iskander

Samantha dares where few have tried before


Those who want to knock Samantha Miss keep insisting a three-year-old filly can’t win the Cox Plate because history says only one has ever done so. History also shows that few have tried.

Kris Lees

The weight-for-age championship of Australasia does not usually fit into the spring program of three-year-olds of either sex who are targeted at Classic races against their own age group.

That has been the case so far with Samantha Miss who made a clean sweep of the four-race Princess Series in Sydney.

But the Cox Plate is no impulse or afterthought. It has been a well-thought out campaign by her trainer Kris Lees who thinks the time is right.

“This might just be the year for a filly,” Lees says.

“And I think she is the right sort of filly to try it. She’s pretty tough, she’s very adaptable and nothing really seems to bother her.”

Surround is in the record books as the only filly to win the race which she did in 1976. Since then the best performed has been Slight Chance who ran third in 1992.

Two years ago Miss Finland was being touted as the best horse in Australia and to prove it she had to win the Cox Plate. But she found it tough going around Moonee Valley as did her jockey Lisa Cropp.

Kris Lees learned his craft at the side of his late father Max, a renowned trainer of both sprinters and stayers and perhaps more importantly, a man with an affinity for fillies and mares. Max Lees trained the winners of five Coolmore Classics when it was the only Group One race in the country purely for female horses.

Kris Lees inherited much from his father including an eye for a young horse and patience with the older ones as evidenced by the longevity of the career of the recently-retired County Tyrone.

Among his father’s clients was Ron Croghan who stuck loyal to the stable and parted with $1.5 million to buy Samantha Miss.

He went a long way to getting the money back when she won the Group One Champagne Stakes at two and her broodmare value soared this spring with her four wins in the Princess Series culminating in the Group One Flight Stakes.

The form of the Sydney fillies has since been questioned with those who finished behind Samantha Miss also finishing behind the Melbourne fillies in the Thousand Guineas.

But that has not deterred Lees who has taken Samantha Miss to Moonee Valley twice to give her a look at the tricky circuit.

Her race jockey Glen Boss went with her and was pleased with how she handled the uphill climb to the turn in the opposite direction to what she has been used to.

Boss is no stranger to the Cox Plate having won it on Makybe Diva but he is entering territory he hasn’t been to for some time with Samantha Miss to carry just 47.5kg, a long way out of regular partner Hugh Bowman’s range.

The big advantage of the weight allowance the fillies receive has been offset in recent years by the lack of anyone light enough to ride them.

Although Cropp was criticised for her ride on Miss Finland, she was the only senior rider in Australasia within cooee of the 46kg Miss Finland had under the weight-for-age scale at the time.

John Messara, who owned Miss Finland and stands her sire Redoute’s Choice who is also the sire of Samantha Miss, rates the latter the equal of Miss Finland.

“I think she is the next Miss Finland and I thought it would be a long time before I would say that,” Messara said.

He may be biased.

But Bart Cummings who is seeking his fourth Cox Plate with a tried and true weight-for-age performer in Sirmione, is also a fan.

“She is a superstar,” he said.

“I don’t know about the Cox Plate but she’s a big, strong filly and keeps winning like a champion against her own age.

“She’s certainly the best filly of this season.”

Racing historian Bill Whittaker is a notoriously hard marker and believes Samantha Miss deserves to challenge history.

“She’s better than Miss Finland,” Whittaker said after she won the Flight.

“She’s right up there with the best. She might be the best since Surround.”

It isn’t just three-year-old fillies who have struggled. Mares have had a poor record with Tranquil Star (1942,1944), Flight (1945,1946) the only two to win until Dane Ripper in 1997. Sunline (1999, 2000) and Makybe Diva (2005) added some respectability to the honour roll.

The stiffest opposition to Samantha Miss this year is from her own sex with New Zealander Princess Coup easing from favouritism after the barrier draw.

Princess Coup has won the last two runnings of New Zealand’s premier race, the Kelt Capital Stakes over the same 2040 metres as the Cox Plate. She also spent a long time in Australia from last spring through to the autumn and performed with distinction against the best Australia had to offer.

But maybe this spring the best is yet to come.

By Caryl Williamson