Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m) aspirant Te Akau Shark. Photo: Trish Dunell
The Moonee Valley Racing Club (MVRC) faces a major selection dilemma next week when assembling the field for this year’s A$5 million Gr.1 Cox Plate (2040m).
With the retirement of star mare Winx, who won the Cox Plate for a record-breaking four years in a row, the weight-for-age ranks in Australasia are looking decidedly even.
Factoring in spots taken by overseas-trained invited runners, plus the winners of exemption races means several of Australasia’s best weight-for-age gallopers may be left out of the race on October 26.
Exempt race winners this year include Harlem (Australian Cup), Homesman (Feehan Stakes) and Cape of Good Hope (Caulfield Stakes) and that trio remain paid-up acceptors for the Cox Plate.
There are a further three horses that have accepted invites from the MVRC to run in the Cox Plate – Danceteria (David Menuisier), Kluger (Tomokazu Takano) and Lys Gracieux (Yoshito Yahagi).
It leaves just eight spots remaining in the capacity 14-horse field with the MVRC using their discretion to select the remainder of the runners next week, with around 23 horses holding legitimate claims for a place in the race.
Amongst those contenders is the Jamie Richards-trained Te Akau Shark, who turned in a strong performance to run a narrow second in the Gr.1 Epsom Handicap (1600m) when carrying four kilograms more than the winner Kolding.
The star Kiwi with a cult-following has won five of his nine career starts and finished second in a further three, but without a Group One win on his CV, the prospects of the $9-chance gaining a start remain at the discretion of the committee, who have a difficult task to select the final field early next week.
Group One winners Avilius, Mystic Journey, Hartnell, Humidor, Gailo Chop, Gatting, Kings Will Dream, Fierce Impact, Verry Elleegant, Castelvecchio and Flit all remain in contention.
Meanwhile, connections of multiple Group One winner Black Heart Bart, who won the Gr.1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) before finishing a close second in the Gr.1 Caulfield Stakes (2000m) are considering paying the $200,000 late entry fee.
“I have had six phone calls this morning and there are going to be some twists and turns even in the next 48 hours,” Moonee Valley chief executive Michael Browell said.
“The committee is going to have their work ahead of them to knock this down to 14 horses, plus emergencies.
“It is a good problem to have. We have had smallish Cox Plate fields in recent years, mainly due to the Winx impact.
“Even with the advent of the A$7.5million Golden Eagle (1500m), it has probably saved us a bit of a headache as well. There could have easily been another three or four four-year-olds that might have wanted to come through to the Cox Plate that will now head to the race in Sydney.
“We have guidelines that aren’t written in stone, but it does come down to final committee discretion.
“There has been plenty of discussion and debate over the merits of a horse like Te Akau Shark, but it might be that the committee do consider an x-factor component as to whether or not a horse like Te Akau Shark makes his way into the final field.
“One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of discussion and debate over the next nine days. People have different views as to which horses come in. But the final decision will rest with nine committee members of the Moonee Valley Racing Club.”