A much anticipated showdown between the nation’s two best horses in Winx and Hartnell awaits in this Saturday’s Cox Plate (Race 9) at Moonee Valley.
Chris Waller’s mighty mare, who carries a 12-race win streak into the event, is looking to elevate herself to champion status with another victory in the weight-for-age showpiece over 2040m following her course record breaking triumph last year.
Few who watched Winx’s comfortable first-up win in the Warwick Stakes back in August would have given Hartnell a chance of getting anywhere near her in the spring but the Godolphin runner took advantage of the mare’s scratching from the Chelmsford to demolish that field by nearly eight lengths and has gone from strength-to-strength ever since.
His most recent effort in the Turnbull, where he put a six length gap on every runner bar Jameka, looks even more impressive when you consider that mare’s surprisingly comfortable win in last Saturday’s Caulfield Cup and was a performance that should give the stable plenty of confidence heading into the biggest race of his career.
Indeed, the emphatic nature of Hartnell’s form has taken away a lot of the attention normally reserved for Winx but she has gone about her business in methodical fashion, rounding off her preparation in somewhat unique fashion with a soft win in a three-runner Caulfield Stakes without really being extended to the hilt.
In at Unibet headquarters, our traders have spent the past few days debating the merits of their respective performances of late and when the dust settled, we landed firmly in the corner of the reigning title-holder and expect her to retain her crown.
Thus, while we’re happy to accommodate those wanting to side with the mare, we’ve convinced ourselves that Hartnell cannot win and are encouraging the punters to take plenty of cash out of our coffers in the event he salutes.
Winx will be looking to join the likes of So You Think, Northerly and Sunline as back-to-back winners of this event in living memory,
At the time of writing, we’re offering the best price in the country about Hartnell and our traders remain committed to sticking their neck out and giving our loyal clients some genuine value about the horse over the next few days.
Both Waller and jockey Hugh Bowman, who has spoken of the assured confidence that comes with an awareness he’s on the best horse in the race, would have been delighted when Winx drew barrier three.
This should enable her to boot forward and hold her spot just off the lead in a race somewhat devoid of a natural pacesetter.
All eyes then, will be on the tactics adopted by Hartnell’s rider James McDonald but Bowman has a cool head, knows his horse back to front and can be trusted to adapt to whatever situation confronts him in the run.
However, Waller has cautioned against those being sucked in to the probability of a match-race, reminding observers that there is genuine quality amongst the rest of the field and we’re thus cautious about the capabilities of Vadamos, who is bidding to become the second northern hemisphere-trained horse to capture the race following Adelaide’s notable triumph two years ago.
Handled by the legendary Andre Fabre, Vadamos was a dominant winner of the top level Grand Prix Moulin de Longchamp at Chantilly early last month and the nature of that performance convinced his trainer to seek the international riches on offer with $3 million in prizemoney up for grabs.
With Damien Oliver, who has partnered the horse in trackwork and emphasised his ‘X-factor’ potential earlier this week, unable to take the ride owing to suspension, connections instead booked Joao Moreira.
But an impending typhoon in Hong Kong may prevent him from flying out to Australia and looms as another obstacle for the meticulous Frenchman to overcome.
With that in mind, punters may be better served waiting until raceday and confirmation of a jockey before committing to wagers on the horse, who we’ve kept on side since the announcement was made he was coming and would represent one of our better results given the unrelenting volume of money attached to the leading pair.
Of the others, Black Heart Bart has had a campaign to remember with Group 1 successes in both the Memsie and Underwood but it’s hard to look past the ease with which Winx handled him at Caulfield in the final stages and over a similar trip we just can’t see a way he can win.
Darren Weir has pulled a rabbit out of the hat on more than one occasion in recent years but the stable never appeared fully committed to a Cox Plate preparation and we think the final quarter mile will really test him when the blowtorch is applied.
David van Dyke’s Yankee Rose brings some excellent form into this after finishing right over the top of a capable field in the Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick but she’ll have to defy the weight of history to score an upset result in her first go around this circuit.
Despite her trainer’s declaration that she’s in terrific shape and ready for a test of this calibre, the record books show Hall of Fame entrant Surround as the only filly to win this race in nearly a century and that’s a statistic that doesn’t inspire much confidence.
We’re instead looking to Kris Lees’ Lucia Valentina as the most likely local challenger to the top two and her chances would only be increased should the wet weather mooted for Melbourne over the weekend eventuate.
3. Lucia Valentina