JMac's perspective on Winx

Gary Still

This interview with JMac took place just before Winx's final race...

"I could say that having seen Winx’s rump disappearing into the distance in the home straight so many times, I’ll be glad to see the end of her! 

As a competitor, she’s been, shall we say, something of a nuisance these past four years; you can get pretty sick of running second to her – that feeling where you know that although you’re on a top-quality performer doing its best, there’s no way you’re going to beat that mare. It’s happened to me five times, as well as two thirds. Three of those seconds have come at the top level, in Group 1 races. 

But more seriously, Saturday is going to be a sad day when we say farewell to Winx after the Queen Elizabeth Stakes. She’s been simply amazing, and, as will be shown by the massive crowd that packs Randwick to see her offshe’s done so much for racing in her phenomenal 32-race winning streak. 

She’s the best horse in the world, the best I’ve seen, and, I would say, the best horse Australia has ever produced. And of course all of that makes her easily the best horse I’ve ridden. 

Some might have forgotten that bit, given the famous partnership she’s formed with Hughie Bowman. But I was lucky enough to have ridden Winx, way back in win number three of the streak – the Group 2 Theo Marks Stakes at Rosehill, in September, 2015 – when Hughie was briefly suspended. Three years and many wins later, their partnership was important enough for trainer Chris Waller to not start Winx in a race when Hughie was again outed. But in 2015, thankfully they were happy to call on me. 

Of course Winx wasn’t Winx then. And although her win felt pretty special to me, there was no way anyone could have predicted the way she’d follow up that winning hat-trick. But she sure gave me a thrill and it’ll be a memory I’ll treasure forever. 

What turned her from “promising” to superstar? The confidence that comes from winning might have played a part, but mostly I think it was just simple maturity and development – a bit of filling out; more muscle on the bone. Early doors, she had potential, but she was a very light, spindly thing, a very lean kind of machine. She was known to enjoy wet tracks, and probably that’s what most people thought of her – they painted her as a wet-tracker. But to me, you could see she always at least tried really hard. 

She’d pin the ears back and push to the line, and you could see she had a strong will to win. 

When I rode her in the Theo Marks, yes, she gave me a good feeling as we went to the barriers. Jockeys can tell a good mover underneath them, like a racecar driver in a Formula One machine. It’s not like I was saying “wow” or anything on the way to the gates. But I certainly said it after the race. 

As became her trademark, we settled near the back in that 12-horse field. That wouldn’t be such a problem, but we struck interference coming to the home corner that stopped our momentum and gave the leaders a big headstart. Halfway down the straight, we had to make up about six lengths in only 200 metres to get the chocolates. If it wasn’t Winx, there’d have been no way, but she powered to the line and got there in the last couple of strides.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuiYGHVQqTU 

I also own the dubious title of being in charge for the equal-smallest margin of her streak – at 0.2 lengths, or a half-head – but it was just an incredible performance. I’ll always look back on it, shake my head and say, ‘How the hell did she do that?’  

Nothing Special to Look At

There’s been a lot of investigation into how she does do it. Famously, she’s nothing special to look at. She’s no Black Caviar, who was this big, beautiful mare, built like a brick shithouse, and with a great big stride. Winx is different in that while she doesn’t have an exceptionally long stride, she’s just so economical in the way she moves. She can increase her stride rate when she wants, and just skims across the turf. She just gets faster, and faster, and faster, and all with this wonderful, smooth, economical action. 

Riding against her, getting beaten by her, is different to any other horse. Most horses take a hundred metres to get past youWinx does it in a couple of strides. One second she’s there beside you, the next second she’s gone. 

No one likes getting beaten, but it’s awesome to behold, especially when you think your horse is travelling really well! 

A year after I’d ridden Winx, I was the bloke staring at her backside in second place in three of her four starts in her spring 2016 campaign: on Hartnell in the Warwick Stakes at Randwick; on Hauraki again in the G1 George Main, and then in the big one, when Hartnell took her on again as she attempted a second Cox Plate, at Moonee Valley.

What a buzz that week was. It was hyped as a two-horse war between my bloke and her. The build-up felt like a football grand final. 

As hopeful as it might sound today, I thought we were a genuine chance to beat Winx that day. With me doing the steering, Hartnell had bolted in in his three starts since that Warwick Stakes second. The most recent was the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington, over roughly the same distance as the 2,040-metre Cox Plate. He’d brained ‘em, winning by more than three lengths over Jameka, who strolled away with the Caulfield Cup at her next start. 

And it wasn’t just me, but a lot of people thought Winx was vulnerable in that Cox Plate. The market suggested it, with Winx at $1.80 – cricket-score odds for her – and Hartnell at $5. No horse has started as short against her since. 

I made my plans with trainer John O’Shea. We knew if Winx was ever going to get beaten, you couldn’t come from behind her to do it. From barrier seven, to her barrier three, I jumped out ahead of her, and kept a good couple of lengths in front of her throughout. Going down the School Side with about 700 metres to go, I made my move and sent Hartnell towards the lead. I knew Winx was gonna come at some point, but Hughie brought her up alongside us earlier than I anticipated. 

You’re Freakin’ Kidding Me

Towards the turn I was urging Hartnell on, but on my outside there was that familiar white bridle again. And Winx was moving so easily. To be honest, I was a bit deflated. Hughie later told the press he heard me cry out something like “Oh Jesus Christ”, as if it just wasn’t fair! We did exchange some words, but I think it was more like me singing out “Oh you’re freakin’ kidding me!” … or words to that effect. 

As Hartnell battled on in his usual gallant style in the straight, I just saw Winx go further ahead – four lengths, six lengths, eight lengths on the line. I was just gobsmacked. It wouldn’t have mattered where we’d sat. And that’s the beauty of Winx. She could’ve waited another 400 metres to make her run and still beaten me. She could’ve gone a lot earlier and still won by a big gap. 

From there, she’s only got better.  It’s testament to the great job my fellow Kiwi Chris Waller has done with her, the patience of her owners, the work of the stable staff, and Hughie. 

You know when Winx is running, because that day in the jockeys’ room, Hughie doesn’t say much. He’s a man of few words on most days, actually, but on Winx days he really goes into the zone. He’s done an incredible job with her the whole way through. I can only hope one day I get to have a partnership with a horse like her. You’d reckon it’s pretty unlikely though! She’s just improved with age, and I agree with Hughie’s comment this week that she could comfortably go on racing, and winning. 

I’ll be out there trying to beat her again, one last time, on Saturday, when I’ll be on the second favourite (again!) in He’s Eminent. I’m sure Happy Clapper and Hartnell would love to know it’s the last time they’ll see Winx, having run second to her five and four times respectively. I don’t think the unthinkable will happen in Winx’s swansong, but I don’t think it’ll be as easy for her as her last few runs. And I do think He’s Eminent has a chance – though it would help greatly if Winx stands in the gates when they open.

Yes, it’s been a bit frustrating to have run second to her so often (and third twice). Someone worked out she cost me almost $100,000 in prizemoney through those five seconds, so I’d be a good bit richer if she wasn’t around! But just to ride against her is amazing. She adapts to any race conditions. She sits wide, she sits in. You can’t outsprint her, and you can’t outstay her. She’s won from 1100m to 2200m, and I reckon if they’d put her in a Melbourne Cup, over 3200m, she’d have got the distance and won that as well, because she just relaxes so well, and knows when to switch on. 

She’s had longevity, being unbeaten for nearly four years. She’s turned up and performed on 32 straight race days. Every time. That’s just extraordinary for any horse, but especially for a mare, since hormones mean mares can often have an off day, or lose interest forever. 

She’s just got no chinks in her armour. She’ll always come out on top. A bit like the mighty All Blacks, she’ll just find a way to win. And all of that is why – although they say you shouldn’t compare champions of different eras – I’m happy to do it with her. I’m happy to put her on top, by herself, against any of the historical greats you care to name: Phar Lap, Tulloch, Bernborough, Kingston Town, the lot. 

She’s that good, and we’ve all been blessed to have had her in our lifetimes."


Read more at https://www.athletesvoice.com.au/james-mcdonald-stares-winx-rump/2/#gWOtIorCK4xTjPuy.99

You need to Login to Post a Answer in the Forum

If you asked a twenty something year old cricket player who was the best batsman ever the likely reply would be "Steve Smith" or perhaps "Virat Kohli". They probably never heard of Barry Richards, Graham Pollock, Len Hutton or Ponsford, Probably heard grandpa tell them about some bloke called Bradman.

Ask a twenty something year old jockey about the best horse ever, there you have it. Gary's infallible proof.

"JMac after he won on Astern where he informed the interviewer he thought he could beat Winx"

The best horse does not always win. I thought you knew that.

a great tribute

What a lovely interview Gary. I reckon you would have needed about two hours to read that article, stopping every couple of minutes to have another good howl.

Perhaps you could also get the interview of JMac after he won on Astern where he informed the interviewer he thought he could beat Winx. When you finish that one perhaps you could also get the G.Boss interview where he declared Platinum Scissors as the best horse he had ridden.

Did you watch the Caulfield Stakes last weekend. Have a look at what that second rater and the nine year old did to the horses who Winx used to beat.

Talkback Forum

Racing And Sports offers our users the chance to get involved with spirited discussion about major racing issues on your Talkback Forum. They may include chatter about racing matters, issues relating to the website, sporting conversation, betting matters and more. Please be aware that Racing And Sports now moderates Talkback to ensure posting guidelines are adhered to. The views expressed on Talkback are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Racing And Sports. You must be a registered user to write postings or send messages to other users.

Latest Posts