Annabel Neasham is buoyed by her jockey’s commitment to try to deliver a WS Cox Plate triumph that will seal her place as one of racing’s brightest young training talents.
In only her second season since opening a Sydney stable, Neasham is in the enviable position of having two runners in Australia’s most prestigious race on Saturday.
And one of them, the former UK horse Zaaki, is a warm favourite to claim the bulk of the $5 million purse after arriving on the scene with a string of wins earlier this year.
Her other runner will be Mo’unga, a winner of the Rosehill Guineas and the Winx Stakes at racing’s highest level.
But it is Zaaki and jockey James McDonald’s willingness to sacrifice Sydney spring riches to reunite with the import at Moonee Valley that has Neasham most excited.
One of Australia’s best, McDonald was among several Sydney riders granted an exemption to travel to Victoria to ride at the Cox Plate meeting.
As border restrictions stood last week, McDonald, fresh from winning the $15 million Everest, had to quarantine for six days and for Neasham that is the best tip any trainer could get that a Cox Plate is within reach.
“When James wants to ride your horse it is music to a trainer’s ears,” Neasham told SENTrack.
“He knows the horse better than anyone else.”
As one of the most in-demand jockeys in the country, McDonald also has plenty of intel on Zaaki’s rivals, having ridden Verry Elleegant, Anamoe and Captivant to Group One wins during their careers.
And despite building a potent association with Verry Elleegant over three seasons of racing, Zaaki has been his preferred Cox Plate mount since the Queensland winter carnival.
Zaaki lost some Cox Plate admirers with a last-start defeat at Caulfield but Neasham is confident the import’s spring campaign is where it needs to be to win the race he’s been set for all along.
“I’ve done everything I can. Really, if he’s good enough and he’s right he’ll be good enough,” she said.
Three-year-old Anamoe is rated the biggest threat to Zaaki and is even tipped to challenge his older rival for favouritism.
Anamoe is coming off a Caulfield Guineas win against his own age in fast time and under the weight-for-age conditions of the Cox Plate will carry 9.5kg less than Zaaki.
The colt has always raced in the upper echelon during a 10-start career that has produced five wins but Godolphin trainer James Cummings suspects his stable star has more to give.
“One of the things I like about Anamoe is it’s possible we haven’t seen his best run this preparation,” Cummings said.
The spring’s first northern hemisphere-trained runner will step out in the race with the Irish horse State Of Rest arriving in Australia via a Saratoga Derby win in the United States in August.