International raiders ready for Winx challenge
FOLKSWOOD and The Taj Mahal, who boast just one stakes win between them, are the international raiders standing between Winx and her bid for racing immortality in the $3.5 million Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on Saturday.
It could be argued that in most other years, Folkswood and The Taj Mahal would not be considered good enough to contest a Cox Plate but champion Winx's awesome presence means there are only six confirmed starters with another four on the fringe of running ahead of the 8am acceptance time Tuesday.
Godolphin's Folkswood, trained by England's Charlie Appleby, won the Listed Cranbourne Cup at his Australian debut earlier this month which is hardly the formline of a potential Cox Plate winner, while Aidan O'Brien's The Taj Mahal's only career win came in a juvenile race in Ireland more than 12 months ago.
But both overseas stables are not shying away from the challenge of taking on mighty mare Winx and attempting to foil her bid for a third successive Cox Plate.
"The way Folkswood won the Cranbourne Cup with a nice bit of 'ease', Charlie thought why not take on Winx," said Appleby's travelling stable representative Chris Connett at Werribee trackwork Monday.
"She is a great mare but he has done enough to deserve a chance against that class of horse.
"Winx is a wonderful mare and it will take a heck of a lot to beat her but if you are not in the race you can't beat her, can you?"
Connett said "every horse is beatable" but conceded it would be a mammoth task to try and end Winx's 21-race winning streak.
"We are going to go there in tip, top form and to give it our best shot - and see where we stand," Connett said.
Some English journalists were at Werribee trackwork Monday morning and put some perspective into the debate.
"If Folkswood ran in the Champion Stakes at Ascot last weekend he would be 50/1," one of the visiting pressman declared.
"Winx would probably be favourite but she would be odds against."
Winx is currently $1.15 with TAB Fixed Odds to win the Cox Plate while Folkswood is at $21 and The Taj Mahal is out at $34.
Despite their modest winning form, Folkswood and The Taj Mahal have been competitive at Group 1 level.
Folkswood was narrowly beaten by the classy Decorated Knight in Dubai's Jebel Hatta earlier this year while The Taj Mahal was runner-up n the Group 1 Grand Criterium as a juvenile in France last year.
In recent months, The Taj Majal ran fourth in the French Derby, sixth in the Irish Derby, second in the Group 1 Secretariat Stakes in the United States and then fifth behind Decorated Knight in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes.
But The Taj Mahal was disappointing at his Australian debut, finishing only 10th, some eight lengths behind Gailo Chop in the Caulfield Stakes.
"I'm not certain if he will run in the Cox Plate, that is up to Aidan and Lloyd (Williams) but the horse is going well," O'Brien's stable representative, TJ Comerford said.
"He went around Moonee Valley well the other day (Saturday morning), he is going a lot better than he was going into the Caulfield Stakes.
"I don't know why he ran so 'bad' that day but there is definitely better runs in him. I really think he wants to do it more now than he was when he got here.
"He got a bit lazy but after he had the race he is doing it a lot easier - it is like the race has woken him up.
"I'm not saying it has woken him up enough to see a massive improvement but we will see a better run from him."
O'Brien prepared Adelaide to win the 2014 Cox Plate and Comerford said the Irish training genius was keen to start The Taj Mahal against Winx on Saturday.
"I need to speak to Aidan and Lloyd but if they want to run him, we will run," he said.
"We like to come here and be positive and be hopeful we can give her (Winx) a run for it.
"You would like to give her a run for it but that is all we might be doing."
The Taj Mahal is certainly not in the same league as stablemate and multiple Group 1 winner Highland Reel who ran third, beaten five lengths by Winx in the 2015 Cox Plate.
With speculation Winx will race in Europe next season, both Comeford and Connett felt the super mare would be more than competitive against the best weight-for-age horses in the northern hemisphere.
"Winx's form is there and she is just very good," Comerford said.
"She matched up with a very good European horse (Highland Reel) and beat him so there you have it.
"I think she would be very hard to beat, she is a very good 'filly'. I've seen some good horses at home and she seems special."
Connett said if Winx brought her best form to Europe next year she would be "right up there with the best we have got back home".