“It’s gonna be one hell of a race.”
That’s how Hugh Bowman, the regular rider of Australian supermare Winx, described Saturday’s A$4 million Queen Elizabeth (G1) at Randwick (post time late Friday night, 1:05 a.m. EDT). Winx goes for her 25th straight win, to tie her compatriot Black Caviar’s streak, against a few smart rivals ready to brave the defending champion – and the world’s top-rated turf horse – in this richest race of The Championships.
The about 1 1/4-mile test has attracted Humidor, who ran Winx to a half-length in her Cox Plate (G1) three-peat last October; his French-bred stablemate Gailo Chop, winner of three Group 1s at this distance for Darren Weir; Japanese import Ambitious, who traded decisions with the likes of Kitasan Black at home; Happy Clapper, yet to find a way to beat Winx but wheeling back from his victory in last Saturday’s Doncaster Mile H. (G1) on the first of the two-day Championships; and Irish raider Success Days, whose trip may prove fruitless after he didn’t get his preferred wet track.
Speaking at a press conference after the Chris Waller mare stretched her legs Thursday morning (video below), Bowman was taking nothing for granted.
“On form alone, it’s probably the hardest task she’s had for quite some time,” Bowman said, specifying that he means her first Cox Plate back in 2015.
Instead of just one principal opponent to look out for, “this week there’s three or four, maybe even five” at the peak of their powers.
Bowman observed that Winx’s drawing the far outside post 10 isn’t ideal – he would have preferred a middle post in the 4-6 range – and described a pace scenario that’s sure to play into someone’s hands regardless. If Gailo Chop gets loose on the lead, he’s not easy to reel in. If he’s pressed early, the hot tempo works to the advantage of Humidor and Ambitious. Bowman added that Ambitious was a terrific second in the March 31 Tancred (G1). That was his first try at about 1 1/2 miles, and he’s eligible to improve on the cutback.
With due regard for the others, however, Bowman couldn’t be more pleased with Winx herself. She’s been in a more relaxed frame of mind in both 2018 starts, and it’s shown on course. She routed her Chipping Norton (G1) comeback on March 3 and posted a perfunctory victory over Happy Clapper in the March 24 George Ryder (G1), a new world-record 17th Group 1 on the Flat. The Queen Elizabeth marks the third start of her form cycle, and her main target of this preparation.
Tuesday’s work “was absolutely outstanding,” her rider said. Thursday’s exercise was just to give her a day out, and “she feels every bit as good as she looks.”
Waller likewise commented on the quality of the field, terming the Queen Elizabeth the “grand final” so all the leading players are lining up. But he’s trained his stable star to cope with a “really tough 2000-meter race.”
Moreover, Winx is an “extreme athlete” who responds to pressure by raising her game.
“The more pressure in a race, the better she becomes,” Waller said.
“She does seem to have that determination to win, to get herself out of often difficult situations.
“She has that air of arrogance, perhaps, on raceday where she knows she can pick them up. And whatever she puts her body through to do that, she seems to be able to do it.”
Team Winx has the relief of knowing that however strenuous a task the Queen Elizabeth may turn out to be, the six-year-old Street Cry mare will go on holiday afterward. Having scrapped the idea of Royal Ascot or any other foreign venture, they’re giving her all the time to recharge ahead of another preparation in the second half of the year. By that time Winx will be seven, and Waller reiterated that it’s a case of one race at a time, hopefully leading to an attempt at an unprecedented fourth Cox Plate.
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Rounding out the field are Winx’s stablemate Comin’ Through, coming off a runner-up effort to Happy Clapper in the Doncaster; Classic Uniform, whose best run this preparation was a distant third to Winx in the Chipping Norton; Odeon, most recently second in the Easter Cup (G3) but requiring more at this level; and New Zealand Group 1 veteran Consensus, fourth to Gailo Chop in the Ranvet (G1) last out. Like Winx, Consensus carries 125 pounds as a mare, receiving five from the males.
Saturday’s finale of The Championships also features the Sydney Cup (G1), topped by 2016 Melbourne Cup and recent Tancred winner Almandin; the Australian Oaks (G1); the Coolmore Legacy (aka Queen of the Turf) (G1); the Arrowfield 3YO Sprint (G2); and the Percy Sykes (G2) for juvenile fillies.
International past performances are freely available here, and you can watch and wager at TwinSpires.com.