June 18, 2018

Winx returns in search of more history in Chipping Norton

Winx can surpass Black Caviar and equal John Henry's Group 1 mark in the Chipping Norton (Photo courtesy of Racing Victoria via Twitter)

The world’s top-rated turf mare for the past two years, Australian superstar Winx resumes her march through the record book in the Chipping Norton S. (G1) at Randwick (Friday night 11:30 p.m. EST). If she racks up her 23rd consecutive win, the victory would also mark her 16th career Group 1, surpassing compatriot Black Caviar’s tally and tying the great John Henry’s world record.

Winx counts the past two runnings of the Chipping Norton on her personal Group 1 list, but a three-peat would not be a record for the metric mile test. That belongs to Tie the Knot, who won four straight (1999-2002).

Last seen turning a rare three-peat in Australia’s coveted weight-for-age championship, the Cox Plate (G1) on October 28, Winx was supposed to kick off 2018 in the February 17 Apollo (G2), just as she has the last two years. But regular rider Hugh Bowman was suspended at that time, and Winx’s connections decided to skip the Apollo and resume in the Chipping Norton rather than tinker with a different jockey.

Never before has the Street Cry mare started off a campaign over a mile. Her first-up runs were understandably shorter earlier in her career, around six or 6 1/2 furlongs, and with maturity that progressed to about seven furlongs.

As a six-year-old in this Australian autumn, Winx may not mind opening up at the slightly longer distance. Chris Waller has said she’s easier to train now as an older mare, and Bowman has commented how much “more settled” she is this preparation compared to the second half of 2017. All of that assuages the possible question of resuming at a metric mile, as does the fact that she “won” her third barrier trial of the year on February 17. For a mare who usually doesn’t bother to finish in front in those practice heats, it’s another piece of evidence that she’s in grand order.

Winx topped it off with a smooth gallop on Wednesday:

Eight rivals are attempting to stand in her way, led by Prized Icon. Hero of the Champagne (G1) at two and the Victoria Derby (G1) at three, the son of More Than Ready has since joined Kris Lees. His first two outings for the yard were promising, a second in the January 27 Carrington at Rosehill and a fine staying-on fourth, beaten a grand total of a half-length, in the Apollo. Prized Icon will prefer the extra ground, and the likely hot pace, in this third start of his preparation.

Also exiting the Apollo are the respective sixth and seventh, Stampede and Classic Uniform, who both like to go forward early. Stampede, a Group 3 winner at Doomben last year, has run very well second-up. Classic Uniform signed off last season in smart form with wins in the Hill (G2) here and the Craven Plate (G3) at Rosehill, and he’s another eligible to improve with that Apollo comeback under his belt. Likely to mix it up with them is ambitious stakes debuter Jemadar, who takes a steep class hike off a pair of front-running wins at Canterbury.

Vinland, the lone three-year-old in the field, is here to get in a soft-ground prep for next Saturday’s Randwick Guineas (G1). Highly regarded by trainer Tony McEvoy, the well-bred son of Sebring missed most of 2017 thanks to knee surgery, and he’s likely better than his bare form suggests. Vinland receives seven pounds from the older males and two from Winx, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he snares a minor award.

The placegetters behind Winx in last year’s Chipping Norton are back to try again, but it’s debatable whether they can duplicate the performance. Runner-up Lasqueti Spirit’s only career win was a 100-1 shocker in the 2016 VRC Oaks (G1), and she’d gone off form badly. Her Australian spring campaign was abruptly curtailed after her last-of-12 behind Winx in the September 2 Chelmsford (G2) at this course and distance.

The third in the 2017 Chipping Norton was Winx’s stablemate, Who Shot Thebarman, a classy old stayer who was simply using this as a fitness-builder ahead of his longer targets. Heavy ground in last year’s running played to his stamina, and although Randwick is currently rated “soft,” it may not get desperate enough to help him sneak into a placing. Who Shot Thebarman’s signature win came in the 2014 Auckland Cup (G1) over two metric miles, the distance of his near-misses in two editions of the Sydney Cup (G1) and his third in the 2014 Melbourne Cup (G1).

Scratched from last November’s Melbourne Cup with a fever, Who Shot Thebarman hasn’t raced since beating stablemate Libran in the October 28 Moonee Valley Gold Cup (G2). Group 2 winner Libran, most recently eighth in the Melbourne Cup, is likewise employing this as an initial warm-up for Waller. He was only seventh in last year’s Chipping Norton when making the second start of his preparation.

You can watch Winx live on TwinSpires at 11:30 p.m. EST Friday night.

 

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