Winx’s place in racing and sports history is assured after her fourth Cox Plate triumph
Source: ABC /
When Hugh Bowman put the question to Winx at the turn at Moonee Valley on Saturday, the seven-year-old mare answered with a sustained burst of speed that would take her into sporting history.
Last year a huge crowd witnessed the near upset of the 21st century, racing-wise, when Humidor narrowly failed to deny Winx her third Cox Plate win.
This time, the doubt lasted two seconds. Maybe three.
Placed in perfect position by Bowman, Winx was within striking distance at the 600m — but with so much on the line, nervous types were reminded of last year’s frantic finish. Only a win would do.
Hitting the shortest home straight in Australia at the 350m, Winx belied her status as the oldest horse in the field, cruising down the outside to win Australia’s weight-for-age championship once again.
The crowd was there for one reason and one reason only — to see Winx overtake the great Kingston Town with a fourth victory. They got their wish, and the roar as Winx crossed the line was immense.
So where does this achievement sit in Australian racing history?
PHOTO: The big Moonee Valley crowd went home happy after Hugh Bowman rode Winx to a fourth Cox Plate triumph. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Phar Lap still the benchmark, says Letts
John Letts, who won two Melbourne Cups as a jockey on Piping Lane (1972) and Belldale Ball (1980), had plenty to say about the mighty mare and greats of the turf.
“People always ask me to compare horses, who’s the greatest,” Letts said in the leadup to the race.
PHOTO: It’s still hard to argue against Phar Lap being the greatest racehorse ever seen in Australia. (Museum of Victoria)
“Well, I’ve never seen him race, but Phar Lap, they’ll never equal his record of winning four races in a week at the Melbourne Cup Carnival [in 1930], including the Melbourne Cup.
“She won on a Saturday, a Tuesday, a Thursday and a Saturday.
“They’ll never equal that. But if Winx wins four Cox Plates, I don’t think that will be equalled either.
“She’s proved herself in all conditions — the one time she was on a really wet track, in atrocious conditions [the George Ryder Stakes in 2017, when Winx won by more than seven lengths], she treated the field with contempt.”
PHOTO: Two-time Cox Plate winner Sunline was the first of four famous mares to dominate in the last 20 years. (AAP: Julian Smith)
Winx has followed dual Cox Plate-winner Sunline — and Makybe Diva and Black Caviar — as the latest in a line of dominant mares to become the stars of Australian racing.
“The racing industry has had some [male] horses that could have done something like this, colts like Redoute’s Choice etc. But they are worth so much more money in the breeding barn as a sire than on the racetrack.
“[As a sire] they get paid $100,000 or $200,000 for each service, and they might do 150 mares a year. We’re talking millions.
PHOTO: Makybe Diva’s unprecedented hat-trick of Melbourne Cup wins is one of the top performances in Australian racing history. (AAP: Joe Castro)
“When Maybe Diva was going for her third Melbourne Cup, and I was working for Channel Seven I said to [trainer] Tony Santic ‘I hope you win, she deserves it’.
“He said to me ‘I don’t own her any more.’ I said ‘What? You haven’t sold her?’
“He said ‘Those people out there (in the grandstands), they own her.’
“I think Winx is like Makybe Diva — the group of owners of Winx may earn the [prize] money, but the Australian racing public own her now. She’s the people’s horse.”
Doubting Winx quality ‘a folly’: Miles
PHOTO: The former voice of Victorian racing, Greg Miles, says doubting the quality of Winx is “a folly”. (ABC News: Damian McIver)
Not everyone buys into the hype around Winx, however — for example, English racing commentator Matt Chapman, who dissed the champion mare’s achievements during the week, saying she was “only beating moderate horses”.
This prompted a fierce response from Waller, who dismissed the comments and called Chapman “a bit of a dickhead”.
Chapman had spoken about the number of 120-plus rated horses in England, saying there was far more depth at the elite end than the horses challenging Winx.
Greg Miles, who retired as a race-caller last year after 36 Melbourne Cups, and has seen the cream of Australian racing over decades, said Chapman’s controversial statements could not mask the stellar performances of the mighty mare.
“She ran three sub-11 second furlongs [200m sections] in the Turnbull [in her last race before the Cox Plate].
“That’s the kind of time Black Caviar ran in a sprint, and she [Winx] is doing it in a middle-distance race. To me, questioning her quality is a folly.”
Miles acknowledged it was a purely subjective exercise comparing horses from different eras.
“It’s bar room banter, and it doesn’t prove anything,” he said.
“But every time Kingston Town went round in Melbourne, he was beatable. He probably got beaten more times than he won there.
“That’s the difference with Winx, every time she goes round, there is the clear expectation that she’ll win.”
Winx’s fab four will get harder to emulate
It took 61 years for the first three-time winner of the Cox Plate, when Kingston Town came from nowhere before the turn to grind home for his third consecutive win.
From then on, it has taken another 36 years to produce Winx’s fab four victories.
Miles has seen all seven triumphs — and he says the task of repeating those feats is only going to get harder.
“So especially with the prize money that’s gone up, from three to five million, I think — it’s going to attract a better class of internationals,” he said.
“On the first one [in 2015] … she wasn’t the Winx we know now. She was a lot smaller mare — she got the dream run and accelerated away.”
The following year was pitched as a match race against Hartnell.
“At the school near the 600 they both made their runs. I think I said ‘This is the great race we’ve been waiting for!’, Miles said.
“But I was only half jazzing it up, I knew she was going to brain him [Hartnell] — and she did!
“The third one, I must admit coming round the turn I was thinking she’s going to have a race here.
“She had done a fair bit of work with Joao [Moreira]. But though Humidor was coming, she had the bit extra she needed.”
Winx the equal of the greats, says Carpenter
Racing Victoria’s chief handicapper Greg Carpenter has made a career of looking at the relative merits of horses — at least when it comes to weight carried.
He pointed to the prestige of the Cox Plate as a factor in favour pushing Winx towards the top of the tree in Australian racing terms.
“The Cox Plate is viewed as the greatest weight-for-age [WFA] race in the Southern Hemisphere — it’s particularly unusual for a mare to feature such longevity [as a winner in the race].
It [Winx’s success] speaks to a case that can be made that certainly she is the best female equine athlete the world has seen, and that in Australian terms she is close to being the greatest racehorse of all time.
“We’ve had the Carbines, the Phar Laps, the Tullochs — she might not be better than them, but she’s as good.
PHOTO: New Zealand-bred Carbine won the 1890 Melbourne Cup and only finished outside the top three once in 43 starts. (State Library of Victoria)
“It’s been an incredible couple of decades for the female equine athletes. It’s more difficult after Saturday [if she wins] to argue definitely that these horses are better than her.”
However Carpenter, like Letts, found it hard to go past “Big Red”, purely for the sheer impact the legendary galloper had on the public.
“We have to look at Phar Lap, having crowds of 100,000 people, where he changed not only the sporting landscape but the general community.”
Days out from Cox Plate day, Carpenter was emphatic about the importance of a fourth win.
“It would be one of the greatest moments in sporting history, not just in racing but in general sporting history in Australia,” he said.
“It would be a moment that those who live through it will look back on, that they’ve [been part of] one of the great moments in sporting history.”
The glorious gallopers of the Australasian turf
|Carbine||30 stakes race wins
Raced 43 times, unplaced once
Two Sydney Cups; Melbourne Cup
Inducted AUST / NZ Racing Hall of Fame
|Phar Lap||Two Cox Plates; 1930 Melbourne Cup
AJC Derby; Victoria Derby
Agua Caliente Handicap (US)
Won four races in a week at the 1930 Melbourne Cup Carnival
Inducted AUST / NZ Racing Hall of Fame
|Tulloch||19 wins in races now classed as Group One
Won Cox Plate, Caulfield Cup, Brisbane Cup, VRC Derby, AJC Derby
Inducted AUST / NZ Racing Hall of Fame
|Kingston Town||14 Group One wins
Hat-trick of Cox Plate wins [1980,1981, 1982] Inducted AUST Racing Hall of Fame
|Sunline||13 Group One wins
Back-to-back Cox Plates [1999, 2000] Two Doncaster Handicaps
Hong Kong Mile
Inducted NZ Racing Hall of Fame
|Makybe Diva||Seven Group One wins
Hat-trick of Melbourne Cups [2003, 2004, 2005] Cox Plate
Sydney Cup; Australian Cup
Inducted AUST Racing Hall of Fame
|Black Caviar||Unbeaten in 25 starts
15 Group One wins
Australian Racehorse of the Year [2011, 2012, 2013] WTRR World Champion Sprinter [2010, 2011, 2012, 2013]
|Winx||22 Group One wins
29-race winning streak
Four-time Cox Plate winner [2015, 2016, 2017, 2018]
Two Queen Elizabeth Stakes wins
Doncaster Handicap; Epsom Handicap