Declan Rix

With Winx retiring after her 33rd victory in a row at Royal Randwick in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Declan Rix salutes Australia's great horse.

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As the next potential superstars start to step out for campaigns in America, Britain, France and Ireland, Australia said goodbye to theirs on Saturday, as Winx finished her incredible career at Royal Randwick in Sydney, winning the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes. It was a fitting track and race to call time, for Winx has been the queen of Australian racing since her first of a record four Cox Plate wins in 2015.

In winning Australia’s most coveted open weight-for-age contest – a race likened to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe - a fourth time and surpassing Kingston Town – a legend Down Under and three-time Cox Plate winner – Winx is now for plenty the greatest ever Australian race horse, surpassing the likes of Black Caviar, Makybe Diva and Phar Lap et al.

Her numbers are phenomenal; 37 wins from 43 starts. Thirty-three races unbeaten, April 2015 the last time connections experienced defeat, where The Magic Man Joao Moreira will go down as the last jockey to ever lose aboard the daughter of Street Cry. A world record 25 Group 1 victories have been gained under the guidance of trainer Chris Waller, totalling 26.4 million Australian dollars.

But still, some, especially in Europe constantly gloat “she has beaten nothing”, while some closer to her home claim Winx is the greatest horse ever. I would likely sit somewhere in the middle, edging to a more positive view, but in truth I am only guessing as a passive follower of Australian racing and I suspect those who say the Wondermare “has been beating trees” are, too.

In truth, how many people and fans of European racing really know the level of Winx’s ability? Can they objectively rate her, her form and know the horses she is beating each year? I really don’t feel the vast majority can, but that is sport, that’s why we love it and enjoy it. The social aspect of discussion is intriguing – I feel anyway - and the need for that human trait of wanting to be right – and therefore offering an opinion - grips us all from time to time.

So much is said about former European horses like, say Hartnell – a regular sparring partner of Winx through the years - going Down Under and winning Group 1 races having not been of a top-class standard in the UK. OK, that’s fair, Hartnell wasn’t a Group 1 horse in this neck of the woods but he was a Royal Ascot winner and a Group 3 victor when trained by Mark Johnston. He wasn’t some 80-rated performer, he was a good horse.

What really frustrates where the likes of Hartnell are concerned is the sheer ignorance some have that young horses from Europe couldn’t possibly improve going to Australia. Why can’t they? A new regime and racing style offering so many different variables could spark a horse no end.

Where Hartnell is concerned specifically, the gelding operation he received before landing in the John O’Shea stable could’ve improved the son of Authorized, along with the significant drop in distance he performed over.

Winx winning her second Cox Plate in one of her best career performances

International handicappers and the likes of Timeform have long held the considered view that Winx is among the very best thoroughbreds in the world. “The LONGINES World's Best Racehorse Rankings is horseracing's equivalent to World Rankings by other major sporting organizations, such as ATP Tennis Rankings, World Golf Rankings, FIFA World Rankings for soccer and IRB Rugby World Rankings” and for the last three years, Winx has featured third (2016), second (2017) and joint-first (2018) on their lists.

The ratings earned by Winx, in order from 2016 were 132, 132 and 130, three incredibly high and consistent numbers – which don’t consider her sex allowance - for a mare who went on an unbeaten 33-win streak. No matter what you consider to be the opposition, for any horse, especially a mare, to go on that kind of winning run is simply incredible. Not once in that sequence has she been beaten by a possible pace bias, track bias, poor draw, trainer error or a jockey’s mistake, and all the other elements of a race that can possibly go wrong.

Winx wins the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes
Hugh Bowman salutes the crowd aboard Winx after winning the Queen Elizabeth

In that run we have seen victories from 7f on soft ground to 10f on good, fantastic versatility. The physical way Winx runs, or her galloping gait, is something else that sets the mare apart from the norm. On this website nearly a year to the day, it has been explained far better than I ever could by Simon Rowlands, but essentially, the manner of Winx's locomotion sets her apart from most thoroughbreds, especially those who operate around the 10f trip. It’s a hugely intriguing piece of analysis and very much worth your time.

Also worth your time, is considering what Winx has done for the sport of horse racing in her home country. We could only dream of a horse, an animal, that could transcend our game and become a household name on the level Winx has. She’s considered among the best of Australia’s sporting talent, and while some will scoff at a horse achieving that status, it’s fantastic to see the seven-year-old is considered an athlete among human peers.

There are many traits that make a horse great, ability, winning prestigious races, consistency, toughness etc. These will vary from person to person, but how anyone in any racing jurisdiction in the world can look at Winx’s entire career and not consider her a great is beyond me. She may not have been a Frankel in terms of sheer ability, but that really shouldn’t be held against her.

Either should the fact she never raced outside of Australia, for all, from a sporting point of view that was disappointing. Indeed, if she did travel to Royal Ascot last season and won the Queen Anne Stakes, in beating that field we would’ve learned nothing about Winx, only she could travel on an aeroplane.  

From a far, it has been a pleasure to follow her career, even if it did start on a sour note, when she quickly dismissed Highland Reel in her first Cox Plate, a time when I had a sizable bet on the Ballydoyle raider!

Declan Rix
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