It’s an old sporting analogy often heard around early September in regards to footy teams approaching the Finals. But can it be applied in mid-October to the all-conquering Zaaki on the weekend after tasting his first defeat since Hollindale Stakes day on May 8.

Then again, maybe the very answer to the question lies in that previous line. In that we have come to expect Zaaki to beat up and win by a space against moderate Group 1 and 2 fields, but horses are not machines you can simply fuel up, stick a key into, and expect the same level of performance you got when you were in the driver’s seat six months ago.

Has he been up too long, did circumstances and rival hoops conspire against him, or did the 7yo import just have an off day?

At $2.80 on Sportsbet for the W.S. Cox Plate, you can back your judgement one way or another. Either way, the riddle will be solved for you in two Saturday’s time, but after the weekends racing, a couple of genuine contenders have certainly staked a claim and might just represent the better value.

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Probabeel (Melb Race 6)

Speaking with a learned racing friend of mine on Saturday morning, we both shared the opinion that Zaaki’s margins were getting noticeably thinner, and that this mare was about the only real ‘winner’ that he had faced off against in recent times, and that the horse had been up since Doncaster day in early April. Suffice to say we could smell a defeat and collected nicely anchoring the Kiwi mare for value in some nice multi’s. Plenty of people want to make excuses for Zaaki. That they went too slow, that he got pocketed and so on. Well, if that was a concern, why didn’t they just lead on him and sprint clear like they did in the Doomben Cup?

I think you’d have to be mad to be taking $2.80 whilst this mare looks ripe and at $11 looks great value. The only problem being you will have one eye on the acceptances race week and the other eye glued to the ‘BOM’ site. So much as spill a schooner over the fence at the 300m and she won’t go a yard. A strange anomaly for a Kiwi but she needs it dry and even a good track at The Valley is a sub-species all of its own.

More questions than answers but that is why we love this time of year.

Anamoe (Melb Race 8)

He is one good looking rooster and after taking out the stallion making Caulfield Guineas, it’s hard to not see him making it in the breeding barn. He is no doubt the boom horse every one will want to spruik you race week, and whilst I thought he would have held Artorius even if he had of stepped cleanly, I thought Anamoe was glad to see the winning post at the mile. Out of a G1 staying mare and by Street Boss, his breeding suggests he should relish the 2040m though and will no doubt have benefited from the mile hit out. He’s going to give the Cox Plate one hell of a shake and thrown in at the weights I can’t see him not running top 3, again, leaving little room for Zaaki in your trifecta.

Hilal (Syd Race 4)

Now here’s a 3yo that could really throw some interest into the race! Not nominated but his owner has plenty to stump up the late fee and the committee has been known to use its discretion in the past to avail a slot for an enigmatic 3yo. Runner up to Anamoe in the Sires gives him a case for late entry, and second again to the smart Captivant in the Champagne, he has been all over the shop early on this prep but the addition of winkers on Saturday saw him back in the winner’s stall after an impressive win in the Stan Fox. Still did plenty wrong wanting to over race early with the lamb’s wool on for the first time, but he’s the type that could come with a withering run ‘from the school’ with no weight on his back and give them something to catch in a Cox Plate. Not even in most markets but don’t be surprised if there is a push for him race week.

Forgive

Count De Rupee (Syd Race 7)

Whilst the Price team probably drove back down the coast thinking what could have been, they probably shouldn’t be too disappointed as they have a genuine live hope in the Golden Eagle. Assured a run after a courageous third, sat deep no cover the trip then went via the cape when the leader broke down turning for home. Produced a strong finish. Grab the $11.

Tricky Gal (Syd Race 9)

Desperately needs a kill, but geez, she was good, again. First up, and short of her pet distance, the track was an absolute dust bowl by race 9, and she was forced back last from the poor draw and had to take inside runs. Wins if she draws a marble and overdue for a black type win. $101 in the inaugural The Invitation compared to Minhaaj $21, (barrier 2- J Mac, all the favours) looks good overs.

Kinloch (Syd Race 10)

Nice return in the last where the track was very firm and they weren’t real keen to chase. She will build on her handy record this prep for sure.

Forget

Amish Boy (Syd Race 7)

One win from nearly 20 starts now. Barred for life.

Prime Star (Syd Race 7)

Forgave him his first couple, but he isn’t genuine. Sacked.

Zaaki (Melb Race 6)

Big call but I think he’s over the top.