So, who’s the best horse you’ve ever seen?
Source: Richard Haynes – SkyRacing.com.au /
It’s an age old discussion.
It can happen at the racetrack, it can happen at a barbeque with mates, it can happen at the bus stop with strangers.
“So, who’s the best horse you’ve ever seen?”
The answer to that question can often be generation based. The more seasoned among us will talk up the likes of Phar Lap, Tulloch and Kingston Town. All amazing racehorses as their race records and deeds on the track will tell us. Me personally, horses like Octagonal, Saintly, Might and Power and the freakish Sunline count as the best in my living memory.
But if the two time (soon to be three time) Australian Horse of the Year, Winx, can win her fourth consecutive Gr 1 W.S. Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on 28th October, the discussion will be put to bed once and for all.
If she never sets hoof on a racetrack again, this mighty mare owes us absolutely nothing. As we watch Winx go about her demolition jobs with regular monotony, her race record has gradually built into something we aren’t likely to see again in this lifetime.
35 Starts. 29 wins. 3 seconds. 0 thirds. And yes, she’s actually been unplaced before! Her current earnings stand at a phenomenal $18.9million. Which ever way you look at it, Winx has been a life changer, and she isn’t finished yet.
You wouldn’t say Winx came from humble beginnings. Catalogued as Lot 329 at the 2013 Magic Millions Yearling Sale and offered by Coolmore Stud (As Agent for Fairway Thoroughbreds), the daughter of Street Cry from the stakes winning NZ mare Vegas Showgirl brought a final bid of $230,000. She’s always had that something about her.
Winx wasn’t a precocious 2yo type. Her first public barrier trial was at her home track of Rosehill Gardens on the 12th May 2014 as a later season 2yo. That barrier trial saw a champion of the sport in the twilight of his career partner the budding equine superstar, with Jim Cassidy entrusted with Winx’s first serious outing. She worked home nicely from the back of the pack to finish 5th, I wonder what Jim’s feedback to Chris Waller was?!
Another trial and then Winx made her debut a perfect one with a comfortable 1100m Warwick Farm midweek victory, she backed that up a fortnight later with the same result over the Rosehill 1400m. An ominous start but hardly one that had racegoers labelling her invincible.
But her trainer and connections had seen enough, Winx was given a short break before being set for the Princess Series in Sydney.
The honour roll of the Princess Series races (Gr 2 Silver Shadow S., Gr 2 Furious S., Gr 2 Tea Rose & Gr 1 Flight S.) is a who’s who of Australia’s best 3yo fillies, and Winx immediately showed she belonged with a dominant win in the Gr 2 Furious S. She followed that up with second placings to the outstanding First Seal in the Gr 2 Tea Rose S. and Gr 1 Flight S. and that would bring a busy Winter/Spring campaign to a close.
It’s worth noting that Jason Collett was forming a nice association with Winx in her early days. While Hugh Bowman rode her to victory in the Furious S., Jason rode her in those first two victories and the Tea Rose placing.
A nice summer break saw Winx return a stronger and more mature filly in the Autumn. But it took little while for her to find her stride with unplaced runs in the Gr 2 Light Fingers S. and Gr 2 Surround S. to kick off the preparation. With Tommy Berry in the saddle she took on the boys in the Gr 2 Phar Lap S. and once again made a statement, handling her opposition with ease. A terrific 5th in the Gr 1 Vinery Stud S. over the 2000m saw her start a short priced favourite in the Gr 1 ATC Oaks. As hard as she tried, Gust of Wind was the superior stayer on the day and Winx had to settle for the 2nd prize.
As Chris Waller has done for so many years with tremendous success, he sent a team of promising types to Queensland for the Winter Carnival. The team is usually made up of exciting 2yo’s and 3yo’s showing middle distance potential. Winx fit the bill nicely.
Her first Queensland run was in the Gr 3 Sunshine Coast Guineas over 1600m. Quite simply, her victory had to be seen to be believed. Last with 400m to go, Winx unleashed a withering sprint to win going away, Larry Cassidy the man along for the ride on this occasion. It was also the start of an unbeaten streak that continues to this very day.
That amazing performance saw her installed as an odds on favourite for the Gr 1 Queensland Oaks, and it turned out to be a mere formality as the daughter of Street Cry recorded her first win at the highest level in an arrogant display.
All of a sudden Winx had gone from the promising filly that might win a few more stakes races to the horse that everyone in the racing world was talking about.
It’s one thing dominating your own age and sex, it’s quite the different beast to step up against tougher and more seasoned opposition, and this is what Winx confronted as she stepped out for her 2015 Spring 4yo campaign. Many a talented 3yo have tried to make that Weight For Age leap, and year after year plenty fall short.
But as we’ve come to learn from this freakish animal, the transition was never going to be a problem. A last to first win in the Gr 2 Theo Marks S. was followed up by her second Gr 1 crown in the Epsom Handicap over the famous Royal Randwick 1600m. It was from this race going forward that Hugh Bowman and Winx would become inseparable.
The buzz about Winx was now at fever pitch, her trainer Chris Waller conservative by nature now had to manage not only this outstanding mare but the expectation of the racing public and media. Everyone wanted a piece of Winx and she ventured to the cauldron that is Moonee Valley for her date with destiny in the 2015 W.S. Cox Plate. Hartnell, Criterion, Fawkner and international stars Highland Reel & Arod were just some of her opposition in another star studded line up. In a then Race Record of 2:02.98, Winx absolutely thumped her opposition by close on 5 lengths to make the world stand up and take notice.
The theme of the Autumn of 2016 was one we were going to have to get used to. The Gr 2 Apollo S., Gr 1 Chipping Norton S., Gr 1 George Ryder S., & Gr 1 Doncaster Handicap all fell to the great mare in another flawless and brutal preparation. Winx had already achieved what plenty a good horse would be proud of, but frighteningly for her rivals she was only getting started, with a perfect Spring of 2016 featuring Gr 1 George Main & Gr 1 Caulfield S. wins culminating in her second Gr 1 W.S. Cox Plate by a ridiculous 8 lengths.
They say it’s not a Sydney Autumn without the heavens opening at some point, and right on cue the rain arrived in mid February 2017. After winning her third consecutive Gr 2 Apollo S. (at $1.14 with TAB), Winx faced what might have been the first curve ball she had seen for a while. The morning of the Gr 1 Chipping Norton S. and Royal Randwick came up a Heavy 9, a track rating that she had never raced on before. But as the $1.22 favourite, Hugh Bowman eased the mare through the conditions for a painless win.
With that Heavy track box ticked, three weeks later she faced 6 foes in the Gr 1 George Ryder S. on an even wetter track. By an ever widening 7 lengths, Winx accounted for the likes of Chautauqua & Le Romain, frighteningly she seemed even more at home on rain effected tracks than Good to Soft surfaces. Back to back Gr 1 Queen Elizabeth S. wins saw Winx head to the spelling paddock with her 12th Group 1 trophy on the mantlepiece.
To the Spring of 2017, Winx was now a 6yo, and that target on her back was larger than ever before. Looking to retain her Gr 2 Warwick S. crown, stablemate Foxplay made her work for it with a long neck the winning margin. Then came possibly the biggest fright of her career in the Gr 2 Chelmsford S. at Randwick. The outsider Red Excitement (Josh Parr riding), had very little to lose thus went straight to the front and settled into his high cruising speed. Turning for home and Red Excitement led by a conservative 6 lengths, Winx still in 4th place but beginning to make her run. As we have seen time and time again, Bowman simply knows what this mare is capable of, and stride by stride to the roar of the crowd she reeled in Red Excitement to land the prize by a comfortable length on the line.
A 2nd Gr 1 George Main S. followed getting the better of now fan favourite Happy Clapper, before a return to Melbourne and her first outing at Flemington in the Gr 1 Turnbull S. over the 2000. It was as if she had been racing there her whole life, stalking the speed Winx opened the afterburners turning for home to embarrass her rivals by close to 6 lengths.
So it was off to Moonee Valley for her tilt at a 3rd consecutive W.S.Cox Plate. Winx was sent out a $1.10 favourite, only the legendary Phar Lap had started a shorter price as a $1.07 chance in the 1930 edition. Winx is a natural at the best of times but seems to just coast around the Moonee Valley circuit. The threepeat was going to plan until Humidor, with Blake Shinn riding like a man possessed, came out of the pack to challenge. 200m from home it was anyone’s race, but Winx showed she has as much heart as ability by digging into her reserves to beat a brave Humidor in half a length.
The racing world had been knocking on Winx’s door for quite some time by now, representatives from Europe, USA, Dubai and Hong Kong were all keen to broach Chris and her owners Peter Tighe, Debbie Kepitis & Richard Treweeke about the prospect of Winx racing abroad. I’ve no doubt there were some robust discussions between all of the people close to Winx, but ultimately it was decided that Winx wouldn’t be going anywhere and would be set for another Sydney Autumn before a crack an unprecedented 4th W.S. Cox Plate attempt.
Winx had been slated to make her return as usual in the Gr 2 Warwick S., but an untimely suspension for Hugh Bowman saw connections happy to wait until the champion rider was available. That availability was for the Gr 1 Chipping Norton S. and a warm autumn day in Sydney saw a terrific crowd witness Winx absolutely annihilate a quality field by 7 lengths.
Her following start in the Gr 1 George Ryder saw a clash that many a keen race goer had been waiting for. Godolphin’s Kementari had proven himself the form 3yo of the Autumn with a Gr 1 triumph in the Randwick Guineas stamping him as potentially the next big thing in Australian racing. But potential is one thing and absolute class is another, with Winx and Bowman pulling out all the stops to beat the high class Happy Clapper by a length and the young buck Kementari having to settle for 3rd.
And that brings us to the last time we saw Winx at the races, the Gr 1 Queen Elizabeth S. at Randwick on April 14th. I’ve just watched the replay again and it’s truly frightening how good this mare is. Circling the field turning for home, Winx unleashed a world class turn of foot to race past her rivals for the easiest of victories.
So what makes Winx so good? There’s no doubt that she’s a supreme athlete with an incredible will to win and want to race. Hugh Bowman has said that Winx had the ability to keep her sprint going for 700m, a good racehorse is doing well to sprint strongly for 300m.
But plenty has to come down to Chris Waller and his team’s management of this amazing athlete. Like any elite sports person, Winx would have her niggles and ailments now and again. From her track rider, to Chris’s training and gut feeling, to the vet, to the physio, to what she eats, to where she spells away from racing, to her devoted strapper Umut Odemislioglu, there is so much that goes into making Winx what she is.
And it all starts again this Saturday when Winx makes her return to the track in the Gr 1 Winx S. (formally the Gr 2 Warwick Stakes) at Royal Randwick.
She has had two trials and has looked terrific in both. She’s shooting for 26 wins in a row, a feat no horse on these soils has ever achieved.
If you’ve never seen Winx in the flesh I urge you to get to Randwick this Saturday or wherever she appears this Spring. You never know when these kinds of horses come along again. I always think that when Hugh Bowman is legged aboard Winx in the enclosure they are the least nervous couple at the races, and they generally prove that thought correct.
So who’s the best you’ve seen? After writing this I’ve probably convinced myself. Enjoy the Everest Carnival and enjoy Winx while we still have her.
Written by Richard Haynes – Sky Racing & Tabcorp Presenter