A select group of international horses appears all that remains between champion mare Winx and a historic third-consecutive Cox Plate win after Racing Victoria took first acceptances for the $3.05 million weight-for-age feature on Tuesday.
The initial 141 entries for The Valley’s showpiece event were whittled down to 79, including 10 overseas entries – five of them from the yard of Irish maestro Aidan O’Brien, who notably didn’t accept with 2015 Cox Plate placegetter Highland Reel.
Group 1 winner Deauville shapes as the best-credentialed O’Brien horse after three G1 placings this season, while progressive stablemates Johannes Vermeer, Cliffs Of Moher, Lancaster Bomber and Taj Mahal also remain in contention.
The five other international acceptors comprise two horses from Saeed bin Suroor’s Godolphin stable – Prize Money and Best Solution – and one each from Charlie Appleby (Folkswood), Willie Mullins(Riven Light) and Jane Chapple-Hyam (Kaspersky).
While invited gallopers Neorealism and Highland Reel were confirmed as withdrawals on Tuesday, Racing Victoria’s Executive General Manager Racing – Greg Carpenter, said their absence had done little to detract from the interest in this year’s race.
“The build up to this year’s Cox Plate is like none we have ever seen before with Winx shooting for an historic third-consecutive victory to join Kingston Town as the only three-time winner of the race,” Carpenter said.
“It will be fantastic to see Winx return to the amphitheatre of The Valley, and we look forward to seeing her take on a host of top-class international and domestic competitors in what is shaping as one of the great highlights of the Spring Racing Carnival.
“We’re continuing to liaise with the international stables to see which horses will travel Down Under, while we’re also eager to see which of the 18 Australian three-year-olds can emerge over the next month to provide a challenge to Winx.”
Undefeated Ciaron Maher-trained colt Merchant Navy, Blue Diamond winner Catchy and spruik colt Royal Symphony headline the 22 three-year-olds among the Cox Plate first acceptances, each out to emulate the deeds of Shamus Award, So You Think and Savabeel.
Key Cox Plate non-acceptors include last season’s Caulfield Cup and Australian Cup placegetter Exospheric, five-time Group 1 winner Black Heart Bart, unbeaten filly Shoals and progressive Kiwi Lizzie L’amour.
RV also took first acceptances for the $2 million Ladbrokes Caulfield Guineas (1600m) and $500,000 Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m). Caulfield’s three-year-old Group 1 features drew 119 and 91 acceptances respectively.
Royal Symphony and Merchant Navy, along with star filly Catchy, headline the list of 119 first acceptors for the Caulfield Guineas, alongside G1 ATC Sires Produce (1400m) winner Invader and G1 Champagne Stakes (1600m) winner The Mission.
Summer Passage, winner of New Zealand’s G1 Sistema Stakes (1200m) and runner-up in the G1 ATC Sires Produce (1400m), has also accepted and appears set to resume in the G2 Danehill Stakes (1200m) at Flemington on Saturday.
Catchy also heads the list of 91 first acceptances for the Thousand Guineas.
Anthony Freedman-trained filly Shoals, who remains unbeaten after her G3 Atlantic Jewel (1200m) win at The Valley on Saturday, and Formality, a winner of the G2 Silver Shadow and Furious Stakes both over 1200 metres, are among the other key acceptors.
Notable withdrawals from the Caulfield Guineas include Ducimus, Menari and Superhard while connections of Crown Witness and Earth Angel have not paid up for the Thousand Guineas.