I have been in Australia for nearly three months as part of the Godolphin Flying Start program. The stint could not have been timed more perfectly, as I have been privileged to see Winx run five times in part of her astonishing campaign.
Winx won the Cox Plate again this past weekend, becoming the second horse in history to win the prestigious weight-for-age contest three times and surpassing Makybe Diva to become Australia’s all-time leading earner.
All of that was great. Truly monumental and historic. But if you’re like me, checking Australia racing results probably is not what gets you out of bed in the morning. I have a respect for the country’s racing history, but have never explored it much beyond legends like Phar Lap and Black Caviar. American racing and its history is where my heart and soul remain firmly planted. Australia was always a country far away, with relatively little crossover between our industries and racing that was broadcast at 1:00 in the morning.
Although she’s never raced outside the country, Winx transcends Australian racing. I knew her reach spread far beyond her native land when I headed down in mid-August, and I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing her perform. I was not prepared for the emotion that Winx would evoke in myself and others, especially given that Australian racing was never at the top of my radar.
The Cox Plate was the greatest racing experience I have ever had. The sell-out crowd of about 32,000 strong absolutely rocked Moonee Valley, especially when Daryl Braithwaite made his traditional appearance to sing “The Horses” before the race.
But Winx mania had been at a high long before that.
Flags bearing her silks were handed out as patrons walked into the grandstand, as were hand-held pull out banners with GO WINX and #WINX3 printed on either side.
Women wore royal blue dresses, men had blue ties and kids dressed in the now-iconic silks of Magic Bloodstock Racing.
Winx hats were sold out before the first race, and the gift shop buzzed all day with patrons clamoring to buy what was left of the Winx branded sunglasses, koozies, pens, polos and jackets. You couldn’t see a thing on the course without looking at Winx – she was on the program cover and the track jumbotron was either playing hype videos or a countdown to the Cox Plate for much of the day.
Eventually, the race went off. Winx won, as she always does. The crowd became hysterical. Blue streamers and confetti shot into the air above the grandstand. I was not at Belmont Park in 2015 to see American Pharoah cross the line, but I cannot imagine it would have bested this. The jubilance was tangible until everyone was kicked out of the racecourse at the end of the evening.
The ever-prepared Moonee Valley had $2 posters for sale after the race, a caricature of the beloved Winx holding her three Cox Plates. Sydney’s The Sunday Telegraph had a souvenir Winx poster inside. Need I remind anyone that Winx is a horse and not a football team?
I’d never experienced the level of overwhelming collective love and adoration of a racehorse that I’ve seen with Winx. She is important. The emotional reaction she evokes is important. A third Cox Plate was a new level, but wasn’t out of the ordinary for the equine star. After her win in the Turnbull Stakes at Flemington, losing jockeys stayed in the parade ring to watch her come back. I sat near a man who covered his face with his hands to hide his tears when Winx crossed the line.
The moments when everyone, be it general public or racing professional, is a fan of horse racing are the most important ones. One of the utmost joys in life is watching a truly great horse perform – Winx is one.
How lucky I am to be swept up in the madness and reckless joy of loving a racehorse.
Madison Scott, a native of Austin, Texas, and a graduate of the University of Kentucky, is in her second year with the Godolphin Flying Start program and spent last summer on the editorial team at The Saratoga Special.