The Oakleigh Plate is a $400 000 Group 1 handicap open to all horses. It is run over 1100m at Caulfield every February.
While the Lightning Stakes is shorter by 100m, the Oakleigh Plate often attracts a big field and thus is known as one of the speediest races on the calendar. It has become synonymous with a fast, quick race. If a race is run at a hectic tempo up front, it is often said to have been “run like an Oakleigh Plate”. Take the 2008 Melbourne Cup, where the three Aidan O’Brien horses led by seven lengths on the field. It was said they ran as though they were in the Oakleigh Plate.
It was first run as a six furlong (1200m) race in 1884, when it was won by Malua, one of the most versatile horses ever seen in Australia. Not only did he win an Oakleigh Plate, but he also won the Group 1 Melbourne Cup (3200m) in 1884, as well as the VRC Grand National Hurdle in 1888.
Early on, the distance was reduced to five and a half furlongs (1100m), where it remains today.
Incredibly, there were two dead-heats in the Oakleigh Plate in succession. In 1931, Merab and First Arrow hit the line locked together, while in 1932, the judge couldn’t separate Blematic and Umbertana.
Other notable winners have included Titan (1890), Wakeful (1901), Aurie’s Star (1937, 1939), San Domenico (1949), Dual Choice (1971, 1972), Tontonan (1974), Placid Ark (1987), Snippets (1988), Schillaci (1992), Dantelah (1999), Fastnet Rock (2005), Snitzel (2006), Weekend Hussler (2008) and Starspangledbanner (2010).
In 2011, Eagle Falls defied market expectations to defeat Avenue and Hinchinbrook, while 2012 saw the fast finishing Woorim prevail in a tight finish from Elite Falls and Facile Tigre.
The Oakleigh Plate is often considered part of the Melbourne “triple crown” for sprinters, along with the Group 1 Lightning Stakes (1000m) and the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap (1200m). Only two horses have won all three races in the one season – Placid Ark (1987) and Schillaci (1992).