Steve Moran

French gelding should be on Moonee Valley’s Cox Plate horizon

While Paddington, Emily Upjohn, Westover and Zagrey staked claims of varying credit for October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, it was the gelded and less heralded Horizon Dore who was arguably the most impressive performer over last weekend’s English and French racing.

Horizon Dore cruised to a commanding win in the Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam –  his fourth success from six starts – comfortably accounting for Maniatic, who’d run second to French Derby winner and nominal Arc favourite Ace Impact at Chantilly in May.

That form-line, plus Horizon Dore’s second to Derby runner-up Big Rock in the Prix de Guiche when probably not fully fit, suggests that he is among the best three or four three-year-olds in France but as a gelding he’s barred from contesting the holy grail at Longchamp in October.

The French (and the English) persist with this archaic nonsense which, of course, means that a Derby or Arc winning colt only proves himself the best of his generation of entires but not of his entire generation.

This may well present an opportunity for Australia with the Patrice Cottiertrained Horizon Dore the perfect candidate for the Cox Plate. He’s unbeaten in two runs left-handed; excels at the distance range and has won on the tight, turning Marseilles Borely track so Moonee Valley should not deter connections who’ve already tabled a desire to travel with him.

Britain’s Champion Stakes, run the week before the Cox Plate, has been mooted but the Cox Plate is worth more money and our flatter tracks are more akin to those in France than the undulations of Ascot.

The visitor would then also have the option of backing up two weeks later in the Champions Stakes at Flemington and/or venturing to Hong Kong for the Hong Kong Cup on December 10.

The Cox Plate does have a bonus structure for any winner proceeding to the Japan Cup but surely the more alluring bonus would be one attached to Hong Kong. There are always political sensitivities with establishing bonuses, with some jurisdictions reluctant to be seen to be favouring one entity over another, but perhaps the expected appearance this year of that city’s best middledistance performer, Romantic Warrior, could be a stepping stone to a formal arrangement.

It would exist not so much to promote participation from Hong Kong but as a lure to European horses with the break between the Cox Plate and the Hong Kong Cup more akin to racing patterns in those jurisdictions.

Charlotte Mills, Moonee Valley Racing Club’s head of racing, told ANZ Bloodstock News the club was “excited” by the level of international interest leading into this year’s Cox Plate and that Horizon Dore was among the horses being monitored.

“He’s on our watch list, especially after his win at SaintCloud last weekend. Of course the watch list is large and it’s exciting to watch a number of races from around the world at this time of the year with the hope that the winner or placegetters might be worthy Cox Plate candidates,” Mills said.

Japan’s Takarazuka Kinen, won by the world’s highestrated horse Equinox last month and next month’s Saratoga Derby have been accorded Cox Plate international qualifier (win and you’re in) status and it’s expected the MVRC will soon announce an additional qualifier race in England.

“In terms of qualifiers and bonuses it’s about building relationships on what is a very competitive chess board,” said Mills who attended the Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin, “and I was buoyed by the reception in Japan. Equinox was always the likely winner of that race and always unlikely to be Cox Platebound but there’s still smouldering interest from the connections of the placed horses, Through Seven Seas and Justin Palace, even if the former is perhaps more likely to head to the Arc.

“I was pleased to learn that the JRA [Japan Racing Association] vets were supportive of Victoria’s veterinary protocols and I believe that in Japan, and elsewhere, there’s a growing appreciation and understanding of why those protocols are in place.”

Moonee Valley’s longheld JRA Cup has been switched to Cox Plate eve this year and a strong JRA contingent is expected to attend the Valley’s showpiece weekend of racing.

This year’s Cox Plate also offers a late nomination option on September 5 for international runners which will allow veterinary protocols to have commenced before any travel commitment is made.

Andrew Balding’s charge The Foxes looms as another possible international Cox Plate challenger.

Slow to begin, he was a very good closing second to Far Bridge in last Saturday’s Belmont Derby and both he and the winner may now proceed to the August 5 Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes although the International Stakes at York is also a possible next stop for The Foxes. The Saratoga Derby is the race State Of Rest won in 2021 before claiming the Cox Plate.

Adelaide was second in the Belmont Derby en route to his Cox Plate win in 2014.

Given Balding’s previous forays to Australia, including a halflength fourth with Side Glance behind Adelaide 2014, it would not be a shock if Moonee Valley was again high on his radar for The Foxes – or indeed the Caulfield Cup at 2400 metres.

The internationalisation of the Cox Plate has snuck up on us to some degree with the local focus galvanised by the Winx era. However, the great mare aside, three of the past five Cox Plate winners have been internationals (Adelaide, Lys Gracieux and State Of Rest) while Ciaron Maher and Dave Eustace won with Sir Dragonet, who was on debut in Australia. 

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