Champion mare Winx, chasing her 13th successive win, remains a clear favourite for Saturday’s A$3 million Cox Plate after coming up with barrier three for the Group 1 race over 2040m at Moonee Valley.
The five-year-old mare, whose sequence of wins includes eight victories at Group 1 level and stretches beyond her 4.75 lengths win in track record time in last year’s Cox Plate, drew barrier one last year.
Her trainer Chris Waller had said he wanted barrier four but the stable was left with the next best option after four was chosen by Happy Clapper’s connections who were drawn, by lot, to select their preferred barrier before Winx’s name was called.
Second favourite Hartnell will start from barrier seven in the 10-horse field while the next two in market order - French visitor Vadamos and the lone three-year-old Yankee Rose will begin, respectively, from the gates immediately inside the defending champion.
Winx was the first horse on track for Tuesday's Breakfast With The Best at Moonee Valley and worked stylishly under Hugh Bowman. "It was just a matter of keeping the engine ticking over and not blowing it up," trainer Waller said.
Bowman is confident the mare is again the horse to beat and rather ominously, for her rivals, said that she had improved ‘physically and mentally’ since last year’s race.
“I always have a level of respect for my opponents but I think she has come on in the past 12 months and she’s thrived since her last run at Caulfield,” Bowman said.
Rival jockey James McDonald, who rides Hartnell who’s been beaten behind Winx in three previous clashes, also spoke of the improvement in his horse. “He’s going much better than he was previously,” McDonald said in reference to the previous meetings of the two horses.
“He’s lovely and relaxed and has improved since he’s come down from Sydney. Hopefully we get a bit of luck and he’ll certainly be thereabouts at the finish,” McDonald said.
Hartnell was beaten 10.25 lengths into fifth place behind Winx in last year’s Cox Plate but Godolphin’s Australian trainer John O’Shea said he was a ‘different’ horse this time around.
“Last year we were concerned about how he didn’t relax as well as you’d like in his races but he’s fine now. He’s been on an upward spiral since he’s come down to Melbourne this year and I’ve been very happy with his work. He’s in good form. There’s no doubting this is a great race and Winx is the deserved favourite but Hartnell will run well,” O’Shea said.
O’Shea has no concerns with drawing out (gate seven) or the tight Moonee Valley track. “He’s a big striding horse but he got around the track OK when we worked him here the other morning and I’m happy he’s drawn out so he can get into a nice ryhthm and roll forward,” he said.