A plane painted the word ‘immortal’ in the blue sky above Royal Randwick Racecourse as the PA system thundered out ‘Simply The Best’, the vocals of Tina Turner just audible above the cheers of the crowd. The Travelling Wilberries may have suggested it was ‘The End Of The Line’ and, to an extent it was one; the final race of the career belonging to Australian equine legend Winx who had just become the world’s greatest ever prize money earner. The Melbourne Cup is renowned ‘as the race that stops a nation’ but this one, the 2000m Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes seemingly stopped most of the racing world; if fans were not flying in to watch, in a capacity crowd of 43,833, they were setting their alarms to get up at ‘silly o’clock’ or just making sure they were near a television.
Of those 43,833 it might not be an exaggeration to say all bar 833 were specifically there to bid farewell to Winx, and that minority surely all enjoyed what they witnessed, along with the amazing atmosphere and emotion emitted from the packed stands. They were scrimmaging to just get a view of her being saddled, hundreds, if not thousands, straining to get a glimpse of their heroine. The almost bewildered TV presenter was ‘crowd wrecked’ initially, having to talk over the pictures of Winx in the saddling box from behind a throng of racegoers, the vast majority utilising the cameras on |their phones. Winx appeared not to turn a hair, any big race nerves seemingly left to her connections; defeat on her last start with the world watching was unthinkable?
Apparently not; word is trainer Chris Waller had actually prepared a ‘defeat’ speech, just in case. However, from an early stage it was pretty clear he had wasted time, ink and paper with Hugh Bowman always appearing supremely confident aboard the 7yo daughter of Street Cry. As she loomed large at the top of the straight, the crowd roared, the opposition quaked, soon wilted and the race was over. Hats, newspapers, Winx flags, were all thrown in the air, tears flowed, the ovation was deafening. Bowman paraded her the length of the straight to the delight of her adoring public and you could tell she knew they were there for her and this moment.
Digital photography is obviously the norm today but 20 years ago this would have been the dream situation for every manufacturer and developer of camera film. Every mobile phone ‘in the house’ was recording, be it in video or still photo, the final chapter of an incredible story. The crux, in a nutshell, was this was a 33rd consecutive victory for the mare with 25 of those achieved at Group One level. If you have a good memory or to put things in context, she was beaten, actually six times, early in her career which started in June 2014 with a pair of Randwick victories and another in the September. She then was defeated in six of her next seven starts, the last being exactly four years ago when second in the Group 1 Australian Oaks. Never again did she suffer the indignity of chasing home another rival.
The breeding sheds beckon with names of potential suitors aplenty being suggested. One thing is for certain, whoever is chosen as her partner you can be certain they never beat her on a racecourse: not once was she defeated by a colt, gelding or entire horse! Fittingly ‘The Queen’ retired after victory in a race named after a monarch…
Waller said: “My team has done an amazing job and it’s rare they get the accolades they deserve,” before insisting he had not allowed himself to dream of this moment. “I didn’t think about it,” he said, his voice quivering. “I thought about everything except winning. It’s as simple as that. “You don’t set yourself up for these big wins. You just do your job.”
Bowman joked: “It’s going to be nice to have my life back! We came here as confident as we have ever been. “What a journey it has been. I can’t believe this is the end.”
Part-owner Debbie Kepitis added: “Winx is the most amazing, supreme athlete I’ve ever seen, handled by the best coach.”
Part-owner Peter Tighe, in tears, concluded: “We love her to bits. I want to say a big thank you to everyone right around the world. It has been a great journey and I’m glad everyone has enjoyed it as much as we have.”