The best horse in the world runs again on Saturday afternoon in Australia, which is Saturday morning in Europe and Friday night in North America. For that matter, no matter how you clock her, Winx is timeless.
The bay mare with the radar ears will be gunning for her 27th consecutive victory in the Group 1 Colgate Optic White Stakes at a right-handed mile around one turn over the Randwick course in Sydney. The Colgate Optic White Stakes formerly was known as the George Main Stakes, and Winx has won the race twice already. The field she meets on Saturday would seem to pose little threat, especially since the two opponents with the best credentials hail from her own stable.
Those 26 in a row date back to May of 2015 and include 18 at Australia’s Group 1 level. Three of those were in the prestigious Cox Plate and her most recent came in the newly christened Winx Stakes in July. It seemed only right.
Winx lost six of her first 10 races, which is strangely comforting for those who insist that nobody is perfect. Since then, the tumbling inevitability of her performances has become a moveable feast for her Australian fans, which is to say all Australian fans, because Winx has captivated her nation’s sporting scene like no Thoroughbred since Phar Lap.
Chris Waller, her doting trainer, has made certain the public gets just enough Winx to let him do his job. The official winxhorse.com website includes a video library with links to each of the (so far) 26 races in her streak. Winx merchandise is widely available, although the classic Winx cap has become a rare find – there was only one on eBay – and cheesy knock-offs abound.
The authorized Winx biography, by Australian journalist and crime writer Andrew Rule, is set for release next month. In the meantime, the Australian post office issued a one-dollar Winx stamp commemorating her 26th consecutive win, which eclipsed the mark set by Australian sprinting sensation Black Caviar.
Waller’s admiration for his 7-year-old mare knows no bounds. He gets misty whenever she runs, and he chokes back the emotion in post-race comments that always end up in abject gratitude that such a miracle of nature landed in his lap.
Waller also displays just enough humor to keep it real, as he did on his stable Facebook page upon the issuance of the Winx stamp.
“Just another remarkable accolade for Winx and an absolute privilege to be part of her career,” Waller wrote. “Thanks to all of the team behind Winx. We can now officially enjoy licking her backside to put on an envelope.”
The only horse who comes remotely close to Australia’s Winx phenomenon in this century was, of course, Zenyatta, whose 19 straight wins at the beginning of her career were celebrated far and wide, and whose only loss in her final start – the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic – was hailed as one of her finest hours.
Zenyatta’s trainer, John Shirreffs, has enjoyed watching Winx from afar. Reached this week in Kentucky, where he is one of many sorting through the herd of sales yearlings, the trainer was asked to what degree he can appreciate what Waller is going through, trying to keep such a daunting record alive. The experience must have occupied his every waking hour.
“For me it didn’t,” Shirreffs said. “I had a good routine with Zenyatta, so for me it was a pattern and trying to repeat that pattern, making sure we checked everything, crossing all the T’s and dotting the I’s.”
The similarities between Winx and Zenyatta go well beyond their intimidating records. Both mares were sired by Street Cry, the late stallion who won the Dubai World Cup and Stephen Foster Handicap during an international career. Like Zenyatta, Winx races with her ears plugged to tamp down her more excitable instincts. And, like Zenyatta, Winx and jockey Hugh Bowman prefer to come with a fast finish from deep in the pack that is both thrilling to the fans and disheartening to opponents who are still running well.
“In Zenyatta’s case, she had a lot of trouble at the starting gate,” Shirreffs noted. “She was very nervous, and wasn’t comfortable until she cleared the doors of the gate. When we were getting her okayed from the gate before she ran, I don’t know how many times we broke her before Gary Brinson, the starter, finally said, ‘That’s enough. That’s as good as she’s gonna get.’ ”
With the retirement of Triple Crown winner Justify, the U.S. racing scene is bereft of a true superstar. Horses like Accelerate and Monomoy Girl are on an entertaining roll, and there will be 2-year-olds blossoming forth in the fall. But the idea of a Winx, a Cigar, a Wise Dan, or a Zenyatta dominating the conversation over a period of years is not in the cards.
“Some horses know that their job is to win races,” Shirreffs said. “They just get it. Sometimes you have to concede they’re really smart, and that winning is really, really important to them.
“Obviously a lot of horses win races just because they have more talent, and there’s other things that go into it,” Shirreffs added. “But horses like Winx, or Zenyatta, that really know what winning is all about – that’s just something they have. That’s just a different quality.”
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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