She accelerated like a Ferrari
Riding Winx in the first win of her (so far) 26-race winning streak is something I’ll never forget.
This was in May 2015. At the time, she’d had 10 starts for four wins and three placings, and four different jockeys had ridden her. She didn’t yet have Hugh Bowman as her regular jockey, and she was far from being regarded as the champion we all now know she is.
The race was the Sunshine Coast Guineas, a 1600m Group Three race. My manager rang me around 10 days before the race and said, ‘You’re riding one for Waller in the Sunshine Coast Guineas’ and I said, ‘Oh, what’s it called?’, and he said, ‘It’s a horse called Winx’.
And I said, ‘Oh, how do you spell that again?’
I went away and looked the horse up and I said to myself, ‘Oh that looks like a good ride’. When I had a closer look at all her runs, as well as one or two barrier trials leading into the race, I thought she looked like she should be able to win the race.
Then we got to the day and she went and won, all right. But halfway through the race, that didn’t look so likely.
We drew very awkwardly. It was a big field at the Sunny Coast with 18 in it. Obviously her racing pattern was that she sort of got back in her races, but my instructions were to try to get cover and give her a chance and hopefully she could finish the race off and win.
That was it. They were pretty much the instructions. Nobody was jumping out saying, ‘This is an absolute champion. Just settle back and you’ll brain them’. At that stage there was no sense at all that she was going to be a champion. None at all.
Watching her videos I thought she was obviously a promising horse with improvement in her, especially after coming back from a spell. I knew she was a Group One placegetter, so obviously I thought she’d be hard to beat.
But who was to know what she would become?
When we jumped, she began all right, but there was a line of 17 horses inside me so I just took hold of her so she could come back closer to the fence. After a furlong, the leaders were going at a reasonable speed and I had to go back much further than what I anticipated or wanted to.
Next minute I find myself last or second last.
We get down to the 1200-metre mark and what goes through my mind is, ‘I’m a bit further away than I want to be here’. But I thought, ‘There’s not much that I can do about it, just ride your horse and keep her balanced and happy and her breathing pattern good and she’ll run home’.
‘You’re riding one for Waller in the Sunshine Coast Guineas… It’s a horse called Winx’. And I said, ‘Oh, how do you spell that?’
As we got to the 600-metre mark, I couldn’t really improve my position. A lot of jockeys probably would have taken off at that point and not really worried. But I thought if I take off and go five or six wide, she’s probably going to look the winner at the 200-metre mark and then probably die in a hole and run a nice third, and she will have had a gut-buster.
All that stuff goes through your head in a split second, it’s quite bizarre.
So I thought, ‘Nup, just be patient, just sit here’.
Horses started to take off in front of me. They were starting to peel off four, five and six wide and I just thought, ‘Nup, just sit there, be patient, wait until I turn for home, I’ll pull you to the outside and we’ll see what happens’.
As we turned for home, I was spotting them 15 lengths at least, possibly more. It’s a long straight at the Sunshine Coast, but being this far from them on the home turn I thought I’d probably left my run too late. I thought I could maybe finish in the minor placegetters which would still make it a great run considering the position I’d come from at the top of the straight.
I brought her to the outside so I would have an uninterrupted run home, and I remember I started to let her down. Within about three strides, I must have still been 12 or 13 lengths off them, but I knew I had them beaten.
It was quite an amazing feeling, the way she accelerated. It was like being in a Ferrari and you’re going along at 40 km/h in fourth gear, and then you put it in second gear and bang! Away you go. That’s what it was like.
As I raced up to them inside the 150-metre mark, her momentum took her past them and she put two lengths on them. It was quite incredible.
As I eased her down after the winning post, she had a bit of a blow because she was first up. But, a lot of horses would have been blowing the house down. Her, not so much.
Get to know veteran Group 1 winning hoop Larry Cassidy who followed in his older brothers footsteps by becoming a jockey.
In a career that's spanned over three decades, he still counts riding Winx as one of his biggest thrills in racing! @racing_qld pic.twitter.com/VA5P8LSKEg
— Sky Racing (@SkyRacingAU) May 25, 2018
‘you’re a bloody idiot’
On the way home, I gave my wife Michelle a call. She didn’t go to the races that day but she was excited because she’d seen the way the horse had won, and what an incredible win it was.
She asked me what I thought. And I said, ‘This is going to sound silly, but she could possibly be the best horse I’ve ever ridden’.
And my wife went, ‘You’re a bloody idiot’.
Then she rattled off the names of about four or five top horses I’d ridden including the great mare Sunline, who I rode for several races before jockey Greg Childs took over because I chose to ride for the John Hawkes stable.
And I told her, ‘I know, I can’t believe I’m actually saying this myself’.
I know the race was only the Sunshine Coast Guineas, but the way she accelerated, I’ve never had a horse accelerate like that, ever’.
I said, ‘This is going to sound silly, but she could possibly be the best horse I’ve ever ridden’. And my wife went, ‘You’re a bloody idiot’.
I think a lot of people – myself included – see a horse win like that and forget that it was only the Sunshine Coast Guineas and the field wasn’t much. And that was definitely in the back of my mind.
But the first thing that came to my mind was that feeling at the top of the straight when she started to let down. As I say, I’ve never felt anything like it.
Obviously I asked to ride her again, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. I’m pretty sure Hughie Bowman had first refusal on all of Waller’s horses. And after that race, there was no way Hughie was ever going to let anyone else near her again!
HOW WINX HELPED PAY FOR MY BACKYARD
I actually had my knees operated on a few weeks after that race, and I didn’t come back for about 18 months. During that time, I was watching Winx go on her winning ways and I said to my wife, ‘Maybe I should get a photo of Winx winning that race’.
I don’t have a lot of horse stuff up in my house – I’ve got a photo of Sunline and another good horse I rode called Unworldly who only had four or five starts before she broke down, but she could have been anything. And I’ve got the one of Winx up in my house obviously.
The saddle I had used to ride Winx that day was quite an old saddle and I thought it was time to buy a new one. So I just chucked the saddle in the cupboard.
I’ve never had a horse accelerate like that, ever
I don’t keep a lot of memorabilia. I give away most of my gear to charities to be auctioned off. But then I looked at the picture of Winx and I thought, ‘That’s the saddle that I’ve got in my cupboard that I used on her’, and I said to my wife, ‘Geez, maybe I should get that signed and framed’. So I did. I got Chris Waller to sign it and I signed it and got it framed with the photo.
I renovated my backyard not too long ago and it cost me quite a bit of money to do. Because I’d been off for a little while, I wondered what I might be able to get for the framed saddle. So I stuck it on eBay, and it actually sold to a gentleman in Canada.
My way of thinking was that I’ve got a beautiful backyard and I can tell people who see it that Winx paid for a large portion of that.
I’m just happy that the buyer is someone who really loves Winx. When he bought it, he asked if we could ship it to Canada and we were like, ‘Geez’. So I rung him myself and had a chat about it, and when he realised it was me selling it, he knew it was for real and it was going to be a one-off. So I shipped it to Canada.
I asked the buyer what made him purchase it and he said, ‘I would like to think I’m one of Winx’s biggest fans. I’ve travelled to Australia to watch her race four times’. That’s the sort of horse she is. She has fans all around the world.
I suppose it’s quite humbling to have played what I think is a very small part in the Winx story. That race I rode her in was just the beginning of her winning streak, and in one way, it didn’t really matter who rode her that day because she was still going to win, wasn’t she?
All the same, it’s fantastic to look back on and to say, ‘Yeah, I was a small part of racing history’.
Racing folklore, actually.