It used to be football hooligans who shamed our country on the world stage: nowadays, it is politicians and horseracing pundits.
With advances in communication, it is not even necessary to leave the house, let alone to venture abroad, to achieve the social media equivalent of skinhead-fighting in a foreign Town Square or indecent exposure in an otherwise picturesque tourist spot.
Take the recent response in some horseracing circles to the exploits of the once-in-a-lifetime Australian mare WINX. Last Saturday, she gained her 31st victory in a row and a world-record 23rd Group/Grade 1 success with a fourth successive victory in the Chipping Norton Stakes at Royal Randwick.
This was an occasion for celebration or at the very least grudging admiration, you might think, even from the notoriously parochial and hard-to-please British racing fans.
A few appreciated the achievement for what it was worth, but plenty of others donned the Union Jack to hurl invective in the direction of anyone who dared to suggest that Winx is, in fact, something very special in the annals of horseracing.
Yes, she would not have beaten Frankel in his prime – no horse other than possibly Secretariat at his very best would have – but she has achieved things which that brilliant horse failed to achieve and has not, no matter what you might read or hear, had an armchair ride along the way.
Timeform has rated her 133, 134 and (to be confirmed) 134 in the last three Racehorses annuals, while the shorter-lived World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, which operate at a level 4 lb to 5 lb lower on average, had her on 132 (third in the world) in 2016, 133 (second) in 2017 and 130 (joint-top) in 2018. She would have had a mares’ allowance on top of that in any race she actually ran in.
As much to the point, where Saturday is concerned, Winx beat Happy Clapper with comfort by nearly two lengths, and Happy Clapper was rated 129 going into the race by Timeform and 123 in the most recent WBRRs.
Several smart performers (rated between 115 and 119 by Timeform beforehand) were beaten wide margins for a 1600-metre race run in just over 93 seconds. Happy Clapper very likely ran as well as he ever has. Perhaps these ratings are all just a big conspiracy.
And what Happy Clapper did do is ensure that Winx had anything but an easy time of it. Unlike some of her previous races, which have involved steady paces and sprint finishes which her superb acceleration has equipped her very well for, this was a proper test under the conditions, as the sectionals on the Australian Turf Club site make clear.
Happy Clapper went straight to the lead and put in particularly fast fractions mid-race. With 600 metres to go, Winx was five to six lengths down and being pushed along. A combination of Happy Clapper’s earlier exertions taking their toll and Winx’s never-say-die spirit and pure class saw her overhaul him and go right on past.
Those striding measures (my own, from video) also tell a tale of a contrast in styles, with Happy Clapper bowling along in front with a notably long stride (expressed in feet for ease of comparison) and slower cadence, and Winx raising her stride rate while holding her stride length until her rival finally cracked.
Depending on the level of your ratings, you could easily be rating Winx’s win around 130 (Timeform) or 125 (WBRRs), and she has almost certainly run better still on a few occasions in the past. She won the 2018 Chipping Norton by a Frankelesque seven lengths, for instance.
Winx will not be around for much longer, so let us appreciate her for what she is: a mare whose durability, consistency and guts would be remarkable at any level, let alone at the elite one at which she operates. Those who bother to educate themselves about international racing understand that.
Race replay: Winx wins the Tab Chipping Norton Stakes.
Chelmsford City on Thursday hosts the final Fast-Track Qualifier in the Marathon Series which culminates at Lingfield Park on Good Friday. The two-miler, due off at 6:25, has attracted a small but select field of six.
My weight-adjusted ratings for the sextet are: 111 Grey Britain, 110 Higher Power, 108 Elegiac, 106 Aircraft Carrier, 104 Amade and 99 To Be Wild. Grey Britain was unsuited by a very messy race at Kempton last time, when he finished just ahead of HIGHER POWER, but I think the latter may be the one to side with here at the likely odds.
Higher Power is more of a stayer than Grey Britain and was coming off a short break at Kempton, whereas Grey Britain was at the peak of his form. Chelmsford and a better pace could swing things more in the former’s favour. Elegiac may set the pace, but he thrived on his racing last year and has not been seen since November.
Before then, there is an intriguing 10f handicap at 4:55 at Kempton on Wednesday, in which Matterhorn and Executive Force have won their last four races and Ghayadh and Oasis Fantasy their most recent ones. Matterhorn is one of the best horses seen on the all-weather of late, but an 8-lb rise in his BHA mark to 107 will make things more difficult for him now.
Instead, I am going to side with NONIOS, a winner on his penultimate start and possibly unlucky last time, on whom Jamie Spencer takes over from an apprentice. He should give a good account of himself.