Straight from horse’s mouth
the 2015 Epsom at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse. “I think what fools us is that she is just a horse getting better and better and raising the bar … she has the makings of a very special horse and where will she stop improving? It’s scary to think!”
If anything, he underestimated the situation. At her next start Winx won her first Cox Plate. That was her fifth win in a row. Today that picket fence alongside her name — 11111 — looks a bit measly. Winx’s 28 consecutive wins is an Australian record. That 22 of them have been at the highest level, Group 1, is a world record.
Writing about the saddling enclosure parade before that first Cox Plate, Rule shows that he, like Carlyon, understands racing is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
Bowman hopes Winx won’t be spooked by the atmosphere. She is as “sensible” as any horse he has ridden, “but liquored-up Cox Plate crowds would try the patience of a plodding police horse”.
Fortunately Black Knight, the gelding who won the 1984 Melbourne Cup for Robert Holmes a Court, is no longer around to hear that comparison. On retirement from racing he joined the Victoria Police and did his bit in the line of duty for almost a decade. There are three big questions about Winx. The first one can be answered with near certainty. Will she win today? Rule does point out, late in the book, the one chink in Winx’s armour. This flaw has almost stopped her a few times during this remarkable winning streak. It’s also worth remembering, even if it seems like ancient history now, that Winx, unlike Black Caviar, has been beaten.
I’m sure Rule thinks, as I do, that she will win today. She is the best horse I’ve seen, and that takes some saying. I have to admit, finally, that she has an edge on Kingston Town, the black gelding who won three Cox 1980 and 1982.
Second, and harder to answer: Why is she so good? Rule draws on the work of New Zealand physicist Graeme Putt, who has studied the galloping action of champion racehorses. Winx does not have a particularly long stride, like Phar Lap say.
What she does is stride more often; she puts in 14 strides where most horses put in 12, and she can do this at clock-breaking speed for a long stretch. I’ve read about Putt’s studies before, but Rule explains them well. “Some might say she’s like an Olympic rower who maintains the same length of stroke in the water but lifts the rate without getting ragged.”
Bowman talks about another horse he has ridden, a mare named Fantene, who was faster than Winx over 800m. But 800m races are rare in this country. Rule includes some of the trackwork exchanges between Waller and his racing manager, Charlie Duckworth.
The results are incredible, even to Waller, who asks Duckworth whether he’s forgotten to add two seconds to the time it took Winx to run 400m. For a student of the turf, this chapter on how fast horses can run, and for how long, is invaluable.
Third, is Winx, now rated the best turf horse in the world, the greatest ever? This one is impossible to answer. Rule acknowledges this … and then spends 10 delightful pages teasing out an answer.
Winx cannot be compared with Phar Lap, who won the 1930 Melbourne Cup. Racing has changed too much. Unlike Phar Lap, Winx never will be asked to contest four top-level races in the space of a week, and rightly so. (The Red Terror won them all, including the Cup, by the way, and the week before he won the Cox Plate. Just saying!)
It's also hard to compare her with the 1970s American “horse that God built”, Secretariat, because of the use of drugs — some legal, some not — in American racing at the time. The one she can be compared with is the English stallion Frankel, undefeated in 14 starts between 2010 and 2012, and widely considered the greatest. Rule’s conclusion is interesting.
This is the second biography of Winx to be published this year. I reviewed Trevor Marshalsea’s Winx: Biography of a Champion (ABC Books) in these pages in July.
Either book would make a fine Christmas present for a racing enthusiast. Rule’s is the one I would recommend to a more general readership. He’s a deft writer with a sense of humour. Though, like Marshalsea, he spends a bit too long, for the patience of Joe and Jane Blow, on individual races.
It’s Rule’s access to the Winx camp that adds the X-factor.
The quest for inside knowledge is one of the irresistible lures of horseracing, and one of the reasons most punters die broke. Plates between