Probabeel Seeks to Emulate Dad in Cox Plate

Date: 23 Oct 2020

Probabeel Seeks to Emulate Dad in Cox Plate

Andrew Hawkins reports for ANZ Bloodstock News:

Kiwi mare will join likes of Ajax, Fields Of Omagh, Sunline and Winx if she captures centenary victory

Probabeel (Savabeel) will have to emulate some of the greatest horses to have stepped foot onto the Moonee Valley turf if she is to take out the centenary Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) tomorrow, but history is also on her side as she attempts to etch her name into the record books.

First run in 1922 when won by Violoncello (Valens), the Cox Plate is celebrating its 100th running in 2020 because two divisions of the race were contested in 1946. Widely known as Australasia's weight-for-age championship, the race has become synonymous with legends of the turf from Phar Lap (Night Raid) to Makybe Diva (Desert King); Kingston Town (Bletchingly) to Winx (Street Cry); from Flight (Royal Sun), Tulloch (Khorassan), Tobin Bronze (Arctic Explorer) and Strawberry Road (Whiskey Road) to Might And Power (Zabeel), Sunline (Desert Sun), Northerly (Serheed) and So You Think (High Chaparral); from Dulcify's (Decies) demolition job to Bonecrusher's (Pag-Asa) dash into “equine immortality”. 

Perhaps the measure of the race is by the winners not mentioned, rather than those that are.

While a virtual Cox Plate will be contested tonight bringing together some of the greatest winners the race has seen - as well as ring-ins Frankel (Galileo), Secretariat (Bold Ruler) and Deep Impact (Sunday Silence) - the real thing will be a must-watch clash as an intriguing local contingent takes on a number of raiders searching for a third foreign-trained victory after Lys Gracieux (Heart's Cry) and Adelaide (Galileo).

Last night, there were doubts about the Aidan O'Brien-trained pair Armory (Galileo) and Magic Wand (Galileo) taking their place, with both presenting degrees of lameness. Further inspections will be conducted today.

If either is withdrawn, it paves the way for O'Brien's son, Joseph, to have his first Cox Plate runner with Buckhurst (Australia).

Russian Camelot (Camelot) yesterday evening held narrow favouritism at $4.60 with TAB ahead of his last-start Caulfield Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) conqueror Arcadia Queen (Pierro) at $5, with Armory at $6 and Probabeel at $8.50. They are the only four horses in single figures.

If successful, the Jamie Richards-trained Probabeel will become the race's third winner to have been sired by a previous winner, joining Ajax (Heroic) and Fields Of Omagh (Rubiton). Ironically, Fields Of Omagh finished second to Savabeel (Zabeel) in the 2004 Cox Plate, in between his victories in 2003 and 2006.

She would also become just the third New Zealand trainee to win the Cox Plate in the past two decades, joining the Trevor McKee-prepared Sunline and Gary Hennessy's Ocean Park (Thorn Park). It is a source of immense pride for Cambridge Stud's Brendan Lindsay, who purchased the historic farm from Sir Patrick and Lady Justine Hogan in late 2017.

“It's very significant because her father won the race,” Lindsay said. “We're building a heritage museum at Cambridge Stud for Sir Tristram and Zabeel and for Sir Patrick and Lady Justine and what they contributed to New Zealand racing. Should Probabeel be successful, that trophy will be on display for all New Zealanders to see - and for visitors from around the world in fact, should they visit Cambridge Stud. The 100th running is extra special, but we're just happy to have a runner in the Cox Plate and a live chance.”

A Probabeel win would also see her become just the fourth horse in the last 25 years to come out of the Epsom Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m) to win the Cox Plate, joining champion mares Winx and Sunline as well as Pinker Pinker (Reset) and Dane Ripper (Danehill).

Notably, all four were also four-year-old mares like Probabeel, while the almighty Winx was the only one to complete the double; Dane Ripper (11th), Sunline (fourth) and Pinker Pinker (second) were all beaten at Randwick.

In Probabeel, Sistema founders Brendan and Jo Lindsay have found a remarkable flagbearer for their yellow and black checked colours.

She has developed a terrific record of eight wins and six runner-up finishes from 18 starts and appears to be getting better with age. Among those victories are two at Group 1 level in the Surround Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) and the Epsom Handicap, while she also won the rich Karaka 2YO Million (RL, 1200m) and the Karaka Million 3YO Classic (RL, 1600m) in her home country.

While she may have won the adoration of the public, she is still being overlooked by many professionals as a legitimate Cox Plate contender, something that confuses Lindsay.

“Brent Thomson just sent through the Best Bets and I notice that she's not picked in the first four by any of the tipsters,” a forthright Lindsay said yesterday in a wide-ranging interview with Andrew Bensley. “Quite frankly, I just don't understand that. She was a dominant winner of the Epsom. She finds it so hard to be beaten, this horse, she tries her heart out.

“I think she's a real chance and we're having sleepless nights. We're thinking about it, we're as excited as hell but we're nervous as hell. She's told me I have to go and sleep in the spare room, she said she's sick of the tossing and turning all night and going about the race. She says it will be what it will be, but I said, ‘Yeah, I know that but I just can't stop thinking about it.'

“We're disappointed that we can't be there, same as all the other owners, but we've got the champagne on ice and hopefully we'll get a chance to open some up.”

From getting in well in the Epsom Handicap at the weights, carrying only 51.5 kilograms to victory under Kerrin McEvoy, she now goes to weight-for-age and rises three and a half kilograms.

By comparison, Winx had 57 kilograms - although on a 56-kilogram limit, with weights raised four kilograms - Sunline had 56.5 kilograms, Dane Ripper had 54.5 kilograms and Pinker Pinker had 52.5 kilograms. 

McEvoy retains the ride, with the pair to jump from gate two in the 14-horse field.

“She came into the Epsom with 51.5 (kilograms) which gave her quite an advantage, I think, and the reality is that she has an extra 3.5 kilograms which is not going to help,” Lindsay said. “But if you go back and have a look at her races, she drew wide in both the two-year-old Karaka Million and the three-year-old, she hasn't had a lot of luck with the tracks up in Sydney and she's still managed to win, and she sat four-wide in the Epsom and kicked away to win convincingly. She's a big chance.

“Jamie has put in the paper in New Zealand that Brendan has picked the right draw. Well, it wasn't really me - they were Kerrin's instructions - but, look, we're going to be positive with her which I think you've got to be. I think two is a perfect draw. 

While she stands out as a logical selection on paper, the prospect of a wet track is a legitimate concern for Lindsay. The Bureau Of Meteorology was last night predicting up to 50 millimetres of rain to fall from this afternoon until tomorrow afternoon, with weather service placing their prediction around the 35-millimetre mark between 5pm this evening and 11am tomorrow.

Also of concern is that it will be just the third time that Probabeel races counterclockwise, having finished second on debut at Te Rapa in November, 2018, going the Melbourne direction before winning at Awapuni in January this year.

It will also be just her second attempt at the distance, having finished second to Shout The Bar (Not A Single Doubt) in the Vinery Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m). Of note, though, is that both Winx and Pinker Pinker were unplaced in the Vinery Stud Stakes the same year they took home the trophy - in Winx's case, for the first time.

Those are some fairly substantial concerns, but Lindsay makes a compelling case as to why they don't bother him.

“She's had eight starts on soft ground and she's won three of them,” he said. “The reality is, we'd prefer to have it firmer rather than soft. It's funny about those weather things, though, because you could jump on yourself and have a look at six or seven sites and they'd have six or seven answers. I'm hoping the one I've picked that says there is not much rain is the one that comes right.

“She's only had one start that way (counterclockwise), and that's a concern I guess. It's not a concern for Jamie though, he's very confident. She's been training that way up at Randwick since the Epsom, she worked on the Kensington grass last Friday. They were just like, oh my god; Kerrin said she changed legs at the top of the straight and she just gave him a magnificent feel. We're hopeful that all will go according to plan.”


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