The Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is at its very best when there is a star galloper in the field for one or more of the big events – the Melbourne Cup, the Caulfield Cup or the Cox Plate.

Last year (and in the two years before that) the Carnival was blessed with one of the outstanding thoroughbreds of the post-war era, Makybe Diva. The gallant mare won her third Melbourne Cup in succession (a record) and won the weight-for-age championship, the WS Cox Plate, on the way.

Since her well-earned retirement, Australian racing has been searching for a new star. Last Saturday’s Epsom at Royal Randwick might have found the answer – the outstanding gelding, Racing to Win.

Racing to Win was the shortest price Epsom winner in history (odds on with both the bookies and the TAB). He has now had nine wins and four seconds in 13 starts, four of them at Group One level. They don’t come much better.

But Racing to Win has another advantage. He is a grey, and grey thoroughbreds have long enjoyed a special place in Australian racing.

Even though only about 5% of all thoroughbreds are greys, some of the finest stars of the Australian turf have been greys – the great Gunsynd, Schillaci, Ming Dynasty, Surround, Emancipation and Subzero among them.

Racing to Win might be a Sydney trained horse, but his Epsom victory had the Melbourne racing establishment cheering, because Racing to Win will be the boost Victoria’s Spring racing carnival needs.

His next target is the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on 28 October. It’s not impossible for a sprinter to step up in distance to the 2040 metres of the Cox Plate around the small Moonee Valley circuit, but it won’t be easy for Racing To Win, who only has an excellent record up to 1600 metres. The last hundred metres or so will be the test.

But true champions often rise to the occasion. The nominations for this year’s Cox Plate look rather ordinary, with injury and retirement cutting a swathe through the field two weeks before acceptances.

Racing to Win has all the signs of being a true champion. But he will need to be that to win the Cox Plate and the debate about whether he can do so will give the Spring Carnival all the media coverage it needs in the next couple of weeks.

Peter Fray

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