Cox Plate: Japanese mare looks to be in a class of her own

Lys Gracieux: there doesn’t seem a horse in the Cox Plate field who can touch her. Photo: Japanese Racing Association

With Melbourne Cup fever intensifying ahead of the big race on November 5, racing fans all over the world will have a closer eye on Australian racing than is ever the case. But the G1 Ladbrokes Cox Plate is a great race in its own right, and a maximum field of 14 charging round Moonee Valley is sure to be some spectacle.

The Melbourne track has hosted this race since 1922. It is Australia’s richest G1 run at weight-for-age with prize money in excess of A$5m (US$3.4m). The great mare Winx has won the past four renewals but has safely retired to stud, so a new name will be on the trophy for the first time since 2014.

This is a truly international field. The ante-post favourite, Lys Gracieux, is one of the top mares in Japan and will be accompanied to post by Kluger, who is also running in the green-and-white hoops of TRC Global Rankings world #10 owner U Carrot Farm.

English-based Frenchman David Menuisier sends down the talented Danceteria – ridden by Irishman Jamie Spencer – while Aidan O’Brien is fielding the much-travelled mare Magic Wand.


TOP CHOICE Lys Gracieux

Moonee Valley is no place to be getting over-confident – especially when a horse is drawn wide – but surely Lys Gracieux holds a clear edge over this field. Middle-distance racing in Japan is stronger than its equivalent level in Australia because of the accent placed on stamina in breeding horses there.

On Lys Gracieux’s last run in June, she registered an impressive three-length win over males in the G1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin. Some of Japan’s top horses were behind her that day and, if she’s in the same form off her absence, there doesn’t seem a horse in the Cox Plate field who can touch her.

Japanese-trained horses have shown once again this year that they are a force at global level. At Goodwood in England, Deirdre won the G1 Nassau Stakes and she has since run well in the G1 Irish and G1 British Champion Stakes against males. More significantly still, Mer De Glace won last week’s G1 Caulfield Cup off a 76-day layoff – despite never having scored beyond G3 class at home.

Lys Gracieux, who will be ridden by Australian world #21 Damian Lane, is the best horse in the line-up here. She should be spot on after the break because Japanese trainers like #98 Yoshito Yahagi specialise in spots like these. Sire Heart’s Cry was ranked as high as world #3 in his day.


VALUE PICK Cape Of Good Hope

Let’s stick with our policy of putting up the stock of the world’s top-five sires Dubawi, Galileo, Frankel, Shamardal and Sea The Stars because our numbers suggest they have a massive edge at ten furlongs and beyond.

Only two runners (outside of reserve Frankel horse Dream Castle) come from this group – and both are by Galileo. The Aidan O’Brien-trained mare Magic Wand travels strongly in her races, is suited by a mile and a quarter and gets the same weight allowance as Lys Gracieux. The only problem is her tendency to flatten out off the bridle.

The selection is a former O’Brien-trained colt, Northern Hemisphere 3-year-old CAPE OF GOOD HOPE, who has already transitioned successfully to Australia by winning the G1 Ladbrokes Stakes over course and distance.

On most European form, Cape Of Good Hope is not winning this. But he’s a brother to the wonderful globetrotter Highland Reel, who ran third to Winx in the first of her four wins.

Cape of Good Hope is eligible to improve a lot as he matures, and he did well to beat the old boy Black Heart Bart on his Australian debut. That hard-charging style is ideal to win top races in Australia in which many horses race freely and don’t finish off well in truly run races.

Cape Of Good Hope does have one piece of European form that could be read positively. He was fourth in the G1 Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly in June. The three horses in front of him that day – Sottsass, Persian King and Motamarris – have had varying degrees of opportunity since, but all could turn out to be better than anything in today’s field. Sottsass finished third in the Arc, Persian King had won the G1 French 2000 Guineas and Motamarris was coming off an eight-length win and hasn’t run since.

Cape Of Good Hope may get tangled up behind runners here; he may get blocked or suffer a wide trip as he tries to move up. But he is likely to start at double-figure odds and is coming off a win. He is a good value poke for world #57 trainers David Hayes, Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig.

Almond Eye is back

The Cox Plate isn’t this weekend’s only $1 million-plus international G1 with a Japanese mare a strong choice in the betting. Eight thousand kilometres (5,000 miles) away in Tokyo, Sunday is Tenno Sho (Autumn) day, with the return of 2018 Horse of the Year Almond Eye. The filly Triple Crown winner is taking on Japanese 2000 Guineas winner Saturnalia, last year’s Japanese Derby winner, Wagnerian, former champion juvenile Danon Premium and a host of other leading performers.

Almond Eye, who last raced at the start of June, when she was a luckless third in the G1 Yasuda Kinen over a mile after trouble in running, returned to training on September 25. She worked under world #3 jockey Christophe Lemaire a week ago, according to the Japanese Racing Association website. “Even though her weight hasn’t changed, she looks much more powerful,” said trainer Sakae Kunieda (world-ranked 50).

Lemaire will be gunning for his second straight win of the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and having won the spring version this year as well, his third straight Tenno Sho victory.

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