Avilius back on track after scare
CHAMPION trainer James Cummings has "no doubts" about Godolphin star Avilius' health ahead of Saturday's Cox Plate.
Avilius was passed fit on Tuesday to contest the $5m weight-for-age championship after galloping before Racing Victoria stewards at Flemington.
The multiple Group 1 winner sent a scare through the Blue Army camp last week after being found to have blood in one nostril following a track gallop.
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Cummings was all smiles at the Valley on Tuesday after getting the green light from stewards.
"It's always good to clear things up and clear the air, but the horse galloped well and pulled up in really good order, we feel like he's ready to go and we're quite pleased with the preparation he''s had for the Cox Plate," Cummings said.
"We take all the precautions and do the checks and measures and the horse is a happy and healthy horse. Most importantly, I was confident in him after he pulled up from the gallop and that gives me the conviction to proceed."
Avilius will jump from barrier six - the most successful alley in Cox Plate history with 11 past winners - should third emergency Gailo Chop, drawn the rails, not get a start.
The six year-old gelding won the Group 1 George Main (1600m) in Sydney two starts back before running on strongly to finish fourth in the Caulfield Stakes (2000m).
Cummings left the door ajar to give Avilius one more gallop before Saturday's grand final.
"He's got a tremendous appetite so if I feel like doing another little bit with him later in the week I may do that but this horse has had the right training and he's fit and ready in my opinion," Cummings said.
And rain, as is forecast on Friday and Saturday, will only benefit the former European stayer with superstar jockey Kerrin McEvoy, still hunting a breakthrough Cox Plate win, booked to ride.
"There are a number of races to really chop up the ground a bit and when the horses are really getting their toe into it Avilius is well suited," Cumming said.
"That will be perfect for our horse."
COX PLATE (2040m)
Glenn McFarlane rates the Cox Plate field.
1. BLACK HEART BART
Trainer: Lindsey Smith
Jockey: Brad Rawiller
TAB Odds: $21
Macca says: The veteran turned back the clock in the Underwood Stakes before holding off all but Cape Of Good Hope in the Caulfield Stakes. His once-troublesome feet are good again with connections agreeing to pay a $200,000 late entry. Still, the nine-year-old would have to produce another career peak to win here.
The last word: "He's in great form and deserves his place in the race," jockey BRAD RAWILLER.
Trainer: James Cummings
Jockey: Kerrin McEvoy
Macca says: Ran fourth in this race last year when James Cummings was using it as a pathway through to a Melbourne Cup. This time the Cox Plate has been his main mission. Had a slight setback on the weekend, but proved his fitness with a strong gallop at Flemington on Tuesday morning. Must rate a serious chance.
The last word: "That was our preferred barrier … any barrier draw when you turn up and you get your No. 1 barrier out of 14 we're pretty happy," trainer JAMES CUMMINGS.
Trainer: Tomokazu Takano
Jockey: Tommy Berry
Macca says: Underestimate the Japanese horses at your peril. While the attention has been on Lys Gracieux, we shouldn't forget Kluger's two performances in Sydney in the autumn. His second to champion mare Winx in the Queen Elizabeth (beaten only 1.5 lengths) shows he is a serious racehorse and can feature with the right run.
The last word: "We had a good discussion with Tommy Berry, a couple of barriers a bit wider than we hoped but at the same time I think it's a nice barrier. We're happy with it," trainer TOMOKAZU TAKANO.
Trainers: David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Dwayne Dunn
Macca says: Seasoned campaigner who has excelled in the past two autumns, winning back-to-back Australian Cups at huge odds. The Lindsay Park team have set him for this race. The way he got to the line behind stablemate Cape Of Good Hope at Caulfield was good. He'll be silly odds again, and can be competitive.
The last word: "Over 2000m, Avilius has never beaten him every time they have raced, so the market has it slightly wrong. But I don't mind it being slightly wrong, as (Harlem) has only ever won at long odds," co-trainer BEN HAYES.
Trainer: Liam Howley
Jockey: Ben Melham
Macca says: By their own lofty standards, it has been a relatively quiet spring so far for the Williams team. But that can change in a heartbeat. The camp is buoyant about Homesman's chances of winning their first Cox Plate. It won't be easy from the draw. He was luckless in the Underwood. Not sure what to make of his sixth behind Cape Of Good Hope in the Caulfield Stakes, but the Williams team hasn't lost faith.
The last word: "The barrier draw could obviously be better. Benny (Melham) will have to be at his absolute best. But the horse is flying and we are excited to have him in the race," Part-owner NICK WILLIAMS.
6. KINGS WILL DREAM
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: Hugh Bowman
Macca says: The fact Kings Will Dream is even running here - and rated a winning chance - reads like a miracle. He broke down in this race last year and almost died. His Turnbull Stakes win over the likes of Finche, Hartnell and Mystic Journey, was a cracker, even if the draw here has dampened expectations a little. Imagine the storyline if Waller and Hugh Bowman can combine for a fifth successive Cox Plate!
The last word: "He's found form at the right time. To see him win a Group 1 last start was obviously very special. He seems to have a bit of a profile to fit that tough Australian horse that you need to win a Cox Plate," trainer CHRIS WALLER.
7. TE AKAU SHARK
Trainer: Jamie Richards
Jockey: Opie Bosson
Macca says: The exciting Kiwi has a turn of foot and X-factor quality. That's why the Moonee Valley committee elevated him ahead of other seasoned performers such as Humidor and Gailo Chop. Hasn't yet won a Group 1, although just missed when second to Kolding in the Epsom. The draw is tough, but Jamie Richards has faith in his horse that he can overcome it.
The last word: "He just continues to step up to the mark. He can really quicken, he is not one of those dour New Zealand stayers. He has size and scope and a bit of presence," trainer JAMIE RICHARDS.
Trainer: David Menuisier
Jockey: Jamie Spencer
Macca says: Hard to argue with his overseas form, which is as good as any in the race. Ran fourth to Enable in June in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown (beaten five lengths) before scoring a dominant Group 1 win in Germany over 2000m. Missed a key lead-up run at Caulfield a fortnight ago, which remains a slight concern.
The last word: "It wasn't ideal (to miss a run) but we erred on the side of caution. This was always going to be his Grand Final on Saturday. We've long held the view he was the right horse for the Cox Plate," part owner JAMIE LOVETT.
9. LYS GRACIEUX
Trainer: Yoshito Yahagi
Jockey: Damian Lane
Macca says: Could the Japanese make a clear-sweep of the spring majors? International form analysts believe this highly-talented Japanese mare has lengths on the Caulfield Cup winner Mer De Glace. Has been spruik horse of the spring so far without yet having a run in this country. She brings super formlines, with Group 1 success in the Takarazuka in Japan, and has been backed accordingly. Drawn wide, but so was Mer De Glace.
The last word: "(There's) a lot of the pressure on me now - all the racegoers, race fans, connections expecting her to go well, so the pressure is on me," trainer YOSHITO YAHAGI.
10. MAGIC WAND
Trainer: Aidan O'Brien
Jockey: Ryan Moore
Macca says: Hard to measure up this mare's form, but she has been highly competitive at Group 1 level, albeit as a bridesmaid. Hasn't won a race for 18 months, but has been super competitive on most occasions she has stepped out. Went down to Magical in the Irish Champion Stakes, who went on to win the British Champion Stakes. You can never discount the Aidan O'Brien factor.
The last word: "She's been second in six Group 1s, we've always aimed her high and she has always found one too good for her. Hopefully she can produce something here," O'Brien's travelling foreman TJ COMERFORD.
11. CAPE OF GOOD HOPE
Trainer: David and Ben Hayes and Tom Dabernig
Jockey: Mark Zahra
Macca says: His full brother Highland Reel ran third in this race and this bloke franked his hopes of going a few places better when storming home to win the Caulfield Stakes straight out of quarantine. The Lindsay Park team believe their astute purchase has improved since. David Hayes is desperately keen to win a third Cox Plate before taking up his role in Hong Kong next year.
The last word: "Dad was thrilled with his work here the other day. He has come through his race well. He is thriving. We weren't sure what to expect with him last time, but he performed so well," co-trainer BEN HAYES.
12. MYSTIC JOURNEY
Trainer: Adam Trinder
Jockey: Anthony Darmanin
Macca says: This is the race the star Tassie mare has been set for all along. 'Betty' stringed together seven wins in a row before losing Cox Plate favouritism with two recent losses. But her Turnbull Stakes run, when she was a long way back before storming home, was a real blackbooker. Hard to see her not being right in the finish.
The last word: "We wanted barrier six, so it was a perfect draw for her. I think if she got out at the corner (in the Turnbull Stakes) she would have won easily. You look at the sectionals, she was amazing," owner WAYNE ROSER.
13. VERRY ELLEEGANT
Trainer: Chris Waller
Jockey: James McDonald
Macca says: Took awhile to recapture the form that saw her win back-to-back Group 1 wins as a three-year-old filly. But Chris Waller says he has her right where he needs her ahead of Saturday's big race. The mare has some quirks, but showed her class in the Group 2 Hill Stakes last start. She profiles well for this race and James McDonald couldn't have been happier with her gallop on Tuesday morning.
The last word: "There's a lot of upside to her. She will run a tough 2040m and she got around The Valley really well," trainer CHRIS WALLER.
Trainer: Richard Litt
Jockey: Craig Williams
Macca says: Everything points to this year's crop of three-year-olds being one out of the box, so it is fitting to have Castelvecchio in the field. Has run first, second and third in three Group 1 starts, including his Champagne Stakes win. Wasn't all that far away from Bivouac and Yes Yes Yes in the Golden Rose (seventh, beaten four lengths) and ran a very game second to Derby favourite Shadow Hero in the Spring Champion.
The last word: "He's a Group 1 winner and I like my experience on him having a feel of him (on Tuesday morning). He's come up with a really good barrier that will give him every chance," jockey CRAIG WILLIAMS.
Trainer: Ciaron Maher
Jockey: Blake Shinn
16. MR QUICKIE
Trainer: Phillip Stokes
Jockey: Glen Boss
17. GAILO CHOP
Trainer: Matthew Williams
Jockey: Damien Oliver
18. DREAM CASTLE
Trainer: Saeed Bin Suroor
Jockey: Pat Cosgrave