A day for Champions by name and nature

10 November 2023 Written by Racing And Sports

The final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival has undergone a few facelifts in recent years, but last year’s ‘Champions Day’ structure proved a winner and looks here to stay.

The TAB Champions Stakes (2000m) and Kennedy Champions Mile (1600m) were run for the first time on the same day, having both recently spent time on Day 1 of the Carnival.

Technically, that was where the race we now know as the Darley Champions Sprint (1200m), also started as a handicap until 2007 when it changed to a weight-for-age event and was moved to Final Day.

Kiwi star Imperatriz campaigned exclusively in Victoria this spring and on Saturday will have her final start of her campaign in the $3 million event.

The seven-time Group 1 winner will be looking to complete an undefeated four-start campaign after wins in the Group 2 McEwen Stakes (1000m), Group 1 Moir Stakes (1000m) and Group 1 Manikato Stakes (1200m), all at The Valley.

It will be her first time down the famous Flemington straight, looking to join a recent honour roll that includes Nature Strip (2019 & 2021), Santa Ana Lane (2018), Black Caviar (2010 & 2011), All Silent (2009), Miss Andretti (2007) & Takeover Target (2004).

Last year’s winner Roch ‘N’ Horse won the TAB Champions Sprint after winning the Yulong Stud Newmarket Handicap (1200m) earlier in the year. She joined esteemed company to have completed the double: Black Caviar (2011), Miss Andretti (2007), Rubitano (2002), Special (1988) & Century (1973). This year, In Secret could join that list.

The Cox Plate has long been the best guide to the $3 million Champions Stakes. 

The Champions Stakes (registered as the LKS Mackinnon Stakes), when it was conducted on Derby Day, saw seven of its last eight winners, come through the Cox Plate, with So You Think being the only winner to have placed in The Valley feature before winning the Champions Stakes.

Since moving to the final day of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, four of the seven winners came via the Cox Plate. Duais (4th), Zaaki (6th) and Pinstriped (11th) are in Saturday's TAB Champions Stakes field and all competed in this year's Cox Plate.

Zaaki won it last year after a fourth placing in the Cox Plate, having won the previous year’s edition after missing the Cox Plate, and the Annabel Neasham-trained gelding will be shooting for a slice of history on Saturday.

Zaaki joined legends Phar Lap, Rising Fast, Peter Pan, Eurythmic, Conic Court and Beau Vite as two-time winners of the race last year and will on Saturday be striving to join champion mares Wakeful and Tranquil Star as the only three-time winners of the race that was first run in 1869.

Tickets for TAB Champions Stakes Day, featuring three $3 million championship Group 1 races to close out the 2023 Melbourne Cup Carnival, are still available for members and the general public.