Winx begins road to Cox Plate three-peat in tonight’s Warwick

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August 18th, 2017

Australian superstar Winx, the world’s top-rated turf horse and second only to dirt champion Arrogate overall, kicks off her campaign tonight in the Warwick (G2) at Randwick. The winner of her past 17 in a row, she bids to prolong her streak in the about seven-furlong stakes carded as the 6TH race, with a post time of 1 a.m. (EDT).

Although international racing fans are eager to see Winx venture abroad for fresh challenges, trainer Chris Waller is keeping his eyes on her next major objective: a tilt at a three-peat in the October 28 Cox Plate (G1). If she prevails, Winx would emulate another legend, Kingston Town, the only horse so far to take Australia’s weight-for-age championship three times (1980-82).

Winx has not raced since demolishing them in the April 8 Queen Elizabeth (G1) during The Championships at Randwick:

But she’s got an outstanding record when returning to action, and her last three preparations have all begun with victories over this course and distance. The Street Cry mare opened the second half of 2016 in this very race, posting a dominant score in the Warwick, and she likewise started 2017 with an emphatic repeat in the Apollo (G2).

Moreover, Winx signaled that she may be even sharper in this reappearance. She saves her best for raceday rather than burning up barrier trials, but for the first time in her storied career, she “won” such a practice heat on August 8:

“She's exactly where we want her to be,” Waller said in a media gathering, transcribed by “Each preparation has been a little bit different and quite remarkably she seems to be getting a little bit bigger and stronger, and the scales would suggest that as well.

“To see her in such good health, her body language suggests she's a very happy horse and has still got that enthusiasm to race, so we're really looking forward to the year ahead.”

Winx followed up her barrier trial with a Thursday gallop at Rosehill, again impressing observers:

Drawn in post 2 with regular pilot Hugh Bowman, Winx should make it number 18 without too much trouble. Her stablemates Foxplay and Antonio Giuseppe will try to furnish a clean sweep for Sydney’s champion trainer.

Foxplay, one of last season’s leading sophomore fillies, capped her campaign by defeating older distaffers in the Queen of the Turf (G1) over a metric mile on this course. The daughter of Foxwedge had previously scored in her own division in Randwick’s Tea Rose (G2) (at this distance) and Furious (G2) (in her reappearance), as well as beating three-year-old males in the Phar Lap (G2) at Rosehill. Foxplay does her best work late, and her typically strong finish presages an all-Waller exacta. The gray, who inherits her coat color from broodmare sire El Prado, counts as her third dam champion Eliza.

Antonio Giuseppe progressed from streaking handicapper into Group 1 performer when finishing second in the 2016 Metropolitan (G1) at about 1 1/2 miles. After winning first up at about 7 1/2 furlongs last preparation, in handicap company, he was second in the Sky High (G3) and fourth in the Ranvet (G1), both over about 1 1/4 miles, and never got involved in the metric mile of the Doncaster (G1). As a son of 2009 Melbourne Cup (G1) winner Shocking, it’s not shocking that Antonio Giuseppe is better suited to longer trips. Yet he reportedly trialed well in Winx’s barrier race, and gets an equipment change – he removes blinkers and gets the “winkers” (cheekpieces) back on.   

Ecuador is eligible to crack the minor awards at a big price, making the Waterhouse/Bott trainee arguably the best value play underneath. Second to Winx in the Epsom (G1) back in 2015, he sports an 8-4-2-2 mark at this trip, including close thirds in the C.F. Orr (G1) and Futurity (G1) last preparation. As an older male, he’s conceding six pounds to Foxplay. The High Chaparral gelding is also giving five pounds to Winx, as if she needed it. Nevertheless, as a pace factor who historically runs very well fresh, Ecuador can hang on for a share.

The only Group 1-winning male in the line-up is Inference, the last-to-first hero of the Randwick Guineas (G1) on a heavy track here in March. As that implies, the well-named son of So You Think prefers a longer distance at this level, befitting a runner-up in the about 1 1/4-mile Rosehill Guineas (G1) and a troubled third in the about 1 9/16-mile Victoria Derby (G1). Team Hawkes is presumably using this as a starting point to bring on his fitness for future targets, much like his comeback fifth – over this trip – in the Hobartville (G2) last February.   

Godolphin’s Allergic, like Winx, is by Street Cry. But the Darley homebred needs much further, and he’s yet to hit the board first-up. While this marks his debut for Godolphin’s recently appointed head Australian trainer James Cummings – grandson of the late, great Bart – the six-year-old isn’t forecast to change his profile.

Harper’s Choice (the third Street Cry in here) is one of two from the Gerald Ryan yard. Highly tried in his sophomore season, he came closest to glory when almost wiring the Australian Derby (G1). His warm-up fifth in the August 5 Missile (G2) suggests he’ll be ready to fire a better shot here, although this is on the short side for him. Stablemate Red Excitement, an exposed eight-year-old who fits at the listed/Group 3 level, used to be effective at this trip, but not since early 2015.

Once Winx gets her comeback out of the way, and the bid for Cox Plate history, we can start to savor the prospect of international ventures, perhaps the 2018 Royal Ascot meeting.

Waller isn’t getting ahead of himself, though.

“We've all got it in the back of our mind, the big races around the world,” her trainer said, “but the fact is Australia is among the best races in the world and traveling a horse isn't as easy as it may appear.

“We're in no rush, we've got some great races coming up in Australia and obviously this Spring here in Sydney is a big part of our racing calendar and then it leads into Melbourne as well.”

Bowman likewise emphasized the first-things-first approach.

“It would be lovely to see her go overseas if it's in her best interest,” the rider said, “and I think at this stage, for me personally, it's just about getting through this preparation and it would be lovely to see her win a third Cox Plate that'd be making history in itself.

“If she can achieve that goal I'm sure it'd be on the table.”