Cox Plate 2015: Who’s In Form

They call it a race for the purists, and Australia’s premier weight-for-age showdown, the Cox Plate, is this year shaping as one of the most open in recent memory.

While a trio of international raiders are taking aim at the $3 million classic, there’s plenty of homegrown talent ready to stamp their name alongside the likes of Northerly, Sunline and Makybe Diva as winners of the 2040m test. Let’s take a look at how their form has stacked up over spring so far.

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Globetrotting five-year-old Criterion ($5.50) is a deserved favourite after bolting home to see off Happy Trails ($21) and win the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes less than a fortnight ago. Given subsequent Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan finished third, that form is starting to look very appealing and Criterion is every chance of improving on his seventh-place in last year’s Cox Plate.

Unbeaten at her last four starts, including a pair of Group 1s, Sydney mare Winx ($7.00) will have the added advantage of carrying the bottom weight of 55.5kg. The Chris Waller-trained four-year-old copped bad interference around the home turn in the Epsom Handicap at Randwick on October 3 but was still far too good, saluting by more than two lengths. At her last preparation Winx brained them in the Group 1 Queensland Oaks at Doomben, unleashing her trademark turn of speed to launch from eighth at the 400m and win by 3.5 lengths.

Kermadec ($7.00) wasn’t quite good enough to chase down Criterion and Happy Trails in his first run over 2000m in the Caulfield Stakes, though jockey Glen Boss was buoyed by the performance and said he was confident the four-year-old would be right in the mix at Moonee Valley.

Preferment ($13) rounds out Waller’s three Cox Plate contenders and is unbeaten over 2000m, including his last two starts in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes and Group 2 Hill Stakes at Randwick. Nash Rawiller is set to pilot the four-year-old after regular mount Blake Shinn was suspended for eight meetings for careless riding at Seymour on Sunday.

Last year’s Cox Plate runner-up Fawkner ($15) is attempting a similar preparation for this year’s race, but disappointed in the Caulfield Stakes on October 10. The eight-year-old grey edged out Criterion to win the Caulfield Stakes last year after missing out by a nose in the Makybe Diva Stakes, while this year he saluted in the Makybe Diva and then was just shaded by Mourinho in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes, but faded to finish six lengths behind Criterion in the Caulfield Stakes.

Sydney gelding Hartnell ($15) left his run too late in the Turnbull Stakes, rocketing home from 15th with 400m to go to finish sixth, less than two lengths behind winner Preferment. This time Hartnell will enjoy a more favourable barrier (3), though will concede an extra half a kilogram to Preferment.

Complacent ($15) has done little wrong this campaign for the powerful Godolphin stable, hitting the front a long way from home in the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes and withstanding a charge from Cox Plate fancy Kermadec. The John O’Shea-trained five-year-old also ran third in the Hill Stakes, a length behind winner Preferment, and then beat stablemate Hauraki in the Group 3 Craven Plate.

Veteran Adelaide horse Happy Trails breathed life into an ordinary campaign with a second-place result behind Criterion in the Caulfield Stakes, trumping Caulfield Cup winner Mongolian Khan, but will have to overcome a wide barrier (13) if it’s to figure in the finish at Moonee Valley.

Cult horse The Cleaner ($17) rarely runs a bad race and has again figured prominently this spring, finishing third behind Mourinho ($34) and Fawkner in the Underwood Stakes after winning the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes in early September. The Underwood was the latest chapter in Mourinho’s love affair with Caulfield and the eight-year-old bay gelding has also won five times at Moonee Valley, though he finished four lengths sixth in the Dato Tan Chin Nam.

Gai Waterhouse’s lone runner and Doomben Cup winner Pornichet ($34) remains in the Cox Plate frame but with a significant question mark after finishing last, more than eight lengths behind Criterion, in the Caulfield Stakes. But his run behind Kermadec and Royal Descent in the Group 1 George Main Stakes at Randwick proved that when things go his way he can mix it with the heavy hitters.

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