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Weather Set To Turn 2016 Cox Plate Upside Down

There’s an old adage in Melbourne relating to the city’s infamous changeable weather: “If you don’t like it, just wait five minutes”. Unfortunately, that’s the case on Cox Plate Eve as a bright and mild Thursday gives way to strong winds and heavy rain (up to 25 millimetres), progressing to hail by Saturday! It’s a nightmare scenario for the Moonee Valley Racing Club with 18 races scheduled on their track in a 24-hour period and for the Cox Plate betting. The track started Friday rated a good (3) but the heavens are expected to open in the early afternoon leading to likely downgrades as the day progresses. The rail will start tonight’s Manikato Stakes meeting in the true position.

Watch and learn

The changeable conditions are also not ideal for punters, but it’s not all doom and gloom. The rail will be moved out for the Cox Plate card (probably three metres) leaving a fresh alley along the fence. In the second half of both meetings, jockeys will be looking for the best racing surface – no matter how wide that may be. So the track will probably favour on-pace runners early, with the backmarkers steadily improving their strike rate as the races tick by. Similarly, inside barrier draws from the chute starts of the 1200m (the Manikato Stakes) and 2040m (Cox Plate) are not going to provide the advantage riders would normally expect.

Contender on the drift

Such has been the anticipation of the head-to-head showdown between Winx and Hartnell in the AUD $3,000,000 William Hill Cox Plate that the race could be run down Swanston Street and people would still pack the route. The money has flowed to Winx over the past 24 hours, with her price into $1.80 from $1.95 with William Hill. Hartnell has been an alarming drifter from $3.00 to $3.60. To the naked eye, punters clearly thought the lead Godolphin contender could threaten the superstar mare’s 12-race winning streak. After all, he smashed a Turnbull field in which subsequent Caulfield Cup Jameka finished a distant runner-up. Does that put him on equal footing with Winx?

Winx, and say no more

In short, no. Taking a close look at the respective benchmark ratings, Hartnell’s numbers have been basically static over the past two seasons. He’s a very good horse, but his form hasn’t shown any marked improvement this prep. Neither has Winx, but her rating in the 2015 Cox Plate was simply staggering. She hasn’t been seriously tested this campaign, but still managed to defeat a dual G1 winner Black Hart Bart in the Caulfield Stakes without being shifted out of third gear. The weather and state of the track create fresh x-factors but on paper, Winx looks a clear two lengths better than Hartnell (and the rest) so $1.80 is worth serious consideration.

Looking outside the obvious

With such extreme conditions now more than likely, an upset has to be considered. The French runner Vadamos may have been a contender, but his inside draw is far from ideal and he’ll put on the speed with Hartnell and Black Heart Bart, which will set them up to be swamped. The three-year-old filly Yankee Rose carries just 47.5kg but she’s untried on a genuine wet surface and still races somewhat greenly. The contender now coming into play is Kris Lee’s six-year-old mare Lucia Valentina. She won the Sydney equivalent of the Cox Plate (the Queens Elizabeth Stakes) in the autumn, loves the wet and has been drawn out of trouble in nine of 10.

Irish duck eyes Gold Cup

The other highlight of the day is the AUD $300,000 Group 2 Antler Luggage Moonee Valley Gold Cup over 2500m. The relevance of this race to the Melbourne Cup had waned in recent years until a then-virtually unknown gelding Prince Of Penzance emerged victorious in 2014, a year before his historic win in the Melbourne Cup. The $4.20 for Gallante with William Hill looks an absolute gift. The Irish-bred six-year-old gelding for Team Williams cruised home in the Sydney Cup (3200m) in the autumn and finished behind only Jameka in the G3 Naturalism (2000m) a month ago at Caulfield. And he’s a perfect two for two on heavy going!

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