Race heats up to secure starts in spring features

The battle for two of Australian racing’s most coveted prizes has intensified after second acceptances for the Stella Artois Caulfield Cup (2400m) and third acceptances for the Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) both closed at 12pm (AEDT) today (Tuesday, 6 October).

A total of 28 horses, including four trained internationally, are still in the running to succeed Japanese raider Lys Gracieux as the winner of the $5 million Cox Plate, which will celebrate its centenary at The Valley on Saturday, 24 October; whilst connections of 42 gallopers have put their hands up for a place in the $5.15 million Caulfield Cup, to be run at Caulfield next Saturday (17 October).

First acceptances for the Group 1 Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes (1200m), which is held on Cox Plate eve (Friday, 23 October), also closed today with 34 sprinters still intent on taking out the $1 million feature. That number, which represents an increase of five on last year’s total, includes the newly-crowned Australian Racehorse of the Year Nature Strip.            

The world’s richest handicap over 2400m has attracted another quality crop of stayers from home and overseas, with Verry Elleegant shooting to the top of Caulfield Cup betting markets courtesy of her fifth Group 1 victory in the TAB Turnbull Stakes at Flemington last Saturday.

Her trainer, Chris Waller, prepared the trifecta in that 2000m contest, and the minor placegetters Toffee Tongue and Finche could also feature in the Caulfield Cup starting line-up alongside Verry Elleegant.   

Mirage Dancer finished third in last year’s Caulfield Cup, and the Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young-trained seven-year-old will return to Caulfield buoyed by his victory in the Metropolitan Handicap (2400m) last Saturday, when he became the first winner of an Australian Group 1 for his renowned sire Frankel.

The horse he beat into second place that day, the Kris Lees-trained Mugatoo, could get his revenge in the Caulfield Cup after he was also amongst the second acceptances for the $5.15m showpiece.

Of the nine-strong international brigade, Aidan O’Brien’s 2019 English Derby winner Anthony Van Dyck is rated by bookmakers as the main challenger to the locals, whilst his fellow raiders Buckhurst (Joseph O’Brien), Prince of Arran (Charlie Fellowes) and Dashing Willoughby (Andrew Balding) are also prominent in the early markets.

Danny O’Brien’s much-hyped colt Russian Camelot has not accepted for the Caulfield Cup, with his connections instead concentrating on the Cox Plate and, if he comes through that race in good order, a potential run in the Lexus Melbourne Cup (3200m).

Final acceptances for the Caulfield Cup will close at 3pm (AEDT) next Wednesday (14 October).

Click here for second acceptances for the Stella Artois Caulfield Cup

A blend of seasoned campaigners and up-and-coming stars remain in the mix for the Cox Plate, which has attracted seven fewer third acceptors than 12 months ago.

Connections of Kiwi mare Probabeel, who claimed her second Group 1 in last Saturday’s Epsom Handicap (1600m), have opted to bring her south to Melbourne for a tilt at the Cox Plate, a race her trainer Jamie Richards came close to winning with Te Akau Shark last year.

Probabeel’s acceptance sets up the possibility of a fascinating clash with her northern hemisphere three-year-old Russian Camelot, who is the odds-on favourite to claim the third Group 1 of his burgeoning career in this Saturday’s Caulfield Stakes (2000m). Their inclusion takes the number of Group 1 winners left in the acceptance list to 14.

A total of eight three-year-olds – six southern hemisphere and two northern hemisphere – remain in the hunt for the Cox Plate, with Peter Moody’s impressive last-start winner Glenfiddich, Group 1 champions Tagaloa and King’s Legacy and Richard and Michael Freedman’s unbeaten grey Love Tap amongst the third acceptors.

Four of the international raiders currently in quarantine at the TAB International Horse Centre – Roger Charlton’s Aspetar, Joseph O’Brien’s Buckhurst and Magic Wand and Armory, both trained by his famous father Aidan O’Brien – have also accepted for the Cox Plate as has their fellow Werribee resident Sir Dragonet, who will be prepared by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace for Australasia’s weight-for-age championship.

Other notable names amongst the third acceptors include last-start TAB Turnbull Stakes (2000m) winner Verry Elleegant and her stablemate Kolding, who followed his victory in the Group 1 George Main Stakes (1600m) with another win in last Saturday’s Group 2 Hill Stakes (2000m). His trainer Chris Waller, who prepared Winx to win an unprecedented four Cox Plates, also has veteran galloper Humidor in his arsenal for this year’s renewal.

Final acceptances for the Cox Plate will close at 8:30am (AEDT) on Tuesday, 20 October.

Click here for third acceptances for the Ladbrokes Cox Plate 

Verry Elleegant became the third galloper to guarantee her place in the Caulfield Cup, as the mare’s tough win in the Turnbull Stakes saw her join Aktau (Mike Moroney) and Orderofthegarter (Danny O’Brien) at the head of the updated Order of Entry.  

Verry Elleegant’s stablemate Toffee Tongue, who finished just behind her in the Turnbull Stakes, is currently one place outside the all-important top 18; whilst two other horses which are prominent in the early betting markets, Mugatoo (Kris Lees) and Master of Wine (Team Hawkes), are also sweating on securing a start in 20th and 21st position respectively.

Miami Bound currently occupies the 18th and final berth, giving Danny O’Brien three chances of securing a second Caulfield Cup win should she join stable companions Vow And Declare and Orderofthegarter in the line-up next Saturday.

Click here for the updated Order of Entry for the Stella Artois Caulfield Cup

Persan’s gutsy victory in The Bart Cummings (2500m) last Saturday has earned him a return to Flemington for the Melbourne Cup on the first Tuesday in November.

The four-year-old son of Pierro, who was penalised 1kg for his win in the Group 3 contest, has joined mare Oceanex in the exclusive ballot exempt club for Australia’s most iconic race.

Further down the updated Order of Entry, the battle to secure a start in ‘the race that stops a nation’ is heating up, with Group 1-winning mares Miami Bound (Danny O’Brien) and Toffee Tongue (Chris Waller) both breathing down the neck of Etah James, who currently sits in 24th place for her co-trainers Ciaron Maher and David Eustace.

Click here for the updated Order of Entry for the Lexus Melbourne Cup

Ciaron Maher and David Eustace’s speedy colt Anders is amongst the high-profile acceptances for the Manikato Stakes, as is John and Chris Meagher’s flying mare Pippie, who recently claimed her second Group 1 in the Moir Stakes (1000m) at The Valley.  

Nature Strip is one of six confirmed Everest runners who could back up in the Manikato Stakes, whilst another first acceptor Libertini is also expected to compete in The Everest after her brilliant win in the Premiere Stakes (1200m) last Saturday.    

Final acceptances for the Manikato Stakes close at 8:30am (AEDT) on Tuesday, 20 October.

Click here for first acceptances for the Ladbrokes Manikato Stakes