The countdown to the Sydney Spring Racing...
There are few brave enough to bet against Winx in the Ladbrokes Cox Plate 2017 on Saturday, but is there any chance the Darren Weir-trained import Gailo Chop is going well enough to present at least a genuine challenge?
Eight rivals take on the Chris Waller-trained Hall of Fame mare Winx when she looks for the record-equalling third Group 1 $3 million Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) win.
Nothing has got close to her in her two previous trips to the Moonee Valley circuit, where the tight circumference and high pressure of the weight-for-age classic bring out the best from the daughter of Street Cry.
Winx made Cox Plate history 12 months ago defending her title, the first back-to-back winning mare since Sunline (1999-2000), with an eight length romp home over Hartnell.
That saw her nearly double the 4.75 length winning Cox Plate margin she held over runner-up Criterion in 2015.
She is now looking down the barrel of 22 straight wins and will surely surpass Makybe Diva as the highest-earning Australian racehorse with a victory for the punters this weekend.
Surely no one will be cheering for a Winx loss?
Maybe rival hoop Mark Zahra who jumps on the Gailo Chop, last start winner of the Group 1 Ladbrokes Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield.
Winx beat two home in the Ladbrokes Stakes last year before her freakish Cox Plate effort, a double seven-year-old French import Gailo Chop is at an easing quote of $20 to repeat in an unlikely result on Saturday.
Zahra has ridden the galloper for four of his five runs this time in, including the past three on the trot, where the horse has continued to step-up.
He ran fourth to Humidor in the Group 1 Makybe Diva Stakes (1600m) at Flemington, third to Bonneval in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (1800m) and Caulfield then relished the 2000m defeating subsequent Caulfield Cup third placegetter Johannes Vermeer in the Ladbrokes Stakes.
OTI Racing’s Terry Henderson said a 2017 Melbourne Cup bid calls for Gailo Chop if he runs second or third to Winx in the Cox Plate trifecta on Saturday, something Zahra believes is a genuine possibility.
“He’s in great form,” Zahra told the media this week.
“Every run he has progressed and got better and he was peaking last start. You’d think he’d only have to hold his form to be a place chance.”
Saturday has Gailo Chop returning to The Valley for the first time since he flopped first-up down under in the 2015 Cox Plate running 12.55 lengths back eighth.
Class is not the issue, the horse won the Group 1 Mackinnon Stakes (2000m) next-up at Flemington during that year’s Melbourne Cup Carnival.
But he may not be all that suited to The Valley and is up against Winx, a Valley specialist.
Zahra is keeping race tactics close to his heart, not confirming whether or not Gailo Chop would try to lead in the Cox Plate at 5:00pm (AEDT) on Saturday.
“He led and won the Mackinnon and in his work, when he’s in front he’s very hard to get past,” Zahra said.
“Whether or not he leads on Saturday, I’m not sure, but he races on the speed, he makes his own luck and he’s tough.”
As for the chances of Zahra riding the Cox Plate winner?
“You wouldn’t be taken as sane to say you could beat her,” he said of $1.16 favourite Winx.
“She’s just a once in a lifetime sort of horse. We’ll just show up and do what we’ve got to do and hope for the best.”
Check out the latest Cox Plate 2017 odds and betting markets open now at race sponsor Ladbrokes.com.au.
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