The local three-year-old was brave but beaten and the star mare well back in third as international formlines conquered the Valley. The Cox Plate gone, Australian form exposed; it's no good. Racing here is doomed and the Cox Plate we know and love is finished - Yes, the story of Almaarad's triumph in the 1989 Cox Plate over Stylish Century and Empire Rose is a familiar one.
Fast forward to 2021 and State Of Rest won the Cox Plate over a brave local three-year-old and a star staying mare. The difference is a slightly lower rating. Almaarad ran to 125. State Of Rest won his Cox Plate posting a Timeform rating of just 123 (we say 'just'. It's really very good but we have come to expect better). Only Pinker Pinker, Savabeel, Fields Of Omagh and Dane Ripper have won the race with a lower rating (all ran 122) going back to 1980.
The night prior Jonker won the Manikato with a Timeform rating of just 116. Only Gold Edition (115), Spinning Hill (113) and Piavonic (115) have posted lower winning ratings in the past 30 years and the first two named were rated higher than that at their peaks. 116 is a slight career best for Jonker and, when you consider that along with the fact that Piavonic had Sunline and Falvelon in behind, it seems reasonable (reasonable and a touch cruel to a very good horse...) to declare him the Manikato's worst winner.
Doom and gloom! In our recap of Nature Strip's Concorde Stakes win - which you can read here - we threw up 125 as the arbitrary yet fit-for-pupose figure we could use to describe a 'Group One performance'. We didn't get one of those on the weekend.
But, before we yield to the predictable pessimism and cheap takes, we should cast our eyes back seven days when we saw four 'Group One performances' in an hour; three in just one race. The Everest has diminished the Manikato. We can all talk about 'Group One status' but it really doesn't matter; as we said last week, you can't fool all of the people all of the time. The Everest doesn't need a man with a clipboard to give it status. Reality decides and it has decided that the sprinting championships of the spring are the Everest and the VRC Classic. Our expectations of the Manikato must be lowered.
In theory, Jonker would have run seventh in The Everest and Incentivise, the Caulfield Cup winner, would have belted the Cox Plate field - the best part of three lengths the expected margin.
Only one other time this century has the Caulfield Cup winner rated higher than the Cox Plate winner as the 129-rated Incentivise has done in 2021. Dunaden sat a couple of pounds above Ocean Park in 2012. For the sake of completeness; Anthony Van Dyck last year and Delta Blues in 2006 ran higher losing Caulfield Cup ratings than Sir Dragonet or Fields Of Omagh did in winning the Cox Plates in those years. And the two races were won with the same rating in 2004 (Elvstroem and Savabeel - 122) and 2003 (Mummify and Fields Of Omagh - 122).
Based on our fit-for-purpose 125, there have been a dozen Group One performances in Australia in 2021 to date. Six horses are responsible for the dozen. Roll back 10 years and at the same point of 2011 there were 20 such performances from nine horses. Perpaps the doom-and-gloomers are right and we have dropped away? Though that was the year of Black Caviar (alone responsible for seven of those 20), Hay List, Sepoy, More Joyous and Atlantic Jewel - not a normal year!
Let's rewind another decade. Jan-Oct 2001 sees Northerly heading up a list of five horses responsible for 11 Group One performances; the year had a shape familiar to 2021.
Was Australian racing in pieces in 2001? As Mark Twain might say, the reports of the death of Australian racing are greatly exaggerated.
The game now is much as it has been. Chasing the noise of a couple of races coming up below par is a bit like the news screaming "Stock market crash" on a one-day dip in the midst of a 20-year bull market. Pessimism sells. It sounds smart. The optimists are ignored because they sound deluded and oblivious. But history shows that the optimists typically win. As historian Deidre McCloskey said: "For reasons I have never understood, people like to hear that the world is going to hell."
Roll back another decade, to the years following Almaarad. Better Loosen Up won the 1990 Cox Plate before going and winning the Japan Cup, then three of the next four Cox Plates went overseas; Surfers Paradise, The Phantom Chance and Solvit all winners that the pundits now call 'international raiders'.
Australia versus New Zealand was the story of what middle-aged folks in rose-coloured glasses would call the Cox Plate's 'glory years'.
The NZ suffix was attached to 13 of the 24 Cox Plate winners between Almaarad and Adelaide; the next winner to carry the famous (IRE).
Adelaide changed the game. Australia versus New Zealand is now Australia versus Ireland, and they are some sort of rival - just ask the English.
The Irish have dominated the English over the sticks and the Derby at Epsom may as well be run in Tipperary. Now, like Alexander, they are looking east in search of more worlds to conquer.
The rise of the Irish-bred three-year-old in the Cox Plate has been swift. Seven have run in the past 10 years (including the locally-trained Russian Camelot) with State Of Rest the second winner to go with three placegetters. Listed in ratings order they are:
- Adelaide 128
- State Of Rest 123
- Armory 122
- Russian Camelot 121
- Highland Reel 121
- Rostropovich 114
- Cape Of Good Hope 110
Sir Dragonet was technically a locally trained winner in 2020 but he really must be marked down as an Irish winner. Given that, the Cox Plate scoreboard over the past 10 years has the Irish closing rapidly on the home team. Some achievement so far from home:
Australia 5, Ireland 3, Japan 1, New Zealand 1, England 0.
This picture doesn't look quite as grim as the one painted by the doom-and-gloomers who (you just know) will be quick point out that four of those five home wins came via Winx. She papered over the cracks they will tell us. Well, yes, Australian racing would have been poorer for Winx not having existed. But she did. Irish racing would have been poorer for not having Galileo. But they did. Godolphin would be poorer for not having Charlie Appleby. But they do. The Caulfield Cup would have been weaker if it didn't have a brilliant winner in Incentivise. But it did...
In 2001, the top of the Australian racing tree was similar to the one that we have now. 12 months later, Grandera, fresh of winning the Irish Champion Stakes over Hawk Wing, turned up at Moonee Valley rated 129, and had the door slammed in his face by Northerly; our very own 129-rated tank.
12 months from now the Irish will be back. The locals will need to find another Northerly. Thankfully, despite the doom and the gloom, we only have to look one week back to find him.