CHIEF WRITER RON REED joins the loyal subjects paying homage to Winx as she pays a regal visit to Flemington:
THE QUEEN has made herself right at home. “She is more relaxed here, which is a good sign,” jockey Hugh Bowman said after Winx completed her preparation for the Turnbull Stakes with a relaxed workout at three-quarter pace at Flemington before dawn on Thursday. “She has settled into Melbourne quite nicely.”
So, it looks like business as usual as the mighty Sydney mare lines up for win No 21 in a row at her first visit to Australia’s biggest and best racecourse on Saturday. She will have only six rivals to beat in the $500,000 Group 1 over 2000m, and three of those are at triple figure odds. Humidor, at $4.60, is the only one quoted at under $26 and even his trainer, Darren Weir, says they are only running for second. Winx, of course, will be odds-on, as she always is.
The VRC is beyond excited about having lured the world’s best turf horse to Melbourne for her final tune-up before attempting to win the Cox Plate for the third successive year, having conducted an advertising blitz all week and presented the horse, trainer Chris Waller, jockey Hugh Bowman and part-owner Peter Tighe to the media, who turned out in big numbers.
The club is expecting about 25,000 people to take advantage of the opportunity for a glimpse of such greatness, more than she usually attracts in her home town and certainly more than usual for the Turnbull, which has taken a hit in attendances the past two years because it has been run on a Sunday to avoid clashing with the football grand final.
It was still dark as Winx paraded for the cameras like a supermodel on a catwalk and you could sense she knew she was the centre of attention, as usual. “She is well aware of that. She has a presence because of it,” Bowman said.
The two-legged members of Team Winx admit to being a little less relaxed. Asked if he was feeling the pressure as the streak grew and grew, the vastly experienced Waller said: “Yeah I do – simple as that. Not that I lose sleep. There has never been a sleepless night with Winx. You go to bed a pretty happy person…”
He said it was “an absolute honour” to be training her but not something he gets caught up in as it happens, more that it will be a privilege to savour when it’s all over. When that will be is still anybody’s guess. “I’m looking forward to the next stage of her career, which I guess you’d call the twilight of her career,” he said. But he added that longevity was still a priority. “We want to make sure she’s around for a long time yet.”
Bowman said: “Pressure has been part of the process for quite some time. I daresay this is just another week for Winx. There is so much public interest in her and it’s our responsibility to talk on her behalf.
“To be honest, I don’t really enjoy all the attention but it’s something you get used to with her. I enjoy the interest in her and I think what she’s doing for our sport is a wonderful thing. I enjoy that she’s so popular, but with that comes extra-curricular things.”
Every race was a pressure race now, he said. “To be perfectly honest I didn’t really feel it until this preparation because she was doing it so comfortably I never felt as though there was a possibility of (defeat) happening. Up until the 15th or 16th win it didn’t really concern me if she did get beaten.
“To me it was about the process of getting her to peak on the big day but now there is an expectation she will win. I’m like everyone else, I can’t ignore that. It’s certainly added more spice to the process.
“Obviously (defeat) is a reality we will all have to be aware of. That’s what makes it so interesting. It’s a horse race, things can happen, there are so many variables we can’t control. Obviously, we don’t want to see her get beaten but if it happens we will accept it like we do with every other horse, we’ll analyse it as I’m sure everyone else will, and we’ll move on.”
Victory in the Turnbull will be worth $300,000 to the connections, taking Winx’s prizemoney to $13.7m, not far behind triple Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva’s Australian record of $14.5m. That’s not bad for a group of owners who, said Tighe, “just went to the sales one day, bought a horse and dreamed of winning a Melbourne Cup. We haven’t won a Melbourne Cup but the dream has turned into a reality”.
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.