Champion mare Winx will jump from barrier six against eight rivals when she looks to make history on Saturday by winning her third Cox Plate in a row, attempting to match the feat of the legendary Kingston Town.
Part-owner Peter Tighe went to the stage at the Moonee Valley celebrity breakfast draw to choose which stall she would jump from, and of those remaining selected the gate three from the outside of the small field.
“I think my friend over there [jockey] Hugh [Bowman] would be happy with that barrier,” said Tighe.
Winx will be flanked at the start by the English challenger Folkswood, who will start from barrier five, and the three-year-old Royal Symphony, who will jump from barrier seven.
The superstar worked at the Valley on Tuesday morning. She was the first horse out shortly after 6.20am and had the track to herself.
While Winx is set to start at the shortest price of any Cox Plate favourite since Phar Lap raced to dual victories in 1930 and 1931, fears that she would face a small group of rivals have proved groundless.
Chris Waller’s champion will not have any superstars to beat as she seeks to gallop her way into the history books, and there is certainly no rival of the proven quality of Highland Reel and Criterion, third and second the first time she won the Plate, nor one in the form that Hartnell was in when he fronted up to be humiliated by her last year.
But the Moonee Valley Racing Committee had final discretion to pick which of the remaining entries can be in the field and gave the go ahead to all those who stood their ground at the last declaration stage, finalising the field at around 8.30am on Tuesday morning, just before the barrier draw.
Winx will have to see off a field comprising several group 1 winners (Happy Clapper, Gailo Chop and Humidor), two foreign challengers (Godolphin’s Folkswood and the former Italian galloper Kaspersky, who will be ridden and subsequently trained by Michelle Payne), the improving three-year-old Royal Symphony (an unlucky fourth in the Caulfield Guineas), the ATC Derby third Hardham and Seaburge, whose best recent effort was to be placed at group 1 level as a three-year-old in the Mackinnon Stakes last year.
Bowman says he doesn’t really think that much about the race shape or those he is up against until final declarations are taken and the draw is completed, but he couldn’t have looked more confident.
“I am very comfortable, more so after this morning’s track gallop. She was very strong and comfortable, I allowed her to build up, but I kept a good hold of her,” he said.
“The horse is in good order and we are looking forward to Saturday. She does love it here, but it’s important to note that Chris [trainer Chris Waller] has had her at peak condition when she races here.”
Bowman said Winx is particularly suited to the unique configuration of the tight Moonee Valley track with its forgiving surface.
“There is a little more cushion here. She is very good on her feet and she likes to go through her gears particularly when she is cornering … there’s a bit of a velodrome effect here.”
The characteristics of the Cox Plate itself – usually run at a brutal tempo – also play to Winx’s strengths, he said.
“The pressure builds a long way from home and that really suits. She is not a sit and sprint horse, particularly over this distance. It really suits when the pressure builds.”
But he won’t be ignoring the prospects of his rivals.
“There’s no doubt I will run through scenarios in my own brain and wake up in the middle of the night and be thinking about it. I am very careful not to be overly confident, I will treat it like any other race but the reality is I want to stay out of trouble and get clear room.”
Kerrin McEvoy is on board Folkswood for Charlie Appleby, and while he knows he is probably running for the second prize of $440,000, he is optimistic that the Godolphin-owned galloper can give a good account of himself.
“We are up against it. She is a champion and we have to try to rise to her level. He has travelled out here well and he is already a winner in [when he won the Cranbourne Cup]. We need concentrate on the fact that this is a champion’s race but it’s a horse race and anything can happen,” he said.
McEvoy could have ridden Royal Symphony for his uncle Tony McEvoy, but opted for Folkswood because of his long relationship with Godolphin.
“It was a tough choice and both horses are lovely types, but I won on this fellow at Cranbourne …
He will have to run a personal best to get anywhere near Winx, but I think he is a horse who can handle the pressure.”
Damien Oliver, who will be on Happy Clapper, won the Cox Plate on Dane Ripper 20 years ago and she went off at 40-1, so he knows that upsets can happen, even if it is unlikely.
“I won’t be riding my race too much around Winx, I will be riding him to run the best he possibly can.”