When I woke up on Saturday morning, there was only one thing on my mind … Winx.
If you don’t know who Winx is, you’re missing out. A superstar in Australia, she currently holds the record for the most Grade 1 victories and has won the Cox Plate – one of Australia’s premier races – three times. Even more exciting and impressive is that she’d done it by beating all comers in open company races against males.
Moving to Australia last July my only major goal was to see Winx run at least once. But I quickly learned that you get addicted to watching her run in person and I’d been lucky enough to see her in person seven different times. But Saturday was different. The mare was going for her 25th straight win in an effort to tie Black Caviar’s modern record of 25 consecutive victories and she was taking on nine stakes winners – including four Group 1 winners – in the process.
With a 10-race card on tap, I arrived at Royal Randwick Racecourse at 10:30 a.m. with my bells on (okay, not bells, but a Winx-colored dress, some fancy shoes, and a fascinator) to find the track was already packed. It unsurprisingly turned out that everyone had the same idea with their outfits and it was a sea of blue no matter which direction you looked.
The farther we got into race day, the more the tension built and by 2:30, people were jostling for spots on the rail to make sure they didn’t miss seeing her, even though her race was still nearly 40 minutes away. You could tell exactly where Winx was as she walked from the saddling stalls to the walking ring (while horses aren’t saddled in the walking ring, it is the equivalent of our paddocks in the U.S. with jockeys mounting up there) by following the cheers.
The excitement built as she walked onto the track and galloped to the starting gate, with a wave of cheers following her as she went to the gate and every eye in the place (and around the world) turned toward the first turn where she would be breaking from the outside stall. While it was one of those moments where time seemed to slow down, the field was soon loaded and everyone held their breath as the gates sprung open before a roar rivaling that of the Kentucky Derby echoed around the track.
The thing about Winx’s runs that those who haven’t seen her in person may not understand is that while the crowd at the racetrack is buzzing during her races, there’s also a very tense atmosphere. Winx likes to hang out near the back of the field and make one sweeping move and sometimes that leaves her in what looks like an impossible situation coming into the stretch. This has led to some very stressful moments during the streak as she’s only taken the lead over in the shadow of the wire a few times.
Adding a bit to the excitement on Saturday, Winx settled in last next to fan favorite Happy Clapper, who has met up with Winx in races more than once during his career. As they entered the stretch, the wonder mare went widest of all to add just a bit more distance to the race before easily taking the lead. Breaking her rivals’ hearts in the final furlong, she glided to the lead to cross the line nearly four lengths in front of the field while looking like she didn’t even break out of an easy gallop.
Proving good horses have the power to bring people together, all around me strangers were hugging and cheering and some even crying together. If someone didn’t know any better, they’d guess that nearly everyone in the stands owned the mare with the celebrations that were going on all around the track. Even Randwick Racecourse got into the celebrations, raising a flag the color of Winx’s silks only minutes after she crossed the finish line.
Instead of taking her straight to the winners’ area in the gallop back, regular jockey Hugh Bowman paraded her in front of the stands while celebrating partnering with her for 23 of those wins. After the pair returned to Winx’s connections, fans were treated to getting to see the mare for a few more minutes as she circled in front of the stands and took part in multiple photo opportunities with the media as Bowman’s weight was verified before walking down a lane in front of the stands one more time as she headed back to her stall for a well-deserved night’s rest.
While Winx is now getting a break before returning for what will probably be her final campaign with a fourth Cox Plate win as her goal, I’m headed back to the United States where I’ll resume watching her from afar like I have for most of her career. I have seen many of the best horses the U.S. and Europe has to offer in recent years and while I love and respect many of them, Winx has proved to me time and time again that she is the best horse I’ve ever seen in person and she’s been great for the sport both in Australia and abroad.
Not only have many taxi and Uber drivers in my Australian travels talked to me about the mare even when she isn’t racing at their city’s track, but I’ve also had U.S. friends show more than just a passing interest in racing because of her. It wasn’t unusual for me to get messages this campaign asking when she was next racing, which then morphed into questions about U.S. racing and putting effort into learning more about the sport.
Watching Winx show her talent on the track was the highlight of my time in Australia but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll remember her for more than just that in years to come. Watching her impact on the sport around the world will be what always sticks in my mind when I reflect on her in the future and something I think the sport will benefit from in years to come.