Will Winx get to take on the flying filly at Royal Ascot?

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BRIAN MELDRUM conjures up the dream race to decide the true ruler of the turf:

ONE CAN ONLY HOPE that in June next year the stars will align to enable Winx to come face to face with a dream adversary – a horse called Enable.

It could well be a meeting to decide who is the best turf horse (and quite possibly the best horse) in the world, a title which at the moment Australian racegoers are adamant belongs to Winx, but likely to be disputed by those who have seen Enable in action, despite the Aussie mare being ahead in the world ratings.

At Flemington last Saturday a crowd of more than 20,000 was  left almost speechless by the sheer magnificence of Winx’s 21st win in succession, in the Turnbull Stakes.

Winx ridden by Hugh Bowman wins the Seppelt Turnbull Stakes (G1) at Flemington Racecourse. Pic: credit Darren Tindale / The Image is Everything.

As she powered to the line more than six lengths clear of her nearest rival women screamed and men cheered, and men screamed and women cheered, but when they tried to express what they’d just seen words failed them.

Just six days earlier a similar scene was enacted almost 17,000 kilometres away from Flemington, at the beautiful Chantilly racecourse just north of Paris.

A big crowd was left in total awe of Enable, a three-year-old filly trained in England by John Gosden and ridden by the irrepressible champion hoop Frankie Dettori, as she put a high class field to the sword in the world’s most prestigious horse race, the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, and confirmed her standing as the best horse in Europe.

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It’s not just her Arc win, and the fact she has won seven of her eight starts, the last five at Group One level, that has thrust Enable to the forefront. It’s how she’s done it, and when you watch her wins and try to find a comparison the first horse that comes to mind is Winx.

In early June Enable romped home by five lengths in the English Oaks at Epsom, and at her next start had an even bigger margin to spare when winning the Irish Oaks at The Curragh, both races over 2400m.

She then went up against nine, mostly older rivals, five of them Group One winners, in the UK’s premier weght-for-age race, the 2400 metre King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Always up on the pace she took up the running turning for home, and bounded away to win by four and half lengths. In fourth place was the 2016 winner Highland Reel, who the previous year finished third to Winx in the first of her Cox Plate victories.

That day Winx, getting a half kilo off Highland Reel, beat him home by four and a half lengths. Enable, as a 3YO filly, was in receipt of 6.5kg from HighLand Reel in the King George, and beat him home by nine and a half lengths.

In the Arc, Enable took on 16 rivals, 10 of them Group One winners, representing five countries, and after sitting third most of the way angled out to hit the front inside the 400 metres. She powered away from the field to set up a winning break, and won easing down by more than two lengths. Dettori later desribed Enable as the best filly he has ridden in three decades in the saddle, and up there with the best horses he has ridden.

“She has amazing cruising speed, she can travel any pace, she’s a jockey’s dream. I’ve never had a horse who is so easy to ride,” Dettori said. Now, where have I heard a jockey using those words to describe a horse before?

In the latest world ratings Winx is rated second and Enable third, behind the US dirt tracker Arrowgate, despite him having been well beaten at his past two starts. The ratings are one thing, but the fact is that unless Winx competes overseas, preferably in Europe, in the eyes of the world she will only be seen as an Australian champion. Sadly, perhaps, this has always been the lot of Australia’s sporting greats.

Quite obviously a meeting between Winx and Enable will not come easily. Although trainer Chris Waller is very positive about taking his mare to Europe, and most probably Royal Ascot, in next year’s northern hemisphere summer, a lot of water must flow under the bridge before that happens.

And there is no certainty that Enable will even stay in training next year. Her owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, who also owns Arrowgate, has a love affair with racing that is as much about breeding good horses as it is about racing them. Enable is by the first season sire Nathaniel, a Group One-winning son of Galileo, out of Concentric, a granddaughter of the great Northern Dancer. It is easy to understand Prince Khalid’s desire to get such an outstanding filly, in both performance and pedigree, started as a broodmare.

Gosden has too much tact to try to steer Enable’s owner in any direction, but he is clearly of the opinion that the filly has much more to offer as a four-year-old. He and Prince Khalid’s racing manager, Lord Grimthorpe, are likely to discuss a plan that would include her racing for another season. “I can put (it) up to Prince Khalid, and if he likes that idea, he’ll make his decision with all the right facts in front of him,” Lord Grimthorpe said.

If Enable does race on in 2018, and Winx gets to England, the question remains as to what race might bring them together.

Winx is probably at her brilliant best over anything from 1600 metres to 2000 metres, although if truth be be known she could probably win a Melbourne Cup if she was set for it. Enable won her maiden over 1600 metres, and although her last five starts have been over 2400 metres, one suspects she would be just as effective over 2000 metres.

That said it would seem an ideal race for them both would be the Group One Prince Of Wales Stakes over 2000 metres on the second day of the Royal Ascot meeting, June 20. It was won this year by Highland Reel, and in 2012 was won by dual Cox Plate winner, So You Think.

You can bet your life the very proactive Royal Ascot PR team is already sounding out the connections of both Winx and Enable with the Prince Of Wales Stakes in mind, and fingers crossed they are successful.

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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.

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