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Winx’s Cox Plate win was breathtaking. Thrilling, stunning, amazing. The only shame was that it can’t be taken completely on its merits.
It’s hard to recall a Group 1 day of greater bias, at least towards horses on the rail, in my time following racing.
It’s amazing what moving a rail out three metres can do, which is what happened for Cox Plate day after it was in the true position for the Manikato Stakes meeting the night before.
Eight of the ten winners on Cox Plate day spent the vast majority of their race time on the rail. Winx was the most obvious of these, jumping from Barrier 1, settling just forward of midfield, and never having to go around a horse as she careered away.
She certainly exploded away on the turn and skipped away down the straight, in the same manner other horses had done earlier in the day, notably three-year-olds My Popette and Holler, which won their respective races by a combined seven lengths after both leading on the rail the entire time.
My Popette and Holler were two of four rail-hugging all-the-way winners on the day, with the others being Turn Me Loose in the Crystal Mile and Coronation Shallan in the last.
The two-year-old winner sat on the fence, went around one horse and found the rail in the straight again to drive through in the fastest of fast lanes, albeit we didn’t know it at the time.
The United States won the Moonee Valley Cup after only spending a handful of seconds off the fence during the entire race. The horse he ran down was of course the leader. It was some four lengths back to the third placed horse.
Jameka won the Vase after a remarkably similar run to both Winx and The United States – she was also snuggled away on the rails, and only had to go around one horse in order to win, which was another runaway leader that was just reeled in late.
First, second and fourth in the Vase all had rails runs the entire race. First, second and fourth in the Cox all had rails runs the entire race. In almost every race there were big margins through the field, regardless of distance.
Turn Me Loose almost broke the track record for 1600m after going wire-to-wire. Winx did break the course record in the Cox Plate. Neither horse spent a second away from the rail.
It’s clear after this summary of events that the rail was lengths faster than any other part of the track. How many lengths, we’ll never know. But the simple fact is not every horse had their chance on Saturday. Even less so in the Cox Plate.
What about poor Happy Trails, eight or nine horses wide? Or Kermadec, Preferment and Gailo Chop on his inside as they rounded the home turn. They might as well have been running on quicksand, or into a brick wall.
Everyone thirsts for a racing superstar, and Winx may just be it. But is she really nine lengths better than the third best horse in Australia? And is Pornichet, a 60-1 shot, really that horse?
Perhaps Winx would have won the Secretariat by 10 lengths if she’d run there instead of Highland Reel? After all, she had five and a half to spare on him in the Cox Plate, and he decimated the Secretariat field.
And shouldn’t she have beaten the most moderate of Epsom Handicap fields by a lot more than a couple of lengths?
I’m being facetious of course, as we all know racing doesn’t work that way.
But it is worth noting that outside of Winx, there have been eight horses out of the Epsom run, and none of them has run a place at their next start. The closest a horse has got to winning has been two and a half lengths, and they’ve all lost by an average of close enough to six lengths with no blow-outs among them.
Winx was so visually impressive, so stunning in victory, that everyone wants it to be a case of what we see is what we get. That seeing is believing. That she can take on the world, and win.
She’s a bloody good mare. Could well be a superstar. We know she’s always had something special about her, and Chris Waller hasn’t been shy about how highly he rates her.
I just wish we could definitively say that every Cox Plate horse was beaten on their merits, and the best horse won on the day. We don’t actually know that for sure.
Either way, I can’t wait to see her again in the autumn to get tested again. It’s been a few years since I’ve been up to Sydney for the autumn carnival. I’ll be there this time.