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David Payne isn’t one for sentiment.

As a former champion jockey and trainer in South Africa, there isn’t much he hasn’t seen in racing.

He’s reached the sport’s highs and ridden out its lows.

On Saturday Payne will saddle up Criterion, one of 14 elite runners in the Group One Cox Plate at Moonee Valley.

The horse has been backed into second favourite for the $3 million race, he has form on the board as an Australian Derby winner and his star is on the rise.

Surely the anticipation of a win in Australasia’s best race is enough to get Payne a little excited.

“We’d like to win them all, Group Ones or maidens,” Payne says.

The delivery comes with a ready smile. There might be a twinkle in his eye.

He relents a little.

“But it would be nice to win a Cox Plate. It would be very nice on the resume.”

Criterion’s resume profiles nicely for a Cox Plate.

A Group Two-winning juvenile, he excelled once stepped up to a middle distance at three and has gradually built towards his primary goal this spring.

After a hiccup in the Chelmsford Stakes he finished second in the Hill Stakes, an effort more meritorious than it might appear because of the way the race unfolded.

Payne pressed on to Melbourne and Criterion shot into Cox Plate reckoning with a fine second to Fawkner in a more genuinely run Caulfield Stakes.

Hugh Bowman was in the saddle but lost an appeal against an improper riding suspension on Tuesday that has cost him the Cox Plate mount.

An 11-hour jockey change might upset some trainers but Payne expects new rider James McDonald to take it in his stride.

“They’re both good jockeys. It’s not like one is mediocre so it’s not a problem,” he said.

Payne might not be a man of hyperbole or drama.

But he is an astute horseman and widely regarded as one of racing’s nice guys.

He lets slip a single line that, in Payne-speak, is revealing: “The horse has just blossomed.”

Payne is the king of understatement but you get the feeling Criterion might do the talking for him on the racetrack.

 
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