Australian supermare Winx added another laurel to her lengthy resume Sunday when she was announced as the winner of the Secretariat Vox Populi Award. She became the first international winner of the online poll, reflecting the strength of her far-flung fan base that has grown throughout her 29-race winning streak.
“Racing certainly offered many historical and heartwarming stories in 2018,” said Kate Chenery Tweedy, daughter of the late Penny Chenery who established the award to give fans a voice.
“And once again, the ‘Voice of the People’ spoke very clearly. The fact that both the American public and voters abroad were not limited by international borders is a wonderful testament to the growth of the award and the winner’s global appeal.
“Winx represents everything Mom envisioned when she created this award and reaffirms her notion that a beloved horse will captivate fans and draw interest to the sport no matter where they race.”
Voters chose from a list of nominees proposed by the Vox Populi Committee. Winx outpolled such American celebrities as Triple Crown winner Justify; Accelerate, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) hero; and another presumptive champion in Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) victress Monomoy Girl; as well as European star Enable, who followed her Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) repeat with an historic score in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1). Nor was the result a case of international voters outnumbering Americans, for Winx was also the winner among the U.S. electorate.
Winx is the second distaffer to take the prize after Zenyatta, the winner of the inaugural Vox Populi Award in 2010. That’s the latest parallel between the two, both Street Cry mares who used a devastating late kick to compile streaks. Also like Zenyatta, Winx has easy-to-root-for connections. Trainer Chris Waller and jockey Hugh Bowman have been exceptional ambassadors, as has her ownership group including Peter and Patty Tighe’s Magic Bloodstock, Richard Treweeke, and Debbie Kepitis.
While Winx would be a global treasure just for winning four Cox Plates (G1), her running style adds to her appeal. At times she leaves just enough drama to keep you on edge, then quickens to put the race away, as though there was never a doubt.
In this respect, too, Winx exemplifies Chenery’s ideal.
“The industry is long overdue in annually acknowledging the star horse who brings the most excitement and attention to the sport,” Chenery commented upon instituting the award in 2010. “It is my hope that the Secretariat ‘Vox Populi’ Award will be an honor that reflects the heart and soul of racing and will help build upon the devotion the public has for a horse they love.”
As a thought experiment, it’s worth wondering if Justify might have attracted more support if he’d raced after the Triple Crown. His meteoric rise, and swift retirement, did not leave much time for fans to forge that kind of deep attachment. Had he competed through the fall, and won the Classic, would he have won the Vox Populi like American Pharoah did in 2015?
Then again, American Pharoah had the advantage of being the long-awaited first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. And Winx has become such a phenomenon that perhaps she would have been the top vote-getter in any event.
Past Vox Populi Awards have been split between Horses of the Year who were also popular – i.e., American Pharoah and California Chrome (2016 and 2014) – and fan favorites who weren’t champions, like Ben’s Cat (2017), Mucho Macho Man (2013), Paynter (2012), and Rapid Redux (2011).
If there’s a mild critique of this year’s Vox Populi, it’s the over-representation of the champion-caliber performers and the corresponding lack of at least one nominee from the second category, whether you describe it as recognition of the blue-collar, hard-trying, or a feel-good story. Yet voters were also free to write in their own choices.
Some of Winx’s connections will travel to Santa Anita to accept the award on January 12, by which time we’ll probably know more about their plans for the seven-year-old mare. Vox Populi Day will also feature a poster giveaway, autograph signing, and silent auction.