Winx ridden by Hugh Bowman wins the Ladbrokes Cox Plate at Moonee Valley Racecourse on October 28, 2017 in Moonee Ponds, Australia. (Mike Keating/Racing Photos)
Time flies when you’re having fun. Just one of the many clichéd lines to reflect on the past few weeks.
What a feast it was. Going all the way back to the start of August when the Spring racing locomotive was just pulling out for its rattling journey through weeks of outstanding racing.
Twenty-One Group One races started with the $1m Memsie Stakes way back even before the Tigers put their stamp on the AFL finals race. For almost three months racecourses across the state attracted more than 650,000 people.
The jockeys, trainers and of course, the owners shared in almost $74 million prizemoney.
What races got your heart racing? When did you really feel the great heartbeat of the sport? When did you feel the races calling you?
My favourite moment of the Spring Racing Carnival occurred at Moonee Valley in the Cox Plate with Winx, who has now become far more than a champion racehorse. She has connected with the people, not just racing people, she is now public property.
They came to witness a legend, to watch an elite athlete the way sports fans might watch Roger Federer, Pelé, Walter Lindrum, Don Bradman or Royce Hart (sorry, I’m an old tiger!). Now when Winx races it is an event, not just a horse race.
And what a Cox Plate it was. Winx was going for a multitude of special numbers, 22 straight, 15 Group Ones and of course, three successive W.S. Cox Plates. A feat completed just once in history back in 1982.
Thirty-two thousand racegoers flocked to The Valley, most to see just one horse. The build-up was tingling, the anticipation palpable. As she cantered onto the track the applause began. I recall that happening to very few racehorses in my more than 40 years at the track.
Jockey Hugh Bowman rode her like the best horse in the race. It wasn't particularly pretty, but it was effective. At the home turn she burst to the lead as expected, the crowd rose and cheered, ‘We’ve waited 35 years for this...’ boomed race caller Matt Hill.
But then just as we prepared to cheer home another runaway Cox Plate winner emerged the green silks of a challenger. A real challenger too. Blake Shinn was riding up a storm and it would net him four victories on the day. With 100 metres to go, just 6 seconds, it looked like the hopes of an anticipating crowd might be silenced by this green monster Humidor that was full of running. But then, like only the few great ones can, Winx stretched that bit harder, laid her ears flat back and drove hard to the line to send her fans into delirium.
This was racing at its peak, far better than a runaway five lengths win. Here was a champ being challenged. It was like watching two great fighters in the ring with just a few seconds to go and the champ finds something to land a desperate last telling blow.
Winx returned to adoration.
Next could it be the world? Or could we all be back next year for an unprecedented fourth time?
The Cox Plate was preceded by a terrific Caulfield Cup Carnival and followed by some fantastic memories at Flemington, but for me it was about Winx.
Watching the great ones is always what this great game is about.