Reflections on Apollo Stakes Day

The champion mare Winx returned to racing at Randwick on Saturday taking her third Group 1 WFA The Star Apollo Stakes over 1400m after her earlier wins in 2016 and 2017. The atmosphere was rock star performance status and befitting now of Chris Waller’s world class athlete and she duly delivered with another outstanding performance.

The course was alive with 15,330 patrons, up from 8,034 last year when there was still a Winx performance, but in an exhibition trial with Hugh Bowman suspended and connections preferring to sit out the Apollo Stakes.

Now, the first time this column saw patrons trying to position themselves in the Theatre Of The Horse to take selfies with Winx in the background was a couple of seasons ago. It was amusing and a reminder of the pulling power of a champion, an equine rock star. These days it is not just selfies, it is a veritable barrage of phones being held to capture the mare’s image as she strolls around the mounting yard and then heads to the track.

On Saturday that barrage of phones were also turned skywards to capture the words Winx in sky writing over Randwick. Blue Winx flags were compulsory, blue ensembles the norm and the expectation immense for the main event.

When Winx entered the Theatre Of the Horse the packed crowd roared, cheered, whistled and if the tiered viewing areas were not concrete they would have been rocked up and down with the stomping of feet.

No one was missing this, the jockey’s room was vacated by those not riding in the Apollo Stakes as they lined the tunnel to the track to watch her go by and the Members packed the upper levels of the Old Stand, always a sign that Randwick is rocking.

All hail the winners, picture

When Winx and Bowman idled up to Happy Clapper at the 300m and then let go at the 200m the wall of sound from the crowd was like a solid clap of thunder washing across the Course Proper. A media colleague from the Gold Coast had a rare Saturday off and he had flown down for the day to watch the mare for the first time, that moment of sound and watching the mare’s talent was indelible for his memory of the day.

The pure numbers are utterly remarkable and impressive by any world measure.

30 straight wins, 34 in total from 40 starts, stakes earnings of $23,080,674, a new race record of 1.20.88 on the Good 4 track for the Group 2 WFA The Star Apollo Stakes, Winx home over the final 600m in 33.02, from the 400m to the 200m in 10.75 (next best Unforgotten in 10.95), from the 200m to the 100m in 11.20 easing down under hands and heels (next best Happy Clapper in 11.60) and she was not extended.

The adulation of the win covered the course and Waller made the point a number of times that it was good for racing, referring to the recent scandals Australian racing has endured with a further one playing out in Queensland.

Certainly there would not have been many on course who would have thought of Victoria’s now disqualified trainer Darren Weir, a balm has been successfully applied with skill, professionalism and world class talent from all concerned. Take a bow all of Waller’s staff.

While the Winx years have been largely wasted in Sydney by racing authorities in permanently raising racing’s profile, there are still three more races that she will start in, assuming that this is her final campaign and on the evidence of Saturday she could in theory steamroll a few more fields than three races.

However, if it is three more then if anyone can take advantage of a free Saturday such as the Gold Coast colleague, book flights and course tickets now for the Chipping Norton Stakes at Randwick on March 2nd, George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill on March 23rd and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick on April 13th. They will be experiences not to missed.

Winx and close companion Umut Odemislioglu, it takes a champion to handle one, picture