O'Brien's bold move in sending classy Adelaide on Cox Plate mission

Ballydoyle's Adelaide exercising at the International Quarantine Centre, Werribee Racecourse. Photo: Racing Victoria.

Focus is on Aidan O’Brien’s landmark challenger for Australia’s weight-for-age championship race, the AUD$3.05 million Cox Plate, over 2,040 metres at Moonee Valley on Saturday.

It is somehow appropriate that an Irish horse named Adelaide is going to race in Australia on Saturday.

No matter that there are 720 kilometres between Adelaide (the city) and Moonee Valley, home of the Sportingbet Cox Plate. When you are coming from the other side of the globe, when you are travelling intercontinental from Ireland to Australia, from the far side of the Prime Meridian to the International Date Line, 720 kilometres is a stroll down to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread.

Inherent in the genes of Adelaide (the horse) is an unusual mix of stamina and speed. The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt is by Galileo, an influence for ability, an influence for class, but also an influence for stamina. When a son of Galileo starts to gallop, he just doesn’t know when to stop.

But Adelaide, O’Brien’s first runner in Australia since 2008, is out of Elletelle, who won the G2 Queen Mary Stakes over five furlongs at Royal Ascot in 2007. Trained by Ger Lyons in Ireland, she also finished a close-up third in the G2 Cherry Hinton Stakes at Newmarket the following month over six, and she followed up by again finishing third in the G1 Phoenix Stakes against the colts, also over six. On the one occasion on which she ventured beyond six furlongs, she ran poorly. Speed was her thing.

As a juvenile last year, Adelaide did not make it to the racecourse until October and, given how well he stayed on at the end of a mile to win that Leopardstown maiden on soft ground, it was no surprise that he stepped up in trip this year as a 3-year-old. He shaped on his debut like a middle-distance colt as opposed to a sprinter: more his father’s son than his mother’s.

The fact that Aidan O’Brien allowed him make his debut this term in the G2 Prix Hocquart at Longchamp – just his second ever race – was a measure of the regard in which he was held by his trainer. Beaten just a half a length there, he returned to the Curragh two weeks later and ran out an impressive and well-backed winner of the G3 Gallinule Stakes.

That was the last occasion on which Adelaide has raced in Ireland. Old enough to apply for his passport, he has been to England and America and back to France since, before he got on the plane for Australia, and he has never yet finished out of the first three.

Second in England, in the G2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot, you could argue that he was a little unlucky on his debut stateside, in the G1 Belmont Derby. He travelled well through the race just behind the front rank, he got a lovely split early in the home straight, and he showed a nice turn of foot for Colm O’Donoghue to take the gap and hit the front. Once there, however, he appeared to idle a little and to hang a little to his right, despite his rider’s left-hand drive. As a result, he allowed the fast-finishing Mr Speaker to get up on his inside and go about a half-length up, before he got out after him again and closed him down to a neck at the line.

The G1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park was an obvious race for him after that, and there he made no mistake. Third behind breakaway leader Tourist early on in a well-stretched-out field, he hit the front at the top of the home straight and, despite moving a little to his right again, toward the centre of the track, he kept on all the way to the line under Ryan Moore to win well.

Since that breakthrough win at the highest level, Adelaide has run once, finishing third in the G2 Prix Niel back at Longchamp. Again, he was a little unlucky. The sedate early pace was not ideal, and he finished best of all, coming from an improbable position to take third place behind Ectot.

A half-share in Adelaide was sold to Australian interests earlier in the year, but it is still is a bold move by Aidan O’Brien and Team Ballydoyle now to target the Cox Plate on the other side of the world. There were myriad other options: the Arc de Triomphe, the Breeders’ Cup Turf, the Champion Stakes. Unsurprisingly, the Cox Plate is not an automatic target for foreign raiders. Unusually then, there are three Northern Hemisphere visitors this year, with Guest Of Honour and Side Glance – third in the Caulfield Stakes 10 days ago – joining Adelaide in the line-up.

The good news is that the Coolmore team reports that Adelaide has travelled well. He didn’t turn a hair on the flight, reportedly, and he has been working nicely. The bad news is that he has drawn stall 13 of 14.

Moonee Valley is an unusual track with short straights, more like a rectangle than an oval. As a consequence, the first turn comes up just 200 metres after the start in the Cox Plate, so horses drawn toward the inside have a definite advantage. Favourite Fawkner has drawn stall four, and that is just about perfect.

That said, an outside draw is not an insurmountable obstacle. Fiorente finished third in the race last year from stall 14. Ocean Park won it from stall nine in 2012. The first two home in 2011, Pinker Pinker and Jimmy Choux, emerged from stalls 12 and 10, respectively, while Whobegotyou finished third from stall 10 of 10 in 2010.

Adelaide has the ability to win a Cox Plate. Only a 3-year-old, he does not possess the hard experience of some of his rivals, but he is a seasoned traveller now, and he makes up for his relative lack of experience with his class and potential for progression. Also, last year’s winner, Shamus Award, was one of just two 3-year-olds in the race. And remember, Adelaide is a Northern Hemisphere 3-year-old, so he is eight months older than Shamus Award was last year, and almost nine months older than So You Think was when he won his first Cox Plate in 2009.

It is not easy for an Irish-trained horse to win in Australia, but it can be done. Dermot Weld has won the Melbourne Cup twice with Vintage Crop and Media Puzzle, while Tom Hogan sent Gordon Lord Byron to Rosehill earlier this year to win the George Ryder Stakes. Victory in the Cox Plate on Saturday would be massive for Ireland and for Aidan O’Brien and, of course, for Adelaide (the horse).

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