The Cox Plate is being billed as a showdown between champion Winx and in-form Hartnell, but the latter’s trainer isn’t buying into that.
John O’Shea, who took Hartnell and fellow 2016 Cox Plate hopeful Hauraki to gallop at Moonee Valley on Thursday, insists Saturday week’s Cox Plate shapes as an extremely strong contest.
Defending champion Winx is the $1.90 favourite ahead of Hartnell at $3 with their nearest market rivals at $17.
They are Black Heart Bart, Hauraki, the Kris Lees-trained Lucia Valentina and three-year-old Yankee Rose.
“I don’t think it’s a two-horse race,” O’Shea said.
“She’s a champion, Winx, but Kris’s mare (Lucia Valentina) is a great little mare and I think she’s going to be a lot more effective on this circumference and on this ground.
“And to be fair, three-year-olds that win Spring Champion Stakes, that’s a wonderful achievement. She’s a class three-year-old (Yankee Rose) and we all know that three-year-olds have got wonderful records in the race so we’re under no illusion about the strength of the race.
“Vadamos is an extremely well-performed European horse. It is a vintage year to say the least.”
Hartnell has been in outstanding form, winning the Chelmsford Stakes, Hill Stakes and Group One Turnbull Stakes by big margins.
He worked solo over 1400m in 1:41.13 with a final 400m in 26.16sec while Hauraki worked over the same distance in 1:41.80, coming home in 25.67sec.
“We’re very happy with where he’s at,” O’Shea said of Hartnell.
“It did him good to come over and have a look and stretch his legs a little because he’s had a relatively easy time since the Turnbull.”
Despite how well Hartnell is going, O’Shea says it isn’t the type of race you can go into with confidence.
“We’re just going in there to prepare our horses to the best of our ability, present them on the right day,” he said.
“The enormity of the task is not lost on us. I don’t think you can go into a Cox Plate with any confidence, thinking you’re going to be winning a Cox Plate. Not this year anyway.”
Hartnell has shown he’s in superior form than when beaten 10 lengths in the 2015 Cox Plate.
“Everything has gone right so far this season, whereas last year everything went wrong,” O’Shea said.
Hauraki was second to Winx in the George Main Stakes before flashing home to win the Epsom Handicap and O’Shea said if he continued in that form it would be no surprise to see him run very well.
“He’s just going really well and seemed to get around the Valley in great order,” he said.