Today’s special at Forty Winx. Cox Plate glory at the Valley

October 24, 2015

Mooney Valley and I are uneasy lovers.

Sure, I respect her tradition. The awesome line of champions to have paraded before today.

Three in a row for Kingston Town. Gunsynd. Tulloch. And Phar Lap.

Bart and So You Think. Bossy and Makybe Diva. What a roll call.

I last backed the winner of the Cox Plate in 1924. Or so it seems. Let’s just say .. the great race hasn’t been a happy hunting ground.

Never get it right. That impossibly short straight. Gets me every time.

I’m usually doing my best work late, in the spacious final furlong of Flemington, or Randwick, or Eagle Farm. Let us stretch our legs.

Not at the Valley. No waiting for the clock tower. Watch them take off from the previous suburb. If you can’t sustain a run, don’t bother turning up.

I not only miss the winner, I’m a chance of missing the first eight. I’m studying the form, and it could be an assembly brochure from IKEA.

But this year, it’s different. I’m on something special. Something good enough to carry Hughie Bowman and my fragile hopes.

I’ve watched Winx closely. Both up close, and on the screen. She’s one out of the box. An excitement machine.

We love them flying home. Coming from impossible positions to greet the judge. This mare does it, time and again.

She ran in a Group Three race on the Sunshine Coast last year, and won as if jet propelled.

From there she went into the Queensland Oaks. If you had gold bars hidden in the yard you were digging them up. She came home so fast Hughie returned to scale with windburn.

Fast forward to the Epsom. She couldn’t win from there. No way. Can she win from there? Of course she can!

And so to the Valley. The race for the purists. It doesn’t get any tougher.

There can be no mistakes. Hughie will have to get her rolling early. That’s ok. No-one is riding better.

Watch her fly. Keep an eye out for that dark cap late. It will be airborne.

The owner who’ll be in charge of celebrations is a Queenslander. The party will be epic. Again. Another prize for our shelf.

Good luck this afternoon. Fingers crossed for a repeat of 1924. The name of the winner back then? The Night Patrol. Which is exactly what they’ll need after the last.

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Dreaming of Cox Plate glory. The old fashioned jockey and the country horse everyone’s given up on.

October 22, 2011

The first time I met the jockey, he wasn’t riding.

His weight had ballooned. From an injury, or suspension. Maybe both.

He looked big. For a second, I wondered if I’d been introduced to the wrong bloke.

We were in a pub, and he was doing his bit to support the publican. Friendly enough, but distracted. Like he was missing out.

My mate knew him well. Still does. Explained that he was trying to get back in the saddle, but it was tough.

He started riding again soon after. I watched with interest. Always easy to find in the form guide. Topweight, or close to it.

The talent was obvious. A true horseman. They travelled so easily for him.

He rarely found trouble in running. Horses relaxed. And he knew exactly where the post was.

The second time I met the jockey, we were at the track. He’d been back in action for a few years. Winning too. All over the place. Distraction was replaced by focus. And fun.

We had another beer. Mine was delivered by his outstretched skinny arm. And a big grin. This was a happy hoop.

He’d just ridden a winner, after being unlucky early. No matter. He was loving it. Excited about doing the job he was born for.

That’s the thing about Chris O’Brien. There’s nothing else you’d want him to be doing.

He’s been making horses run fast since he was a kid. In New Zealand. The one thing we can hold against him.

There are plenty like him, plying their trade on tracks from Cessnock to Randwick, and all points in between.

Tradesmen, if you like. Not superstars. The blokes who keep the industry rolling along.

But don’t be fooled. O’Brien is much more than that. It’s just that his body is constantly battling against him.

First, it was a terrible leg injury. Not from a horse, but a harvester. Sliced his heel off like ham from the bone.

They told him to forget about riding. Long odds to even walk. He ignored the experts, and did both.

There’s still a limp though. You’ll see it today at Mooney Valley.

He’s no lightweight. Far from it. And that bung foot means he can’t run. So he cycles for hours, all over the place, to trim down.

The bike has been copping a workout of late. Because the battler has been given a break. A career-defining galloper.

Sincero is O’Brien’s special horse. Gave him his first Group One. And today, together, they could add their names to the record books.

The Wyong galloper has been set for the Cox Plate all along. He was fancied early, but is now an outsider.

They’re hoping the spark returns today. Blinkers go back on. Like the day he flashed home to win the Stradbroke. Chris was no chance of making the weight that day.

It must have been a crushing blow, but he didn’t complain. The owners stayed solid, and had him straight back on. He’s been there ever since.

They think they can win today. On one of racing’s greatest stages. Those closest to the jockey will be at the Valley, cheering themselves silly. If Sincero gets up, you’ll hear them from interstate.

He gets to live the dream. All the struggles, all those bike marathons, will be worthwhile.

There’s something heartening about barracking for the underdog in the big event. Success, if it comes, is just that little bit sweeter.

Make no mistake, Chris O’Brien deserves his place in this field.

No-one has worked harder to get to the barriers today. And if Sincero triumphs, no-one will celebrate longer than the little bloke with the limp.


Trust me on this. We’re backing the Cox Plate winner two months early.

September 3, 2011

I think I’ve found a winner.

If you just fell from your chair, dust yourself off. This may never happen again.

It’s not this afternoon, mind you. I’m talking seven weeks away. Our weight-for-age pinnacle. The Cox Plate.

The idea is that we can snap up some juicy fixed odds early. Get ourselves cashed up for the Cup carnival the week after.

Before I tell you this golden tip, some history. My record in this race is abysmal.

I have awful luck at Mooney Valley. On any normal Saturday. Come Cox Plate day, the form guide looks like it’s printed in Egyptian.

It’s unique, this time-honoured event. They take off so bloody early. Forget the luxury of a sweeping straight like Flemington or Eagle Farm.

Our best horses, getting stoked up way before the home bend. Look up gut-buster in your racing dictionary, and you’ll see Cox Plate next to it.

The experts reckon it’s easy. Just pick the best horse. Sounds simple.

And history backs them. Check the honour roll. Phar Lap. Kingston Town. Tulloch. Gunsynd. And just lately, Makybe Diva and So You Think.

Pretty handy, that lot.

But this year is different. Have a look at those entered. With the greatest of respect to connections, it’s not quite a top-notch field.

The great So You Think won’t be back. Forget the other overseas raiders. They’ll be aimed at the Cups.

Whobegotyou is at the top of the market. He’s an old favourite of mine. But a potential Cox Plate winner? I don’t think so.

More Joyous is a wonderful mare. But she’s not Sunline.

The Stradbroke winner Sincero is another that I wrap to anyone who’ll listen. Maybe he could improve enough by late October. Maybe.

So where does that leave us? I’ll tell you where. The three-year olds.

I keep hearing judges way better than me mentioning the youngsters. That this might be a year where they dominate. And I think these wise folk are spot on.

In 2004, the three-year old colt Salvabeel was too good for them. My last Cox Plate winner. At big odds. On a day where the field was anything but classic.

Three years before, I was on Viscount, when he ran third to Northerly. A cracking field that day. He was desperately unlucky.

I backed Samantha Miss too a few years back. Another third.

The weight pull for the three-year olds is always so damn attractive. Gets me time and again.

Which brings us to this year. A field devoid of superstars. And a pair of three-year olds, with the racing world at their flying hooves.

Peter Snowden’s colt Helmet is hulking. Like an overgrown teenager. With manners to match.

He has problems between the ears that must keep the trainer awake well into the night. But boy, can he gallop.

I heard Snowden say on 4TAB a few weeks back that of all the stable performers, it was this bloke he was most excited about.

Anthony Cummings is also excited. Glen Boss too. About another three-year old colt, who could just be our next superstar. Smart Missile.

Cummings reckons the son of Fastnet Rock could be his best ever. Bossy is making comparisons with Lonhro.

His win last weekend was breathtaking. A turn of foot that only the best possess.

True, his barrier habits are a worry. I backed him on Slipper Day, and shed tears via my hip pocket when he was scratched at the start. What might have been.

So, we’ve established that both can go like last week’s pay. And that both have their problems. The question is, who’ll be ready come October 22?

This is where the tip comes in. Yes, it’s taken a while to get here. Is anyone still awake?  If you are snoozing, you’ll be losing.

Because I’m here to declare that Smart Missile can win the Cox Plate. In the weeks ahead, he’ll prove to be one out of the box.

You can back him at 16 to 1, right now. I’m tipping you’ll get half that in a few weeks time, maybe less.

So there it is. Your Cox Plate winner. Nearly two months early. From a bloke who has collected on the race once in the last two decades.

Remember, you read it here first. Except if you’ve been reading all those experts who are also tipping it.

The only certainty, is that if he can carry the weight of my tip, he is a genuine superstar.