The Rating Bureau: Cox Plate

trb

THE RATING BUREAU

The Cox Plate – 2040m G1 WFA $3,000,000

 

THE TRACK

The track is forecast to be a Good 4 early with a likely upgrade so it will be racing as a Good 3 by Cox Plate time.  The rail is out 3m which can tend to suit on pace horses better than when the rail is in the normal position for example.  The following stats demonstrate:

 

  • Normal Rail at MV: 29% of races are won by horses settling 1st or 2nd in the run
  • 3m Rail at MV: 39% of races are won by horses settling 1st or 2nd in the run.

 

When it comes to The Cox Plate though, this stat is likely to be irrelevant as a strong pace will better suit those off the lead. Nonetheless, it is worth keeping in mind for other races, especially if you like a horse racing up near the lead.

 

SPEED & TACTICS

There’s plenty of horses capable of pressing the speed here. The Cleaner (2) should show clear intent to lead from his inside draw though as that’s how he runs his best races. Not far outside of him there is Highland Reel (4), Arod (5), Complacent (6), Gailo Chop (8) and even Pornichet (11) who have the potential to press forward.

That should create plenty of pressure for The Cleaner to be rolling early to hold his preferred position and prevent another challenger from crossing him.

It seems almost certain that the early speed will be at least above average for Group 1 standard and potentially even faster than that.  This race will be a high pressure test of sustained speed over 2040m likely to be run in a fast time rating of at least 112. Those midfield and back in the field will need to travel at early speeds much faster than they are accustomed to, which could become a key factor in this race.

Early Pace Rating: Above Average to Strong

Late Pace Rating: Below Average to Moderate

Best Suited: Off pace runners.

 

UNDERSTANDING WFA RATINGS

Last week we discussed that when assessing handicap races, it’s necessary to take the raw WFA Performance Ratings and then adjust them for the handicap weight to be carried. It’s this nature of handicap racing that gives slightly inferior horses the chance to compete with those higher rated, by carrying less weight.

When it comes to weight for age races like The Cox Plate though, horse’s past ratings require no further adjustment as they are already normalised as if each horse carried WFA. Here there is no advantage from weight carried as each horse carries theoretically level weights relative to their age and sex, as determined by the Standard WFA Scale.

This is why WFA racing is considered the pinnacle of competition at the elite level, because horses are meeting on level terms regardless of age or sex. WFA racing at the Group 1 level helps us to identify the best of the best.

 

RACE OVERVIEW

Below are the ratings that recent Cox Plate winners have run to:

 

  • 2014 – Adelaide – 109
  • 2013 – Shamus Award – 105.8
  • 2012 – Ocean Park – 110
  • 2011 – Pinker Pinker – 107.4
  • 2010 – So You Think – 110
  • 2009 – So You Think – 108.6
  • 2008 – Maldivian – 107

 

The composition of this year’s field suggests that at least a 107 rating will be needed to be competitive in the finish, with the winner likely to push towards 108-109, subject to whether the International runners can bring something like their best form.

One of the keys in assessing this race for me is not only looking at recent form and ratings, but also proven ability in high pressure races and the step each horse needs to take to reach the likely winning mark of at least 108. The higher the rating level, the more difficult every half a length of improvement is to make. For example, it’s very achievable for a horse to go from a 95 to 98 rating level, we see it regularly. However it’s much more difficult and rare to see a horse progress from a 105 to 108 rating.  For that reason preference at the elite level is always given to horses with the proven ability to reach the winning mark.

 

Runner by Runner

He presents as the best chance in what is a very competitive race. He has a well established peak of 109-110 in his time under the Hayes stable, courtesy of his 1.1L 3rd to Designs On Rome in the Hong Kong Cup last year (109) and then his peak 110 rating winning the Queen Elizabeth over 2000m in the Sydney Autumn Carnival.  A rating of 110 is a seriously elite performance and was in fact better than what Adelaide did winning the Cox Plate last Spring (in which Criterion finished 1.5L away when trained by David Payne.)

Fast forward to this Spring and Criterion was excellent first up off a 52 day break in the Caulfield  Stakes (2000m) winning the race in a 106.5 rating, stamped by a very powerful last 400m figure. It was the perfect platform to progress here in the Cox Plate towards his peak of 109-110.

His effort in last year’s Cox Plate which was run at a brutal early pace showed that a high pressure 2040m is no issue. He was 1.5L away from Adelaide in that race and there’s no doubt he has become a better horse since transferring to David Hayes & Tom Dabernig.

From barrier 7 I expect that he’ll end up 7th or 8th in running, around 6 lengths off the lead and that’s likely to be an ideal position. There’s really nothing to fault about his credentials for this race.

The key to his betting appeal for me is his demonstrated potential to push towards that 109-110 level of performance, which sets a level in this race that so far only Highland Reel and Arod have proven they can reach. The quality of Criterion’s lead up run, the red hot form of the Hayes stable and fact that this is a target race provides every reason to be optimistic about a near peak run here and on that basis he profiles as a strong betting prospect.

He was progressing nicely this campaign with a 102 rating first up and 104.4 second up, but then ran a career low when beaten 6.2 lengths behind Criterion in the Caulfield Stakes. The firmness of the track was blamed that day, but Fawkner has near peak ratings on similar ground so it’s hard to totally overlook that last start run.

He’s well established with a peak rating of 107, which can be very competitive here, but I question whether as an 8YO he can rise to a new peak of 108 or more than might be needed to actually win this race. That concern is only enhanced when you consider his last start run and awkward barrier draw. Whether he can bounce back or not with another good run is unknown, but on such a ratings and form profile his chances of winning this race are relatively low.

Took a big step forward last start in the Caulfield Stakes to record a 105.8 rating behind Criterion, bringing him into this race just under his 106.5 peak rating. That’s one of the best last start ratings in this race, so on that basis he has some claims.

Last year he was very good in a super fast run Cox Plate last year, coming from well back in the field to be beaten 0.7 lengths, so the likely pressure doesn’t appear to be a major problem.

From barrier 13 I expect him to be well back in the field again this year, so he faces a similar challenge in a stronger race. While he can run home to be thereabouts in the finish, he will almost certainly need a new career peak to win and as an 8YO that’s hard to see happening.

He has a peak WFA Performance Rating from the Autumn of 106.5 winning the 2400m WFA BMW, but is yet to show anything like that form in 2 runs so far this preparation, with a peak of just 100. He ran home solidly in the G1 Turnbull to be beaten just 1.4 lengths, but the WFA Performance Rating methodology didn’t rate that form up to G1 standard and while Amralah and Happy Trails have improve their ratings out of the race, the other 9 runners to since race have rated lower or at best equal… so there’s no compelling evidence to question the figures.

There’s no doubt Hartnell will be fitter here and likely to run a new peak for this preparation, but  there’s no way I can forecast him improving the massive amount needed to be in the finish as a genuine winning chance here.

He ran a new career peak of 104.5 winning The Underwood (1800m) at Caulfield last start, the same track and distance that his previous 104 peak came from.  His record at this track reads very well, but his best is well below the standard that will be needed to be in the finish here and I can’t see him suddenly taking a big step forward to a new peak, especially from a very awkward draw.

Last year he came into this race 7th up after a series of gut busting runs where he ran along very fast in front… which he also did in the Cox Plate form a wide draw before finishing 3.4 lengths behind Adelaide.

He’s had a much more targeted preparation this time and comes into this race 4th up, off three previous runs where he has been ridden much more conservatively in front.  He ran a new 105 peak 2 starts ago winning th1600m Dato at this track and the easier time he’s had of it leading up to this race could very well see him set to run at least an equal peak if not better. That’s still likely to be short of the winning mark here, but his ability to sustain high pressure and run fast overall time will certainly give the others something to catch. It wouldn’t surprise if he held on to run a place.

Has a peak rating of 104 but was poor last start when beaten 8.7 lengths behind Criterion. He’s yet to prove he’s good enough to be in the mix here and an awkward draw won’t help his chances.

He’s made good improvement over recent months and comes to this race with some high quality ratings in the 108-109 range, including last start in the Sussex Stakes when he was just 0.5L behind Solow with a gap to 3rd place.  The concern I have with his profile though is that his recent form which has delivered those peak ratings is over a mile and he’s often been able to get comfortable runs up on the speed. This race is 2040m in what will be a much higher pressure scenario. That has to raise some concern about whether he can run right up to that peak, but when a horse has previously shown the talent to win, you have to respect them regardless.

He’s made a fantastic return from a long injury lay off this preparation, winning 2 of his 4 starts. He ran to a 105 rating 2nd up, but that was a race where he controlled the tempo at a very slow speed and just had to sprint home. His last start win over Hauraki in The Craven Plate is a much better guide for this, but he only reached a 102.5 rating in that win. While he’s in great form, this is another level and it’s hard to see him suddenly elevating to a genuinely elite rating performance.

He’s yet to win at the G1 level but has a few 107 ratings in his history, including a 1.5L 2nd to Solow over 1855m that measures up as competitive here.  Given the overall record of Internationals though it’s difficult to assess him right at that peak. Furthermore, Brad Rawiller also looks to face a challenge on this map to secure a good run from barrier 8 without doing too much work early.

Those two factors take the gloss off him somewhat, but there’s no doubt he has the talent to be competitive so I would not totally rule him out.

Ran a 105.3 rating 2 starts ago in the 1600m George Main with strong speed over the line to suggest that he could step up to 2000m and go to a new career peak of around 107, perhaps better.

He wasn’t able to do that in the Caulfield Stakes behind Criterion when beaten 1.4L in a 104.3 rating, but I have enormous respect for Chris Waller’s ability to set his horses for a target race and it wouldn’t surprise me if he just backed off a little bit on Kermadec for last start with this race in mind.

Back in the Autumn he won a high pressure, fast time rating Doncaster Hcp (106.3 WFA Performance Rating) so I think the pace of this race isn’t a major concern and just like he did in the George Main, his Doncaster win was stamped by the fastest last 200m rating of any winner on the day. That suggests that the ability to run 2000m is there and it could potentially be his best trip.

He doesn’t have the exposed rating figures of Criterion, Arod or Highland Reel,  but If G Boss can secure him a good run from barrier 10 then he looks very likely to run to a new career peak of around 107, perhaps a little higher. That puts him right in the mix as one of the top chances.

He’s looks under the odds in this race.  There’s no doubt he’s come back well, but his last start Turnbull Stakes win only rated 102, which is considerably below the level that will be needed to be competitive in this race, let alone win it.

As mentioned in my comments for Hartnell, that Turnbull Stakes didn’t rate up to Group 1 standard and there’s been little evidence since then to change that view. There’s no doubt that Preferment was one of the most progressive horses in that race and he is on the right path to continue improving his ratings beyond his previous 103 peak… but it’s a massive step to go from that level to what will be needed to mix it with the top chances in this race at WFA. He appeals much more as a handicap horse than genuine WFA contender.

The solid pace will be ideal and I’m sure he’ll be hitting the line well in a good Melbourne Cup trial, but in my opinion his chances of winning this race are considerably less than the market currently suggests.

His peak ratings present him as a serious threat to Criterion in this race. Two starts ago he ran to a 110 level when he won the 3YO G1 Secretariat Stakes in the USA by 5.3 lengths… all be it he did get an uncontested lead.  It was the same race, yet a superior rating to that achieved by stable mate Adelaide before he came to win last year’s Cox Plate.

I can’t assess him at that peak 110 level for this race because of the soft time he got in front and the fact this race will involve much more pressure. However away from that win he’s very well established at the 107-108 level, including a last start 108 rating when 3.8 lengths behind the Champion 3YO Golden Horn (who out of interest has run to a 115 rating level.)

Historically the International runners in the Cox Plate have been notable under-performers, which raises a natural concern, but given Highland Reel comes from the same stable as last year’s winner Adelaide, I’m happy to assume he’ll run well.

From barrier 4 he looks likely to get an ideal run off the pace and while this may be the highest pressure race he has contested so far the quality is definitely there to win. With the proven ability to run to the 108-110 level and the prospect of a good trip he has to be considered among the key chances.

I have to strongly oppose her in this race at the current odds. On the positive side, her Epsom Hcp win rated 103.8 and when you consider the trouble she encountered in the run, I could promote that to a 105 rating. Her incredible late speed is well documented in the media and under normal race circumstance it would seem that a new career peak awaits her stepping up to 2000m.  That potentially puts her in the mix as one of the chance in this race, but there are two main concerns. Firstly she has only ever been to a confirmed 103.8 rating and secondly she is yet to be proven in a race with anything like the type of pressure she will encounter in this Cox Plate.

The only time we’ve seen her in a fast run race was in the ATC Oaks during the Autumn where she settled around 5 lengths off the lead and then couldn’t run down Gust of Wind in the straight, finishing 2nd by 2.5 lengths.  She had the perfect race shape and slowing final sections to make ground, but didn’t show nearly the same dynamic speed.  More notably, her overall rating in that scenario was more than a length below her previous best ratings.

Is that because of the early pace pressure? Or was she simply below her best on the day? We don’t know for certain, but it does raise a question about this race. Every other race Winx has contested as been run at somewhere between slow and average pace and she’s strikes a race here where she’ll be asked to travel much faster early than ever before and more importantly, will then have to go to a new level when the pressure comes to start chasing. That’s an entirely difference scenario to those she has previously demonstrated her talent in. Winx has never run an overall time rating even close to the standard that will be needed to win this race and the only time she has the right scenario to do that (in The Oaks) she couldn’t deliver.

There is definitely a risk in this race that the pressure will bring her undone.  Remember that we aren’t taking about a contender who is already established at the WFA Performance Rating level needed to win this race, we are talking about a Mare who needs to reach a new career peak at least 2.5L better than she has ever gone before to get in the finish, in a race with significantly more pressure than she has ever encountered before.  That profile does not appeal to me at all and while it’s far from impossible, the chances of her doing that well enough to firstly get in the finish and then to win the race seems far less to me than the market is suggesting.

BETTING STRATEGY

I’m happy to bet around my most dominant opinions in this race. That is, the value about Criterion and poor value about both Winx and Preferment.

Choose an amount you are happy to risk on your win bet and invest the total on Criterion.

Choose an amount you are happy to risk for your lay bets and lay each horse with the same liability, according to their price.

 

TRB

 

 

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