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.
Group 1 racing returns to Sydney for the first time since early October, and there is no better way than for such an event to be headlined by the greatest of our time, and probably the greatest of all time, Winx.
Chipping Norton Stakes
We’re creeping up on four years since Winx last tasted defeat, a staggering achievement of equine athleticism, talent and stamina from the horse herself, master training effort from all involved on the Chris Waller team, and nerveless judgement from Hugh Bowman who has been aboard all but two of her 30-race winning streak.
Winx has won three Chipping Nortons already, all of them effortlessly, and while nothing is certain in racing or life, she is surely destined to make it four come Saturday afternoon.
An eclectic mix of horses have run second to Winx in her three previous Chipping Norton’s – Dibayani, Lasqueti Spirit and Prized Icon.
None of these could hold a candle to Happy Clapper, who lines up here in the race for minor prizemoney behind the great mare. He resumed behind Winx in the Apollo Stakes, chasing her home for the seventh time in his career, four of those finishing second.
He has become the Hay List to her Black Caviar, a star in his own right but nowhere close to her.
Happy Clapper will hopefully run well again on his way down to Melbourne for the All-Star Mile at Flemington, where he has been awarded a wildcard.
Chris Waller stables the rest of the field.
Three of these, Patrick Erin, Libran and Brimham Rocks, are on the Sydney Cup trail, and need the run at a mile on their way up in distance through their campaign.
The other two are Egg Tart and Unforgotten, with both mares resuming in the Apollo Stakes behind Winx and Happy Clapper and doing enough for a first-up performance.
Unforgotten has run at the Randwick mile twice before, both last preparation, for a win in the Chelmsford Stakes and third in the Epsom Handicap behind Hartnell. As a four-year-old in the autumn, it’s time to find out exactly where she sits in the WFA ranks.
Egg Tart, like Unforgotten, was once regarded as the next Winx, but such claims are usually tongue-in-cheek. She was beaten as favourite a couple of times in the spring, and has only won one race since her three-year-old season when she finished with six wins in a row including the South Australian and Queensland Oaks.
Happy Clapper will probably be forced to take up the running, and Bowman will settle Winx where she is comfortable in the early and middle stages before making a move when he thinks the time is right. From there, it will only be a question of how far.
2. Happy Clapper
4. Egg Tart
The Surround Stakes has been around for a while but is one of the newest Group 1’s in Australian racing, being awarded that status before the 2018 edition.
This year sees an even betting race with no stand-out filly among the three-year-old’s taking part.
More than half of the field hits the Surround after running in the Light Fingers over 1200m a fortnight ago, stepping up to 1400m now.
Nakeeta Jane won the race, strong late after camping behind a leader that was setting a hectic pace up front. The last time we saw her she ran third in the Group 1 Flight Stakes coming off a maiden win, so we can say now that she is a quality filly.
Madam Rouge was game in second, only getting collared late after taking over at the 300m. She’s never been the most genuine horse, and you never quite know what you’re going to get from her, but perhaps she has matured after having a spell.
The eye-catcher of the Light Fingers was Pohutukawa, who had settled in the last three or four and then had to make a major shift off heels from the 200m, ducking three or four horses to the inside. Once in clear air she let down like a good horse, and it’s worth remembering her soft last-to-first win at Flemington in Cup week – she beat Madam Rouge into second that day, which franks her talent quite well.
El Dorado Dreaming was honest in fourth in the Light Fingers, but didn’t show the acceleration of Nakeeta Jane or Pohutukawa who went past her like she was nailed to the fence. She might be looking for further already.
Melt finished in the ruck after sitting handy and got passed by a few. She doesn’t look top class. Greysful Glamour’s return was a pass mark for a horse on an Oaks trail.
Miss Fabulass was sent out the second favourite in the Light Fingers and put in a basic performance, failing to make an impression in the closing stages. She can put in a bad one, but has been known to bounce back.
Oohood was even more ordinary than Miss Fabulass, and didn’t do a thing from the tail of the field. The jury is now out on the Flight Stakes winner, who also ran third behind The Autumn Sun in the Caulfield Guineas.
Fiesta is the current Surround favourite and is forever around the mark. The only two times she’s missed a place were the Golden Slipper and Thousand Guineas, and took out the million dollar Inglis Sprint at Warwick Farm on resumption three week ago. It’s hard to think she won’t be somewhere around the mark.
Seabrook and Fundamentalist, both placegetters in the Thousand Guineas where Fiesta failed, are up from Melbourne.
Fundamentalist has been placed at Group 1 level three times, including behind The Autumn Sun at two and against the older mares in the Empire Rose last prep. Randwick hasn’t been to her liking so far though, twice well beaten when taking on a number of these horses in the Tea Rose and Flight Stakes last spring.
Seabrook, on the other hand, has already won twice at Randwick, no mean feat for a Victorian filly. Tackling the race first-up means she is something of an unknown, but she’s got a powerful finish on her when right, and could well surprise if the pace is on.
There are a handful of less credentialled horses hitting the race, with Zalatte the pick of these. From the Chris Waller yard and unbeaten in three starts, she’s also first-up here, but has been backed steadily all week. One of her wins was beating Baller into second, who resumed himself with a win at Rosehill last Saturday, and looks a promising colt.
Sister Sledge is coming off a six-length win in maiden grade and is probably the leader. Fundamentalist should be up there, Melt may push across from a wide draw, and Madam Rouge may make use of a good barrier again to push up.
4. Nakeeta Jane
Outside the Group 1s, there’s some other good racing at Randwick.
The Skyline Stakes sees the Melbourne two-year-old form through Microphone pitted up against the Sydney B-graders as they all head to the Golden Slipper. Microphone looks a classic Godolphin professional, and the stable is firing on all cylinders at the moment.
The Sweet Embrace is the fillies two-year-old race on the day, and Enood looks over the odds with a second to Blue Diamond winner Lyre on her resume. Admittedly she’s coming off a fifth in a Warwick Farm maiden, but was coming from last in a race dominated by those in the first four.
The Guy Walter Stakes is also being run, for the older mares over 1400m. The up-and-coming Manicure, lightly raced for James Cummings, looks another great chance for Godolphin to win a stakes race, while the underrated Bella Martini is due a win and could add some value.
But Randwick will be all about Winx on Saturday. We’re getting to the end of her career now, even though it seems she’s racing as well as ever, and this is probably going to be the third last time we see her.