It is a magical thing when a horse has the extraordinary star power to capture the imagination of sports fans – not just racing fans – and unite people as one in support.
As a young child in the early 1980s, I remember the star power of Kingston Town and Manikato
The two champion warhorses came back year in, year out, constantly winning big races even as their bodies tired against the wear and tear of the task.
The King and The Man, they set the benchmark. Australian sports fans loved them.
John Henry had a similar impact in the United States during that same era. The courageous champion dominated sports coverage as he progressed from claiming races to the Hall of Fame, still winning Group 1 races as a nine-year-old after seven years on the track.
These days, it has become tougher for a horse to achieve that feat as the coverage of so many other sports has increased, making racing fight harder for its share of the sporting spotlight.
In Australia, a few have champions have gone close to reaching that mark.
Bonecrusher, Vo Rogue, Better Loosen Up, Super Impose, Let’s Elope, Octagonal, Saintly, Sunline, Northerly and Takeover Target all went close. True champions of racing but they, arguably, just fell short in capturing the wider sporting fan’s imagination.
Hong Kong had Silent Witness, who was the pin-up boy for the famed racing jurisdiction.
The great Makybe Diva united all sports fans in that magical spring carnival of 2005 as she entered legend status, claiming a historic third successive Melbourne Cup and a Cox Plate along the way.
Black Caviar and Frankel, both undefeated and considered world champions, spent more time leading news bulletins and appearing on the front pages of newspapers than any other racing champion in modern times.
What was utterly amazing with Black Caviar and Frankel is that rapturous applause would break out from the big crowds that would watch them race as far as 600m from the finish as it was that apparent that the champions would win. And the applause would last long after the finish.
WATCH: Winx dominate at Flemington
Winx is the same. She has captured the wider sporting public’s adoration.
For champion trainer Chris Waller, he remains in awe of what his mare can do.
“To win at Flemington in the way that she did is just so very special,” Waller said.
“It’s always a bit of pressure coming to the big days but it is great to see Melbourne embracing her and not just the general racing punters but also sporting people.
“The general public have just embraced her.”
A crowd of 20,282 turned up at Flemington to watch Winx win the Turnbull Stakes, well up on the previous year’s attendance of 11,294 and the biggest Turnbull Stakes meeting attendance since 2009 of 20,736.
Along with the trackside coverage provided by Racing.com, Channel 7 promoted the meeting from its 7Two channel to the main channel, giving the meeting extraordinary exposure of mainstream coverage.
“Obviously, she is on the mainstream television and just to get that extra audience is great for our sport firstly, but from a horse perspective, she is a rock star,” Waller said.
“That adds a bit of pressure but to see her do what she did in the Turnbull was truly Winx at her best.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, in my own mind I was very happy with her and I didn’t have legitimate excuses for her not being as impressive in winning her previous three starts.
“She looks fantastic and her times have been brilliant, the only feedback I get from the stables has been so positive.
“It was good to see her win the way that she did.”
Waller believes that the 2000m distance is perfect for Winx, especially when it is run at a true tempo throughout as occurred in the Turnbull Stakes.
“There is no training manual for a horse like Winx,” Waller said.
“In trials and track work, she just does what she needs to do.
“But it is in a race when the pressure is on that she can excel and show that she is just a little bit different.
“She has an amazing will to win, it is second to none of what I have seen in my stable and I have had some great horses.
“How she overcomes situations sets her apart, whether it be tempo related or being so far back in the run, like we have seen in her recent starts in Sydney. How she can handle wet tracks just as easily as firm, how she absorbs the Cox Plate pressure, she just seems to cope with it all.
“In races, it is often the last 200m when the pressure comes on and that is where she gets her chance to be dominant.”
Waller had long waited to bring Winx to Flemington so that the mare could experience the long home straight, something he refers to as ‘paradise for a horse’.
It is now all systems go for Winx to attempt a third successive win in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley on October 28 and Waller admits that he will find it hard to enjoy the experience due to the immense pressure.
“There are so many variables in racing and sport,” Waller said.
“You try and eliminate as many variables as you can.
“What I will say with Winx, she is in great form so we have ticked that box.
“We know that the Cox Plate is not a problem, that Moonee Valley is not a problem, the distance is not a problem, nor the weather.
“It’s now just up to the sport and racing Gods and that everything goes to plan as she will give everybody a hell of a sight.”
Expect the sold out sign to go up at Moonee Valley on October 28. – Racing.com