Author: John Berry
The racing world keeps turning, as ever, with endings and new beginnings forever coinciding. The big ending recently, of course, was Winx’s swansong in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick, the highlight of ‘The Championships’ meeting in Sydney. Randwick was ‘sold out’ on Sydney Cup Day as the great mare bowed out, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as she did what she had done on her past 32 starts; she won!. Winx’s 33 race winning streak will remain the stuff of legends forever. It is impossible to overstate the achievement of winning 33 consecutive races, irrespective of the level at which the horse is performing.
When the horse is performing at the highest level (as was the case with Winx, 25 of whose 33 consecutive victories came in Group One races) it is even more special. A good illustration of the length of Winx’s winning streak is provided by a comparison with American Pharoah. She won the first of those 33 races on the same day (16 May 2015) that he won the Preakness Stakes. She completed her sequence nearly four years later, on the same day that American Pharoah sired his first winner (Monarch Of Egypt at Naas)! American Pharoah’s Triple Crown, of course, is already a distant memory, plenty of water (including another Triple Crown triumph, that of Justify in 2018) having flowed under the bridge since then.
The mighty horse’s stud career, though, is just starting off, as Monarch Of Egypt’s impressive debut victory reminded us. He is not the only good horse who went back to square one when they signed off as racehorses in 2015. The foals resultant from their first season at stud, born in 2017, are now helping the young stallions to make a new beginning. Several notable first season sires are already off the mark, with American Pharoah joining the likes of Brazen Beau and Gleneagles, who had both already hit the bullseye with their first European runner. The National Hunt season in the British Isles is coming to a close, with the successive milestones of the Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National Meeting at Aintree and the Scottish Grand National Meeting at Ayr signalling the ‘winding down’ of the season, which then ends with the old ‘Whitbread Meeting’ at Sandown in England and the Punchestown Festival in Ireland.
This ending of the jumps season coincides with new beginnings on the Flat. While Flat racing now takes place around Europe 12 months a year, the winter is still very much ‘off season’. Ireland’s traditional St Patrick’s Day start to the Flat is no longer a fixture and Doncaster’s Lincoln Meeting no longer fires the imagination as it used to do in the days when it meant the resumption of Flat racing after a four and a half month absence (in contrast to the situation nowadays when it signals the resumption after a solitary day break, there usually having been a meeting on the all-weather the previous day).
Nowadays, Britain’s new season comes to life with the Craven Meeting at Newmarket and the Newbury Spring Meeting. The norm is for the Craven Meeting to take place first, midweek, with the Newbury Spring Meeting following immediately on the Friday and the Saturday. This year was different, with Newbury preceding Newmarket because the Craven Meeting falls in Easter week, and Easter weekend has its own racing programme, headlined by Kempton on the Saturday. The Newbury Spring Meeting and the Craven Meeting still hold their allure, notwithstanding that the traditional Classic trials no longer hold much relevance to the 2000 and 1000 Guineas, as many of the main chances tend to go to the Guineas Meeting ‘first up’.
(It should be noted that 2000 Guineas favourite Too Darn Hot was set to run in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury but only missed that race because of heat in a splint bone after galloping earlier in the week). The situation in the USA is very different, where tackling the Kentucky Derby ‘first up’ would be unthinkable and giving a horse a light preparation would never be done by choice. One might have thought that Justify, a horse who did not race as a 2yo, might have signalled a changing of the norm when he won the Triple Crown, but the reality is that he is almost certain to have been an aberration rather than a trendsetter. The US Triple Crown has traditionally been dominated by horses who have had a fair bit of racing under their belts, both as 2yos and early season 3yos.
Things have been the same this year, with all the principals for the Kentucky Derby having had solid racing programmes from last autumn onwards. The Kentucky Derby on the first weekend in May remains a notable landmark in the spring, but it is merely a landmark which follows other significant landmarks which mark out the change from winter to spring. The Florida Derby five weeks before the Kentucky Derby; the Santa Anita Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes four weeks before the Kentucky Derby; the Arkansas Derby three weeks before. Winx’s grand finale was a magnificent sunset. But a wonderful aspect of the great racing game is that there’s always a new beginning, a new dawn to keep us enthralled.