02/10/2017 3:10PM

Hovdey: Listen, mate, Winx is world's best turf horse

SDP Media
Winx scored her 13th consecutive win last October at Australia's Moonee Valley.

Arrogate will not be running in the U.S. for a while, unless some American racetrack is willing to go into hock to compete with the $6 million he ran for in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, or the $12 million he ran for in the Pegasus World Cup, or the $10 million he might run for in the Dubai World Cup next month.

Songbird’s 2017 debut gives the game hope, although Jerry Hollendorfer is keeping his cards close when it comes to her next start, as he admires the way she has matured as a newly turned 4-year-old.

And the Derby colts, under heavy scrutiny from all angles, are still sorting themselves out as the clock ticks toward the major preliminaries in March and April. Right now, it’s a dartboard out there.

Where to turn, then, for a superstar fix? The answer comes on Monday, Down Under, where the mare hailed as the world’s best grass horse returns to action at Randwick Race Course in Sydney. Her name is Winx, and for those coming late to the bandwagon, there is still plenty of room. She has only won 13 in a row, with her sights set on plenty more.

It seems almost greedy for the Australians to come up with another transcendent female like Winx. The first years of this century were devoted to the exploits of Makybe Diva, the only three-time winner in the 156-year history of the Melbourne Cup. Then came Black Caviar, that sprinting beast whose record of 25 wins without a loss included the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“I think Winx is held in even greater esteem than Black Caviar because she’s doing it over a route of ground,” said East Coast trainer Brian Lynch, who still hews closely to his Australian roots. “It’s become quite the fairy tale.”

Indeed, Black Caviar’s mainly five- and six-furlong races were usually over with shortly after they began. Winx, on the other hand, has been mixing it up with large fields of the best middle-distance horses the Australian game has to offer.

Winx is as classically gorgeous as a mare could be, with a mahogany bay coat set off by black mane, tail and legs south of knees and hocks. In terms of her running style, comparisons to Zenyatta and her record of 19 wins from 20 starts are unavoidable. Like Zenyatta and Mike Smith, Winx and her rider, Hugh Bowman, play to the crowd by lagging far back early and finishing with a dramatic rush. Also, both Winx and Zenyatta are by Street Cry, which must be considered more than mere coincidence.

Winx is trained in Sydney by Chris Waller, a New Zealander by birth who has risen to the top ranks of Australian racing. A partnership of Magic Bloodstock Racing (managed by Peter Tighe), Richard Treweeke, and Debbie Kepitis bought Winx as a 2-year-old for 230,000 Australian dollars, or about $176,000.

Her 13-race winning streak (eight of them Group 1, 12 against males) began on May 16, 2015, when Winx surged past a field of unsuspecting colts to win the Group 3 Sunshine Coast Guineas by 1 3/4 lengths. Later that day, half a world away, American Pharoah won the Preakness.

Two weeks later, Winx made a mockery of the Group 1 Queensland Oaks. That was her seventh race in 14 weeks and marked the end of her 3-year-old campaign, bearing in mind that an Australian season runs Aug. 1 to July 31 and it is winter in June and July. Also, there’s that deal about the direction the toilet water swirls.

Winx, on the other hand, has won both clockwise and counter, around one turn or two, from seven to 11 furlongs, or whatever is the metric equivalent.

She was foaled on Sept. 11, 2011. On Sept. 12, 2015, Winx made her 4-year-old debut against older males in the Group 2 Theo Marks Stakes at Rosehill. The 1,300 meters (about 6 1/2 furlongs) was clearly shy of her comfort zone, but she got up anyway in the final jump. Two races later, she won her first Cox Plate – the premier weight-for-age event in Australia – defeating, among others, Highland Reel, as in 2016 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Highland Reel.

Winx knocked off four more wins in early 2016, took a “winter” break, then rolled to major wins at 1,400, 1,600 and 2,000 meters before defending her title in the Cox Plate. Her eight-length domination earned her an international ranking just beneath the American dirt monsters Arrogate and California Chrome.

In the wake of the mare’s second Cox Plate, Waller began fending off notions of an international campaign this year. The clamor is greatest to see her at Royal Ascot, so to quiet the noise, the trainer has held out the possibility of a European adventure for Winx in 2018. You’ve got to love a horseman who thinks that far ahead.

For now, Winx will have a few dances through the early months of 2017, with the main target an event worth 4 million Australian dollars in April. After that, she will get a break and then gear up for a third straight Cox Plate.

Winx was due to return Saturday in the Group 2 Apollo Stakes, but scorching temperatures above 100 degrees forced Randwick officials to reschedule the race for late Monday afternoon, eastern Australian time, but don’t worry if you miss it. Her races hit YouTube in a heartbeat.