Group 1 winning galloper Playing God is in preparations for a spring carnival return, their Ascot-based trainer Neville Parnham eyeing off Australasia’s richest weight-for-age showdown, the Cox Plate.
The $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) is one of the ‘Big Three’ Melbourne Spring Carnival features along with the iconic Caulfield and Melbourne Cups, and is set to run at Moonee Valley on Saturday October 22.
While pre-nomination Cox Plate odds have dual defending champion So You Think as the $6 favourite, the champion’s European connections having named a possible return Down Under to vie for a third Cox Plate win, Parnham is confident his Blackfriars gelding Playing God will be there in this year’s Cox Plate field.
Now a rising four-year-old, Playing God emerged as one of Western Australia’s classiest middle-distance runners last year winning four of their five spring-summer starts at home in Perth including the Group 2 WA Guineas (1600m) and Group 1 Kingston Town Classic (1800m) at Ascot.
Bought back in February, Playing God added a sixth career win to their name with a strong victory in Perth’s Magic Millions 3YO Trophy (1400m) before heading to Victoria for their first interstate campaign.
Parnham gave Playing God two Group 1 assignments at Flemington in March, the emerging stayer twice placing third at elite level.
First they came within two and a half lengths of Danny O’Brien’s in-form filly Shamrocker when third in the Group 1 Australian Guineas (1600m), a brave effort as Playing God was disappointed for a run throughout and struck interference near the 200 metre mark.
Backing up a fortnight later, they ran another gallant third this time to the now-retired former Melbourne Cup winner Shocking in the Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m).
Returning to Perth to finish out their prep, Playing God ran two more Group placings when a close second to Kim Classic in the Listed Raconteur Stakes (1500m) and then second again this time to Dreamaway in the Group 1 WATC Derby (2400m) at their most recent run on April 2.
Despite having missed out on a win in their four latest starts, Parnham saw plenty enough from Playing God during their two-run Melbourne campaign in the autumn to warrant targeting the 2011 Cox Plate.
Having been back in work for three weeks, Playing God has shown Parnham all the signs he is capable of a big spring assault where they will look to add to their already impressive earnings of $983,175 in prize money.
“He’s working very well and the Cox Plate will be his goal,” Parnham said.
The horse’s regular rider, ace WA hoop and Neville Parnham’s son Steven Parnham, has been confirmed for the Cox Plate ride during the spring aboard Playing God if everything goes to plan.
It is prize booking for the in-form Steven, as Playing God was ridden by Brett Prebble for the Australian Guineas and then Craig Newitt in the Australian Cup last March with Parnham sidelined at the time due to injury.
“Steven will ride him,” Parnham confirmed.
“An injury kept him out of contention for the (Australian) Guineas and (Australian) Cup mounts in autumn.”
Steven Parnham enjoyed a stunning end-of-season blitz at Belmont Park last Saturday, riding a hat-trick of winners including Playing God’s stablemate and full brother God Has Spoken in the highlight even of the meeting – the $125,000 Listed Strickland Stakes (2000m).
God Has Spoken, now a $730,000 earner thanks to their return to form in the Strickland Stakes, will not feature in the spring and instead will be sent for a spell to return for the Perth Summer Racing Carnival at the end of the year.
The rising five-year-old will be aimed at the $1 million Group 1 Railway Stakes (1600m) on November 19 and the $500,000 Group 1 Kingston Town Classic (1990m) at fortnight later at Ascot.
“I was going to take God Has Spoken to Melbourne’s Spring Carnival with his younger brother Playing God,” Parnham said.
“But I think we’ll now spell God Has Spoken and get him ready for the Railway-Kingston Town double.”
Although confirming the Cox Plate as the ‘grand final’ goal for Playing God in the spring, Parnham is yet to plan the specifics of the preparation.
“Weather and condition of tracks will decide where Playing God races first-up,” he said.
“If Melbourne tracks are heavy, he’ll return to racing at Belmont (first).”
Playing God is currently a $51 outsider in the ante-post Cox Plate betting markets, with last year’s Cox Plate third placegetter Whobegotyou ($9), Gai Waterhouse’s multiple Group 1 winning mare More Joyous ($12) and Kiwi sensation Jimmy Choux ($15) the next best fancies after So You Think.