November 20, 2017

Winx wins 18th straight in Warwick despite poor start

Winx overcame a tactical disadvantage with a blistering final sectional of :31.88 (Photo courtesy of Australian Turf Club via Twitter)

On paper, Saturday’s Warwick (G2) appeared to be a pretty straightforward comeback for Australian supermare Winx, her 18th consecutive win surely on tap. But the world’s top-ranked turf horse created instant drama by missing the break at Randwick, rearing up and then coming out awkwardly.

In a 1400-meter (about seven-furlong) race on a quick course that was playing kindly to on-the-pace types, her streak appeared to be in serious jeopardy as Winx spotted the field several lengths. Front-running Ecuador and inside stalker Foxplay, a Group 1-winning stablemate of Winx’s from the Chris Waller yard, were in the best tactical positions.

Regular rider Hugh Bowman had the proverbial ice in his veins, however. Allowing Winx to gather herself at the back, he didn’t turn her loose until the stretch, trusting that her ferocious late kick would be enough even in these adverse circumstances.

Yet when Foxplay surged past Ecuador and quickened in the final furlong, Winx still had several lengths to make up. Could she get there in time, although the entire field was also accelerating? Or would the wire come too soon?

According to @PuntingForm, Winx flew her final 600 meters (about three furlongs) in :31.88 to catch Foxplay by a neck. Bowman knew she’d have to push the limits of the possible, revealing his thought process in the post-race quotes on racenet.com.au.

“I was a bit worried going past the 700 (meters),” her rider said, “because the way track conditions are, they’re running very slick times, thinking it could be mathematically impossible to catch them but there was nothing I could do.

“All I could do was rely on the engine in her. I couldn’t take off at the 700 to get closer or I would have run out of gas.

“I just had to have confidence in her and ride her to run a race.

“I couldn’t take off, I was stuck back there and thinking ‘this isn’t good. I don’t want to be here’ and like I said it was an amazing feeling the last 200 and what can I say – she’s a freak.

“She’s just so much better than them and I had to rely on that to win the race.”

So what happened at the start?

“I’ve made it public previously that the only time I’m nervous on her is in the barriers and today everyone saw why,” Bowman added to Racenet. “She can be fractious and she just jumped in the air, threw herself around as the gates opened, so there wasn’t much I could do.

“Halfway through, the way the race was going, I thought it’s going to be hard to make the ground up. I wasn’t nervous because all I could do was ride her. I thought everyone else would be nervous. The win isn’t up there with her George Ryder (G1) or Cox Plate (G1) wins but I suppose it was pretty impressive to the eye. It wasn’t a big margin but she won pretty easily.”

The stewards also looked into Winx’s problematic break, and the resulting report (via racing.racingnsw.com.au) disclosed that an assistant starter was trying to help her:

Winx – rider H Bowman stated that Winx, which has a history of being fractious in the barriers, today was again today fractious and as a consequence was assisted by the barrier attendant, who held the mare’s head to the side of the stall, as is the usual practice. He said just prior to the start being effected the barrier attendant straightened Winx in preparation for the start, however as the starter released the field the mare simultaneously became fractious and attempted to rear. As a result the attendant was required to further assist Winx in settling and consequently this resulted in the mare missing the start by 4 lengths.

Waller praised Bowman’s heady response to the mishap.

“Hugh never panicked,” the trainer told Racenet. “When you put the reins in his hands you know you’ve got the right man aboard. He realized he had to make up a bit of ground and used the full length of the straight to do it.

“She gave them a fair head start and it’s very special to know you’ve got a horse that everybody appreciates so much.

“Thank God she got the job done.

“She was a bit jittery being first-up,” Waller said in the racingandsports.com.au recap.

“She will tighten up from that. They can’t win all the time and I don’t want to be making excuses if she gets beaten.”

While Winx fans worldwide were in suspense until she reached the wire in 1:21.87, co-owner Debbie Kepitis had perhaps the best cause for being on edge. The full name of the race is the Bob Ingham Warwick, in honor of her father. Winx won it handily last year, but Saturday’s repeat was much more of an emotional rollercoaster.

Next up for the great daughter of Street Cry is the September 2 Chelmsford (G2), back at Randwick over a metric mile, with her main aim being a three-peat in the October 28 Cox Plate. Waller is keeping the international travel question in abeyance for now, wanting Winx to make history as only the second horse (after Kingston Town in 1980-82) to capture three Cox Plates.

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