ONE was grinding it out over the steeplechase course at Ballarat, the other was making up a ton of lost ground at Randwick. BRIAN MELDRUM looks at Winx and Wells and how their hearts make all the difference:
THERE WOULD appear to be a world of difference between Winx, the best horse on turf in the world (probably the best, full stop), and Wells, a triple winner of the Grand National Steeplechase, but in fact there isn’t.
Both of them are equine superstars, and are only separated by the fact that flat racing in Australia is a far more popular form of the sport than jumps racing.
Look at it another way. Jamaican flyer Usain Bolt is considered the greatest male athlete on the planet, because sprinting is seen as the pinnacle of athletics. But is he a BETTER athlete than England’s Mo Farrah, twice an Olympic gold medallist in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres. I think not.
After missing the start by five lengths in the Warwick Stakes at Randwick last Saturday Winx faced a mammoth task to extend her winning streak to 18, and jockey Hugh Bowman admitted that 700 metres out he had his doubts. “There was nothing I could do about it,” he said. “I just had to rely on the engine I know is in her.”
On Sunday at Ballarat Wells’ Irish-born jumps hoop Richard Cully had this to say about the final stages of the Grand National Steeple. “I only thought in the last 50 metres that he had it. He’s got an unbelievable engine.”
Cars have engines, horses have hearts. When jockeys talk about engines theyr’e really talking about hearts, for it is having the heart for the struggle that seperates champion horses from the rest. In other words, bravery.
Throughout her winning streak Winx has had a lot of easy wins, but there have been some where things haven’t gone right for her, as happened on Saturday, and she’s had to dig deeper to win. On those occcasions she’s had to be brave, and she’s never flinched.
The same applies to Wells, although very few of his seven wins over jumps have been easy. He’s now won his past three starts, and he’s had to fight to the death for all of them, the respective winning margins being a head, a head and a short head.
On Sunday the prospect of him equalling Bashboy’s record of three GN Steeple wins was in the balance with two fences to jump, as former GN Hurdle winner Sea King challenged on his outside, and the Darren Weir-trained Over The Yardarm loomed dangerously.
Sea King reached the second last a fraction in front, but met it awkwardly and came a cropper. Wells as usual was economical over it, but immediately came under pressure from Over The Yardarm, with the multi-talented John Allen doing the steering.
At this point the money had to be with Over The Yardarm, if only for the fact he was in receipt of a significant 7.5kg from his opponent, and had gone down by just a head when the pair met in the Crisp Steeple two weeks previous, at a weight difference of 6kg.
The two horses were dog tired as they came to the last pretty much together, but Wells made the better jump and got about a neck clear. Over The Yardarm though was quickly into stride, and drew level again, possibly even putting his nose in front. But Wells was up for the fight, for as Cully said, “He’s unbelievably tough, he’s unbelievably sound, and he just keeps coming up. I knew he wouldn’t lie down.”
Prior to the GN Steeple Wells’ trainer, Kathryn Durden, described the gelding as a horse who tried to do everything he was asked to do. “He’s always keen to do his very best,” she said. That kind of single mindedness was never more evident than in the last 100 metres on Sunday.
“He’s a very brave horse,” said Kathryn’s husband, former champion jumps rider Craig Durden. “He has a big heart.”
The GN Steeple was the highlight of the all-jumps card at Ballarat on Sunday, and a crowd of just under 3,000, second only in volume to Ballarat Cup day, enjoyed a day to remember. By comparison a crowd of around 10,000, moderate by city standards, turned up to see Winx’s reappearance at Randwick.
NSW might have the Everest, but when it comes to which state is top of the mountain in racing, it’s a no contest.
Author: Brian Meldrum
Brian Meldrum has been a racing journalist for more than 47 years, and is a former Managing Editor – Racing, at the Herald Sun.