There are moments when Christine Bowman can scarcely believe how much one racehorse has changed her family’s life.
“It feels like we are in this bubble, it is surreal,’’ says Christine, whose husband, Hugh, has built up an incredible bond as the regular rider of Winx, Sydney’s champion of the turf world.
What Winx has been able to achieve on the racetrack defies logic.
She has been unbeatable for three years, recording 24 consecutive wins, a world record 17 Group 1 successes, and an aura of invincibility that has her rated the world’s best racehorse.
Bowman has been part of that record-breaking run, winning 23 of his 24 rides on the great mare, including the last 21 in succession.
But winning doesn’t come without pressure — on the rider Bowman and the man charged with preparing the mighty mare for every challenge, trainer Chris Waller.
Together, Winx, Bowman and Waller are mounting what punters and race fans expect to be an undeniable attempt to win Saturday’s Group 1 $4 million Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000m) at Royal Randwick.
It is where the champion mare is out to equal the 25-race winning streak of another darling of our turf, Black Caviar.
The attention doesn’t stop for Bowman and Waller: television and digital media want vision and sound bites, newspapers want stories all week just like this one, and neither man can walk down the street without being greeted by race fans wanting to talk to them, shake their hands and take selfies.
But as soon as they get home after trackwork, after the yearling sales and after race meetings, the noise stops. They have their sanctuary with their respective wives Christine and Stephanie and their kids.
The front door shuts and the horse talk stops.
Waller and Bowman are both proud fathers of young families and as every parent knows, there is nothing like children to keep you grounded.
Stephanie said Winx’s history-making bid in Saturday’s Queen Elizabeth Stakes is the end result of nearly three months’ planning and preparation by her husband Chris.
“Every time Winx comes back into work, the pressure is there,’’ Stephanie said.
“But at home we don’t talk much about Winx or the horses, to be honest.
“When Chris comes home at the end of his day, he spends time with our children, Tyler and Nikita, and we try to keep everything very normal.
“To the kids, he is just Dad. Our kids barely know what their Dad does. Sometimes, they have come home and said their friends know Winx and they ask us is Winx famous?’’
The Bowmans also rarely discuss Winx when they are at home — because they are simply too busy being parents to their girls Bambi and Paige.
“Our lives are so hectic with our children and Hugh is a bit of a deep thinker, anyway, so we don’t really sit down and chat about Winx or the races,’’ Christine said.
“But this Saturday is a huge event. It has already been a long week and the nerves are starting to kick in as we get closer to the race.
“All we are trying to do is to keep to our routine. I know I have to make sure Hugh is happy and not worried about anything, and keep the girls happy too.’’
But because Winx has become such a household name, and her fame is so great, Bowman and Waller have become very recognisable inside and outside of the racing game.
“We took the girls to the races as Hugh was riding Winx in a track gallop,’’ Christine said. “Then as we were leaving the course with the girls, a lot of people were looking at us, waving and saying hello and that is because of Winx.
“We get an understanding and appreciation of the joy Winx gives to people.’’
Mrs Waller said her husband won’t turn a fan away — even when he’s out and about with the family.
“If someone stops Chris in the street, he gives them the time of day,” she said. “He treats everyone like that. It is part of his job but it is also part of who he is and the way he handles life. He is such a genuine, grounded person.
“He never gets angry, he’s a beautiful man and he has never changed. He just gets more determined and works harder.’’
The wives will watch Saturday’s big race together, huddled alongside Winx’s owners Peter and Patti Tighe, Debbie and Paul Kepitis, and Richard Treweeke.
Neither of the women admit to being very superstitious, although they do share a little-known raceday ritual.
“Stephanie brought these beautiful blue rings for us all a few months ago,’’ Christine said.
“Patti and Debbie wear one, so does Stephanie and I. We all wear the rings when Winx races. I never forget to wear that ring.’’
It may sound strange, but it’s not all glory watching Winx win — the pressure and weight of expectation on racedays can be suffocating, admits Stephanie.
Understandably, she prefers to fast-forward straight to the celebratory moments afterwards.
“We can enjoy the moment when the race is over. It is relief as much as anything,’’ she said.
“It is not all about Winx, and Chris has so many other horses and owners he has to look after and put equal care into.
“But Winx has been amazing for racing and brought so many people together to celebrate a champion. It is pretty special.
“It is going to be sad when she stops racing, but at the same time there might even be a bit of relief as well.’’ – Ray Thomas, The Daily Telegraph