Bob Hawke was nonplussed. He’d just gotten off a typically eloquent speech in front of a claque of media, and no-one had a question for him.
In 1890, when Carbine won the Melbourne Cup, it was reported that “Ccheer after cheer rent the air and people went almost frantic in their desire to do honour to the winner…”.
While on Saturday the atmosphere wasn’t quite that intense, it’s probably as close to that intensity as we’re going to see in modern times. It’s not in doubt that the majority of the crowd at Flemington on Saturday were there to see Winx, and they rose as one as Hugh Bowman pulled Winx to the outside to begin her move around the field. Their cheer lasted the entire length of the Flemington straight.
From Carbine to Phar Lap and even to Makybe Diva and Black Caviar racehorses have a peculiar effect on the Australian sporting public that few other things do. Australians are divided by their football codes, but during spring they are united in their interest in racing – and racing needs its heroes.
Watching Winx run is an experience, just like watching Phar Lap would have been. Judging which horse is better is both impossible and pointless, and Winx needs to be enjoyed for what she is – one of the great horses of this generation.
Winx was recently rated the second-best horse in the world, behind only the American colt Arrogate, but in front of nab, Europe’s best. She was also recently declared the best horse in Australia. There is talk of taking her over to Europe next year to prove that she is in fact the world’s best racehorse.
Before that, though, she will head to Moonee Valley and attempt to equal Kingston Town’s feat of three Cox Plate victories in a row. This would put her in a class all of her own in Australian racing – and her record is so far arguably better than Kingston Town.
After that, what about Europe? Before I saw her race, I was against an overseas excursion. Why must Australian horses, trainers and jockeys continually have to prove themselves in Europe? But after seeing her on Saturday, she has nothing left to prove in this country.
It was just announced that Enable will race for another season, which would allow two of the best horses in the world to race against each other, and that has to be something that racing fans are allowed to experience. With no other rivals anywhere near her in this country, a race at Ascot will confirm her place in both Australian and international racing history.
Winx has the ability to interest the public in a way that no other horse currently does. She is central to the success of this Spring Racing Carnival for Melbourne, but without rivals on her level, her place in history will always be questioned.
Kingston Town remains one of the greats because her rivals were also excellent horses. A Winx victory in England against Europe’s best will ensure that she is always regarded as an all-time great of Australian racing.