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Who would win races between the four champion mares of the 21st century? (Part 2)

Just how magnificent was Makybe Diva? (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Expert
25th October, 2017
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Welcome to a Roar special in Cox Plate week, to celebrate Winx’s attempt for an historic third-straight victory in Australia’s weight-for-age championship.

Yesterday, Cam Rose and I assessed who would win of Sunline, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx in the VRC Classic, Memsie Stakes and Doncaster Mile.

Today, we pull apart the Cox Plate, BMW and Melbourne Cup.

Cox Plate

Moonee Valley, 2040m, weight-for-age

Cam: Winx, Sunline, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar
Justin: Winx, Makybe Diva, Sunline, Black Caviar

Records over 2040m

Horse Group 1 record Total record
Sunline 6: 2-2-0 10: 4-3-0
Makybe Diva 4: 2-0-1 11: 6-0-1
Black Caviar 0: 0-0-0 0: 0-0-0
Winx 6: 5-0-0 6: 5-0-0

Justin
This is the blue riband event in this series of clashes between the great mares. Five Cox Plate victories between them – and at least one more to come yet!

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Sunline was fantastic in her four Cox Plates – winning twice, second in the controversial 2001 edition and fourth in 2002. In 2000, she equalled the record Cox Plate-winning margin of seven lengths. Her jockey Childs has spoken at length about Sunline’s strengths at Moonee Valley. Most notably, she cornered beautifully at the tight circuit.

Winx, though, may be an even better Valley mare. In the 2015 Cox Plate, she handled the home turn better than any horse and used all of the rail’s advantages (on a day where the inside section of the track was lightning fast) to blitz a high-class field in track-record time.

Last year, Winx circled her opponents and won by eight lengths – smashing the record for winning margin held by Dulcify and Sunline – going to a new level at the same time. Without any hyperbole, it was breathtaking to witness.

Makybe Diva was no slouch at 2000m. She obliterated the Flemington track record in the 2005 Australian Cup and won her only attempt at the Cox Plate in 2005 very arrogantly. That was the Cox Plate with “the wall of horses” and Glen Boss was swinging on the turn. The soon-to-be triple Melbourne Cup-winning mare won with plenty in hand.

Black Caviar has to play to her strengths and use her high cruising speed to lead this field. But Childs on Sunline controls the race from near the lead.

As Jim Cassidy said on Melbourne radio recently, the best way to beat Winx in a Cox Plate may be to get going at the 1000m mark on a horse like Might and Power or Sunline to get Winx chasing a long way from home. That pressure surely helps Makybe Diva, with her 3200m credentials, late.

As good as Sunline was, Winx is a better stayer and I see her taking over from the great Kiwi mare on the turn. I can see Makybe Diva grabbing Sunline in the shadows of the winning post for second with Black Caviar a tired fourth.

Cam
This really is the race to end all races isn’t it? The three most memorable Cox Plates in my time following the sport are Sunline’s demolition in 2000, Makybe Diva’s “wall of horses” in 2005, and Winx destroying them last year. To try and imagine those performances all in the same race is enough to make one giddy.

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We know what Sunline is going to do here, and that is to try and break their hearts from the front, railing like a greyhound as you suggested above.

Hugh Bowman and Winx are no strangers to a strong speed in the Cox Plate. They’ve had The Cleaner setting the pace in their first win and Vadamos doing the same last year. The difference with Sunline doing it is that she’ll keep going better than either of those two could.

Bowman needs to keep Sunline in his sights, and given that Winx can race handy or back in the field, she has to be handy but without doing the carting, settling in fourth or fifth. The harder they go up front, the more Makybe Diva is going to like it, and the clean-winded mare will start creeping into the race from the 800m.

Obviously we are expecting Black Caviar to have no say from this point on, but her best chance comes from being ridden as softly as possible, and hoping she has some kind of sprint left when others have tired themselves out.

Winx is the greatest horse I have seen, so I have to side with her, but it would take the performance of a lifetime for her to beat Sunline producing her 2000 run. I think she can do it. Makybe Diva third for me, and I can only shudder to think how far back the rest of our imaginary field will be behind these great mares.

winx-cox-plate-hugh-bowman-racing-horse-2016

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

The BMW

Rosehill, 2400m, weight-for-age

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Cam: Winx, Makybe Diva, Sunline, Black Caviar
Justin: Winx, Makybe Diva, Sunline, Black Caviar

Records over 2400m

Horse Group 1 record Total record
Sunline 0: 0-0-0 0: 0-0-0
Makybe Diva 4: 1-1-1 4: 1-1-1
Black Caviar 0: 0-0-0 0: 0-0-0
Winx 1: 0-1-0 1: 0-1-0

Cam
This one is really quite interesting, considering Winx only raced at this distance once, when well handled (but still second) in the ATC Oaks, while Sunline never went beyond the 2040m of the Cox Plate. Makybe Diva won a BMW at this track and distance, but also got beaten by a combined 1.3 lengths in two Caulfield Cup attempts.

Far from invincible at a mile and a quarter, Sunline’s record of four wins from ten starts there suggests she’d be quite vulnerable over a further 400m, and I am very comfortable putting her in for third, while the question that has to be asked is whether an extra 400m would stop Winx when she is in Cox Plate-winning form?

I agonised over this one, with Makybe Diva’s ultra-dominant win over Grand Armee in the 2005 BMW fresh in my mind. She simply ate up the ground that day after conceding a huge start at the top of the straight, albeit we must admit Grand Armee wasn’t really a 2400m horse.

Winx couldn’t win the 2015 Oaks, but she wasn’t ‘Winx’ then. Even if she isn’t able to extend her brilliance over all of a mile and a half, she would be ahead of Makybe in the run, I just don’t think the latter could reel her in.

Justin
I am in total agreeance with Cam here. Winx would gobble up the Rosehill 2400m at this stage of her career and while Makybe Diva gets her first real chance to topple Winx, I’m sticking with the Sydney girl to be a little too nippy over the mile-and-a-half journey at her home track.

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Makybe Diva would power home to a two-length second, making their two-mile battle irresistible. Sunline never took me as a 2400m type, so she may be found out late.

Black Caviar, the greatest sprinter of all time, is simply not suited here.

hugh-bowman-winx-cox-plate-horse-racing-2016

(AAP Image/Julian Smith)

Melbourne Cup

Flemington, 3200m, handicap

Cam: Makybe Diva, Winx, Sunline, Black Caviar
Justin: Makybe Diva, Winx, Sunline, Black Caviar

Records over 3200m

Horse Group 1 record Total record
Sunline 0: 0-0-0 0: 0-0-0
Makybe Diva 5: 4-0-0 5: 4-0-0
Black Caviar 0: 0-0-0 0: 0-0-0
Winx 0: 0-0-0 0: 0-0-0
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Justin
Three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva faces her stiffest test over a two-mile journey in this mouth-watering race.

Winx is an incredible mare and she is in this race as a big winning chance. It is worth remembering that Makybe Diva ran a creditable seventh over two miles in Japan against better opposition than what she ever faced in the Cup at home – but the track was said to be a little firm for her. Nonetheless, Makybe Diva is beatable at the trip.

Glen Boss rode some magical races on the Diva at Flemington and I’ve pencilled him in for another classic here. Regardless of where Winx is placed by Hugh Bowman compared to the Diva, Boss holds all the cards because he is on the better stayer. Winx will dash – much like how So You Think dashed for home in the 2010 Melbourne Cup – but Makybe Diva’s stamina will win supreme.

Sunline, with her middle-distance constitution, would handle Black Caviar in the battle for third.

Cam
I’m with you in that this is a two-horse race between Makybe Diva and Winx, given we both share the same view on Sunline’s limitations at 2400m-3200m.

Makybe’s greatest strength as a two-mile stayer was how easily she moved into every Melbourne Cup between the 800m and the 400m, having already run 2400m to get to that point. The reserves of her stamina were simply greater than her opposition, and that combined with her turn of foot at that stage of a race was just lethal.

We can only speculate on how Winx would react at two miles, but the likes of So You Think, Criterion and Hartnell do come to mind – champion 2000m horses that all ran third in Melbourne Cups. Now, we know Winx is superior to the latter two at least, and I do suspect that she is a stronger stayer than all three.

In a race situation, Makybe Diva would be settling behind Winx, and would have the last crack at her. She would be too strong in that last furlong thanks to her remarkable staying constitution, but this one is not a lay-down misère by any means.

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Glen Boss rides Makybe Diva to win the 2005 Melbourne Cup

(AAP Image/Joe Castro)

Grand total

Four points for first, three for second, two for third and one for fourth

38 – Winx
32 – Sunline
26 – Makybe Diva
24 – Black Caviar

Cam
There is no surprise to see Winx on top of our leaderboard, and the other three basically end up ranked according to their versatility.

I am comfortable thinking Winx is the best horse I have seen, and might ever see. I can’t wait to see how much more she can achieve, and I only hope she is still at her very best if they take her overseas.

Sunline is a legend that went everywhere and did everything, and connections didn’t shy away from bold challenges. In her second last prep, when she was an established champion and possibly on the slight wane, she still went to handicaps like the Doncaster and Coolmore, and won them carrying 58kgs and 60kgs respectively, giving up to 10kgs to her rivals.

Makybe Diva’s feats will likely never be matched. While the three Melbourne Cups are always going to be what she is remembered for, to become a genuine weight-for-age champion after two of those Cups is extraordinary. What a gifted athlete she was.

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Black Caviar was the most powerful horse I’ve seen, and the only shame was she was so good that any remote rivals she had simply avoided her, and she often took on second class gallopers. We can be grateful she at least had Hay List, and her legacy lived for many years through Buffering, who she schooled a few times. His outstanding Group 1 performances over many years franked the Black Caviar form over and over again.

Justin
Absolutely. The grand points total is perhaps the best measure of the versatility of these great mares. Winx clearly ahead of Sunline, the two middle-distance queens of our time at the top, well clear of the great stayer Makybe Diva with the unbeaten sprinter, Black Caviar, last of the quartet.

This exercise doesn’t do Black Caviar any justice because, as Cam says, she was so powerful. I don’t have any doubt that she is the greatest sprinter to have ever lived and clearly sits within the top ten greatest Australian thoroughbreds in history.

But, as I wrote for The Roar at the time of her retirement in 2013, Black’s Caviar greatest strength – her speed and power – were also the thing that limited her to a sprint trip. In this exercise she was exposed for a lack of stamina.

Luke Nolan salutes the crowd after Black Caviar wins an historic race at Derby Day Randwick. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

(Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

Winx is a truly marvellous champion for horse racing, as is her trainer, the humble Chris Waller. She is so unassuming that you could walk right past her on race-day and not know that she is one of the greatest equine athletes in history.

But on the track she is unparalleled. A complete master of the run-on style to the extent that her dominance detracts from the excitement you would otherwise get from a great horse that likes to come from the back of the field. After all, at her best distance, 2000m, the job is always done a long way from home.

Sunline was a fantastic mare and I really wanted to highlight her fantastic sprint-mile record in this exercise because it is somewhat overshadowed by that incredible victory in the 2000 Cox Plate. If these races actually played out, I would be a little surprised if Sunline only won the single race (1600m) I marked her down for. She was good enough to beat mares of this quality over 1400, 2000 or even 2400m.

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Cam and I have questioned Sunline’s stamina but the mare never really got a chance to show her wares despite being strong at 2000m. We could be wrong but we will never know for sure.

Makybe Diva is always going to be disadvantaged in these sorts of exercises because she is famous for being the ultimate master of Australian staying handicaps – a very niche subject. But, out of all the great mares, she is the only one able to give Winx a head start and a beating! That in itself is seriously impressive.

What a privilege it has been to discuss these great champion mares with Cam. It has been a wonderful reminder of how lucky we have had it as Australian racing fans over the last 20 years to enjoy the feats of such quality performers on the track.

Hopefully on Saturday we get to enjoy another famous moment in the history of this great sport. Go Winx!