Hong Kong superstar Romantic Warrior was too good late in Australia’s best race securing a narrow Ladbrokes Cox Plate 2023 victory by a nose over Mr Brightside in a sensational 103rd running of the classic.

2023 Cox Plate winner Romantic Warrior

2023 Cox Plate winner Romantic Warrior only had a nose to spare on the line in the $5 million classic at Moonee Valley. Photo: Ultimate Racing Photos.

Alligator Blood was also brave in defeat for the locals with the popular Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott-trained horse running a close third to complete an epic trifecta in this year’s Group 1 $5 million Ladbrokes Cox Plate (2040m) at The Valley.

It was an emotional Cox Plate result for winning hoop James McDonald, winner on Anamoe in 2022, who became the first since Michael Clarke on Almaarad (1989) and Better Loosen Up (1990) to take out the event on back-to-back years aboard different winners.

Also overcome with emotion was Cox Plate winning trainer Danny Shum who will take the iconic silverware back home to Sha Tin.

“This has a big meaning for me. I couldn’t be happier,” he said.

The pressure was on McDonald in the lead-up after dual Queen Elizabeth II Cup champ Romantic Warrior ran fourth first-up down under in the Group 1 Turnbull Stakes (2000m) behind Gold Trip.

The jockey kept faith in the horse happy to tell anyone who would listen that Romantic Warrior was the one to beat in the big one.

“Oh my god, I thought I got beaten when the camera didn’t follow me,” McDonald told Racing.com.

“I can’t believe we’ve won the Cox Plate!

“I’ve had so much faith in this horse.

“It means so much. I’ve been singing his praises about just how much he’s improved.

“I needed to get a good run, I felt I gave it the best possible run I could.

“I can’t believe I won!

“He’s been working so well at The Valley and I’ve been telling everyone that’s the case.

“It takes a lot to take a horse out of Hong Kong and he’s showcased his talent to the world now. He loves The Valley.

“I showed a lot of faith in him as I was comfortable. I knew I was on the right horse. I was on the best horse.

“I showed belief. This horse is pretty special to me. I mentioned if he came to a Cox Plate, he’d be a suitable horse and I meant what I said.

“Credit to Peter (Lau) and Danny (Shum) as it takes a hell of a lot of balls to come out of Hong Kong with all the prize money.

“It is one of the best racing jurisdictions in the world and they come here and showcase their boy.”

J Mac had the eventual Cox Plate winner poised fourth in the run with only a moderate pace up front set by three-year-old King Colorado.

At the 1200m the hoop made what would be the winning move getting on the back of Alligator Blood who he trailed into the straight before charging home down the outside with less than 50m left to travel.

“I took a gamble at the 1200m and came back a horse and let Alligator Blood settle a length in front of me. I thought I could beat him and that’s how it turned out,” McDonald said.

Mr Brightside was looking to continue the incredible Cox Plate journey for the Hayes’ family looking to pinch the race up the inside, but despite being given a perfect ride by Craig Williams, had to settle for second.

“It’s a shame he didn’t get the photo today,” Williams said.

“The (Hayes) boys have done a great job and they were just that confident that he’d bounce back off the other day. It means a lot to us, but we just didn’t get it done today.”

Ben Hayes said they were “pretty shattered” after it looked like their brilliant miler and pinched the prize.

“Craig gave a 10/10 ride,” he said.

“We actually thought he won when he crossed the line so that makes it even worse in a way!

“(Mr Brightside is) just an absolute superstar. He’s ticked off that 2000 (metres) now and we couldn’t be prouder of the horse.

“We’re pretty shattered

“He had very chance. Just frustrating.”

There could be a rematch however with Hayes signalling potential December plans to head to Hong Kong with Mr Brightside.

“I’d love a rematch!” he said.

“We’ll see how the horse is first, if he pulls up well, we could head there.”

Duais also ran an excellent race with the Edward Cummings-trained mare finishing fourth over her less-than-ideal distance.

Gold Trip on the quick back-up off his Caulfield Cup third last weekend also caught the eye running a brave fifth, improving on his ninth last year, to firm into $5 second favouritism with Ladbrokes to successfully defend his Melbourne Cup title on November 7.

2023 Ladbrokes Cox Plate Results

Finish No. Horse Trainer Jockey Margin Bar. Weight Penalty Starting Price
1 1 ROMANTIC WARRIOR (IRE) Danny Shum James McDonald 7 59kg $3.60F
2 3 MR BRIGHTSIDE (NZ) Ben, Will & JD Hayes Craig Williams 0.1L 2 59kg $9
3 4 ALLIGATOR BLOOD Gai Waterhouse & Adrian Bott Tim Clark 0.3L 5 59kg $6
4 9 DUAIS Edward Cummings Damien Oliver 1.3L 1 57kg $31
5 5 GOLD TRIP (FR) Ciaron Maher & David Eustace Mark Zahra 1.4L 8 59kg $7.50
6 2 ZAAKI (GB) Annabel Neasham Damian Lane 1.5L 12 59kg $21
7 8 FANGIRL Chris Waller Zac Purton 1.6L 9 57kg $6.50
8 11 MILITARIZE (NZ) Chris Waller Zac Lloyd (a) 2.35L 3 49.5kg $8.50
9 10 VICTORIA ROAD (IRE) Aidan O’Brien Blake Shinn 5.35L 6 56.5kg $17
10 6 MY OBERON (IRE) Annabel Neasham Jamie Mott 7.1L 4 59kg $61
11 7 PINSTRIPED Enver Jusufovic Ben Allen 7.4L 11 59kg $101
12 12 KING COLORADO Ciaron Maher & David Eustace Michael Dee 10.15L 10 49.5kg (cd 50kg) $26

Table Credit: Racing Australia.


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About The Author

Lucy Henderson

Lucy is an experienced horse racing journalist that has been a crucial member of the horseracing.com.au team for the better part of a decade. She has taken great delight in covering champion mares Black Caviar and Winx throughout their careers and always has a soft spot for a winning filly.