Is Winx starting to show vulnerability?

Cameron Rose Columnist

By , Cameron Rose is a Roar Expert

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    It’s often forgotten that racing can be as much a game of human psychology as it is about the talents and abilities of the horses that take to the track.

    The record books will show that Winx jumped as $1.09 favourite in Saturday’s Chelmsford Stakes and won by a length to claim her 19th victory in a row.

    But for the great mare’s second race in a row, racing fans all over the country were made to sweat it out before she landed the prize.

    This time, it wasn’t Winx’s tardiness in the gates that made us all hold our collective breath, it was a daring ride by a competitor, Josh Parr on Red Excitement, an honest Listed or Group 3 type horse that appears to have returned as an eight-year-old in career best form.

    A lot of the greatest upsets in racing usually involve a horse that is taken to the front in a daring tactical ride.

    Sometimes, a canny rider makes an early move from the rear to circle the field if he feels the pace is too muddling, such as in two of the most famous upsets of our time, both in BMWs, when Freemason downed Northerly, and Curata Storm beat Tie the Knot.

    Other times, a plan has been carefully hatched try and steal a race from the outset, such as Lasqueti Spirit in last year’s VRC Oaks. She was left alone and forgotten about at bolter’s odds, and romped home unopposed.

    These lower rated horses can’t possibly win by outsprinting their higher quality opposition from the back of the field, so their only chance is if their jockey can steal a march from the front, and either catch their opposition napping or prove too tough to run down. Frankly, we don’t see it enough.

    A jockey will know where all their likely dangers are going to be in the run, but if they see a 100-1 shot up the front they usually let them go, thinking the horse will simply not be good enough to keep on running.

    Red Excitement actually started equal second favourite according to the official SPs, but if he had held on to defeat Winx, it would have gone down as the greatest upset of this century. Parr put Winx in a vulnerable position, and put uncertainty in Hugh Bowman’s mind, forcing him to make decisions.

    Parr rode Red Excitement aggressively out of the gates, and by the time they’d gone 600m, he had strung out the front half of the field, establishing a two-to-three-length lead from the second horse, was a good ten lengths in front of fourth, and had Winx a dozen lengths behind him in sixth.

    From there, Parr only wanted to go further in front, and his horse was travelling so well that he was six to eight lengths in front at the 600m, and full of running.

    Most punters had been expecting an effortless romp from Winx, taking on a field of stayers, a bit more of a low-key affair after the high adrenalin of the Warwick Stakes, something to keep her ticking over before she hit the Group 1s on her way to a third Cox Plate.

    All of a sudden, this was going to be a race.

    Once more, Winx needed all of the straight to win, taking until about the 250m to really lengthen her stride and accelerate as we know she can. In the end, it was quite stunning that she had a length to spare at the post given it didn’t look like she could make it only 200m before.

    Jockey Hugh Bowman riding Minx.

    (AAP Image/David Moir)

    Many of Winx’s wins have been “sit and steer” affairs. Even in her two Cox Plates, Bowman didn’t have to make any decisions. The first one, particularly, he literally just had to sit there after she jumped well from barrier one. She never left the rail, and the seas parted for her.

    In the Chelmsford, if Bowman left it too late to make his move, Winx doesn’t quite make it. If he goes too early, forcing her out of her comfort zone, she might lose her action for a crucial few strides, or tax her more than Chris Waller would like. As it was, it took her long enough to get truly balanced.

    From this point forward, we may see more jockeys take the race on to try and beat Winx. Sydney jocks have always been more enterprising and daring, so it is less likely to happen in Melbourne where they are far more conservative and just play follow the leader.

    The question that’s starting to be raised, after two narrow escapes, is whether Winx has returned at her best. She’s a six-year-old mare now, and is in the midst of her fifth unbeaten preparation in a row. She can’t keep going forever.

    Certainly, beating Ecuador by half a length and Red Excitement by a length in her two starts this campaign doesn’t quite look as good as beating Hartnell by eight lengths in a Cox Plate.

    But to overcome what she has in her two runs this season, one self-inflicted and one tactically imposed, has been nothing short of astounding. Her sectional times on both occasions back up the quality of these performances.

    If Hartnell had stayed in Sydney to take Winx on, it’s hard to dispute that he would have beaten her in the Warwick Stakes, particularly based on his awesome first-up win in the Lawrence Stakes on the same day.

    Winx still would have won on Saturday for mine though, because Red Excitement would have taken Hartnell out of his comfort zone, and he would have battled into third.

    Either way, the Winx winning streak stands at 19 and counting. Long may she reign.

    Cameron Rose
    Cameron Rose

    Cameron Rose is a born and bred Melbournian, raised on a regime of AFL, cricket and horse racing. He likes people who agree with him but loves those that don't, for there's nothing better than a roaring debate. He tweets from @camtherose.