One of the top three races of the Spring Carnival is the W.S. Cox Plate.
The top echelons of Thoroughbreds compete for one of the largest purses on the schedule. Many of the best horses in history have established legendary status because 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, very different from the money numbers of 2010 winner So You Think.
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, and 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 19 year span.
Cox Plate Winners
No discussion of the W S Cox Plate would be thorough without a closer examination of some of the great Thoroughbreds that have won the race.
Without question and even though we have devoted many reams to the career of the top all-time Cox Plate winner, Winx is worthy of some additional space.
By winning the Cox Plate four times, Winx eclipsed a record that was thought unassailable by many of the Thoroughbred racing cognoscenti.
Kingston Town’s three wins in 1980, 1981 and 1982 would tend to make one think that he was the best ever to line up in the Cox Plate. See Best Bets for next years Cox Plate.
Any mention of Kingston Town’s three wins or Phar Lap’s two must invoke the name of his successor, Chatham, who nearly notched a treble Cox Plate string from 1932 – 1934. Chatham won in 1932 and 1934 and the 1933 race was nearly his as well, even though he finished fourth.
When you encounter names such as Phar Lap (1930, 1931), suggesting that Kingston Town was the better of the two would ignite an argument that would not easily be doused. Phar Lap jumped for the lowest price in the history of the race in 1931, when punters received seven cents for every dollar plonked on the King.
Even when Winx won her third Cox Plate in 2017, she paid $1.10 and when Makybe Diva won in 2005 just ahead of her monumental third consecutive Melbourne Cup win, she offered a princely dividend of $2.
Most racing experts agree that the running conditions and the tight conditions of the Cox Plate place a premium on horses that can handle tight turns without losing momentum. - Horse Racing Australia.
Winx was capable of that and what makes her four wins all the more remarkable was that she was a Sydney horse and accustomed to making right turns when she raced in New South Wales. It was not as though she had never run anti-clockwise while racing in Victoria and she was obviously a phenom, but Thoroughbred racing history is replete with horses from NSW that could not handle the switch to Victoria and the same is true for Victorian horses that never quite equaled their accomplishments when sent north to race.
So, when Winx jumped in her first Cox Plate in 2015, it seemed an instance of a good horse rising throughout a spring campaign. She had won five races earlier in the preparation, but she was still a relatively unknown entity when she left the Cox Plate barrier for $4.60. She was favourite for that price and the 2015 Cox Plate win could have been considered the harbinger of dividends that seldom exceeded $2.
That first Cox Plate win was almost five lengths better than second and third place getters Criterion and Highland Reel and in a sport where 1.5 lengths is considered a comfortable win, Winx so outclassed the rest of the field that most observers were left dumbstruck.
When she resumed in 2016, Winx was again turning right at Rosehill and Randwick. She had one race at Caulfield to prepare to run anti-clockwise and she won a Group 1 Caulfield Stakes where only Black Heart Bart and He Or She would line up agasint her.
Her reputation had grown to the degree that in her next race, the 2016 Cox Plate, only nine horses dared to take her on. The large gap from her 2015 win was expanded from five to almost nine lengths, with second place Hartnell back by eight and third placer Yankee rose eight and three quarters back.
Cox Plate win number three in 2017 was a low water mark for punters. Winx went out for $1.10. Only seven other horses lined up, but the closest in price was Royal Symphony at $19 and two went out for $101. Humidor made a race of it at the end and tried valiantly to hold off the hard-charge, but he was run down and beaten by half a length, while the rest of the field was nearly entirely out of the frame.
The final Cox Plate win in 2018 again found few willing competitors. The field was eight, but unlike some of the Sydney races where Chris Waller had to empty his barns to fill fields when Winx was running, Waller had only to send of D’Argento. One source quotes Winx having started for $1.24, while another quotes her price as $1.20, but this final Cox Plate win was the sort that experts would call comfortable, as Winx was two lengths clear of Benbatl, with the rest of the field almost five lengths of more to the rear.
It would have been a great point to call time, but Winx was not done. She returned for the autumn of 2019, won the Group 2 Apollo Stakes for the second time, backed by Group 1 wins at Randwick and Rosehill, culminating with her third win in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Kingston Town was by Bletchingly, a limited racer, not in terms of ability so much in that he only made five starts for four wins when his connections decided that their interests were better served if Bletchingly was in the breeding sheds rather than of the turf.
Kingston Town had a distinctly international pedigree, most of it from Northern Hemisphere horses. He has lines that include Man O’ War, the legendary U. S. champion and his progeny, Relic and War Relic.
Examining the record of Kingston Town offers a glimpse at a singular juncture in Australian racing history.
Winners of races prior, great champions of every sort, were credited with winning Principal races. History would late record, in many instances, that such-and-such won races that would later be classified as Group 1 races.
The Group quality system came along at the perfect time to ensure that Kingston Town would be the winner of major races deemed Group 1 level by the racing board.
His final Cox Plate win in 1982 was his best time, 2:05.3. One of those times would have bettered Winx’s 2016 win, which clocked in at 2:06.35, but one second is not a lot of time when track conditions are considered. That point is further magnified when the time record for the Cox Plate is examined. The modern record belongs to Winx at 2:02.94 in 2016, but the sources we consulted for that were quick to point out that Better Loosen Up’s 2:01.05 in 1990 was prior to the installation of the current track.
Kingston Town’s first win in 1980 was remarkable in that a week earlier, he had run third in the Caulfield Cup. Modern Thoroughbreds seldom race on such short rest.
His second Cox Plate win put him in rarified company, alongside Phar Lap, Chatham, Young Idea, Beau Vite, Tranquil Star, Flight, Hydrogen, Tobin Bronze, Sunline, Northerly and So You Think, all two-time Cox Plate winners.
His final victory in 1982 put him in his own category, a category that was about 60 years in the making, dating back to the first running of the Cox Plate in 1922. His record would be equaled by Winx in 2017, about 35 years after Kingston Town established his-then record third Cox Plate win.
Other Notable One-Time Cox Plate Winners
Many great Thoroughbreds, great champions and Hall of Fame horses, can boast of winning the Cox Plate.
Space limitations do not permit a full examination of every winner, so here is the list, from earliest to most recent.
Manfred (1925), Heroic, (1926), Amounis (1927), Nightmarch (1929), Rogilla (1933), Carbon Copy (1948), Delta (1949), Rising Fast (1954), Redcraze (1957), Noholme (1959), Tulloch (1960), Daryl’s Joy (1969), Gunsynd (1972), Taj Rossi (1973), Battle Heights (1974), Fury’s Order (1975), Surround (1976), Family Of Man (1977), Dulcify (1979), Better Loosen Up (1990), Super Impose (1992), Octagonal (1995), Might And Power (1998), Makybe Diva (2005).
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.
The spot the Cox Plate occupies in the prime time of spring racing carnivals and the short list of horses that can claim to have won the Cox Plate in the same year as winning the Melbourne Cup is valid evidence and there is no doubt that future winners will enjoy a lofty position in the realm of great Thoroughbreds.
Many international horses undertake the journey and the quarantine procedures in order to participate in the Cox Plate, lured by the prestige is some part and a share of the $5 million in prizemoney (2020) up for grabs.