I have some catching up to do after an ordinary day in the wet last Saturday.
Autumn is finally here and so is the good Group 1 racing, with the return of Winx seeking a 23rd straight career victory in the 2018 Group 1 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m).
Winx is looking to win her third straight Chipping Norton at odds of around $1.06-1.08, particularly short when first-up. She’s had a slightly disjointed start to her season as they missed her usual starting point of the Apollo Stakes while waiting for Hugh Bowman’s suspension to clear.
And the great mare didn’t have the best time of things in her early work in spring, notably when very slow to leave the barrier when first-up in the Warwick Stakes, but champions overcome adversity, and it’d still be very very hard to see her beaten given the weight-for-age conditions and the fact that her rivals aren’t exactly Group 1 milers.
At trackwork on Thursday, trainer Chris Waller and trusted jockey Bowman both said very good things about the superstar physical and mental condition.
“She was very strong this morning,” Bowman said. “I think she’s more excited about race day than we are.
— Racing NSW (@racing_nsw) February 28, 2018
“She’s been going along really nicely, all preparation and this morning suggested to me, the way she worked, she’s ready to go to the races.
“The first question Chris asked me when I got off her, ‘how is she compared to last preparation?’.
“The short answer is she’s more settled which suggests to me that’s she’s happier in her own skin.
“Trying to determine is she better, is she worse, it’s really until we get to the races and see her perform, that’s a question we can’t answer but mentally and physically she couldn’t be in a better position.”
Waller said he and his team had done everything they could for her to be ready, despite the hiccup to her schedule.
“We’ve done everything we can to make sure she’s fit and well to go over a mile first-up,” Waller said. “She’s fit and well and it’s a good way to start her preparation.
“To offset being at the mile first-up, we gave her the extra trial, an extra pre-season game.”
So, can anything challenge her tomorrow? In a word, no. It’s a pretty average field but at least she has a more than a handful of rivals.
Prized Icon is a very good horse with two wins at Group 1 level, although we haven’t seen a huge amount recently. The former Cummings galloper should still offer something, especially with the track looking like a Soft 5 or 6 and some nice cushion in the surface.
Vinland has come up from Melbourne with trainer Tony McEvoy seeking a damp track which he has. He’s rising through the ranks, with two wins from seven starts and started this preparation at Group 3 level six lengths off the winner. He’s one to include in the quinella at odds, as he aims towards the Randwick Guineas.
The Waterhouse-Bott trained Stampede is likely to run well on a soft track as well, while Libran is up to this grade but only over quite a bit further. Who Shot Thebarman goes around again which is great to see, and will be one of the best placed on a soft track, but if he won over this distance half of Australia would need a Bex and a lie down.
I could go through others but this is really just about Winx and ticking the boxes. Waller confirmed next up for her will be the George Ryder Stakes, while the connections of the horse are still yet to decide if she runs in the lucrative Queen Elizabeth Stakes as part of The Championships, or if she sets sail to Great Britain for a campaign at the famous Royal Ascot meeting.
I’d like to see her taking on the best in the world at Ascot. She doesn’t need to do it to prove anything; those arguments just have no credibility. But it would be wonderful to see her stamp herself as the world’s Queen of the turf, in front of another Queen, and racing royalty.