Winx: the official facts about her opposition
This Saturday the Australian supermare WINX will bid to create history by winning the Cox Plate for a record fourth time. The build-up to the race has seen the debate about the true merit of both her and her opposition very much reignited around the racing world, with plenty of hyperbole on both sides of the argument.
Her supporters put her forward as the undisputed best in the world and the best Australian-trained horse in history, while her detractors point to her lack of world-class opposition as a means to downgrade her. As always, the available evidence can be turned and twisted in different ways to suit the arguments of either side, but how about we throw some definitive, unbiased information into the mixer in an effort to get closer to the truth.
The best means we have to assess the relative merits of horses trained all around the world are the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings. These are ratings compiled by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, a collection of official handicappers from around the racing world that come together to debate and agree on official world rankings.
One thing that the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings tell us is that in their opinion Winx is a world-class racehorse. Her end-of-season rating of 132 in both 2016 and 2017 has been sufficient to make her the third-best and second-best horse in the world in those respective years and she is on track to occupy similar territory this year.
However, while the rankings tell us that she is considered world class by the official handicappers, what those final numbers don’t tell us is the circumstances and opposition she has faced to reach them. Debaters on both sides of this argument have used examples of horses Winx has faced coupled with their previous or subsequent exploits as a means to both downgrade and upgrade her form, but what matters most is what level those horses ran to on the day they faced Winx. Those are the most relevant facts to this discussion.
With this in mind, the following performance ratings which are used to compile the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings were sourced from the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. They outline the performance ratings given to the first four home in each of the 21 Group 1 races won by Winx in her career. They make for eye-opening reading.
There are numerous headlines to be drawn from this data. Most pertinently, in the three-and-a-half year winning run that Winx has enjoyed in Australian Group 1 races, she has only had to beat a horse that ran to 120 or higher on the day she faced them on just five occasions. In those races, the highest-rated performance of one of her rivals was just the 122 achieved by Humidor in last year’s Cox Plate.
To give all-important context to these numbers, this year alone there are 10 individual horses trained in Europe that are officially rated between 122 and 130 that could theoretically have raced against Winx and offered her a stronger test than she has ever faced in Australia. If one takes it further back to the start of her reign in 2016, since then there have been 25 such European horses in that rating bracket that she could have faced.
To further contextualise the lack of strength in behind Winx in the Group 1 races she has won, in 14 of those 21 races the average rating of the three that chased her home was below 115. The significance of this is that for a Group 1 in Europe to be safe from being downgraded to a Group 2, the Average Race Rating of the first four home has to be at least 115. Typically, the majority of the better Group 1 middle-distance races in Europe have an Average Race Rating in excess of 120. The highest-rated race in the world last year was the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with an Average Race Rating of 126.25.
Thus, the above data shows that it is perfectly valid to question the merit of what Winx has beaten. Given that her main rival in this year’s Cox Plate, the 123-rated Benbatl, is only rated marginally higher than the best horse Winx has ever faced, the same questions raised about her opposition by the above data are likely to persist after the Cox Plate regardless of the result.