, he was sent to Aidan O’Brien and would go on to win five international Group 1 races including the Irish Champion Stakes and Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
So You Think entered the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2019 and currently serves as a shuttle stallion in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres for Coolmore Stud, having sired six individual Group 1 winners with many more to come.
Ask any non-racing folk who are some of the famous racehorses they know, and Phar Lap is often the one that springs to mind.
Even some 90 years after his heroic reign as Australia’s best horse, his story continues to be passed on from generation to generation, and you will do well to find someone who hasn’t stumbled across his name at some point in time.
Phar Lap was a burly New Zealand-bred chestnut who for obvious reasons adopted the nickname “Big Red.” A gelding who came from humble beginnings as a cheap purchase, Phar Lap was a key driver for motivation and hope during the Great Depression as he often defied the realms of possibility and gave Australians great happiness in times of hardship.
A dual Cox Plate Champion amongst many other accolades, Phar Lap was adored by fans but understandably envied by his opposition. Despite this, he wasn’t always the dominant force he eventually became.
In fact, it took Phar Lap five starts to break his maiden as a two-year-old and a further five starts to win again as a three-year-old, and at that point his measly price tag of 160 guineas probably would have seemed justified.
But, from there, he was close to unbeatable. He won 18 of his next 21 starts, including wins in the Rosehill Guineas, AJC Derby, Craven Plate twice, VRC St Leger and the VRC Derby, where he defeated the high-priced colt Carradale owned by VRC Chairman L.K.S Mackinnon, prompting Mackinnon to ban geldings from competing in the classic moving forward.
Such was Phar Lap’s dominance that many, including authorities, took it upon themselves to change rules to get him beaten or try and prevent him from running, a common theme throughout his career and one that saw him the centre of controversy when withdrawn from races or when carrying monstrous weights in the handicaps he contested.
Unfortunately for those who rivalled him, these monstrous weights weren’t feasible at weight-for-age level in the W.S. Cox Plate, and so in 1930 he came to The Valley as the 1/7 favourite, and duly saluted, running away a four-length victor and untested by his rider Jim Pike.
Expected to win, his Cox Plate success was hardly newsworthy for the press. Phar Lap was only news when he was beaten or when he was the subject of drama. As was the case when he was controversially scratched from the Caulfield Cup by his trainer Harry Telford, or when he was later shot at by gangsters who deemed that the only way possible to deny him from an inevitable Melbourne Cup win.
Much to the heroics of his beloved strapper Tommy Woodcock, who shielded Phar Lap from the gunfire and got him to safety, Big Red and Woodcock survived.
Not only did he survive, but he got better on the track. He further extended his winning streak coming into his five-year-old season, before tasting defeat, only losing once when badly underdone. He went into the 1931 Cox Plate as an even shorter priced favourite than the year before, this time at 1/14.
Unbackable by the average punter, Phar Lap still had support from the high-end stake punters, with one keen backer happy to outlay 200 pounds just to profit 16. Phar Lap didn’t let them down, streaking away for another effortless two-and-a-half length victory after coasting to the lead approaching the turn.
After the 1931 Cox Plate, Phar Lap only raced three more times, winning his second Mackinnon Stakes, carrying an impossible 70.5kg in the Melbourne Cup where he could only manage eighth, and a final famous victory in Mexico in the Agua Caliente Handicap.
Glen Boss is one of the biggest race riders the sport has ever seen.
A recognisable household name with 90 Career Group 1 wins, Boss has now won four W.S. Cox Plates and stands equal as the second most successful jockey ever in the race’s great history.
Bossy’s first Cox Plate came on the Champion mare Makybe Diva in 2005, 10 days before the pair claimed their third consecutive Melbourne Cup - an achievement that will likely never be equalled again let alone surpassed.
The Diva came into the 2005 Cox Plate as the even money favourite and with a target on her back as all the other jockeys in the race were trying to get her beat.
In an effort to take Bossy and the Diva out of their comfort zone, opposition riders tried to eyeball her and take off 600 metres from home, only playing into the hands of the nation’s best stayer as she sustained the run and proved much too strong for them.
It was a win of a great, summarised perfectly by a jockey who knew his horse all too well, and it put the rubber-stamp on Makybe Diva as one of the greatest horses in Australian Racing history.
In the 2009 Cox Plate we saw the unearthing of a superstar, as Boss partnered the striking three-year-old colt So You Think to victory by leading all the way at luxurious odds of 12/1.
With just 49.5kg on his back, So You Think cruised to the home turn while the chasing pack were hard off the bit, and at that point Glen Boss knew he had his secured his second Cox Plate victory.
Ocean Park provided Glen Boss with his third Cox Plate win in 2012, and for Bossy this was as satisfying as any of them.
Only months earlier, Bossy rode Ocean Park for the very first time in the Rosehill Guineas, and even he admits he could be to blame for the loss after a “terrible” ride that saw Ocean Park run second.
Boss later made amends in the best way possible, winning three Group 1’s in a row on Ocean Park later in the year which culminated in a thrilling Cox Plate victory over the star three-year-old All Too Hard.
With the best recent Cox Plate record of any jockey in the last 20 years, it was only fitting that Boss would take out Cox Plate 100 on Irish raider Sir Dragonet in 2020.
With no crowd on course due to the coronavirus pandemic which shook Australia and the world, the images of Bossy high in the irons, saluting aboard Sir Dragonet in front of empty grandstands as the 100th edition of our great race will live on forever.
Of course, crowd or no crowd Bossy was in his own element and after the seas parted for him and he had Cox Plate four in his keeping he was later quoted, “it felt too easy for me.”
2003 Australian Racing Hall of fame inductee Lee Freedman is known best as the trainer behind the great Makybe Diva, but 13 years before his mare won the Cox Plate and completed her miracle Melbourne Cup hat-trick, he won his first Cox Plate with the mighty Super Impose.
Super Impose was no stranger to the weight-for-age scene at the time. The veteran eight-year-old gelding was in his final season of racing, having already won eleven Group 1 races and Freedman was primarily just using the Cox Plate as a final lead-up run to the Melbourne Cup, rather than thinking he was a leading contender.
Freedman had the even money favourite in the 1992 Cox Plate, a star four-year-old named Naturalism, who had taken all before him in the lead-up by winning the Alister Clark Stakes, Rosehill Guineas, Australian Derby, Feehan Stakes, Memsie Stakes, and Turnbull Stakes that year.
What happened in that Cox Plate is something we will never forget and to this day remains one of the great ‘what ifs’ of the weight-for-age championship of Australasia.
Palace Reign, who rode the speed up front, for no apparent reason crossed his legs and fell, not only dislodging his own rider but collecting two more horses behind him, one of whom was the heavily backed favourite Naturalism.
The long-striding Super Impose avoided the wreckage of the fall out wide and came with his swooping run around the outside to score, an incredible training effort in what proved to be the penultimate race of Super’s brilliant career.
Fate can be a funny thing, but Freedman would also win his second Cox Plate with Makybe Diva in the second last race of her career also in 2005.
The Diva already laid claims to being the best mare Australia had ever seen at that time, but a Cox Plate berth is something she had not been afforded by Freedman until the final hour.
Twice Makybe Diva had been beaten in photo finishes in the Feehan Stakes at The Valley, but out to 2040m for the first time in 2005 she would finally get her day in the sun.
The Diva simply outstayed her rivals that day, with her opposition jockeys taking off 600 metres from home in an effort to beat her, only to their own detriment, for she was a mare who had what seemed to be unlimited staying capacity when she needed it.
Not many jockeys in Cox Plate history can claim a nickname such as “The Enforcer,” but that’s exactly the title Mick Dittman earnt himself with his deeds in the saddle, often showcasing his strength and vigour in tight finishes where it mattered most.
A decorated career spanning over thirty years, Dittman won 88 Group 1 races, won the Sydney Jockey Premiership three times, and was also inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2002.
Furthermore, he completed the prized grand slam of Australian racing. A quartet of races that all jockeys strive to win, Dittman won all of the four majors which included the Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, three Golden Slippers, and two Cox Plates, going back-to-back in 1983 and 1984 with Strawberry Road and Red Anchor.
Strawberry Road was his first Cox Plate winner in 1983 and coming off the great three-peat of the champion Kingston Town, there was certainly a void left to fill.
All in all, Strawberry Road wasn’t a horse that could be mentioned in the same breath as The King, but given he was adjudged the Victorian Racing Club’s Champion Australian Racehorse for 1982-83 over the champ, he was certainly a worthy heir to the throne.
Dittman rode a brilliant race in the 83’ Cox Plate. Like is often the case in the Cox Plate, the speed was hot from the outset, and he was able to position Strawberry Road perfectly tucked just in behind the leaders.
A horse who settled best when smothered up behind runners, Strawberry Road couldn’t have enjoyed a better run. Once Dittman angled him out approaching the turn, the four-year-old stallion exploded away for an emphatic win, quickly putting three-and-a-half lengths on his rivals in an effortless display.
Dittman again won the Cox Plate the following year on the exciting three-year-old colt Red Anchor. This time his mount was expected to win, installed as the 8/11 favourite, and for added pressure champion trainer TJ Smith would be aiming to win a record breaking seventh Cox Plate.
At breakfast with the best gallops on the Tuesday morning, Dittman partnered Red Anchor in his final piece of work, and it was almost a million-dollar tragedy. Approaching the 800m mark Red Anchor slipped and skidded across the track, nearly coming down in an incident the star jockey described as “really scary.”
And so, Dittman certainly earnt his riding fee in the 84’ Cox Plate. Street Café, another three-year-old led from the start, and Dittman admits he had to ride Red Anchor from a long way out.
He gained the ascendancy turning for home, but Red Anchor only did as much as he had to, putting the 33/1 chance Street Café away by three quarters of a length.
Dittman later said Red Anchor had only been loafing, not uncommon in class horses, but it also could have been the colt’s bad memories of his Valley trackwork only days earlier. Whatever the case, Red Anchor won, and then won again effortlessly in the Victorian Derby, with his trainer TJ Smith boldly declaring him “The New Tulloch.”
In 2018 the great trainer Colin Hayes was elevated to Legend status in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, a feat only achieved by two other trainers in Australian Racing history - TJ Smith and Bart Cummings.
Colin Hayes has a firm footprint cemented in W.S. Cox Plate history, having won the race three times on three great champions in the 70s and 80s.
Having won back-to-back Cox Plates in 1978-1979, his third win came in 1989 and after retirement that same year, the script could not have been written better when his son and successor David took the reins and won the following year in 1990.
Colin Hayes established Lindsay Park Racing Stables in 1965, an innovative yet frowned upon move at the time where he trained his horses in the hilly, countryside terrain of the Barossa Valley, South Australia instead of at the metro racetracks where his rival trainers remained.
By the time his first Cox Plate win came in 1978 with So Called, Hayes had already established himself as one of, if not the best trainer in Australia, so the fact he described So Called as the best horse he had ever trained certainly had a weight of merit.
Hayes was once quoted as saying So Called “could be the next Tulloch,” but two starts after that awesome Cox Plate victory where he beat the previous year’s winner Family Of Man, So Called strained a tendon and was retired to stud soon after.
Unfortunately, So Called would never reach his full potential under Hayes, but what followed in 1979 was a far greater magnitude version of that.
Hayes had the star four-year-old Dulcify targeting the Cox Plate in 1979, who would start a clear 7/4 favourite after winning the Turnbull Stakes easily a few weeks prior.
What we witnessed in that Cox Plate is, to this day, is one of the most destructive victories in the race’s history, as jockey Brent Thomson took off 500 metres from home and won by a widening seven length margin.
Thomson, who has four Cox Plate wins to his name from as many rides, nominates Dulcify as the best horse he has ever ridden, so the tragedy that followed when Dulcify was galloped on in the 1979 Melbourne Cup, fracturing his pelvis and being put down truly saddened a nation.
The Colin Hayes masterclass rolled on in the 80s and in 1989 he acquired talented French import Almaarad, who raced in the Shadwell colours, which have been closely associated with Lindsay Park to the present day.
Two days before the 1989 Cox Plate, Hayes announced he would retire at the end of the season, so when Almaarad was able to gain the ascendancy and nail the three-year-old Stylish Century in the Cox Plate it was a certainly a fitting way for the now hall of fame trainer to bow out.
What was even more fitting that a fresh-faced, twenty-six-year-old David Hayes would take over the largest racing operation in the country the following year. David was closely followed and scrutinised in the public eye, so to handle that pressure and to then win the Cox Plate with champion thoroughbred Better Loosen Up was a monumental effort.
With the foundations laid, David made a seemingly faultless transition as the new head of Lindsay Park and even though he had the right horses in his stable the pressure was still immense.
Better Loosen Up was sent out an even money favourite, and after Stylish Century the tearaway leader set a fearsome tempo throughout, he needed to call upon his champion qualities to run them down to the roars of the crowd.
Roy Higgins, nicknamed ‘The Professor’ due to his undeniable talent in the saddle, was one of the most successful jockeys in Australian Racing History.
A career stemming 31 years, Higgins rode 2,312 winners, won the Melbourne Jockey’s Premiership a record-equalling 11 times, and won nearly every Australian major race despite an ongoing battle with weight throughout his career.
He also won Australia’s greatest weight-for-age race, the Cox Plate, twice. Higgins’ first Cox Plate came on New Zealand galloper Sir Dane in 1964, while his second, a famous victory for many reasons, came on the mighty grey Gunsynd in 1972.
Sir Dane was a classy type who came into the Cox Plate with strong credentials. He won the Craiglee Stakes (now Makybe Diva Stakes) and the Turnbull Stakes early in the spring, with minor placings in strong editions of both the Underwood and Caulfield Stakes.
This form saw him start a pronounced 4/1 favourite in the Caulfield Cup, where he failed finishing back in ninth position. However, his jockey Roy Higgins remained adamant he was much better suited in the weight-for-age races rather than the handicaps.
Higgins could not have been more correct. Despite an alarming betting drift from 3/1 out to 11/2, Sir Dane relished the hot tempo coming back from 2400m in the Caulfield Cup, settling back in the field, and once Higgins released the breaks the four-year-old let down with a most powerful sprint.
Sir Dane annihilated his rivals, running away a four-length winner, with Higgins admitting post-race he knew he had his first Cox Plate won 800 metres from home.
The 1972 Cox Plate victory of Gunsynd was one of the most popular results in Cox Plate history since Phar Lap’s double in 1931.
Gunsynd’s owners originated from the small town of Goondiwindi Queensland, where they made a small four-man syndicate and bought a $1,300 grey yearling from the 1969 Brisbane sales.
The syndicate named him by combining the town Goondiwindi (pronounced Gundawindi) and syndicate, and the legend of the Goondiwindi grey, Gunsynd was born.
Gunsynd developed a strong cult following in his reign at the top, and Roy Higgins says the grey knew he was the star of the show. On Cox Plate Day in 1972 he recalls Gunsynd looking to the stands before the race, before giving an “almighty flourish” after the announcer had called his name, before trotting off to the applause of 41,720 fans, as if he knew they had all come just to see him.
Gunsynd and Higgins did not let their fans down. From the second widest barrier they settled last, letting the race unfold in front of them, and once Higgins made the mid-race move and circled the field, the Goondiwindi grey was never going to get beaten.
Like champions do, he sustained the long run to win by a length, surpassing Tulloch’s all-time stakes-winning record with some crowd members even crying tears of joy post-race.
That’s how much he meant to the public and Higgins knew it. He admitted earlier in the week that he felt the pressure and that he felt a “tremendous sense of responsibility” to ride Gunsynd.
For a horse to be at the barriers awaiting a start in the Cox Plate is a lifetime of work for a trainer and the thrill of a lifetime for connections.
So, what about participating in five W.S. Cox Plates? It’s an extremely rare feat that was achieved by one of the most consistent gallopers the race has ever seen, with Fields of Omagh not only competing in five editions of the race, but he also won two of them and placed second, third and fifth. Truly remarkable from this durable and resilient son of Rubiton, who cost only $50,000.
His Cox Plate record is only matched by a champion of the turf in Tranquil Star, who also contested the race five times in 1941-45, for a similar record of two wins.
Affectionately known as FOO, Fields of Omagh twice overcame significant ligament injuries and was originally trained by legendary trainer Peter Hayes before he was tragically killed in a light plane accident, which saw the horse move under the guidance of Lindsay Park foreman turned Head Trainer Tony McEvoy.
Many remember FOO’s 2003 victory as a result of the race call by Bryan Martin, who also happened to be the managing owner of the horse. Up against red-hot favourite Lonhro, Fields of Omagh pounced from behind the leaders on the turn to stay on strongly in rain-soaked conditions. Martin called his winner over the line then sprinted down the stairs from the racecaller’s box high in the grandstand to be with the winning connections.
“I beat the owners out of the stand and beat the chief steward into the enclosure and I had come down from the broadcast box and six flights of stairs,” Martin recalls with a laugh.
The 2006 Cox Plate arrives and at the odds of 20-1 Fields of Omagh would write his name in the record books as a dual winner, this time under trainer David Hayes who had returned from Hong Kong to take over Lindsay Park Racing. Jockey Craig Williams was this time in the saddle for his first Cox Plate win, with David recording his second win after Better Loosen Up 16 years earlier.
It was one of the tightest finishes the race has ever seen, with Fields of Omagh, favourite El Segundo and leader Pompei Ruler battling it out to the very end, with FOO persisting after the judge called for a photo. It was a remarkable win, this time bathed in sunshine, and Martin again calling the race from high-above.
Before the race connections had decided whatever the result was in the race, Fields of Omagh would be retired after an amazing career. Little did they think he would go out on top as one of the best and most consistent horses the Weight-For-Age Championship race has ever seen.
Northerly was a beacon for Western Australian racing aptly named the ‘Fighting Tiger’ as he loved a scrap and his two Cox Plate wins underlined that very fact.
Northerly’s first win in the 2001 W.S. Cox Plate showcased his true fighting capabilities and it is a race that it still talked about more often than many other editions due to the controversial finish. He was part of a three-horse war down the home straight with legendary New Zealand runner Sunline and rising three-year-old colt Viscount. It was the battle of battles, which played into the hands of the tough West Australian who proved too strong at the end, but he had to survive protests from both the placegetters to keep the first prize.
He was the first Western Australian trained horse to win the race since Aquanita in 1962 and Damien Oliver, being another proud product of WA, was thrilled to get the win despite a nervous wait in the steward’s room. Trained by former star harness driver and trainer Fred Kersley, Northerly was the rising star of the Melbourne spring that year and was sent out as a 5/2 second favourite behind Sunline, who was out to equal Kingston Town’s record of three Cox Plate wins in a row.
Sunline was such a favourite amongst the Cox Plate Day crowd and so keen were they to witness history achieved on the day, many punters booed the result due to the fact Northerly had spoilt the party. When the protest siren rang across the course, a huge cheer went up and the nerves were pulpable as they waited on the verdict.
Sunline’s jockey Greg Childs later commented that his protest was somewhat frivolous and was done so to ‘muddy’ the waters in the steward’s room, saying the best horse on the day won and the result was fair. The irony was Childs was Northerly’s regular jockey and he had to decide between the two stars, saying he could never part with Sunline given the history they have had.
Northerly came back the year after and made it two in a row when he again sat behind Sunline in the run and proved too strong for a field which also included Lonhro and international visitor Grandera. Sunline was in the twilight of her career and, while still commanding great respect, was always going to find it hard to hold off the WA star, with Lonhro his main danger sharing equal-favouritism.
Jockey Patrick Payne took the ride when Greg Childs again chose to stick with Sunline and he rode the perfect race, sitting off Sunline in the run and overhauling the mare in the straight to hold off the fast-finishing Defier and Grandera.
The win saw Northerly become just the fourth horse in history to win the Caulfield Cup – Cox Plate double in the same year, behind Tranquil Star (1942), Rising Fast (1954) and Tobin Bronze in 1967.
The famous black and white chequered silks with the golden sleeves, worn by some of the greats in Think Big, Saintly and So You Think have become synonymous with success in Australian Racing.
Those famous silks belonged to leviathan owner Dato Tan Chin Nam, a Malaysian entrepreneur and developer who was also Bart Cummings’ number one owner in his 40-year-long reign as one of Australia’s best trainers.
“My distinguished racing colours – black and white squares, like on a chess board, and gold sleeves, as in Chinese tradition betokening prosperity – represent my passions in life, for the royal game and yes, money,” Dato Tan Chin Nam said to Bart as they met beside a hotel swimming pool many decades ago.
Dato Tan Chin Nam was a larger-than-life character whose motto as an owner was simply ‘share the joy.’ A motto that was clearly evident in the photos captured of Chin Nam celebrating feature race success with Bart and other connections after some of their major wins.
Dato Tan Chin Nam won three Cox Plates with Bart, the first with “the horse from heaven” Saintly in 1996 and the next two with global superstar So You Think in 2009 and 2010.
Saintly was the horse from heaven for more reasons than one. Yes, it was in his name, but it also derived from jockey Darren Beadman, a born-again Christian who had chosen the ride on Saintly in the 96’ Cox Plate after seeking divine guidance.
Beadman had the choice to ride the previous year’s winner, the mighty Octagonal, but it came as some surprise when he opted to go with Bart and Chin Nam and select Saintly. Of course, Saintly won, and then going on to win the Melbourne Cup too, joining elite company in completing the grand double in the same season.
Chin Nam had dual Cup winner Think Big in 1974-1975, Saintly who was champion Australian Thoroughbred in the 1976 season, and Viewed who won the Cup in 2008, but the best horse he ever owned in many people’s opinion including his trainer was So You Think.
So You Think was a genuine superstar. He won the Cox Plate in 2009 as a three-year-old and then came back in 2010 and won it easily again, and had he not been sold overseas to conquer the world stage he may well have won three or more Cox Plates.
So You Think has been a special horse for more reasons than one. He was a star on the track with the looks to match. He won Group 1 races overseas after being sold to Coolmore as a Stallion for upwards of $30million, and he has now become one of the most successful sires of the 21st century.
Chin Nam founded a Stud Farm of his own, Think Big Stud, which he acquired in 2007 in the hilly regions of Burradoo, New South Wales. For 10 years he was the sole owner of the stud, a project he held close to his heart, before selling to Greg & Jo Griffin in 2017.
“Good luck, good health and may God bless you as our partners,” he wrote, a true measure of the great man he was.
From 2005-2018, the Moonee Valley Racing Club and the Chin Nam family re-named the Group 2 Feehan Stakes ‘The Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes’ in his honour, a race that remains the only ballot exempt ticket into the Cox Plate.
Octagonal, Might and Power, Savabeel and Maldivian.
Four great winners of the Cox Plate, but what do they all have in common?
Well, they are all sons of champion New Zealand sire Zabeel.
Zabeel had a great career on the track in his own right. He won the Group 2 Moonee Valley Stakes (now Bill Stutt Stakes) the Group 2 Alister Clark Stakes, the Group 1 Australian Guineas and the Group 1 Craiglee Stakes (now Makybe Diva Stakes).
He was trained by the great Colin Hayes as a two and three-year-old before David Hayes took over Lindsay Park in his four-year-old season. A son of great Irish sire Sir Tristram, Zabeel was destined for a career at stud from the moment he stepped foot onto the track, and so he was duly retired in 1991 and sent to the breeding barn with an ample career record of 19: 7-4-1.
As they say, the rest is history. Zabeel has become arguably the greatest sire in Australian and New Zealand Racing history.
He was awarded leading sire in Australia in 1998 and 1999 and was named Champion New Zealand sire in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. To support this, after he retired from stud in 2013, he had produced 1007 individual winners, 148 stakes winners, 43 Group 1 winners and $170million in worldwide earnings. These numbers would have only risen in the years after his official retirement.
While Zabeel’s overall statistics are more than impressive, it is the accomplishments of his progeny in the Cox Plate that has really put his name on the map, in particular with ‘The Big O’ and Might and Power.
To sire one Cox Plate is an achievement that sits right at the top of any breeding page, but to sire four Cox Plates with four different horses is unprecedented.
Octagonal was Zabeel’s first Cox Plate winner in 1995, a champion juvenile who went on to produce a star on and off the track himself, Lonhro.
‘Occy’ had a terrific will to win. His narrow victory over Mahogany in the 95’ Cox Plate became a trademark of his, as if he always knew where the winning post was, often successful in tight finishes.
Might and Power was Zabeel’s next Cox Plate winner. He was a bold, front-running superstar who seemed to have limitless staying capacity.
He won both the Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup in 1997, before coming back to complete the holy trinity in the 1998 Cox Plate. In doing so, he became only the second horse in history to win the Cox Plate the year after the Melbourne Cup. The other was Phar Lap.
In 2004 Savabeel became the third Cox Plate winning son and given the similarities in name he was certainly a recognisable one. He was another three-year-old winner for Zabeel, and funnily enough he was the first three-year-old Cox Plate winner since Octagonal in 1995.
The fourth and final Cox Plate winner for Zabeel was Maldivian and again it was another all the way winner. Maldivian was rated perfectly by jockey Michael Rodd, and once he could have a breather down the school side, he was always travelling the best, holding off Zipping to win by a length.
“She might be the greatest in the world Sunline”.
Race caller Bryan Martin called the now famous line as Sunline and Greg Childs strode seven lengths clear, securing back-to-back Cox Plates in 2000.
Greg Childs had seen all the top New Zealand jockeys travel to Australia and win the Cox Plate; Brent Thomson, Gary Willetts, Noel Harris, David Walsh and Lance O’Sullivan, and he was eager to be part of that and write his own name into the history of the great race.
In the 1998 Cox Plate, Childs rode 100/1 chance Northern Drake into second place. Having run fifth and third in previous Cox Plates, he may have thought he was a bit hard done by to run into the champion Might and Power, but little did he know he would be riding a champion of his own the following year.
Northern Drake was scratched on the eve of the 1999 Cox Plate, but Childs was booked to ride the free-rolling New Zealand mare Sunline who jostled for favouritism with star three-year-old Redoute’s Choice in the build-up.
Redoute’s Choice was aiming to emulate the feats of Octagonal, Red Anchor and filly Surround who had previously won the Cox Plate in their juvenile year, but legendary trainer Bart Cummings, who had won ten Melbourne Cups, six Caulfield Cups and three Cox Plates up until that point insisted the mare Sunline would lead all the way and prove too strong for them.
That is precisely how the race panned out. Childs sent Sunline straight to the front from barrier 4, rating her at perfect sections for the entirety of the race, and when the pair slipped three lengths clear approaching the turn their opposition simply had no answer. Tie the Knot rallied late for second, but the race was well and truly over.
The following year there were no 6/1 odds about Sunline in the Cox Plate, as she had won the Coolmore Classic, All Aged Stakes, Manikato Stakes, Memsie Stakes and Feehan Stakes in the lead-up, with narrow runners-up performances in both the Doncaster Mile and Turnbull Stakes on either side.
Despite being the 11/8 favourite, Sunline drew the outside barrier of 13 in the 2000 Cox Plate. Adding to the drama, Glen Boss riding 4/1 second elect Sky Heights, said in the media that he was going to take the race right up to Greg Childs and give Sunline no peace as she aimed to become the second mare in Cox Plate history to go back-to-back in the race since Flight in 1946.
What unfolded in the 2000 Cox Plate stands alongside Dulcify in 1979 and Winx in 2016 as one the most dominant performances we’ve ever seen, accompanied by a brilliant Greg Childs ride that seemed almost too cool given the pressure he faced in the build-up.
Sunline wasn’t able to lead from the wide draw, but Childs was happy to sit second and let his mount stride freely. Passing the 800-metre mark, he slipped the mare a fraction more rein and she only got stronger, catching the chasers off the bit a long way from home before proceeding to kick clear a seven-length winner.
Childs rode Sunline again in the 2001 Cox Plate, where she was narrowly beaten by Northerly despite some controversy in the straight with interference where Child’s lodged protest was dismissed.
In 2002 he rode her again, and while the pair looked to have Northerly in trouble down the side, the “Fighting Tiger” would rally with Sunline having to settle for fourth.
Bart Cummings stands alone as the greatest trainer in Australian Racing history.
An illustrious career stemming 62 years, ‘Bart’ not only had the best resume of any trainer who has ever lived, but he also had the longest list of individual recognitions that included the Order of Australia medal, former Australian National Treasure, induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and legendary status in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame.
Having won a record 12 Melbourne Cups, Bart was known as ‘The Cups King,’ but he also won five Cox Plates across four decades with Taj Rossi (1973), Saintly (1996), Dane Ripper (1997), and So You Think (2009/2010).
Taj Rossi was the star three-year-old who delivered Bart his first Cox Plate. A mudlark who appreciated the rain that arrived on Cox Plate eve in 1973, Taj Rossi made use of the 5-kilogram weight swing he had on Caulfield Cup winning mare Swell Time and was able to repel her in the thrilling battle they had down the Valley straight.
Given he got his conditions to suit and had the featherweight of 49.5kg, some questioned the legitimacy of Taj Rossi’s true ability, however Bart lay those doubts to rest following the Cox Plate by winning the Victoria Derby, Salinger Handicap and the Sandown Guineas in the following three weeks.
The second Cox Plate came some 23 years later with Saintly. Often reserved with his emotions, Bart described the 1996 Cox Plate win as “one of the greatest thrills” of his life, even shedding a tear post-race to which he quickly dismissed with one of his typical one-liners - “it must be hay fever.”
Having won Melbourne Cups at will, the Cox Plate was the one race that had continually eluded the master trainer since Taj Rossi’s win. Leading up to the Cox Plate, jockey Darren Beadman had the choice of the previous year’s winner, the mighty Octagonal, or the Australian Cup winner Saintly. Beadman, a devout Christian, admitted his choice had been influenced by having sought divine guidance, hence Saintly became known as “the Horse from Heaven.”
Bart needed not to wait long for another Cox Plate, winning it the very next year with the mare Dane Ripper. At 40/1, Dane Ripper wasn’t at all fancied by the bookies, in fact she was the “despised outsider” as race caller Bill Collins described her, but the genius of Bart was once again to the fore after a last-minute decision to accept her into the Cox Plate instead of the Crystal Mile.
With no pressure weighing on his back due to being the rank outsider, Damien Oliver rode a brilliant race, saving ground on the rail before producing the mare through the inside gap that came after favourite Filante rolled away from the fence. Dane Ripper exploded through, shot away, and won more like an odds-on chance.
Bart’s last Cox Plate winner, dual champion So You Think, is arguably the best horse he ever trained. In 2009 So You Think won his first Cox Plate as a three-year-old at only his fifth career start. An incredible training performance, the colt simply broke their hearts with only 49.5kg on his back and led all the way to win under Glen Boss.
In 2010, So You Think was established as a true weight-for-age star. He had won three Group 1 races leading up to the Cox Plate, and was installed as the $1.50 favourite, with one bookmaker paying out on winning bets before the race was even run. Under new rider Steven Arnold, So You Think sat outside More Joyous who had won her previous eight starts, and gave her windburn at the 300-metre mark, holding off the swoopers to claim his second W.S. Cox Plate.
How many race callers in history can say they syndicated a horse that ended up winning the Cox Plate… twice?
The answer is one, Bryan Martin, who not only bought and owned champion thoroughbred Fields of Omagh, but he also called him to victory in the 2003 and 2006 Cox Plates.
Bryan Martin called 28 great Cox Plates in his time behind the binoculars, but the five consecutive years that Fields of Omagh, affectionately known as FOO, contested the race will forever remain the glory days of his life.
Martin purchased Fields of Omagh for just $50,000, chump change for a horse that finished his career having won a handsome $6.5million in prizemoney.
In addition to this, one can only imagine if Martin were a betting man, he would have profited greatly from FOO’s surprisingly long SP profile.
Despite running in the race five years in a row, a record that matched Tranquil Star in the 1940’s, Fields of Omagh was never fancied in Cox Plate betting. He started 16/1 in 2002 and ran 4th, 16/1 in 2003 and won, 15/1 in 2004 for 2nd, 16/1 in 2005 for 3rd and 20/1 in 2006 where he won again.
But as we all know, racing is about much more than just money. Martin did a great job to stay composed behind the microphone after Fields of Omagh saluted in the 2003 Cox Plate. An upset result after holding off Defier and champion favourite Lonhro, even Martin had to let out a “You’ve done it!” on the line as the gelding had saluted at 16/1 odds.
Who could blame him? Although he was six flights up and in the caller’s box, Martin says he beat his fellow owners and the chief steward to the winner’s enclosure, running down the stairs in world record pace after achieving such a rare feat.
Martin would again call FOO in the 2004 and 2005 Cox Plates, running 2nd to Savabeel and 3rd behind the great Makybe Diva, but coming to the 2006 Cox Plate he had been unplaced in three runs, with the Cox Plate to be his final swansong after an illustrious career.
A nine-year-old had never won the Cox Plate and given his lead-up form had only been average, his chances seemed slim. Bookies had installed him as one of the outsiders at 20/1, with Racing to Win (11/4f) El Segundo (3/1) and Miss Finland (9/1) viewed as the main chances.
Martin admits he let out a tear as FOO led the field out before the 2006 Cox Plate. The old boy received a warm round of applause from the 34,276 fans that attended, acknowledging that this would be his final race. But not many of them would have foreseen what was about to happen next.
Fields Of Omagh missed the start, settling second last just in front of El Segundo, and Martin was merely hoping from the caller’s box that FOO could just run on into the top five.
Then, after being shuffled back even further near the school, Fields of Omagh seemed to be in an impossible position to win. El Segundo had gone past him, and he looked only to be a place chance if everything fell into place.
Suddenly, lightning struck twice. As if he was still a spritely four-year-old, FOO sprinted faster than he ever had, eating up the ground down the Valley straight with Craig Williams aboard.
“Fields of Omagh is lifting! He’s flashing down the outside!” Martin called.
He hit the line locked together with El Segundo. To the naked eye, it appeared he had just edged out his better fancied rival, but not wanting to get it wrong on the big occasion Martin stayed on the fence, leaving the verdict to the judge.
Moments later, the number ‘2’ went up in the frame, and any previous worries about conflicts of interest were out the window for Martin.
“He’s got it! He’s done it! Fields Of Omagh!”
FOO had become the first nine-year-old to win the Cox Plate, the first dual champion to win the Cox Plate three years apart, and Bryan Martin had broken his own world record for running down six flights of stairs.
No jockey in Cox Plate history has had such an immediate impact on the race as Brent “The Babe” Thomson did in the mid to late 1970’s.
Now an Australian and New Zealand Racing Hall of Fame inductee, Thomson won four Cox Plates in the space of five years, bursting onto the scene as a baby-faced teenager from New Zealand.
He won the Cox Plate on Fury’s Order in 1975, Family of Man 1977, So Called 1978 and Dulcify 1979.
A 17-year-old apprentice nicknamed the ‘Wanganui Whiz Kid’ that had uber amounts of talent, Thomson was so impressive in winning on Fury’s Order at Ellerslie in 1974 that trainer Wally McEwan wanted him to travel to Australia and ride the stallion in his spring campaign the following season.
Sure enough, Thomson packed his bags, boarded a flight to Melbourne and found himself riding a heavily backed 7/1 chance in Australasia’s biggest weight-for-age race.
That heavy backing was due to the rain that came on Cox Plate morning in 75’. Fury’s Order, a noted mudlark relished the conditions, slogging it out down the straight, and it took a brilliant Brent Thomson ride to switch back to the fence and gain the ascendancy from Kiwi Can in the final bounds.
A Cox Plate winning jockey at just 17 was a huge achievement, but more was to come. Surround won the Cox Plate the following year, becoming the first filly in history to do so, but Thomson was back for his second Cox Plate ride in 1977.
Roy Higgins, arguably the number one senior rider at the time, had chosen to ride the imported grey Raffindale over Family of Man who he had ridden in the Caulfield Cup amongst other races. It proved to be the wrong decision.
Trainer George Hanlon had no hesitation to appoint the ride to a young Brent Thomson, and yet again Thomson rode a beautiful race. Tucking in just behind the leaders, Family of Man settled just off the pace and timed his run to perfection to hit the front 200 metres from home. After looking flat-footed at the turn, Raffindale rallied to run second, but never looked like challenging the winner as Thomson had secured his second Cox Plate success from as many rides.
In 1978 Colin Hayes described So Called as the best horse he had ever trained, even saying he “could be the next Tulloch,” and Thomson was eager to go three from three in the Cox Plate and make the race his own.
Thomson agreed with Hayes, quoting So Called as the “best horse he’d ridden” and who had “unlimited potential,” so it was no surprise he had secured the ride on him in the Cox Plate, rather than Family of Man who he had ridden to victory the previous year.
With So Called suffering two defeats in the lead-up, he had been demoted to the third line of betting alongside Family of Man at 5/1. Despite this, Thomson had yet again pulled the right rein. ‘The Babe’ set So Called alight at the half-mile, gathering up his rivals with ease, and defeated Family of Man by one-and-a-half-lengths.
Three Cox Plate rides, three Cox Plate wins, riding some champions of the Australian turf. How could it get any better as a jockey?
Well, it could, and it did. So Called unfortunately suffered a strained tendon and had to be retired in early 1979, but it made way for a new weight-for-age star to take over. Dulcify.
Brent Thomson rode class gallopers all around the world following his early career success, but he can safely say Dulcify “without a doubt” was the best horse he ever rode.
Dulcify’s 79’ Cox Plate win is still one of the most destructive Cox Plate victories we have ever seen. A seven-length victor, Thomson says he merely felt like a passenger as Dulcify took off at what would have been far too early on most horses, putting his rivals to the sword and running a faster final 600 metres than the sprinters did in the Moir Stakes on the same day.
Dulcify was a freak, and amongst all the accolades Thomson achieved he was the horse people associate him with best.
With an incredible five Cox Plates etched in his name, Darby Munro remains the most successful jockey in Cox Plate history.
Munro was born into a racing family. His brother Jim was a highly talented hoop in his own right, and he won the Cox Plate in 1932.
Perhaps it was a changing of the guard when Darby would go on to win his first Cox Plate the very next year on Rogilla. Rogilla was the Caulfield Cup winner of 1932, but many, including bookmakers, expected him to be too dour to win a Cox Plate and had rated the defending champ Chatham unbeatable.
Good speed from the outset ensured Rogilla was always going to stay the journey, but the gelding surprised Munro with just how well he travelled having sat closer in the run than expected. The 8/15 favourite began to weaken and once given more rein, Rogilla exploded away for a soft victory.
In 1937, Munro rode Young Idea and given he had won the previous year carrying another jockey and presented as the even money favourite, the weight of expectation was certainly higher.
Munro found himself back in the field early but found inside runs before having to come off heels three wide upon straightening. He had executed the perfect ride, and as Young Idea gained the ascendancy late in the piece, he’d also become the first horse since Phar Lap to go back-to-back in the Cox Plate.
By 1939 Darby Munro was hailed as Australia’s best jockey and he only solidified these claims with a third Cox Plate later that year on 50/1 chance Mosaic. Much like his first Plate winner Rogilla, Mosaic was on a Melbourne Cup path and his lead up form suggested the (then) 1900m would be too short.
Race favourite High Caste was the first beaten when the pressure went on, Beau Vite had lost the rider earlier in the race, and the good three-year-old Gold Salute looked to have the race in his keeping. Mosaic had other ideas, coming with a sweeping run to nail the juvenile and shock punters and bookies alike. Was it a fluke? No, for he had broken the track record running 1:56.5.
Racing is a game of the great unknown and if Beau Vite hadn’t lost his rider in that 39’ Plate then perhaps he could have been the first to complete the three-peat, many years before Kingston Town.
Munro rode Beau Vite in his second Cox Plate success in 1941, saluting at prohibitive odds of 1/3 but justifying that quote with a terrific front-running display. Beau Vite was a champion, winning 31 of his 60 career starts including 14 placings, and his easy victory over Tranquil Star, who won two Cox Plates of her own, was demonstration as to just how good he was.
Beau Vite was an armchair ride for Munro, but he would have to wait some 11 years to record his fifth and final Cox Plate win. Yet again he rode another dual champion in Hydrogen, who also was only a neck away from completing the elusive Cox Plate treble.
Hydrogen had run second in the 1951 Cox Plate as favourite, and pilot error by Neville Selwood had been blamed for his fast-finishing second. Come the following year he was almost identical odds at 11/8, and with Munro taking the ride this time, he knew not to make similar mistakes.
After jumping cleanly Munro decided to settle Hydrogen back in the field, but he took off early, making his run at the school as instructed, and put the race beyond doubt with an easy 1 ½ length victory.
“And Bonecrusher, races into equine immortality!”
It was the race of the century, with the call of the century to match it.
Australia has been gifted with many great race callers in its time, but even our current star in the caller’s box Matt Hill admits most of his winning quotes are pre-rehearsed.
So, who could have thought of such a genius line, without notice, to accompany the greatest Cox Plate finish in history? Bill Collins could.
The build up to the 1986 Cox Plate was all about two horses. The pair of chestnuts from New Zealand Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star.
Bonecrusher was the better credentialed of the pair, having won the Tancred Stakes, Australian Derby, Caulfield Stakes and Underwood Stakes that season but Our Waverley Star was the up and comer, having won six of his nine starts including a win over Bonecrusher earlier in the year, albeit over 1200 metres.
It was billed as a match race long before the spectacle even eventuated. Bonecrusher was sent out as the 9/10 favourite, while Our Waverley Star closely followed at 3/1.
What followed is still fabled as the greatest race in history, expertly narrated by the legendary Bill Collins who captured the moment perfectly as the two great New Zealanders went toe-to-toe from the half mile.
“They’ve raced to the lead 600 out, have they gone too early!?” Collins exclaimed as they broke away from the field.
But they hadn’t, for they were in a race of their own with simply too much class on their opposition.
They raced well clear of the pack, and as they slogged it out down the straight, each giving it their maximum effort, Bill Collins was up in the caller’s box short of breath giving his.
“Our Waverley Star a half-length Bonecrusher. The Big Red won’t give in. Bonecrusher responds to the whip! The roars of the crowd! He races up to Our Waverley Star. 100 out, stride for stride, nothing in it, Our Waverley Star the rails, Bonecrusher the outside…”
And then the famous line, “And Bonecrusher, races into equine immortality!”
The replay is still drained to the point of exhaustion today, but how could you tire of hearing it? The race was hyped up to deliver a great spectacle, but no one could have predicted that.
Even Greg Miles and Bruce McAvaney were taken aback by it. They had also called the race, and immediately after agreed they had done a good job, but even they were awestruck after listening to the Bill Collins version.
When people think of great Cox Plate horses, the name Sunline is one that quickly comes to mind given the public adulation she received, both in Australia and in her homeland of New Zealand.
This striking mare was a bold front runner that set out at a cracking pace and sought to break the hearts of her competitors through sectional times that had clockers looking twice at their stopwatch.
It was also her partnership with jockey Greg Childs that punters remember so fondly, with the two inseparable throughout her career, along with Sunline’s strapper Claire Bird.
Sunline competed in four W.S. Cox Plates in a row, winning two of them, placing second behind Northerly in her historic crack at three in a row and finishing fourth in what would be her last race. She was a genuine superstar of her time and was one of the most popular horses in the history of the race.
In 1999, the mare’s co-trainer Steve McKee who trained alongside son Steven in Taranaki in New Zealand, had been saying for months in the lead-up that Sunline was the best mare in Australasia. When the big day finally arrived, Sunline hit the front soon after the start and dictated the race for the entire journey, releasing the brakes on the turn and kicking clear to win by over a length to Sydney star Tie the Knot. It was to be Greg Childs’ first Cox Plate victory in a career that saw him dominate the riding ranks in Victoria for many years.
With Cox Plate number two on the agenda, Sunline returned to Melbourne to win the Manikato Stakes, Memsie Stakes and Feehan Stakes, before just going down in the Turnbull Stakes. She was unbeaten in four starts at The Valley, so punters installed her as the hot favourite to take out her second Cox Plate. What she proceeded to deliver simply blew everyone away.
It is not often a Cox Plate is over with 800 metres to go, but it was this year. From the moment Greg Childs took her to the front, she went further and further ahead in a jaw-dropping performance, which gave the crowd a chance to cheer her home. She equalled Dulcify’s record for the biggest winning margin, defeating Caulfield Cup winner Diatribe who was in second place, by a remarkable seven lengths.
Childs had reflected in the lead-up to the race that there was a lot of chatter amongst the rival jockeys that Sunline wouldn’t get her own way this year, however he snuffed out any chance of being put under pressure at any stage with a bold display of front-running riding.
Sunline couldn’t achieve a record third win to equal Kingston Town a year later, but she went down fighting, only losing by less than a length to Northerly. Her last career run was in the Cox Plate of 2004, finishing a gallant fourth behind Northerly again.
Tommy Smith, or T J Smith as he is more commonly referred to as, is the most successful trainer in W.S. Cox Plate history.
One of only three trainers in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame to receive legendary status, T J Smith won seven Cox Plates and did it with some of the greatest champions of the Australian turf.
They included Redcraze (1957), Tulloch (1960), Gunsynd (1972), Kingston Town (1980-1982) and Red Anchor (1984.)
The victory of Redcraze was perhaps Tommy’s greatest ever training performance. Redcraze arrived from New Zealand with good prospects having won the Wanganui and Awapuni Cups back home amongst some other restricted events, but no one could have foreseen he would go on to become a weight-for-age star under Smith.
Smith ran Redcraze 14 times in three months on arrival in Australia, a regime that would be considered ludicrous in the modern day, but the gelding only got better with age. Redcraze won the Cox Plate in 1957 at the ripe old age of 7, before retiring after his next start in the Melbourne Cup.
Smith’s next Cox Plate was with the superstar Tulloch three years later, who he rated as the greatest horse he ever trained.
Tulloch was Tommy’s champ. He was considered one of the big three in the great debate of Australia’s best horse at the time, along with Carbine and Phar Lap. Many say had he not suffered a life-threatening stomach illness which kept him out of racing for two years at the peak of his powers, then perhaps he would be considered the best of that trio.
Tulloch won the Cox Plate at 2/1, holding off second favourite Dhaulagari by half a length in front of 50,000 adoring fans, and brought the battle-hardened Tommy Smith to tears.
Gunsynd in 1972 was again a popular result in the eyes of the public. The “Goondiwindi Grey” had developed a cult following with his terrific will to win, often under big weights, and the 72’ Cox Plate was a landmark occasion for more reasons than one.
It was the first time the Cox Plate had been run over the metric distance of 2040 metres and it was the day Gunsynd surpassed Tulloch as Australia’s greatest stakes winner. Gunsynd came into TJ’s stable with only moderate claims after running sixth in the Golden Slipper and third in the AJC Derby, but ended his career as the greatest grey Australian Racing has ever seen. Not bad for a $1,300 purchase.
Kingston Town reigned supreme at The Valley from 1980 to 1982. An imposing black gelding with French and German bloodlines, ‘The King’ did what no other horse had done to that point by winning three Cox Plates in a row.
Kingston Town had an incredible turn of foot, and while his first Cox Plate was a procession, it was that great acceleration that got him out of trouble in his second and third Cox Plate wins.
TJ admits he never thought he would have another horse like Tulloch, and while Tulloch will always be his favourite, he said after the 82’ Cox Plate… “now I have to say Kingston Town is his equal.”
Red Anchor in 1984 was TJ’s only three-year-old Cox Plate winner and had he not been injured and retired early, then perhaps he would have been mentioned in the same breath as the greats like Tulloch and Kingston Town.
Smith acquired Red Anchor after his two-year-old season and by then he was already considered the best of his age group, but the 84’ Cox Plate win, where he ran only 0.7 seconds outside of the track record, rubber-stamped him as the best horse in Australia across all ages. Red Anchor never missed the podium in 14 starts, winning nine races with four seconds and one third.
You mention the words ‘The Race of the Century’ and the vivid memories come flashing back.
The 1986 W.S. Cox Plate was one for the ages, two heavyweight New Zealand stars in Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star slugging it out with 600 metres to go. The 1986 race was a one-off Cox Plate that might never be replicated, with the hype between the two combatants in the build-up coming to fruition on the day.
One second Bonecrusher had the advantage, the next Our Waverley Star and so on and on until they hit the finishing line. Bonecrusher called on all his reserves to win by a neck. Race caller Bill Collins' call added another dimension to the race as he was also out of tickets by the end of the race, but he still managed to force out the unforgettable line “and Bonecrusher races into equine immortality.” It is a line that has stood the test of time and reflects the feelings of all who witnessed the great race.
Trainer Frank Ritchie, son strapper Shaune and jockey Gary Stewart had hatched the perfect plan for Bonecrusher come race day, but Frank recalls that all went out the window when Bonecrusher slightly missed the jump and found himself back in the field. Bonecrusher’s team believed a true staying test was the best way to beat Our Waverley Star and Stewart decided in the run to make it just that by taking off at the 800-metre mark, with Lance O’Sullivan following suit on Our Waverley Star.
The last 200 metres of the race almost defies description. Heads bobbing up and down, both horses responding to the whip and the roars of the crowd, the rest of the field fading into obscurity. For all money, it was set to be a dead heat, but Bonecrusher outlasted, and Bill Collins’ famous line reverberated across the racecourse and around the world.
Connections of both horses embraced each other in awe of what they had just witnessed, paying mutual respect to both horses. Trainer Bart Cummings, who had seen it all, had never seen anything like this and rushed down to congratulate all, saying, “that’s the best race I’ve ever seen, or hope to ever see.’
Bonecrusher was hailed a hero both in Australia and New Zealand and the race was beamed across the globe, replayed millions of times over as the greatest horse race ever witnessed. Bonecrusher would encounter injuries later in his career, but as he was all heart, he still managed to finish third in the 1988 running of the Cox Plate behind fellow Kiwi Our Poetic Prince.
But whatever Bonecrusher achieved in his career, which was remarkable with 10 Group 1 wins and entry into the New Zealand and Australian Racing Hall of Fames, it is his win in the 1986 Cox Plate that will have him remembered for eternity.
Kingston Town reigned supreme as the King of The Valley from 1980 to 1982, winning three Cox Plates in a row and becoming the first horse in history to do so.
‘The King’ was loved by all. He won group races at will, dominated his cohort in the early 80’s, and had elite closing speed that most class sprinters would be proud of, let alone middle-distance horses.
But every great King needs a great assistant, and in Kingston Town’s case, he had three.
Kingston Town was ridden by three different jockeys in each of his three Cox Plate victories. Malcolm Johnson was his regular rider who rode him in 25 of his 30 career wins including his first Cox Plate in 1980, but twice Johnson was suspended for careless riding in the months leading up to the Cox Plate, surrendering the ride to Ron Quinton in 1981 and Peter Cook in 1982.
In 1980, Kingston Town came to the Cox Plate as the pronounced 6/4 favourite, however while he had been unbeatable in Sydney, winning the Rosehill Guineas, Tancred Stakes, AJC Derby and Sydney Cup that year, he had struggled in Melbourne and remained winless from five starts south of the border.
After again having to settle for second in the Caulfield Stakes, Malcolm Johnson declared Kingston Town unable to handle Melbourne’s left-hand way of going, but trainer TJ Smith disagreed and pressed on with the gelding, running a game third in the Caulfield Cup at his next start where he finally appeared to race more tractably going anti-clockwise.
The Cox Plate was the acid test to put those queries to rest, and after Johnson had settled him perfectly behind the leading trio, there were no excuses for The King not to break his Victorian hoodoo. He didn’t let his backers down. Johnson released the shackles 200 metres from home and the pair careered away for an effortless five-length victory.
The King’s next two Cox Plates were not so easy. In 1981 he drew barrier 1 and Ron Quinton would have his work cut out for him as the big black horse, who despised being bottled up between runners, was wedged on the fence with nowhere to go.
“Quinton’s in trouble on Kingston Town,” Bill Collins said as Quinton’s worst nightmares were seemingly coming to fruition, but in an instance The King bullied his way out of the gap, shouldered his way clear and let down with that his customary burst of acceleration to win by just under a length.
History beckoned in 1982, as Kingston Town aimed to become the first horse in history to complete the great weight-for-age treble, but although he had won his final two lead-up races, he had twice had his colours lowered that preparation, and a stronger field had assembled in 1982.
The pressure Peter Cook would have faced having his first ride on Kingston Town in 1982 can’t go unnoticed. The champ yet again found himself cluttered up between horses with only 500 metres to go in the 82’ Cox Plate, and bookies would have been smiling as Cook was the first jockey to pull the persuader, with The King seemingly going backwards. With Kingston Town struggling to pick up under hard riding, the alarm bells were ringing loudly, so much so that Collins famously declared, “Kingston Town can’t win,” from up in the caller’s box.
It was as if The King heard him, and responded with “Yes I can, watch this.” Cook eventually got to the outside of runners, balanced him up in the straight and the duo were coming two to their one and they swallowed the leaders in the shadows of the post to record one of the most famous victories in Cox Plate history.
The Kingston Town Greatness Award was founded by the Moonee Valley Racing Club in 2000 and it is awarded annually by the Club to those who have had an everlasting impact on the W.S. Cox Plate. From champion horses to superstar jockeys, trainers, owners and race callers, the Kingston Town Greatness Award recognizes and celebrates the achievements of the famous names of the W.S. Cox Plate and tells their story in how they shaped The Race Where Legends Are Made.
W.S. Cox Plate all-time Champion
(2015, 2016, 2017 & 2018)
The only horse in history to win the W.S. Cox Plate four times
So You Think
(2009 & 2010 W.S. Cox Plate champion)
(1930 & 1931 W.S. Cox Plate champion)
Four-time W.S. Cox Plate winning jockey
Makybe Diva (2005)
So You Think (2009)
Ocean Park (2012)
Sir Dragonet (2020)
Won Cox Plate 100 (2020)
Dual W.S. Cox Plate winning trainer
Super Impose (1992)
Makybe Diva (2005)
Dual W.S. Cox Plate winning jockey
Strawberry Road (1983)
Red Anchor (1984)
W.S. Cox Plate winning trainers
So Called (1978)
Better Loosen Up (1990)
Sir Dane (1964)
Dual W.S. Cox Plate winning champion
Equal all-time most W.S. Cox Plates contested (5)
Dual W.S. Cox Plate winning champion
Three-time W.S. Cox Plate winning owner
So You Think (2009, 2010)
Feehan Stakes re-named the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes
Four-time W.S. Cox Plate winning sire
Might and Power (1998)
Sunline (1999, 2000)
Five-time W.S. Cox Plate winning trainer
Taj Rossi (1973)
Dane Ripper (1997)
So You Think (2009, 2010)
Dual W.S. Cox Plate winning owner & W.S Cox Plate race-caller
Fields Of Omagh (2003, 2006)
Called 28 Cox Plates
Fury’s Order (1975)
Family of Man (1977)
So Called (1978)
Five-time W.S. Cox Plate winning jockey
Young Idea (1937)
Beau Vite (1941)
Legendary W.S. Cox Plate race-caller
Called Kingston Town's three W.S. Cox Plate wins (1980,1981,1982)
Called the Race of the Century (1986)
Called over 30 W.S. Cox Plates
Dual W.S. Cox Plate winning champion
Seven-time W.S. Cox Plate winning trainer
Kingston Town (1980,1981,1982)
Red Anchor (1984)
W.S Cox Plate winning champion
1986 W.S. Cox Plate deemed the Race of the Century