Benbatl sets up Winx clash with gutsy win at Caulfield
Aidan O'Brien also had a winner on the card as Yucatan hosed up
It's on! Saeed Bin Suroor brought Benbatl to Australia to take on Winx and that is exactly what he will do after getting the better of Charlie Appleby's Blair House in a thrilling Group 1 Ladbrokes Stakes at Caulfield on Saturday.
The two Godolphin runners forged clear up the straight, with Pat Cosgrave leading the way from the box seat on his first ever ride at Caulfield. But James Doyle followed him through and gradually drew alongside. For most of the final furlong there was no more than a head in it, with Benbatl just holding on.
Cosgrave said: "He's a high-class horse, I was surprised he was such a big price and the first and second are two very good horses. It's a hell of a training performance and he was very tough."
It did not take long for talk to turn to October 27 and his clash with Australian racing's darling.
"I've had the target of the Cox Plate for him since January when he was still in Dubai," said Bin Suroor.
"Benbatl is the best horse we’ve brought out here. He’s got class and speed. But superstar Winx is in the Cox Plate. It’s hard to beat her. She’s the best of the best and I have a lot of respect for her."
There could be a different man in the saddle on the big day as Cosgrave added: "Oisin Murphy picked up the ride since I was last on him in the Dante and I'm here to ride Best Solution in the Caulfield Cup next week. I think the plan is for Oisin to ride him in the Cox Plate.
"He couldn't make it this week and I was glad I could step in. If Oisin isn't here for the Cox Plate, I will be."
He jokingly added: "Winx is a great mare, I probably don't want the ride as if he did win I'd probably be escorted out the country pretty quick.
"It's going to be a fascinating race and I'd say he'll need to come forward from today as he lacked a bit of sharpness, but the ground was probably a little bit fast for him.
"He'd appreciate a bit more give, but he'll have to be on his A-game that's for sure."
It was not just Godolphin who had a good Caulfield Guineas day, as Aidan O'Brien's Yucatan did not so much announce his Melbourne Cup claims as bellow them for all to hear.
Do not let the length and a quarter-winning margin in the Group 2 Ladbrokes Herbert Power Stakes fool you, this was a rout. He was a good six lengths clear turning in and maintained that margin until the 50-metre mark, when he was heavily eased down by James McDonald.
British and Irish bookmakers reacted by slashing Yucatan to a best-priced 12-1 (from 50) and challenging for favouritism for the Melbourne Cup on November 6.
Part-owner Nick Williams, son of six-time Melbourne Cup-winning owner Lloyd Williams, was asked to evaluate his Cup chances and said: "He's got to sit right up there, I'd be saying he's the Melbourne Cup winner in waiting.
"The way he won there was impressive. We'll see what Greg [Carpenter, Racing Victoria's chief handicapper] does with him now. He's going to give him a two or two and a half kilogram penalty and that'll put him in the race.
"That's as impressive a win in a proper race as you'll ever see. I'd be interested to see what James says, we watched him ride a champion in the last race and this horse was equally impressive."
That champion Williams mentioned was The Autumn Sun, who absolutely demolished the Ladbrokes Caulfield Guineas in similar fashion.
It was a sensational performance and gifted McDonald a first Group 1 victory since his return from an 18-month ban for backing a horse he rode. Perhaps understandably he did a proper job celebrating as he passed the line four and a half lengths clear.
Being trained by Chris Waller and so a stablemate of Winx, The Autumn Sun is unlikely to run in the Cox Plate, but he should be seen once more this Carnival with Waller keen to mind him with one eye on a Winxless future.
McDonald's day was marred somewhat by a careless riding ban in another race that rules him out of October 21-30, including Cox Plate day at Moonee Valley.
Doyle, who had two seconds as he also partnered the O'Brien-trained Spirit Of Valor into the runner-up spot in the Group 2 Keno Schillaci Stakes, also incurred a careless riding ban and misses October 22-29.
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