Winx has got Australia’s weight-for-age championship on a plate

Source: Andrew Rule, Herald Sun //

THEY call it track work and for most horses, it is exactly that: they have to work hard to get fit. But Winx isn’t most horses. Where others might fight the bit and flail at the ground, she floats over it.

For her, it doesn’t look like work at all until the last 400m, when her dance partner Hugh Bowman allows her a fraction more rein and she eats up the ground with unnerving ease.

Unnerving, that is, for other horses and their connections, which is why only a handful will face her on Saturday in the title fight known as the Cox Plate.

Watching the world’s best turf galloper “work” is like watching Ali in the gym at his peak, toying with mere boxers. Or George Best making a soccer ball look as if it’s magnetised and his feet are the magnets.

Where other horses might fight the bit and flail at the ground, Winx floats over it. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Winx ‘makes our job easier’


There probably weren’t many ballet experts at Moonee Valley on Tuesday morning but had there been, they might reckon Winx is up there with that great northern dancer, Nijinsky. Which figures, given Nijinsky (the greatest son of Northern Dancer) is in her pedigree.

Pedigrees matter in sales catalogues but lose relevance in racing stables because every horse has one more distinguished than that of trainers, jockeys and most owners. Bar maybe the Queen, Arab sheiks and the Aga Khan.

On the track, handsome is as handsome does and Winx does probably as well as any horse ever has. It was this elegant action ­— some experts call it “economical” — that caught Melbourne racegoers’ eyes two years ago, when the then lightly-raced and lightly-built four-year-old made her first appearance at Breakfast with the Best.

Before she was saddled that day, she looked narrow and leggy. But then again, so do antelope. That morning, she cruised where others toiled, her “daisy-cutting” action forecasting the nonchalant way she disposed of a Cox Plate field that year and again last year.

Winx at Moonee Valley for a track gallop on Tuesday morning. Picture: Nicole Garmston
Winx says no to water on Tuesday morning. Picture: Nicole Garmston

“A sweet mover” said one veteran watcher on Tuesday, studying her as the No. 1 saddlecloth swept past about as quietly as any horse has ever galloped at 60kmh.

“Like most good horses, she’s light on her feet,” he added, as Bowman let her stride strongly a long way past the post.

Winx, in fact, is lighter on her feet than most racehorses, let alone most champions. Whereas nearly all the great gallopers are distinguished by their ability to lengthen their stride, Winx lifts the tempo.

Bike racers would understand it. Instead of cranking up a higher gear and pushing harder to get more length out of each movement, when Bowman gives the nod Winx increases the “cadence”: she fits 14 strides into every five seconds; normal horses do 12.

This makes her different from Black Caviar who, although a sprinter, relied on a long stride for her superiority. Winx the versatile middle distance specialist, who has won at every trip from 1100m to 2200m, “picks ’em up and puts ’em down” as nimbly as a much smaller athlete.

Moonee Valley’s Cox Plate breakfast has become an institution. Those who have gone there every spring have several times been rewarded with glimpses of something special.

Winx’s jockey Hugh Bowman with the 2017 Cox Plate on the straight in front of the grandstand at Moonee Valley’s Breakfast With the Best. Picture: Jay Town
A large gathering watch on as Winx arrives at Breakfast With the Best with strapper Umut Odemislioglu and track rider Ben Cadden. Picture: Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

One year it was a two-year-old colt that looked a year older, as dominant in the class of 2001 as a six-footer with whiskers and tattoos playing against schoolboys. His name was Bel Esprit and he belied a bargain price and a dodgy knee to carve his name that spring and the next before passing on the sprinting genes. Take a bow, Black Caviar.

Then there was the horse from heaven. When the great Saintly stretched out that morning in 1996, everyone knew they had seen a natural-born Cup horse trained by a natural-born Cup trainer, Bart Cummings. When the chestnut juggernaut won the Cox Plate on his way to Flemington, we realised he was more than that.

We will never know how good Saintly might have been if he had stayed sound as long as Winx has. But if she wins her third Cox Plate this Saturday, she’s entitled to be spoken of in the same sentence as Phar Lap and Tulloch and Kingston Town. And the same reverence.

Go you good thing.