Raise your glass to Winx’s heroics
She’s a beer. She’s a postage stamp. She’s a bona-fide superstar and a national treasure. In this case, that nation is Australia.
Winx envy hit the world’s great racing stages hard last year. Dubai figured they had a race tailor-made for the marquee mare on World Cup Night. England’s Ascot pulled out all the stops trying to recruit her for its royal meet. Even the Breeders’ Cup sent serious feelers southward to encourage a possible autumn detour from her appointed rounds.
No dice, though. Winx and her people are homebodies, more than content to be the biggest fish in a pond that by turn obsesses with cricket, tennis, horse racing, and Aussie rules football. It is not true that all 24.6 million people who live in Australia are hard-core sports nuts. It only seems that way.
Winx, 7, is the mare with the otherworldly 29-race winning streak that dates to May 2015. After a campaign that included nd her fourth straight victory in Australia’s premier weightfor-age event, the Cox Plate, Winx is back in training with Chris Waller at his stable near Sydney, where she rivals the wondrous Opera House in both dramatic stagecraft and architectural splendor.
On Saturday, a delegation from Winx World will be at Santa Anita Park to accept the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, sponsored by the family of the late Penny Chenery and their Secretariat Foundation. Translating to “voice of the people,” the Vox Populi has zigged and zagged through its brief history to such disparate Thoroughbred personalities as Zenyatta, California Chrome, American Pharoah, Ben’s Cat, Rapid Redux, Mucho Macho Man, and Paynter. Winx, the first international winner, outpolled Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Enable, a two-time winner of the Arc de Triomphe, and Justify, winner of the American Triple Crown.
“We’re in awe of the accolade, considering the other nominees,” co-owner Peter Tighe said. “It’s another in a long line of awards she’s gotten, and we’re truly amazed by all of them.”
Tighe’s Magic Bloodstock bought Winx as a yearling in partnership with Richard Treweeke for 230,000 Australian dollars at the Magic Millions Gold Coast auction on Jan. 10, 2013, after which they brought Debbie Kepitis into the mix.
Kepitis is the daughter of the noted Australian breeder Bob Ingham, who sold the family’s breeding farm to Sheikh Mohammed 10 years ago for a reported $500 million. Tighe’s business, besides Thoroughbreds, is in wholesale fruit and vegetables, while Treweeke is a former adman and teenaged ranch hand. It was Treweeke who came up with the filly’s name, inspired by her dam, Vegas Showgirl.
“If you’ve ever been to Vegas and go and see a couple of shows, you realize there’s some pretty good sorts up on stage,” a mischievous Treweeke told Australia’s “60 Minutes” TV magazine. “If you like ’em, you wink. And if she likes you, she winks back.”
Sorry to say, Treweeke, 88, will not be making the trip to Santa Anita. Tighe and his wife, Patty, as well as Kepitis and her husband, Paul, will be on hand, all of them experiencing Santa Anita for the first time. After the Santa Anita trip, the Tighes will linger with friends in the States, then head for London to receive more Winx honors as the Longines World’s Best Racehorse.
“I’ve raced a lot of horses over the years, and her longevity at the level she competes is truly unique,” Tighe said. “We’re asked if she’s a dream come true. But really, no one could ever dream anything like this happening to us.”
A commemorative Winx label of Australia’s Carlton Draught hit the shelves last year, not long after the $1 Winx stamp was issued. Last October, Tighe and Kepitis shared a Winx beer and their three Cox Plates with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Four days later, Winx won them a fourth.
“I can never get used to just how many people follow her so diligently,” Kepitis said. “They’ll come up to me and say, ‘She runs in two weeks, right?’ It’s been remarkable and such a blessing. It’s our privilege to share her with so many.”
Ownership of an iconic Thoroughbred comes with opportunities to do more than simply cash checks. The people behind Afleet Alex harnessed their star to help fund child cancer research. Team Zenyatta lends her name religiously to all manner of causes. Long after Secretariat had passed from the scene, Penny Chenery, and now her family, leveraged Big Red’s popularity for the good of the sport.
Both Kepitis and Tighe have promised, at some point on Saturday, to visit the life-sized bronze statue of Zenyatta near the grandstand fountain, if only to pay tribute to another win machine known the world over.
“We followed Zenyatta faithfully,” Kepitis said. “It’s fascinating that they’re both by Street Cry, but the idea we might have a mare like her someday was so farfetched.”
The idea that Winx might ever compete in America is also borderline fantasy, especially at her age. Then again, this year’s Breeders’ Cup will be at Santa Anita, just a short hop across the Pacific pond, where the Mile on firm ground will await with open arms. And if I’ve got my history right, Zenyatta had a pretty good day in 2009 at the Santa Anita Breeders’ Cup, when Winx was nothing more than a gleam in Street Cry’s eye.