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There is a touch of irony in the fact that Moonee Valley Racing Club’s W.S. Cox Plate, billed as ‘Australasia’s weight-for-age championship’, honours a man whose biggest race success was in a Handicap.
Farmer cum racing entrepreneur, William Samuel Cox, won the 1875 Sydney Cup with Imperial, but it is because of his acumen as a racing administrator – and his role in developing the proprietary Moonee Valley racetrack on a former farm – that the race carries his name.
First run in 1922, and worth £1,000, the W.S. Cox Plate played second fiddle – in value and status – to the Moonee Valley Cup for more than 30 years, despite its honour roll of early winners including outstanding horses such as Nightmarch, Phar Lap, Chatham, Ajax, Tranquil Star, Flight and Hydrogen.
It was not until 1956 that the Cox Plate Stake was elevated above that of the Moonee Valley Cup. Since then, the race has grown enormously in value (it was worth $3 million in 2002) and reputation.
However, despite the massive shift in value and status of the race, there is one constant. Just as in its infancy, the tradition of only the best horses winning the Cox Plate continues.
Champion winners such as Tobin Bronze, Surround, Dulcify, Kingston Town, Bonecrusher, Strawberry Road, Saintly, Might And Power, Sunline, So You Think and Adelaide not only enhanced their reputations by winning the race, they also added to the intrinsic merit of the Cox Plate as a championship event.