Top-level Australian racing returns to Randwick this week with the running of the 2019 G1 Winx Stakes, although the landscape will look decidedly unfamiliar without the greatness of Winx gracing the turf in her namesake race.
With the southern hemisphere racing and breeding season having commenced on August 1, the nation awaits word of Winx being in foal (to an appropriately named sire – I Am Invincible).
I was privileged to see Winx race on my latest two trips to Australia, for her 11th and 31st straight wins. It was surreal to contemplate how she simply hadn't lost in the interim! The most recent experience, in Sydney, was accentuated by my mother having flown down from Brisbane to meet me as I arrived in Australia last March. This was actually for a family ashes scattering on Sydney Harbour, but Winx's appearance at Randwick later that afternoon became an automatic follow-on destination. My mum had watched Winx's incredible streak on TV, with the growing emotional attachment to a racehorse that can only be engendered by a long career. Mum never imagined she would see Winx in the flesh, and for it to happen on the day we saw each other for the first time in 2 1/2 years – amidst so many mixed emotions over our family event – heightened the entire experience for us both. Winx elicited unbridled joy in my mother that afternoon, and I shall never forget Mum's beaming expression immediately after the race.
As Winx's retirement leaves a void, it can be easy to cynically presume that we won't see another “immortal” for some time – if not generations. However, it is remarkable to consider how soon Winx followed the exploits of Makybe Diva and Black Caviar. Just last decade, “The Diva” created history by becoming the first three-time Melbourne Cup winner. Although Black Caviar's 25 straight wins were eclipsed by Winx's 33, the former achieved her astounding total without ever tasting defeat.
While so many precocious colts are prematurely whisked off to stud with “nothing more to prove,” this triumvirate of majestic mares has blessed racing fans with season upon season of record-breaking feats. Considering that all these achievements have occurred within a 16-year span, who are we to say that the next great mare isn't just around the corner?! Incredibly, she might already be in plain view – and is already carrying “Cinderella” status.
Mystic Journey hails from the island state of Tasmania and was purchased for the trifling sum of $11,000. She races for (nationally) unheralded connections and made a big splash earlier this year with six straight wins. The newly-turned 4-year-old resurfaced last weekend with a brilliant G2 victory in Melbourne, and is favorite for October's prestigious Cox Plate (won by Winx a record-setting four straight times).
While Mystic Journey's next appearance is several weeks away, there are plenty of top-notch performers ready to spring forth this Friday night. Appropriately, the season's first Group One race is the Winx Stakes, renamed in her honor when she was still active. This afforded Winx the luxury of winning her own race, which she accomplished with a minimum of fuss. The first Winx-less Winx Stakes (7 furlongs at Randwick) is scheduled for 10.45 p.m. PT (1:45 a.m. ET).
The two headline horses in the Winx Stakes both closed out their last campaigns with consecutive G1 victories. The favorite, Avilius (2/1), carries a 5-for-5 Sydney record into his seasonal debut. However, the Godolphin 6-y-o will be racing below a mile for the first time.
Verry Elleegant (3/1) had some racing habits as quirky as the spelling of her name, but has blossomed into a consummate professional since transferring to Winx's trainer, Chris Waller. The 4-year-old missed a track gallop a week ago after throwing a shoe, but pleased jockey James McDonald in a subsequent workout.
If Waller doesn't win the Winx Stakes, it would be both appropriate and ironic if jockey Hugh Bowman does. Bowman, whose association with Winx was so constant as to have once caused the mare's race schedule to be altered around a suspension Bowman incurred (no “Designated Races” softball in Australia). On Friday, Bowman is jumping aboard the hard-knocking Happy Clapper (4/1), for whom Winx proved such a nemesis by relegating “The Clapper” to runner-up status on no fewer than five occasions.
Winx Stakes Day will be broadcast live on TVG alongside cards from Moonee Valley and Gold Coast. All races will be live-streamed in HD on skyracingworld.com and major ADW platforms such as TVG, TwinSpires, Xpressbet,NYRABets, WatchandWager, HPIbet, AmWager, and BetAmerica. Wagering is also available via these ADW platforms. Fans can get free access to live-streaming, past performances and expert picks on all races at skyracingworld.com.
A native of Brisbane, Australia, Michael Wrona has called races in six countries. Michael's vast U.S. experience includes; race calling at Hollywood Park, Arlington and Santa Anita, calling the 2000 Preakness on a national radio network and the 2016 Breeders' Cup on the International simulcast network. Michael also performed a race call voiceover for a Seinfeld episode called The Subway.
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