Ask any casual racing fan to name the most prestigious horse racing event in Australia, and they’d almost certainly say the Melbourne Cup. And with good reason, too, as it’s not just the most famous racing event from Australia – it is one of the world’s greatest sporting and cultural events.
But the showcase at the most famous Australian horse racing racecourse, Flemington Park, does have competition from other events. These include the new super-rich events like The Everest, which carries one of the world’s largest racing purses.
And yet, there is also some debate as to whether the W.S. Cox Plate is the superior race. Yes, the Melbourne Cup is the one that brings the nation together, and the one that gets all the international attention. But for racing purists, and that means many trainers and jockeys, the one they want to win is the Cox Plate.
Both races steeped in history
The Cox Plate is in its 100th year in 2022, whereas the Melbourne Cup has been held since 1861. So, it’s fair to say that both races are steeped in history. Both offer huge financial incentives to owners, but the Melbourne Cup has the bigger purse at $AUD 8 million, whereas the Cox Plate offers $AUD 5 million (still a huge amount).
Nonetheless, we aren’t talking about history, money, or even prestige here, it’s more about the mechanics of the race. And some feel that the slog of the big handicaps like the Melbourne Cup becomes something like a war of attrition, not necessarily rewarding the best horse in the race due to the handicap system.
In contrast, the Cox Plate, with its shorter distance and ‘weight for age’ system is more of a fair system in the eyes of some racing fans. Horses will carry some weight because of their age, but it’s not like the handicap system where the best horses are punished to carry the most weight due to their perceived excellence. The Cox Plate has a better record of favourites winning, and it’s clear punters enjoy that element.
Everyone will have their personal favourite
Of course, some of this comes down to the question of handicaps versus other races. Detractors believe that forcing the best horses to carry heavier weights is the equivalent of asking a Real Madrid to play a football match with nine men against a team of 11 just because the Spanish team has had more success. Proponents of handicaps, however, believe that it’s simply part of the contest. Indeed, many punters enjoy their battle of wits against the handicapper.
We might ask – why not try to win both the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup? Despite the close proximity of the two race dates, it has been done in the past – seven times, in fact. Most recently, the double has been achieved by Makybe Diva (2005).
But the demands of modern racing – and welfare concerns – mean that fewer elite horses are trying to achieve the double. Verry Elleegant entered both in 2021, coming 3rd in the Cox Plate and winning the Melbourne Cup. So it is still very possible.
It’s always going to be a subjective opinion to say one is better than the other. And every jockey, trainer, owner and, indeed, punter is going to have their favourite. Maybe it’s the Melbourne Cup or the Cox Plate; perhaps it’s the All-Star Mile or the Caulfield Cup. Racing is a broad church, consisting of multiple disciplines; claiming one is the best is akin to claiming there is a best Olympic sport. And any horse with a Cox Plate or Melbourne Cup on its resume is going to be a special horse indeed – regardless of which one they win.