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Friday, 18 January, 2019

Winx does it again but where is she now on the global stage?

Sam Walker considers the next steps for the Aussie superstar

Star on parade: racegoers watch eagerly as Winx prepares to head out on to the track
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Winx is consistent. She turns up, runs her race and wins. She’s also classy, having blitzed the Cox Plate field to become the highest-rated turf horse on the planet, and it was business as usual for her return to action on Monday.

Her first win of the new year came in the Apollo Stakes at Randwick. It was just a Group 2, run at a familiar track against familiar rivals, but Winx turned on the style yet again to bag her 14th win in a row.

Her favourite whipping boy Hartnell plugged on for second, making the result all the more predictable as the Godolphin six-year-old has finished runner-up behind Winx for three of her last five wins.

The superstar mare was eased close home in the 7f contest and didn’t have to produce her best to score by a tidy two and three-quarter lengths, registering an RPR of 125.

As far as this season is concerned we should expect more of the same as Winx has an all-Australia path mapped out which will closely resemble the one she followed last year: two more races leading into The Championships and a further three leading into the Cox Plate.

Although the mare has class and consistency, it is clearly the latter connections are seeking to highlight as the winning tally and a third Cox Plate appear to dominate their thoughts, with the idea of proving her class on the international stage seemingly not on the radar.

If she wins everything this season, as well she might, Winx’s winning sequence after the Cox Plate would be up to 21 and her three Plate victories would see her equal the record set by Kingston Town. So you can see their thinking behind playing it safe.

After this year there is talk of taking Winx overseas, although with 30-odd races under her belt and rising seven there will be plenty of excuses to hand if she is beaten on her 2018 round-the-world victory lap. Which again could be seen as a reason to wait.

The 2017 schedule might appear a bit low-key for the best turf horse in the world, but American star Zenyatta chartered similar waters, sticking to mares’ races and winning cheekily all year before her annual end-of-season showdown at the Breeders’ Cup – and she was beloved by all because she kept winning the races that were there for her to win.

Winx falls squarely into the same category and unlike Zenyatta, who finished ahead of her in the Racing Post’s recent Queens of the Turf series (in which they placed 17th and 28th respectively), at least Winx is taking on the boys every time she runs.

But as connections plough on with showcasing her consistency, the question over where she sits on the class spectrum remains.

If something smart pops up in Japan or Europe this year, then Winx’s regular wins over Hartnell may not be enough for her to secure the title again this time around.

In fact her best shot at proving her world title credentials may come from a different source as it was announced last week that Caulfield Cup winner Jameka is bidding to boost the Australian middle-distance formbook with an audacious raid on Europe.

This is not the most obvious path to take. Criterion attempted something similar in 2015, with trainer David Hayes saying he wanted an Aussie middle-distance horse to go to Europe and “do the reverse of what they’ve done to us”. It didn’t work as Criterion finished fifth in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and sixth in the Juddmonte International.

But, buoyed by the global appeal of Winx and the WBRR’s optimistic appraisal of the Aussie form in 2016, this year Jameka’s connections are looking at the biggest prizes in Europe to see if it they can turn the world order on its head.

Jameka was beaten by Hartnell in the Turnbull Stakes and Hartnell is clearly a few lengths slower than Winx, so if Jameka can make her mark in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe it would frank Winx’s form enormously.

However, for her to land either race would go against the grain of everything we know about international form lines. Good luck to connections and well done for thinking outside the box, but with a peak RPR of 115 Jameka would realistically be looking at around a six-length defeat in a typical King George. 

Both the Racing Post and the WBRR committee adjudged her the best turf horse on the planet last season, but that was partly down to a weak showing from the top horses in countries which traditionally produce the best turf horses

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