By Hans Ebert
Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you, sometimes, one monkey don’t stop no show, and then there are those special days when one extraordinary horse saves a country’s entire weekend of racing.
Yes, yes, spring is in the air in Australia, the Melbourne Spring Carnival is around the corner, and it’s great to see some very good equine talent make giant strides through their reappearances, but last Saturday, and when so many we know expected so much in the way of winning on the punt, only to have much crashing and burning around them, the one and only salvation was the win of Winx. Hallelujah.
How would one describe this win? Breathtaking? Not good enough. A sense of nationalistic pride? Definitely. But the win was more than a litany of superlatives. Yes, it was great for racing, but also much more which really can’t be put into words.
Holidaying in Colombo and with a confusing time difference and seeing The Damage Of Doomben after the first two races when two hot pots bit the dust for different reasons and where only Ruby Ride was the winner by taking out both races, it felt like one of those days. My eyelids were telling me to get through the Sri Lankan breakfast ordered and get some sleep. Waking up and seeing the results, I said a little prayer that jet lag had taken its toll.
As expected, Winx had won, and that was it. The nine-year-old Sri Lankan Rupee had done nothing in Adelaide as the $1.80 favourite- madness- Catchy didn’t win as expected, the big tip for the day- Written Era- drew a blank, the first two races at Belmont seemed to have been won by horses with no names, and apart from the wins of Hartnell, Jukebox and Vega Magic, nothing much had gone according to script. Even $1.50 favourite Sayed with Hugh Bowman aboard had been nutted on the line when a win had seemed a formality. And watching the race, a certainty. Nothing in racing is a certainty and some things are better left un-Sayed until the first horse goes by the winning post.
Still, Winx had won- and, thought I, in a canter. “Have you seen the replay?” tweeted Racetrack Ralphie. Another friend on Twitter sent me an oblique message as to whether Hugh Bowman had mentioned that there was “no cause to panic”. And so I went back and watched what was an extraordinary race where the mighty Chris Waller-trained mare was attempting her eighteenth consecutive win. Well, by now, we all know how it ended. There IS a Santa Claus, Virginia, and, fairy tale endings do happen.
One couldn’t help but think what was going through Hughie Bowman’s mind during the course of the race. Not being a jockey and certainly not someone as good as Bowman, what I took out of it was the trust between horse and rider- a rider with an incredible understanding of this extraordinary horse, and knowing when to let her run her own race and to just coax her along. This decision nearly didn’t come off, but it did, and at least as far as this writer is concerned, no other jockey would have won on Winx. This was Butch and Sundance.
What’s interesting to see is how this win- and to use that often overused expression how the video has “gone viral”- how else this stunning win can and will be marketed. Please don’t anyone mention The Everest. If anyone wishes to read between the lines what most people really think about a non-Group race that stops many with the horsepower in their tracks because of the $10 million price tag attached as its Creator continues to move the goalposts, try and find the interview where Michael Felgate tries to press trainer Bryce Heys into answering whether his galloper Spieth would scale these lofty heights.
Heys is no fool. He ducks and weaves and is non-committal other than saying $10 million is a lot of money and the final decision will be up to the owners. Reading between the lines, it’s not hard to hear what his head and heart is saying.
If this “bold new initiative” is going to make horse racing in Australia great again, think again. Then thin about the win at Randwick of Winx. The constantly evolving Everest concept, apparently set to be a Group race in its second year- but that’s a very very long time away- and with slotholders and middle men and shareholders and sharecroppers all involved in somehow getting a slice of the $10 million prize money- Greed Is Good?- there’s the much more human story of horse, trainer, jockey, owners and the mare’s eighteenth win. Which is better or more positive for horse racing?
Sure, there’s a need to report bizarre incidents like those involving Craig Williams and his flyweight boots etc. It’s racing news.
There’s also the need to market- not publicise or tweet or opine- the hell out of things that are Winxellent. And if this wonderful fan of Winx pictured below isn’t rewarded by those at Royal Randwick or Tabcorp or whoever, horse racing simply doesn’t have very smart marketers.