Weight for age star Criterion has earned himself favouritism for the Cox Plate with a soft win in the Group 1 $400,000 Ladbrokes Caulfield Stakes (2000m) at Caulfield today.
Winning trainer David Hayes believes there is still plenty of improvement in Criterion who was having his first start since running sixth in the Group 1 £900,000 Juddmonte International Stakes (1 mile 2 furlongs 88 yards) at York in England back in August.
Criterion will now line up in the Group 1 $3m Cox Plate (2040m) at Moonee Valley on October 24 and Hayes said that he wouldn’t have to to do much with the five year old in the next two weeks.
“There is really nice improvement in him,” Hayes, who trains in partnership with his nephew Tom Dabernig, said.
“When you are travelling horses you are experimenting an I just took the fresh approach on him and I thought if that doesn’t work we can increase his work. Now all we have to do is mark time into the Cox Plate.”
“He has hit form just at the right time.”
“He did the big job. Off a slow tempo, he gave them a start, travelled wide.”
Winning jockey Michael Walker was having his first ride on Criterion ($7.50) and was happy to settle second last in the eight horse field before circling the field on the home turn.
“Plan A was to go forward and sit outside the leader. The second plan was to ride how it unfolds,” Walker said.
“I went to Plan B right away. I thought it was a better plan.”
Walker wound up Criterion at the top of the straight and collared the leaders at the 100m and actually let Criterion roll to the line over the final stages to score a neck win over Happy Trails ($16) with Mongolian Khan getting to the line strongly for third.
Runner up Happy Trails had better luck this week and Mark Zahra was able to give him a clear run to the line but found the winner too strong at the finish.
Happy Trails will meet Criterion again in the Cox Plate while third placegetter Mongolian Khan will now head to the Group 1 $3m BMW Caulfield Cup (2400m) at Caulfield next week.