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Cox Plate 2010

On the evening of Saturday 23rd of October at the newly created colosseum of ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Oscar winner Russell Crowe will narrate a re-incarnation of one of the greatest horse-races of all time, the chariot race back in ancient Roman times of 2000 years ago with Judah Ben-Hur as the chief protagonist in this epically staged version of the great novel by Lew Wallace and the multi-Oscared film starring the late Charlton Heston.

Some 450 miles to the south, that very afternoon, another great race will be enacted in the cauldron of Moonee Valley, Melbourne, when the Bart Cummings trained budding champion So You Think is expected to account for his 13 rivals and win back-to-back Cox Plates over the 2040 metres of that particular amphitheatre, then on to possible further glory 10 days later in the 3200 metres Melbourne Cup, run on the wider stretches of Flemington.

Many feel the striking almost black superstar has a mortgage on the Cox Plate but the bonny Sydney mare More Joyous, owned by larrikin John Singleton, and local trained, the hardened weight-for-age warhorse, Whobegotyou, will press So You Think for the Group 1 first prize of $1,800,000 and trophies valued at $38,000, the second highest prize in Australian horse-racing. This race is always won by a true on-the-pace weight-for-age horse that can maintain maximum speed for the whole journey around a tight race-track and rarely is the race won by a rank outsider in the betting. In recent years Sunline (2000), Northerly (2002) and Makybe Diva (2005) were all favourite when they won Australia’s Weight-for-Age Championship which is part of the Emirates World Series Racing Championship – 9 races run in 4 continents and 8 countries – England, Ireland, Canada, Australia, USA (2), Japan, Hong Kong and Dubai.

Most of Australia’s greatest gallopers have won the Cox Plate, reason being only the very best horses are allowed to run in the race – the Red Terror, Phar Lap in 1930-31, Flight in 45-46, Rising Fast in 1954, the Tommy Smith trained Tulloch in 1960, Colin Hayes’ ill-fated Dulcify in 1979, “Kingston Town can’t win” called Bill Collins in 1982 – The King won 80-81-82, Saintly in 1996, Might and Power in 98, Kiwi champion mare Sunline in 1999 and 2000, the mighty triple Melbourne Cup winning mare Makybe Diva in 2005. And in 2010? Do you know, or so you think!

Perhaps the great Carbine would have won the race if the race was around in 1890 but that was not to be as the first W.S. Cox Plate was run in 1922 after William Samuel Cox who converted Feehan’s Farm to what was to be named by him, Moonee Valley racecourse, way back in the 1880s.

Not too long ago I read where crowds thronged the Old Hilltop at Pimlico, Maryland, USA, to watch the Match of the Century when Seabiscuit broke the heart of War Admiral, the 1937 Triple Crown winner, over the distance of 1 and 3/16 miles, a tad shorter than the Cox Plate distance and the same distance as the Preakness Stakes run at that very course then and today. I immediately recalled watching the 1986 Cox Plate, dubbed the Race of the Century, when the two New Zealand horses, Bonecrusher and Our Waverley Star, broke away from the rest of the field and had a ding-dong battle for supremacy, beginning at the school at the 800 metres post, and eyeballing each other all the way up the 173 metres straight before The Crusher finally prevailed by a neck. Seabiscuit did exactly the same eyeballing to War Admiral back in 1938 before clearing out to win by 4 lengths.

Perhaps a lot different from the days of Ben-Hur at the Circus Maximus or the second Pimlico Special in 1938 but this race at Moonee Valley on Saturday week, considered to be ‘the greatest two minutes in sport’, will be no less spectacular and exciting as the Match and Race of the Century and all those other wonderful Cox Plates of yesteryear, no matter who is the victor on the day.

Saturday October 23rd, race 8 of 9, 5.30pm and the horses have left the mounting yard, through the tunnel and onto the racecourse proper. Number 5, So You Think, he with the film star looks, with an almost perfectly placed star of white on his forehead, black shining coat and glistening well oiled hooves turns to go down to the starting gates up the straight from the winning post. He knows that everyone who has braved the almost Antarctic weather at times has come to see him. He’ll show them all he’s more than a show pony. What’s that noise? Jockey Steven Arnold has to quickly rein him in as he attempts to rear at the nearby sound of old rocker Daryl Braithwaite, once again belting out his hit from yesteryear, Horses, an apt song for the occasion, but only if he had warbled it 10 minutes earlier. Someone quickly spots what’s happening, bends over to the side of the stage and pulls the plug on Daz. Daryl, perhaps over-inhaling the enthusiasm of his audience, had added a few minutes to his scheduled performing time with some more of the chorus, too many ‘little darlings’ for my liking. However, disaster has been averted. The instant silence is deafening, only the buzz from the excitement of the crowd can now be heard.

The 10 starters in the race, every one of them a very good horse in their own right, quickly settle after the noise of the musical rendition and do their preliminaries down to the beginning of the straight and await to be loaded into the starting gates and released by the starter to do battle with each other. Soon we will know the answer, will it be the young superstar, the bonny mare from Sydney, the old warhorse Whobegotyou, the evergreen 9 year old Zipping, with two previous placings in the great race, the sentiment surrounding Shoot Out and the tragedy of Stathi Katsidis, or possibly one of the invaders from New Zealand or Macau?

The horses are quickly loaded into the machine and are away in a flash. One beaten already – the Kiwi Wall Street has missed the kick by 4 lengths. Jockey Nash Rawiller soon takes More Joyous to the lead and the $1.50 favourite takes a trail behind her with the others sorting themselves out behind. Nothing much changes in the race until about the 800 metres from home mark when Steven Arnold on So You Think takes closer order, ranging up to the girth of the mare and drawing level by the school within the 700 metre mark. These two horses from way back in the grandstand to us appear to be about to do a repeat of 1986 but the Bart Cummings trained colt is only kidding as he eyeballs the mare for a few strides then says ‘see you later’, forging a length clear turning for home then, with his magical turn-of-foot, bounding 3 lengths clear before, though tiring, easily holding off the late challenge of the old horse Zipping and Whobegotyou who both finished resolutely for the minor placings, ahead of Shoot Out in 4th place.

A great race won by a great horse and who amongst us cannot wait until next year to see if So You Think can emulate the deeds of the great Kingston Town by winning three Cox Plates in a row. I know I sure can’t!

Andrew Beattie

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