The wonder mare that is Winx will run her final race on Saturday at Randwick in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m), where she is expected to win once again, her 37th career win, the same number that Phar Lap finished on.
With the mare being retired, the discussion has been strong the past couple of weeks. Where does she sit in terms of all time greats that have graced the Australian turf. Well, here’s my top ten.
And note this list is based on both what I’ve seen as well as records, career history and remarkable deeds of certain horses.
10 – Lonhro: He ticked pretty much every box, bar two. He didn’t win a handicap at the top level and didn’t win a Cox Plate. Everything else about him was just stunning. Octagonal didn’t have the greatest of careers at stud, but his shining light was this boy, who finished his career with 26 wins from 35 career starts, 11 of those wins coming at Group l level. His 2003/04 season was just world class, winning eight of his ten starts, with the two defeats coming in the Cox Plate and in his farewell in the Queen Elizabeth when second to iron horse Grand Armee. He’s probably the best horse to have never won a Cox Plate. He had the ability. It was clear to see. But he just didn’t handle Moonee Valley. His career at stud was a bit better than his dad, but still, probably not up to the early expectations. But what a champion.
9 – Takeover Target: Hollywood would laugh at you if you came up with the story line that a battling taxi driver spent $1250 to buy a horse and the pair went on to conquer the world become the best sprinter on the planet. But that is indeed the story of Takeover Target and Joe Janiak, who was a globetrotter for a number of years, winning Group l races in four different countries, something that hasn’t really been done since him, which speaks volumes of the class and greatness this horse had despite the unfashionable trainer/jockey combo, with Jay Ford doing most of the steering. He raced for over five years and 21 races from 41 starts, amassing $6 Million in prizemoney and giving race fans such joy.
8 – Sunline: What a gem she was. The late Trevor McKee was a bit hesitant on training her early on in the piece but she gradually showed signs of being handy. She won her first four races in NZ before coming to Sydney and she only needed 87 seconds in the Furious Stakes to show the racing world she was something else. She dominated the 1998 Princess Series in Sydney before coming back in the Autumn to win the Doncaster. From there, it was just stunning to watch her. The two Cox Plate wins were brilliant examples of sustained speed, she beat a world class animal in Fairy King Prawn to win the Hong Kong Mile, ran so courageously in the Dubai Duty Free. It’s hard to pick out her best win, but I’d say her gutsiest win was the 2002 Doncaster. Had to lump 58kg against a quality field, leading throughout. She was there to be beaten, Shogun Lodge came and surged, but just missed.
7 – Northerly: ‘The Fighting Tiger’ has arguably been the best ever horse to have come from WA. Fred Kersley trained this warrior, who didn’t have the best winning strike rate, with 19 wins from 37 starts, but on the big stage, rarely did he misfire. The champion qualities were there for all to see when beating a low flying Sunline in an epic 2001 Cox Plate before repeating the dose 12 months later. A week prior to that Cox Plate win in 2002, he scored one of the more courageous Caulfield Cup wins of the modern era when carrying 58kg and sitting on speed to beat off a quality field. That 2002 prep probably was the last time we saw the best of him. His 2003 Autumn was good, but nowhere near the level of what he produced prior, but at his best, he was near impossible beat.
6 – Taj Rossi: In terms of sustained excellence, he’s not top ten, but his 1973 Spring preparation was something we won’t see ever again. He was a rank outsider when winning the Ascot Vale, beating up a high quality field with ease. He then won an open handicap with 61.5kg comfortably before winning the Moonee Valley Stakes, which made him a clear favourite in the Caulfield Guineas, but unfortunately he bumped his head when rearing and badly missed the start. Rattled home for fourth, but clearly should have won. Bart Cummings then sent him to the Cox Plate where he defeated Caulfield Cup winner Swell Time in outstanding fashion. Seven days later, Taj Rossi went to the Derby and again showed his brilliance with a commanding win. Prep done surely. No way. He backed up a week later in the George Adams, taking on the best milers in Australia and producing an unbelievable finale to win. Surely was that enough…not for Bart, who backed him up seven days later in the Sandown Guineas. Unfortunately he got a virus in the following Autumn and was never the same horse but that 73 Spring campaign, we won’t see again. Freakish, and Roy Higgins did declare multiple times that Taj Rossi was the best horse he ever rode.
5 – So You Think: Bart Cummings always said Galilee was the best horse he trained, but So You Think would have taken that title had he stayed in Australia. He was just a freak animal and proved it on the world stage. Won 14 of his 23 starts, two Cox Plates, the first one at start five. No doubt in my mind that he remained with Bart, he would have won a third Cox Plate, potentially fourth. The 2010 Spring Carnival was just about perfection, taking all before him, including a second Cox Plate, winning the Mackinnon before starting fav in the Melbourne Cup where the wet track brought him undone when third to Americain. Coolmore got into him and he went overseas, where he showed the racing world how good he was, winning several majors under Aidan O’Brien and running a mighty fourth in the 2011 Arc behind Danedream. Had he stayed in Australia under Bart, he could well have been held in the same regard as the mare retiring on Saturday.
4 – Makybe Diva: We know the Melbourne Cup is the race that stops a nation, and a portion of the world, but the 2005 Melbourne Cup was an occasion where the nation stopped for a horse. Makybe Diva was going for three Melbourne Cups, a feat we will never see again, and despite carrying topweight and taking on a quality field, she made a mess of them and went to legend status. Most remember her for the three Cup wins, but you can also chuck in a Sydney Cup, an Australian Cup, a BMW, a mighty Cox Plate win and a narrow second in the 2004 Caulfield Cup. The negative with her is that she failed overseas in two runs in Japan, but in hindsight, she shouldn’t have gone over after a gutbusting BMW win. Also bear in mind with her is that in her final prep, she produced one of best wins in the history of the Memsie Stakes, coming home from last to beat a high quality field, including Group l winner and proven sire Barely A Moment. The Diva was well and truly something else and is the only horse in history to win a race in four Melbourne Cup weeks.
3 – Winx: In terms of the way she wins and how dominant she is, there’s no question she’s the best Australia has seen. She’s going for 33 on the bounce in the Queen Elizabeth and will win in a canter, like she has done in the majority of her wins during her streak. Four Cox Plates is something I doubt we will ever seen again. I know some will shout from the roof tops against what I’ll say now. The deeds of Chris Waller and his stable to keep this mare happy for so long and racing consistently at a world class level is a remarkable achievement. But, while she has been horses who would be considered champions in any other era ie Hartnell, Happy Clapper, there have been races where she has beaten some lowly ranked opposition, including the likes of Dibayani, Lasqueti Spirit and Red Excitement from early on in the streak. The other negative, IMO, is that she didn’t go overseas. To be considered the best in the world, you have to showcase it on the world stage, and yes, there were some internationals that came here to beat, namely Highland Reel, but for the most part, there were no serious international challengers for the mare, and dodging an overseas campaign, if there’s going to be one thing missing on her CV, is that. Everything else speaks for itself and it’ll be a pleasure to watch her bow out a winner on the weekend.
2 – Phar Lap: Some of his deeds and records will never be seen again on a race track. But he was more than a horse for Australia. The Great Depression hit the world, especially Australia and during that time, it was hard to get motivated for anything. Unless Phar Lap was racing. He didn’t set the world on fire to start with, but the Spring of 1929 is when his greatness began, dominating the 3YO Classics, running third in the Melbourne Cup, beating the older horses at WFA in the Autumn…he did it all. But that was just the start, as he went on to win the 1930 Melbourne Cup with absolute ease, carrying 63kg, not before being shot at on Derby Day several days prior, where he narrowly avoided death. But as he continued to win, the weights kept creeping up. He was winning carrying 60kg+ throughout 1931 before being asked to carry 68kg in the 1931 Melbourne Cup. Harry Telford, Dave Davis and Tommy Woodcock reluctantly agreed to run him and he just had no hope of winning, but some consider that run his best. He went to Tijuana to win the Agua Caliente before dying a couple of weeks later. He won 37 races, admittedly at times beating two and three horse fields, but his record is there for all to see, most notably the 1930 Melbourne Cup Week where he won the Mackinnon on Derby Day, won the Cup, won on Oaks Day then won Fisher Plate on the last day. Just freakish.
1 – Black Caviar: Sometimes we underestimate perfection and that is what Black Caviar was. 25 from 25, beat everything before her, won at Royal Ascot despite being busted…she was just beautiful to watch. Her stardom wasn’t apparent early, even after her first seven wins, but it was the Darley Classic of 2010 where she really stamped herself, spanking a high class field down the Flemington straight and doing with absolute ease, as we’ve become to expect. Carried 58kg to win a Newmarket, had “that” clash with Hay List in the TJ Smith. Could go on forever about her record, but the 2012 campaign was the standout. Won the Australia Stakes first up and given how well she relaxed in the run, more ground would be no issue, so Peter Moody stepped her up to 1400m in the CF Orr and she won it like a barrier trial. The greatness came again a week later when coming back in trip to 1000m to contest the Lightning and she accounted for Hay List again. You could write a book about the trip to England but the record will say she won the Diamond Jubilee and beat a world class horse in Moonlight Cloud. As good as the win streak of Winx has been, there is just nothing like perfection, and Black Caviar was that.