Source : Racenet, by Ray Thomas.
Chris Waller trained his 150th Group 1 winner in a race named after his all-time great champion and with a mare racing in the famous all-cerise colours of the Ingham family.
The synergies were sublime as Fangirl stormed home to win the first major of the new season, the $1m Winx Stakes (1400m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Waller prepared four of the first five placegetters in the feature weight-for-age race and became just the fourth to train 150 Group 1 winners after legendary racing identities Bart Cummings (246), Tommy Smith (246) and Gai Waterhouse (154).
To achieve the feat in the Winx Stakes and with Fangirl, owned by the Ingham family, made the win even more special for the Hall of Fame trainer.
“Fangirl’s win was a fitting result, 150 Group 1s, in the cerise (silks) and in the Winx Stakes,” Waller said.
“Winx just took us to a level we weren’t used to. She took over my life and was so good for racing.
“I remember I had three Group 1 winners the day when Winx gave me my 100th Group 1 win in her final race, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
“We also had Verry Elleegant in the ATC Australian Oaks and Shraaoh in the Sydney Cup. We were focused on Winx that day but you don’t forget the Group 1 wins.
“I’m fortunate to have an amazing team that keeps producing good horses. One Group 1, you never forget them, but to win 150, I thank my team.”
Remarkably, Waller’s milestone moment with Fangirl came just 15 years after he prepared his first Group 1 winner with Triple Honour in the 2008 Doncaster Handicap.
Fangirl ($5), ridden by James McDonald, made her winning run down the centre of the track to win the Winx Stakes by a short neck from stablemate Princess Grace ($21) who had to make her run on the worst part of the track near the inside to be beaten narrowly.
Zaaki ($4.80 favourite) looked likely to give jockey Jamie Kah a fairytale comeback Group 1 win when she raced to the front at the 300m but was run down near the line, finishing within a half-length of the winner.
“She dug deep today, she deserved that,” McDonald said of Fangirl
“Now the big boy (Anamoe) is out of the way, she’s a five-year-old, she’s fully furnished. It’s fantastic for the (owners) Inghams and it’s great to get a Group 1 on her.
“She’s such a high-class mare and she’s been working extremely well. Obviously the second horse (Princess Grace) darted up there as well and she’s a high-class mare (too).”
Waller saddled up seven runners in the race with Hinged (fourth) and Osipenko (fifth) just behind the placegetters, Montefilia (eighth) finishing strongly wide out, stayer Francesco Guardi (10th) was only three lengths from the winner and Lindermann (12th) after working hard form his wide barrier.
Others to catch the eye in a star-studded Winx Stakes were comeback galloper Think It Over finishing a close sixth and Duais producing the fastest closing 200m sectional to place seventh.
But all honours were with Waller, McDonald and Fangirl after a thrilling finish to the Winx Stakes.
Fangirl had finished second in three Group 1 races behind champion Anamoe last year including the Winx Stakes but with that horse retired to stand at Darley Stud this spring, Waller’s mare scored a deserved big-race win.
“Fangirl was the Happy Clapper (to Anamoe) so she has got her day in the sun again today,” Waller said referring to Happy Clapper always racing in Winx’s shadow.
With seven Winx Stakes runners, Waller was asked which horse he was concentrating on and the trainer replied: “Zaaki!”
“When Zaaki hit the front at the 300, I thought he was home and he had a good dash,” Waller said.
“I spoke to Annabel (Neasham, trainer) before the race and she said Zaaki was very well, but she’d only given him one trial so I think he might have just tired late but he’s a great horse.”
Waller said Fangirl is likely to be aimed at the Group 1 $5 million King Charles III Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick on Everest Day, October 14.
Fangirl is part-owned by Debbie Kepitis and it was her father, the late Bob Ingham who approached Waller in 2007 to train for the “Cerise Army”.
“It was before my first Group One winner when Mr Ingham gave me a call so it’s pretty special to win with Fangirl,” he said.
Little Surfer Girl, the dam of Fangirl, was among the first batch of yearlings Ingham purchased for Waller.
“She (Little Surfer Girl) was out of Special Harmony and an expensive yearling who won a few stakes races,” Waller recalled.
“The Ingham family has just made me feel so welcome and taken the pressure off all the way through. They’ve never said, oh we need to do better, they’ve never said, we’d like to win this race, they just give constant support.”
To complete a remarkable set of synergies, Kepitis is also a part-owner of all-time great Winx, winner of her 33 consecutive races to close out her career including a world record 25 at Group 1 level culminating with the unforgettable 2019 Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Winx won the Warwick Stakes in 2016-17 and was so good, the renamed the race in her honour and she duly won the Winx Stakes in 2018.
Photo: Fangirl, by Ashlea Brennan