Is Winx starting to show vulnerability?

Cameron Rose Columnist

By Cameron Rose, 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.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • September 4th 2017 @ 8:57am
      Razzar said | September 4th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      Tactics by trainers and jockeys may come to the fore much more now. If Winx hasn’t been taken a little out of her comfort zone, in her last two post-shadows wins, most punters watching her have.

      Daring rides may become the norm, especially with her occasional tardy traits at the barriers. At six she’s been turning her head in the barriers, maybe admiring the more muscular sex.

      I think we’re in for a great spring with Winx, and I know Champions just keep winning.

      • Columnist

        September 4th 2017 @ 9:27am
        Cameron Rose said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        Great opening line, Razzar. It sounds like Red Excitement is going to the George Main too, so it will be interesting to see if they adopt the same tactics, and what Hugh will do on Winx in anticipation of it.

    • Roar Guru

      September 4th 2017 @ 9:01am
      Will Sinclair said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

      Gee I was impressed with Josh Parr’s ride. It is a pet hate of mine when jockeys get off their mounts and say something like “the race just wasn’t run to suit”, as though they, the jockey, had no power over how the race was run (compared to say, the punter, who absolutely has no power!).

      Parr was fantastic. There should be more of that sort of initiative in Australian racing.

      As for the champ – it is great to see her being challenged like this. Personally, I think she is going as well as ever. The times she is running are absolutely world class and she has won two races that a lesser horse would have lost.

      But, having said that, it’s obviously not ideal from a Cox Plate preparation point of view for her to have so many gut busters. Waller has admitted as much, saying that she will likely miss a race before the Cox Plate now.

      Please keep these articles coming though – we might get a better price about her in the Cox Plate!

      • Columnist

        September 4th 2017 @ 9:31am
        Cameron Rose said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:31am | ! Report

        Yeah, it’s infuriating how often jockeys just play follow the leader, particularly in Melbourne. Every now and then you see a horse circle the field mid-race off a muddling pace, and that horse usually wins or runs top three.

        I’m on her side, I think she’s flying.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 9:20am
      Roger said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

      Dominic Beirne tweet says it all really –

      “WINX rated almost identically to average of her past four 2nd-up time ratings and handicap ratings. Precision timing by trainer and jockey”

      • Columnist

        September 4th 2017 @ 9:27am
        Cameron Rose said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:27am | ! Report

        Yeah, I saw that tweet last night Roger. That was nice to see, for those of us of the opinion that she is going as well as ever.

        • September 4th 2017 @ 9:54am
          Haradasun said | September 4th 2017 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          Yeah discussion yesterday centred on Winx and her run yesterday. To the eye the old man thought she took a bit to wind up at the top of the straight, possibly she looked a bit flat due to her hard 1st up run. in the end hb rated her perfectly as she didnt look too stretched on the line.

          I agree she looks better than ever will send this to dad. Its not fathers day now and he is wrong.

    • September 4th 2017 @ 11:22am
      Peter Line said | September 4th 2017 @ 11:22am | ! Report

      That ride from J Parr brought back memories of Zac Purton’s ride on “It’s Somewhat” to Win the Donny this year at $40!!!

      • Columnist

        September 4th 2017 @ 11:49am
        Cameron Rose said | September 4th 2017 @ 11:49am | ! Report

        Another example of a front-running ride winning at big odds. So many of the big race upsets are.

        One of my favourite wins of all time was Starspangledbanner in the Guineas. Nikolic was miles out in front and gave nothing else a chance, including favourite Denman, and yes, So You Think. In fact, he had the Cox Plate quinella behind him that day.

        • Roar Guru

          September 4th 2017 @ 12:23pm
          Will Sinclair said | September 4th 2017 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

          Danny Beasley did it on Grand Armee in Lohnro’s last race too (the QEII I think)?

          Just read the pace of the race correctly and was positive on his mount. The black flash had no hope of running him down.

          • Columnist

            September 4th 2017 @ 3:29pm
            Cameron Rose said | September 4th 2017 @ 3:29pm | ! Report

            I think Grand Armee won a Mackinnon in the same fashion, albeit as favourite or close to it. Desert War won a Mackinnon in the same fashion. I feel like we see less horses like that than we used to.

            • September 4th 2017 @ 3:45pm
              Bill said | September 4th 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

              I feel we so too few great McKinnons now it’s been taken away from us. Used to be one of my favourite races of the year.

        • Roar Guru

          September 5th 2017 @ 8:26pm
          hairy fat man said | September 5th 2017 @ 8:26pm | ! Report

          Also Intergaze’s Australian Cup (though that wasn’t much of an upset).

          If you like genuinely-run races, watch some from the US on YouTube. Helter-skelter from the start.

    • September 6th 2017 @ 8:38pm
      michael steel said | September 6th 2017 @ 8:38pm | ! Report

      I backed Lasqueti Spirit at $126 and $25 expecting the same tactics. Just as I backed Charmed Harmony 2 weeks ago.
      There is a reliability about front runners and they get fitter each run.
      I clapped Parr and Red Excitement after the race.

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