Lys Gracieux is the Cox Plate favourite.
Lys Gracieux is the Cox Plate favourite.

Japanese claim their Holy Grail

THE official Cox Plate carnival hashtag reads: LOVETHEVALLEY. And how could we not.

From another rousing rendition of rock anthem 'Horses', sans Daryl Braithwaite this year, to a hush then roar of a near-capacity crowd as the gates crash open to begin the best two minutes in sport.

Not even pesky droplets of rain, which descended on the Valley three minutes before advertised start time, thwarted racegoers enthusiasm before Japanese raider and Cox Plate favourite made one of the stronger weight-for-age fields in recent memory appear second-rate.

Not unlike Winx actually, during the turf legend's four-year Valley reign.

Lys Gracieux was ridden like the best horse in the field that she was, and duly saluted to give racing-mad Japan two legs of Melbourne's spring slam.

Ironic isn't it, when you consider most Victorian racing officials expected counterparts in Sydney to be the biggest threat to Melbourne's spring calendar.

We should have known, when the Japanese owners and trainers of Cox Plate winner Lys Gracieux and Caulfield Cup champion Mer De Glace landed in Melbourne last month.

The Japanese don't just bring horses to Australia, they often bring winners and while Lys Gracieux will not be coming back to defend her crown next year our spring carnival is that much richer for the international contingent.

And writing was on the wall early, with Irish import Hunting Horn, Frenchman-trained English galloper Chief Ironside winning the Cox Plate lead-up races.

For all of her dominance, Lys Gracieux did give trainer Yoshito Yahagi a few nervous moments, settling back and needing an ounce of luck on turning to mow down plucky three year-old Castelvecchio.

New Zealand visitor Te Akau Shark savaged the line to finish third ahead of Aiden O'Brien's Magic Wand, who hung on stoutly after making the early pace.

For colourful trainer Yahagi, one of Japan's leading handlers famous for big race wins and striking headware, the Cox Plate is the Holy Grail.

Yahagi watched Kingston Town win the 1982 Cox Plate at the Valley and on Saturday had his mare and surname added to the coveted honour board.

"For me, personally, this is the best race," Yahagi said via an interpreter.

"It's been over 30 years (since Kingston Town's 1982 win), so I finally came back home.

"To win a Cox Plate meant a lot to me."

Just as the legend Winx did previously, Lys Gracieux never looked like losing the Cox Plate as a crowd of 24,648 roared louder with every bound of the 2040m weight-for-age classic.

Lys Gracieux was the 11th horse onto the track from the mounting yard and the first past the winning post.

Tough Tassie mare Mystic Journey, a one-time Cox Plate favourite, who did get the biggest cheer walking onto the track proper, and Kings Will Dream were game in defeat but never a genuine winning chance.

The Valley belonged to Lys Gracieux, Yahagi, jockey Damian Lane and an ecstatic Japanese supporters in hugging and kissing each other in the mounting yard.

Like with the most recent renewals of the Cox Plate, the mare and favourite, never looked like getting beat.

Yahagi knew.

"I was confident because she's been really, really thriving since she arrived in Australia, she's actually feeling better than what she was in Japan," Yahagi said.

Lys Gracieux will return to Japan to contest the Group 1 Arima Kiren next.

But Yahagi wants to return next year, with a different horse "probably", and a suitcase full of hats.

Yahagi sported a Crocodile Dundee inspired hat at last Tuesday's important barrier draw.

Saturday's lid, however, was a much more demure black number with a dark red print trim.

"First time I put this hat on," Yahagi said.

"So, lucky hat."

News Corp Australia

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