The Moonee Valley Racing Club (MVRC) has issued its first round of invitations to thirteen of the world's best weight-for-age horses to compete in the 2018 Group 1 W.S. Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley on 27 October. Invitees for the 98th running of the Cox Plate, which recently had its prize money increased to $5 million, include horses from five separate jurisdictions and ten of the world's leading racing stables. However, the thirteen hand-picked equine stars will face an imposing task trying to stop the world's best racehorse, Winx, from creating history when she bids for an unprecedented fourth Cox Plate win in the Spring. "With the recent $2 million prize money injection to our great race for the first time since 2002, we are confident we can entice horses on the world stage to compete at The Valley in what is now the richest Group 1 turf race at 2000 metres in the world," said Michael Browell, Moonee Valley Racing Club CEO. "Working with the MVRC Committee and Paul Bloodworth and the team at Racing Victoria, we have identified what we believe to be the best Weight-for-Age horses and we hope they are keen to take on Winx and create a brilliant spectacle." The thirteen invitees are:
At York in the UK, former Coolmore shuttler and triple Gr1-winning champion European sire Galileo (Sadler's Wells-Urban Sea, by Miswaki) celebrated an elite race success when 4YO Irish-bred mare Rhododendron (Galileo-Halfway to Heaven, by Pivotal) claimed her third top-flight victory in the Gr1 Lockinge Stakes (8 furlongs) for 3YO+, defeating the fast-finishing Lightning Spear & Lancaster Bomber. Trained by Aidan O'Brien on behalf of the Coolmore triumvirate of Derrick Smith, Sue Magnier & Michael Tabor, Rhododendron improved her record to 5 wins (including the Gr1 Prix de l'Opera & Gr1 Fillies' Mile) and 5 placings (including the Gr1 English 1,000 Guineas & Gr1 English Oaks) from 13 starts for £1,311,036 in earnings. Rhododendron is out of Pivotal mare Halfway To Heaven, winner of the Gr1 Nassau Stakes, Gr1 Irish One Thousand Guineas, and Gr1 Sun Chariot Stakes. This is also the family of former West Australian shuttler Verglas (IRE). O'Brien said Rhododendron would make her next appearance in either the Gr1 Queen Anne Stakes (8 furlongs) or the Gr1 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (10 furlongs) at Royal Ascot.
It sounds like the ode to a looming battle and looks likely to eventuate with trainer Martyn Meade confirming his exciting Frankel colt Eminent will likely return from a Gr2 victory last start in Deauville to take on Ballydoyle's boom colt Churchill in Saturday's Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown. According to skysports.com, having shown serious ability at the top level with a sixth in the 2000 Guineas [to Churchill], fourth in the Epsom Derby and fifth in the Coral-Eclipe, Eminent will be partnered by Champion hoop Frankie Dettori in his Irish mission which will likely be his season swansong. Meade commented on the task ahead, "I'm happy to take on Churchill, but there's Winter there as well, so we'll see. We're seriously considering it. The horse is in very good form and Frankie Dettori is booked to ride. I think the win in France did the horse a lot of good." 14 remain in the field at this point including Winter, the 1000 Guineas winning stablemate of Churchill. The Aiden O'Brien stable is also arming itself with Cliffs Of Moher, Lancaster Bomber, Taj Mahal and Hydrangea.
On day one of the famous Royal Ascot carnival in the UK, Coolmore's triple Gr1-winning stallion Excelebration (Exceed and Excel-Sun Shower, by Indian Ridge) celebrated an elite race success when Godolphin’s top-class 3YO colt Barney Roy (Excelebration-Alina, by Galileo) unleashed a powerful and well-timed run to score by 1 length for trainer Richard Hannon in the Gr1 St James’s Palace Stakes (1600m) for 3YOs, defeating Lancaster Bomber (War Front) & fellow Godolphin 3YO Thunder Snow (Helmet). Barney Roy improved his record to 3 wins (including the Gr3 Greenham Stakes) and 1 placing (the Gr1 English 2,000 Guineas) from 4 starts for £372,636 earnings. Trainer Richard Hannon always maintained that Barney Roy had genuine excuses when running Churchill to a length in the English 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket at his previous outing, and he was vindicated with this excellent performance that saw him turn the tables in emphatic fashion on his last start conqueror. "I was confident he'd run his race, not confident he'd win," Hannon told Racing Post. "I just wanted to give him the chance to prove that as I don't think he got that chance in the Guineas. There isn't another Guineas to go at, but that is a good pot." Odds-on favourite Churchill let down his supporters when disappointing in fourth. Aidan O’Brien commented: "He ran well but his form has changed a little bit with Lancaster Bomber. He just didn't pick up for some reason."
At Santa Anita Park in the US, 2YO ridgling Oscar Performance (Kitten's Joy-Devine Actress, by Theatrical) broke through for his first victory at the elite level when scoring by 1.25 lengths for trainer Brian Lynch in the US$1 million Gr1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (8 furlongs) for 2YOs, over 2YO colts Lancaster Bomber (War Front-Sun Shower, by Indian Ridge) & Good Samaritan (Harlan's Holiday-Pull Dancer, by Pulpit). Oscar Performance improved his record to 3 wins from 4 starts for US$720,132 earnings.
At Newmarket in the UK, former Coolmore shuttler and triple Gr1-winning champion European sire Galileo (Sadler's Wells-Urban Sea, by Miswaki) celebrated an elite success when 2YO Irish-bred colt Churchill (Galileo-Meow, by Storm Cat) scored by 1.25 lengths for trainer Aidan O'Brien in the Gr1 Dewhurst Stakes (7 furlongs) for 2YOs, over fellow 2YO colt and stable-mate Lancaster Bomber (War Front-Sun Shower, by Indian Ridge) & Blue Point (Shamardal-Scarlett Rose, by Royal Applause). Owned by the Coolmore triumvirate of Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith & Mrs John Magnier, Churchill improved his record to 5 wins (including the Gr1 National Stakes & Gr2 Futurity Stakes) and 1 placing from 6 starts for €595,025 earnings. Such was the dominant nature of Churchill's victory that his price for next year's English 2000 Guineas firmed into 2-1. "He's a very relaxed horse and doesn't do a lot in front," O'Brien told Racing Post. "He has a super mind on him and has plenty of pace, so we'll look forward to next year with him. We'll have a chat to lads but he'll be a nice horse to bring back here next May."