Grahame Begg is planning a double-pronged attack on the 2011 Cox Plate, the Randwick-based trainer hopeful his well-performing stablemates Ilovethiscity and Secret Admirer can step up to the challenge of the weight-for-age feature.
One of the ‘Big Three’ Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival features, the $3 million Group 1 Cox Plate (2040m) will run at Moonee Valley Racecourse on October 22, less than a fortnight before the world’s richest handicap showdown, the 2011 Melbourne Cup at Flemington on November 1.
Pre-nomination Cox Plate betting markets are currently lead by former Australian superstar and dual defending champion So You Think at $7, whose new European connections including trainer Aidan O’Brien are considering a return down under for the race.
Two longer-priced hopefuls that are preparing for their own possible Cox Plate campaigns are Secret Admirer and ($26) and Ilovethiscity ($31).
“There is a bit of a void,” Begg said in regards to the season’s middle-distance weight-for-age contenders in Australia without So You Think.
“Ilovethiscity and Secret Admirer will be entered for the Cox Plate but saying they are going to run is two different things.
“We will just have to wait and see.”
Begg’s Magic Albert colt Ilovethiscity is a rising four-year-old who in 13 starts to date has already won three Group features including the Group 1 Royal Randwick Guineas (1600m) at Warwick Farm in March.
Their Guineas win came on the back of a Group 2 victory in the Hobartville Stakes (1400m) at Rosehill and earned Ilovethiscity two more shots at elite level success before their latest spell.
Ilovethiscity lined up in both the Group 1 George Ryder Stakes (1500m) at Rosehill and Group 1 Doncaster Mile (1600m) at Randwick in April, but could only manage to finish fifth in both features.
Now they are ready to return to racing after a well-earned spell, Ilovethiscity to have their second prep in Melbourne after having travelled there last spring.
The horse had just one Melbourne Spring Carnival run 12 months ago, Ilovethiscity finishing over seven lengths away 10th to winner Anacheeva in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas (1600m).
Begg is confident that a year older and with a Group 1 win now under their belt, Ilovethiscity will be a competitive force this carnival and can earn a spot in the 2011 Cox Plate field.
“I still believe he is probably another six months away from being fully matured,” Begg said.
Another Group 1 winning three-year-old in Begg’s ranks that could on way to the Cox Plate this year is Dubawi filly Secret Admirer.
At her last appearance Secret Admirer became a Group 1 winner at just her fourth career start, taking out the Coolmore Flight Stakes (1600m) at Randwick in October.
She is yet to race following her Flight Stakes success due to a ligament injury, Secret Admirer’s only major bit of work being a barrier trial at Randwick in January over 850 metres which she ran sixth in.
“We gave her sufficient time and I’m sure it has helped her,” Begg said.
Both Secret Admirer and Ilovethiscity were scheduled for hitouts at Warwick Farm on Tuesday, however the ATC has transferred the trials to Friday due to the heavy track conditions.
“I think it is a benefit waiting a few days for things to dry up,” Begg said.
“You don’t want to be trialling these good horses on really heavy tracks.
“It has been a bit trying with the wet weather but we have got them to the stage where they are fit enough to trial.”
Begg said beyond Friday, Ilovethiscity and Secret Admirer would both have another heat in Sydney on August 11 before resuming at Warwick Farm on August 20, Warwick Stakes Day.
“They will trial again on August 11 and then I’ll get them both ready to resume on August 20 at Warwick Farm,” Begg confirmed.
“I’d say Ilovethiscity will go first-up in the Show County Quality and Secret Admirer will run in the Toy Show Quality.”
Both of the first-up runs named by Begg are Listed features, the Show County run over 1200 metres while the Toy Show, a fillies and mares-only race, is run over the slightly longer 1300 metres.
For his maturing Ilovethiscity, Begg named the $350,000 Group 1 George Main Stakes (1600m) at Randwick on September 17 as an earlier Sydney Spring Carnival target heading towards Melbourne and the Cox Plate.
“I’m just going to start him off low key in the Show County then possibly go to a race like the Tramway Handicap before stepping him up to the George Main Stakes,” Begg said.
“He has that turn of foot you need to be a weight-for-age horse.”