Honor bound to go close

WHAT a fantastic win by Tawqeet on Saturday, and eye-catching runs by Japanese pair Delta Blues and Pop Rock.

All are horses that Australian punters knew little about before this spring. I hope to introduce another new face in the Cox Plate this Saturday, American stallion Honor In War.

Honor In War is an eight year old, a Group I winner, proven at the top level for the past four years. He's in the Cox Plate because he's good enough to win.

It's not like he's an old crock. When you see him, you know straight away that he is a quality horse.

And he's got form. He's won three times since Cox Plate day last year, and seven of his nine starts have been in group or listed races.

Make no mistake, Honor In War is a serious horse, a real Group I competitor.

He won the Group I Turf Classic (1810m) at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and he won a Group III race at Arlington, Chicago, over 2012m, defeating Better Talk Now, equal-second top weight when the handicaps was released for next month's Melbourne Cup.

Twice he ran second in the Group I Shadwell Mile at Keeneland, Kentucky. He's won 10 races, been placed 12 times and finished fourth five times from his 36 starts. Twenty times he's contested group or listed races.

Those statistics tell you Honor In War is a proven, top-class horse whose longevity is testament to his ability to keep producing at the highest level. He is a genuine racehorse. In some ways, he's in the mould of Fields of Omagh, David Hayes's grand campaigner who'll be contesting a record-equalling fifth Cox Plate on Saturday.

Honor In War has been a seasoned performer at the top level for many seasons, and he is well used to the pressure of the big occasions.

I took over the training of the horse after his first-up run on September 9, when he was a fast-finishing fourth over 1600m at Turfway Park, Kentucky.

Since then, everything has gone to plan in getting him in top shape for the Cox Plate.

We were able to do the US leg of his quarantine at Arlington racetrack. The racing season had finished there so we had the run of the place.

He arrived in Australia in great order. He handled the trip like a seasoned business-class traveller. I can't fault him during the eight days he's been at Werribee.

I sent Aznavour to Werribee as a companion for Honor In War. While Aznavour took several days to settle in, Honor In War had one look around and took to his new home as if he had lived there all his life.

He's like your typical seasoned athlete. He has a great attitude. He wants to work with you. He's a dream to deal with. You sense he knows what's expected of him.

On Friday, I let him have a very easy gallop on his own, which he handled easily. This morning, he will work with Aznavour, with Steven Arnold riding, in his final hitout before the Cox Plate.

It was early September when I received a call from David Bersen, who has been Racing Victoria's eyes and ears in the US looking for possible Cups or Cox Plate runners.

David asked if I would be interested in training Honor In War. He detailed the background of the horse and provided me with videos of his performances.

Once I was fully briefed, checked out his form and watched his races, I was more than happy to take him on.

Now as we get closer to the race, I am warming to his chances more and more.

The Cox Plate is an ideal race for him. While most visiting horses, even those from interstate, can find the peculiarities of the Moonee Valley track beyond them, it won't be an issue for Honor In War.

He has raced around much tighter tracks in the US.

He knows how to deal with some buffeting. He'll stand his ground and give as good as he gets.

Honor In War is not a one-dimensional horse. He can adapt to the tempo of the race, but more than likely he will settle midfield and he'll be hitting the line strongly.

He won't be rattled either by all the hullabaloo that accompanies the Cox Plate or the high-pressure stakes that is the signature of this great race.

History tells us the Cox Plate is a race for experienced, seasoned, genuine horses. Honor In War meets all the criteria.

by Danny O'Brien in the Herald Sun

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