One of the top three races of the Spring Carnival is the W.S. Cox Plate.
The top echelon of Thoroughbreds compete for one of the largest purses on the schedule. Many of the best horses in history have established legendary status as a result of winning the plate.
The Group 1 Weight For Age race following the Caulfield Cup, leading up to the Melbourne Cup, is held in the last part of October at Moonee Valley Racecourse just outside Melbourne, it is named to honour founder W.S. Cox.
It is generally considered as one of the three primary events on the Australian racing calendar, along with being second only to the Melbourne Cup for Victoria's top prize status.
One of the unique aspects of the Cox Plate is that it is run over an intriguing distance of 2040 metres.
Another is that the track features a straight of less than 200 metres making for a very tight loop that places a premium on horses that are able to run well in the turns.
Finally, it is the sole track in Victoria with a mesh reinforced turf known as StrathAyr.
The history of the Cox Cup goes back to 1922. The first race was won by the stallion Violencello, a British horse that had prevailed in the Caulfield Cup in 1921. He earned £1000 for his day's work, a far cry from the money numbers of 2010 winner So You Think.
Kingston Town holds the distinction of being the only three time winner with victories in 1980, 81 and 82.
Ten Thoroughbreds have won two times, the most recent being So You Think as a three year old in 2009 and again as a four year old in 2010.
Prior to that Northerly won back-to-back in 2001-02, and Sunline preceded in 1999-2000. Hydrogen was the 1953-54 winner, Flight in 1945 and 46 with Beau Vite winning in 1940-41. Young Idea posted wins in 1936-37, an no less luminous an entity than Phar Lap was the first to win two consecutive Cox Plates in 1930-31.
Several other horses have won twice with an intervening span of years between instances. Chatham was the earliest, winning in 1932 and 34, followed by Tranquil Star in 1942 and 44 and Fields of Omagh who first won in 2003 and waited until 2006 to win as a nine year old.
Other famous champions were Nightmarch (1929), Tulloch (1960), Bonecrusher (1986), Better Loosen Up (1990), Saintly (1996), noteworthy as one of the horses to win the Cox plate / Melbourne Cup in the same year, Might and Power (1998) and Makybe Diva (2005).
Rising Fast (1954) is the only horse to win the Caulfield, Cox and Melbourne in the same year. Only three other horses have produced a Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate double, the most recent being Northerly in 2002. Along with four others, Rising Fast is also the holder of a Cox Plate, Melbourne Cup double.
The race is not a favourite of the three year old division. Savabeel was the horse prior to So You Think to win at three in 2004. Nine years previous, Octagonal prevailed in 1995. Surround (1976) was the lone three year old filly to win the Plate. Despite not attracting many three year olds, they have managed to win 18 times throughout Cox Plate history.
No discussion of the Cox Plate would be thorough without mention of seven time winning trainer Tommy Smith. Three were courtesy of Kingston Town, the rest being supplied by Redcraze (1957), Tulloch (1960), Gunsynd (1972) and Red Anchor (1984).
Darby Munro was the most successful Cox Plate Jockey, with five wins, 1933, 37, 39, 41 and 1952, a nineteen year span.
With all the unique elements, distance, track, turf, and the reputations that have been established and secured here, the W.S. Cox Plate is one of the greatest horse races in Australia.