They don’t celebrate the wins for wins anymore – they just breathe a sigh of relief that she’s not beaten. Never has a world record been smashed with so little out-and-out euphoria.
They smiled and kissed and hugged and did all the things you do when you win a $1 million race, but so rarefied and pressurised is the air Winx now floats through every time she shimmies to victory it’s just a cue to breathe again.
“It’s like you’re playing for the All Blacks and you’re about to get dropped,” trainer Chris Waller said as Winx chalked up a 24th straight win – her world-best 17th at group 1 level – in the George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill on Saturday. “It’s a sick feeling in your guts every time she goes around.”
They’ve long prepared for the day the unthinkable happens. But it wasn’t on Golden Slipper day, 25 years after a young Waller strapped a horse in the world’s richest two-year-old race.
Royal Ascot? Waller stresses the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick, where she will vie to equal Black Caviar’s record of 25 consecutive wins, will come before any potential date with the Queen herself. For now, he’s just happy another picket line has been added to the form guide.
“The intensity is just unexplainable,” Waller said. “I don’t know why, or if it is just me? You enjoy the after part of the race, crossing the line. You have that sense of responsibility not to go crazy and make sure you are fully respecting your competition and where she is at in her career.
“Three weeks between runs is quite good, but the intensity in that last week becomes sickening if you think about it too much. I’m lucky I have got a lot of distractions.
“[But] she has sort of outgrown the distraction, she is constantly there. That wasn’t the case a year ago. You are just thinking of her all the time. Not for everything else, but to make sure the horse is alright.”
Added part owner Peter Tighe: “It’s much more of a relief now. The old adage is with every win you get closer to a loss. And you feel that. She was great again today, but it just gets harder.”
They came closer than most thought in the George Ryder, that grand old campaigner Happy Clapper pushing and shunting all the way down the Rosehill straight to finish within three-quarters-of-a-length of Winx. But they’ve come close before and still can’t get past her.
“They are high-class horses and I’ve never treated her opposition with disrespect, I’ve always treated them with the respect they deserve,” Winx’s jockey, Hugh Bowman, said.
“Happy Clapper is a supreme athlete and look this mare is just better than them. I have so much confidence in her, she gave me such a thrilling feeling as she did everyone watching here today.”
Happy Clapper’s loveable trainer Pat Webster “dared to dream at the 300 metre mark”. Unwiser men have been in the same spot and are always delivered the same fate against Winx. It’s the third time he has run second to the great mare.
“She’s just too good,” he shrugged.
But his main concern was how he has to give more weight to Kementari, a length adrift of Happy Clapper for third in the George Ryder Stakes , and beat the Randwick Guineas hero in the Doncaster Mile.
“It was an amazing run again,” Happy Clapper’s rider Blake Shinn said. “Running into Winx is a bit hard to swallow. He’s put his heart and soul into every run. It was a great run. Bring on the Doncaster.”
Winx won’t be there. But she’ll be back seven days after that with Black Caviar in her sights. Try breathing after that. – Adam Pengilly, Sydney Morning Herald