Straight from horse’s mouth

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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