Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

At 5pm to­day, Mel­bourne time, Winx will at­tempt to do some­thing no ath­lete has done be­fore: win a fourth Cox Plate, Aus­trala­sia’s elite horser­ace. If she does win, as even the galah in the pet shop ex­pects she will, her prize money will top $20 mil­lion, an­other Aus­tralian record.

Not bad for a tall, leggy year­ling filly, then known only as Lot 329, who stopped the auc­tion­eer’s ham­mer at the now bar­gain price of $230,000 at Magic Mil­lions sale on the Gold Coast in 2013.

That use of “ath­lete” is de­lib­er­ate. Of course, the seven-year-old mare, who is lin­ing up for her 29th straight win at the part-velo­drome, part-Colos­seum oth­er­wise known as Moonee Val­ley race­course, is an equine ath­lete.

But, as sports broad­caster Bruce McA­vaney notes in his in­tro­duc­tion to Winx: The Au­tho­rised Bi­og­ra­phy, she is not just a horse. She is a pub­lic fig­ure and as such she is pub­lic prop­erty. He com­pares her with Muham­mad Ali and Usain Bolt. The bi­og­ra­pher, jour­nal­ist An­drew Rule, sen­si­bly ad­justs the gen­der scales soon af­ter he is let out of the start­ing gate. Winx is in the same sis­ter­hood as Cathy Free­man and Dawn Fraser.

The snap­shot of Winx in a cus­tom-made aqua-tread­mill goes to one of the high­lights of Rule’s book. It in­cludes be­hind-the-scenes pho­to­graphs of the queen of the turf and her at­ten­dants. The one of her bend­ing a leg for her phys­io­ther­a­pist, Tom Simp­son, is beau­ti­ful.

This im­pres­sive pic­to­rial dis­play partly ex­plains why this is an “au­tho­rised” bi­og­ra­phy.

No, Rule does not in­ter­view Winx. By all ac­counts she wouldn’t say much any­way. She is known as aloof. But he does have rare ac­cess to the men and women be­hind the horse: trainer Chris Waller, jockey Hugh Bow­man, the own­ers and the var­i­ous peo­ple who look af­ter her on and off the track, in­clud­ing the for­mer Turk­ish actor turned sta­ble­hand Umut Odemis­li­oglu.

This al­lows Rule to at times come close to his men­tor, Les Car­lyon, to whom the book is ded­i­cated. Car­lyon is one of our great writ­ers, and when it comes to the art and grit of thor­ough­bred rac­ing he has no equal. He plumbs the psy­cholo­gies of hu­man and beast. That was the ad­vice he of­fered Rule. Write about the horse, yes, but write about the peo­ple too. “As the pub­lisher said to Tol­stoy,’’ Car­lyon noted, “‘Don’t just do war, Leo, do peace as well.’ ’’

Rule lis­tened. There are fas­ci­nat­ing chap­ters on Waller, the Syd­ney-based trainer who grew up on a dairy farm in New Zealand; Bow­man, the rider who had to come back from be­ing busted for co­caine use in 2002; and the mot­ley group of own­ers, led in a sense by Deb­bie Kepi­tis, daugh­ter and niece of the “chicken kings”, broth­ers Bob and Jack Ing­ham, who built a rac­ing em­pire in which she showed lit­tle early in­ter­est.

We learn a bit about their child­hoods and Winx: The Au­tho­rised Bi­og­ra­phy By An­drew Rule Allen & Un­win, 464pp, $44.99 (HB) their ups and downs in adult­hood. Here’s Waller’s older sis­ter, Me­gan, on what he was like as a boy: “He was al­ways hands on. He couldn’t watch the All Blacks play­ing on tele­vi­sion with­out go­ing out­side and play­ing. He had a goal­post set up in the pad­dock. And a long jump pit! And a run­ning track … and a cricket pitch — with bound­aries, all mowed and rolled.” No sur­prise to learn that Waller’s alarm goes off at 2.58am every day ex­cept Sun­day, so he can be at the Rose­hill sta­bles in western Syd­ney at 3.30am, the same time as his staff are ex­pected to turn up.

Here’s Bow­man on what makes Winx so spe­cial. “She is the per­fect woman.”

Whether the run­ning or­der is de­lib­er­ate or not, it made me laugh to look at the photo of Bow­man kiss­ing Winx and, six pages later, kiss­ing his wife Chris­tine. To be fair, the hus­band-wife smooch looks more pas­sion­ate.

Rule ob­serves that af­ter some mo­men­tous wins Chris­tine Bow­man cries and Hugh tries not to. And Winx? “She looks as though she could go around again.”

Rule also has ac­cess to the reg­u­lar emails Waller sends out to the own­ers. As some­one who has owned a few horses, I can con­firm that Waller sends a good note. It’s ob­vi­ous he puts the horses — he has about 200 in work — first. This is the main rea­son he has re­sisted off­shore en­treaties to send Winx to Royal As­cot in Bri­tain, the track that al­most did in her glam­orous pre­de­ces­sor Black Caviar.

This is from Waller’s email af­ter Winx won

Winx, at home in her sta­ble at Rose­hill, bends a leg for phys­io­ther­a­pist Tom Simp­son; Hugh Bow­man steals a kiss af­ter a 2017 win at Rand­wick race­course

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