Farewells and Thank Yous
Royal Randwick racecourse, 2004. The Queen Elizabeth Stakes would be Lonhro’s last race day before retirement and he was going for his fifth straight win that campaign. The sun was shining, the stands were bursting and the grounds were awash with the colour cerise. Promotional staff dressed as jockeys handed out cerise coloured Krispy Kreme donuts, visors and badges to racegoers as they streamed in the gates. Everyone had Lonhro fever!
Alas the Black Flash, having to come to the extreme outside on the home turn and work overtime to close a big gap, would finish second behind Grand Armee.
Nine years later, Royal Randwick racecourse, 2013. The T.J Smith Stakes would be Black Caviar’s 25th consecutive win. Again, the crowds packed in and the Sydney track was alive with colour but this time, it was salmon and black. Whilst it wasn’t confirmed until 4 days after the race, we were all there knowing retirement was looming and it would be the last time we would see her in Sydney.
Fast forward six years to last Saturday, another Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day. Another racehorse has captured the attention and the hearts of the nation. Again, the sun shone down on Randwick, the stands overflowed. Patrons jostled ten deep at the saddling enclosure to catch a glimpse of their latest four-legged champion. The colour of the day – blue and white.
Lohnro, Black Caviar and Winx all had the airs, the attitude and the grace of a champion, because that’s exactly what they are. We’re a nation built off the back of a horse, a nation that craves a sporting win. And when we get it, we celebrate our athletes with front page news, sold out stadiums, biographies, TV stories, fashion magazine spreads.
Winx is majestic, athletic, sleek, confident. She drew us in, and teased us – would she jump clean from the barriers, have to weave through the pack or have a clear run down the outside? Each race was unexpected, leaving us holding our breath until it was time to applaud.
Unfortunately I wasn’t at Randwick this time. But on Saturday, like all her races before, my son Benji and I watched in awe and we cheered her home with tears in our eyes. (Ok I lie, there was one race we weren’t cheering for her – the 2017 Chelmsford Stakes when my father’s Red Excitement gave her a 12 length head start, but she still motored and got him in the last few strides.)
I’m not sure what posters other 10 year old boys have on their walls, but Benji’s walls are a shrine to Winx. Beanies, hats, posters, pins. A signed photo with Hugh Bowman, as well as a pair of his goggles. He can’t quite articulate what it is about her that has him hooked, just that “she’s awesome!”. It only seemed fitting that for this post, I asked Benji to give me his Top 5 Winx moments. So here they are (written by him):
# 5 - 2016 Breakfast with the Best before Winx’s 2nd Cox Plate. A friend of mum’s gave me a blue Winx hat and I got Hugh and Chris to sign it. I wore it to the Cox Plate and everyone wanted to buy it off me!
# 4 - July school holidays 2017. Visiting my Poppy at Rosehill, he took me out to the trainer’s hut in the middle of the track. I saw Chris Waller and he asked me if I’d like to come up to his stables to meet Winx. Obviously I said yes and got to pat her!
# 3 – 2017 Cox Plate, Winx’s 3rd. I was hanging over the mounting yard fence to watch her parade before the race. Chris and Hugh and Ben (her track rider) all said hello to me and then Mrs Tighe walked over and gave me a blue Winx colours pin! I was so excited and it’s still my lucky pin!
# 2- 2017 Warwick Stakes is one of my favourites of her races. Winx missed the kick by four lengths settling last the whole way. The mighty grey Foxplay challenged her and it looked like the day where Winx would lose. But no, she bolts from last and narrowly defends her crown. I was so relieved when the caller Darren Flindell said “Yes she got up!” My heart was going 1000km an hour!
# 1- Her last race is definitely my favourite moment. I had been very sick at home on the couch but Winx gave me my power back! I went to my room and put on all my Winx stuff. I pretended to be Hugh riding her and did a ‘she’s apples’ when she won! I’m so glad I got to meet her but also sad I won’t get to see her race again.
The 2019 Australian Racing Hall of Fame will be held in Brisbane next month, on 17th May. Both Lonhro and Black Caviar are already Hall of Famers. An induction for Winx this year only seems too fitting.