Saturday’s $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate has been spruiked as a match race between Winx and Hartnell and on everything that I have seen so far this Spring it should live up to the hype that it has been afforded.

Winx heads into the race having won her last 12 straight races including last year’s Cox Plate while Hartnell has returned this preparation in career peak form having had four runs this time in for a second to Winx in the Group 2 Warwick Stakes and three dominant victories in three Group races since.

Let’s start with Winx. The Chris Waller trained supermare has had 22 career starts for 16 wins and 3 seconds with prizemoney just shy of $7.5 million. As mentioned above she has won her last 12 straight, incredibly all of those wins have been at Group level with 8 of them being Group 1’s. She has had three runs this Spring for a 3.5 length victory over Hartnell in the Group 2 Warwick Stakes over 1400 metres at Randwick, a 1.3 length win over Hauraki in the Group 1 George Main Stakes over the mile at Randwick and a two length victory over Black Heart Bart in the three horse Caulfield Stakes over 2000 metres.

Winx is yet to be really tested this preparation. In each of her three victories she has been eased down late by her pilot Hugh Bowman. It’s hard to know how much more she would have if she was really put under pressure. The reality is we haven’t had to find out yet – maybe there’s lots left under the bonnet maybe there’s not much. In truth we may still not know after Saturday given her recent dominance of Australian racing.

Former UK galloper Hartnell has gone to a completely new level this preparation and looms as the logical danger to Winx (if there is one). The 5 year old son of Authorized was beaten 3.5 lengths by Winx first up in the Group 2 Warwick Stakes over the 7 furlongs but since that defeat he could not have been any more impressive winning the Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes Randwick over 1600 metres by 7.8 lengths, the Group 2 Hill Stakes over 2000 metres at Randwick by 5.8 lengths and the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes over 2000 metres at Flemington by 3.3 lengths.

In that Turnbull Stakes victory Hartnell beat home Jameka by 3.3 lengths and Jameka beat home the rest of the field by a similar margin. Since then Jameka has come out and won the Group 1 Caulfield Cup by three lengths further franking Hartnell’s hot form.

The duo have clashed on three separate occasions and on each meeting it has been Winx who has walked away victorious. Winx will carry 2 kilos less than Hartnell under “weight for age” conditions which is another important advantage in her favour.

The TABtouch market on the race sees Winx a popular favourite at $1.90, Hartnell slightly easy at $3.40, Yankee Rose firm at $14, Vadamos at $16 and all other runners $21 and upwards.

All of the evidence that has been put in front of us so far this Spring keeps coming back to these two very talented gallopers slugging it out up the home straight at the Valley in one of the world’s great races.

It seems remarkable that in a field of this quality all of the talk is focusing on just two runners but I’ll talk you through each of the other runners and explain why I see it the way I do.

Happy Trails is now a 9 year old and at his most recent start Hartnell beat it home by more than 7.5 lengths in the Turnbull – it’s hard to see such a margin being turned around.

Black Heart Bart was brave in the Caulfield Stakes behind Winx but she beat him fair and square by 2 lengths – again at the same weights tough to see Bart turning the tables. He is one of a handful of runners I can see battling it out for the bronze medal position.

Hauraki is a Godolphin runner who is in career peak form. His win last start in the Group 1 Epsom over a mile at Randwick was very good but just two starts ago he was beaten by Winx in the George Main by 1.3 lengths. It was as close as anyone has been to the mare in a while so he gets a tick for that performance but I can’t see him turning the tables on her and the stable have openly stated they rate his stablemate Hartnell a “lengths” better galloper. Another in contention for third prize.

Happy Clapper has had three runs back from a break and has been unplaced in all three of them. His best run this time in was his last run when 4th beaten less than a length behind Hauraki in the Group 1 Epsom. He does rise 4 kilos on that run though and he has many lengths to find on current form to challenge the top two.

Vadamos is the one horse in the race who has the potential to throw a spanner in the works for the mere fact we have never seen him in Australia. Trained by one of the World’s best conditioners in Andreas Wohler Vadamos has had 18 starts for 8 wins and 5 seconds and he has shown himself to be a genuine topliner in Europe. Given how strong the form is for Winx and Hartnell he is going to have to be exceptional but if he was to come out and do something like Adelaide did in the Cox Plate two years ago then the top two could potentially have a test on their hands. I’ll be having a very small saver with it thrown in at the top of my novelties just in case he shows his very best. He is one of two unknowns in the race and is one of the 5 runners I have competing hard for the third spot.

Awesome Rock won the Group 2 Feehan over the Mile at Moonee Valley first up this preparation and has since finished 5th in the Underwood and 5th in the Toorak. He has been soundly beaten in both of those races and neither Winx or Hartnell have competed in those events. Has to find a bit to be in the finish here.

Lucia Valentina is an outstanding mare who took out the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes in the Autumn. She has had two runs this time in for a 4.4 length fourth behind Winx in the Warwick Stakes and a last start third behind Black Heart Bart in the Underwood Stakes. Again she will need to up the ante significantly on those two efforts to be in the finish here. That said her best could definitely contend for third or fourth spot.

Yankee Rose is the second of the horses in the field that add a bit of unknown. The talented three year old filly did a wonderful job to take out the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes at her most recent outing and under “weight for age” conditions gets in with just 47.5 kilograms meaning she has an 11.5 kilogram advantage over the majority of her rivals. That said how will she handle herself up against a field of tough, hardened Weight For Age performers? With the big weight pull in her favour she may well be another of the horses that fight it out for the podium position.

In all of my time following racing I cannot remember a race where I have been so confident about a duo running first and second in a major spring feature. All of the form lines around them have held up incredibly strong and they are both seemingly in tip top order heading into the race.

My final thoughts on the event and betting strategy are as follows :

Tips :

1st – 8 Winx

2nd – 3 Hartnell

3rd – 2 Black Heart Bart

4th – 4 Hauraki

SuperPick : I am leaning towards Winx and will be using her as my Bonus SuperPick with the 50% win bonus.

Quinella : I am very bullish about the Winx and Hartnell Quinella. (3&8)

Trifecta : Again I will be using the big two up front to try and smash into the race for units of the novelties. Trifecta : 38 – 38 – 246910. ($10 for 100%)

First Four : As above just carrying the same horses I had for third for fourth as well. First Four : 38 – 38 – 246910 – 246910. ($40 for 100%)

Good luck with your thoughts and be sure to use your bonus Cox Plate SuperPick where you can choose from 50% Win Bonus (up to $50), Run 2nd or 3rd Money Back (up to $50), 25 % Place Bonus (Up to $50) or Money Back Place if your horse runs 4th (Up to $25).

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