It was a scene everyone had hoped for and expected. It was a farewell like no other. Tears flowed freely, voices quavered, the words of trainer Chris Waller were difficult to get out. Watching jockey Hugh Bowman being interviewed after the race, I couldn't help having the warped thought of him putting his bloody handkerchief on eBay – one final souvenir of the immortal Winx, who provided Bowman with his split lip. Seems like she was the only one at Randwick Race Course who didn't want to be kissed.
This is what horse racing is supposed to be about. Love of the sport, love of the horses, love of greatness in its purest form that only a racehorse can provide, a greatness that is not a residue of aspiring wealth, but something given freely. It is a desire to be great, to be competitive, to be victorious that sprouted from a seed planted many centuries ago.
Winx is the embodiment of everything we admire in an athlete; the will to win and the desire to achieve victory over a period of years and accomplishing it every time, under any conditions, seeking no reward. It is in their blood from the second they emerge from the womb, but only on extremely rare occasions does that thirst for victory and competitive spirit reach the heights we have seen with Winx.
She should serve as an example to the world, especially the uninformed, that horses are not forced to race. It is something that is as natural as breathing. Thoroughbreds were endowed with those spindly legs that pound the ground at great speed for a purpose – to enable them run like the wind, faster than the next horse.
All living creatures occasionally pay a price for doing something they love to do, need to do, are born to do. No one forces a person born with the spirit of adventure to jump out of an airplane or dive off a high cliff or risk his or her life in other ways in order to achieve that rush of adrenaline that fuels their very being. To deprive a Thoroughbred of racing competitively would be like keeping an animal born in the wild in a cage.
Have you ever cried uncontrollably at the death of a pet? It is no different with trainers, owners, grooms, and hotwalkers when a horse dies. When it happens too frequently, measures are immediately taken to find the cause and prevent it from continuing to happen, sometimes leading to new advances in prevention.
Horses affect people in ways that can only be felt, not described in words. Just watch and listen to the outpouring of emotion as Winx charged down the stretch for her 33rd consecutive victory and the scene afterward as she paraded and stood motionless before the adoring crowd who cheered wildly at the mere glimpse of her.
We saw it 46 years ago when Secretariat stormed into the history books in isolated splendor, raising the equine genus to another level. We heard the deafening roar when jockey Ron Turcotte did nothing more than wave his cap to the crowd after returning. We felt it when Rachel Alexandra rocked the rafters of ancient Saratoga and when the mighty Zenyatta returned after one of her last gasp victories, which reached 19 in a row. And we felt the massive Belmont Park grandstand shake when American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years and all the flailing arms and pumped fists, the jumping up and down, and the hugging that followed as Belmont became engulfed in a wall of noise most people had never heard before.
So Winx becomes the latest equine hero to bid farewell, but she bids farewell to the world, not just her native Australia. To my fellow racing fans on the East Coast who no longer have to set their alarms at midnight or stay up that late, I say sleep tight and dream of the next great superstar. Winx took us all on a long wondrous journey we likely will never witness again. But one thing is for certain. Somewhere, sometime, someplace we will again be moved to tears by the next great Thoroughbred.