Last roll of the dice for Winx. Picture: Getty Images
Last roll of the dice for Winx. Picture: Getty Images

Cash spike that created the Winx legend

In this era of multimillion-dollar races, it must be easy to be seduced by the big dollars.

Often, elite racehorses are tested outside of their comfort zone to chase the inflated prizemoney - but it's never been this way with the connections of Winx. She is so good she probably could have been trained to win The Everest or the Melbourne Cup.

Her acceleration is so brilliant and her ability to sustain her speed over an extended distance so extraordinary perhaps she could have run down the nation's best sprinters over 1200m.

Winx also has impeccable race manners. She settles kindly under Hugh Bowman, conserving energy until she is asked to pick up the pace, essential qualities to stay the Melbourne Cup's testing 3200m.

"One of the most common questions I'm asked is would she win a Melbourne Cup,'' Bowman said.

"If she had run in the race in 2015 or 2016 I believe she would have won it.

"Would she still be here now if Chris (Waller) and the owners asked that of her? Two miles is probably beyond her distance but I believe she would have won.''

On the eve of Winx's farewell race, the Group 1 $4 million Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday, we will never know the absolute extremes of Winx's versatility.

For the connections of Winx, it has never been about the money. It has always been about the horse.

Hugh Bowman considers Winx’s 2015 Epsom success, when she nearly fell, one of her finest wins. Picture: AAP
Hugh Bowman considers Winx’s 2015 Epsom success, when she nearly fell, one of her finest wins. Picture: AAP

 

Winx has never been over-raced, restricted to an average four starts per preparation and all within her established distance range.

This is one of the reasons the mighty mare has maintained her impeccable form for four years and won 32 races in succession.

"The prizemoney has never been a consideration with Winx,'' trainer Chris Waller said.

"But there was this one time…''

Waller's voice trailed away, almost as if he was reliving the moment.

It was 2015 and Winx was spelling after successive wins in the Sunshine Coast Guineas and Queensland Oaks.

Hugh Bowman raises his whip to the crowd as Winx wins the 150th Epsom in 2015.
Hugh Bowman raises his whip to the crowd as Winx wins the 150th Epsom in 2015.

 

Because Winx had raced deep into her three-year-old season Waller had planned only a light spring for his unheralded but promising mare.

"We were going to give her one, maybe two (lead-up) runs and target the Myer Classic on Derby Day, just give her a soft spring,'' Waller said.

But it was about this time that the Australian Turf Club announced a significant prizemoney increase for the Group 1 Epsom Handicap (1600) that spring, raising the stakes from $600,000 to $1 million.

This got Waller thinking: "I remember clearly when they put the Epsom up to $1 million,'' he said.

"So, I rang the owners to tell them the prizemoney for the Epsom was now worth $1 million and we should have a look at it.

"We decided to cut Winx's spell short and to give her one start into the Epsom.''

Winx will be chasing her 33rd consecutive win in her final appearance.
Winx will be chasing her 33rd consecutive win in her final appearance.

Waller also threw in a nomination for Winx into the Cox Plate that spring, more in hope than anything - but her destiny was sealed.

Winx returned to racing with a fast-finishing win in the Theo Mark Stakes then went into the Epsom second-up from her spell. Bowman maintains the Epsom is among Winx's finest wins given the adversity the mare had to overcome to win the race.

Winx was checked and nearly fell twice approaching the home turn but demonstrated her athleticism and ability by regaining her balance then sprint quickly past her Epsom rivals for an outstanding win.

"When she won that race it put her in line for the Cox Plate,'' Waller said.

It is said you can't win a Cox Plate as an after-thought but Winx did.

Bowman had flirted with the idea of riding Preferment in the 2015 Cox Plate but went with his "gut feel" and rode Winx to a stunning, course-record breaking win.

We’re going to miss the wonder mare.
We’re going to miss the wonder mare.

Everyone, Waller and Bowman included, were starting to realise the usual racing norms don't apply to Winx. The mighty mare was spelled after her Cox Plate win, her fifth in succession. She has been unbeatable ever since, her streak of 32 wins over for years unparalleled in Australian racing history.

Waller said training Winx to become a world champion has been made easier by the willingness of owners Peter and Patty Tighe, Debbie Kepitis and Richard Treweeke to accept his advice on the mare's training and race program.

"The owners have made it easier,'' he said. "I get advice from owners with horses that will never ever get within sight of Winx but these guys have been 100 per cent supportive of my judgment and my team's judgment.

"We have then been able to train, manage and ride Winx to the best of our abilities and to her strengths rather than what value or money can be won.

"There has never been an expectation that she has to win a second, third or fourth Cox Plate or any race in between and that is massive relief for me.

"I didn't even realise the Cox Plate prizemoney had gone up last year until two weeks before the race.''

Peter Tighe, a successful Brisbane businessman, was at Rosehill trackwork on Thursday for Winx's final gallop but, as always, stayed in the background as he watched his mighty mare go through her paces.

 

Winx kicks out following a trackwork session at Rosehill Gardens on Thursday morning.
Winx kicks out following a trackwork session at Rosehill Gardens on Thursday morning.

 

Tighe, always obliging to the media, was then informed of Waller's acknowledgment of the role Winx's owners have played in the mare's continued success.

"It is quite simple, I don't tell Chris how to train horses and he doesn't tell me how to sell fruit and vegetables,'' Tighe said.

Another of Winx's part-owners, Debbie Kepitis, has not missed a Winx trackwork media call and like Tighe, she doesn't interfere in Waller's training regimen.

"I follow my Dad's (Bob Ingham) principles because he always said you hire the best but don't tell them how to do their job,'' Kepitis said.

"You rely on their skill and expertise.''

On the eve of Winx's final race start, Waller then paid tribute to Winx, racing's relentless winning machine.

"I have a great team behind me and Hugh has ridden her so well but for whatever reason she keeps running consistently well to this very high level,'' Waller said.

"Winx has made us all look special - she is a once-in-a-lifetime horse.''