OK, the Big W and Big Red are now equal on a 14 strong winning streak. But what does it all mean? It’s pretty silly really to even pose the question as to which is or was the better animal. Different eras mean different feeding methods, different training methods, vastly different veterinary science levels, completely different starting systems, and lots more. So there really can’t be any valid comparison of horses from different eras. They are and were both outright champions.
What is interesting, though, is to compare their racing records and their breeding.
Let’s look at Winx first.
Winx started racing on 4 June, 2014 and won over 1100m at Warwick Farm. She then raced 24 days later at Rosehill for another win, this time over 1400m. After a 15 week spell, Winx tackled the Furious Stakes at Group 2 Level and won over the Randwick 1200 m following that up with a second in the Tea Rose at Group 2 Level over 1400 m, and another second in the Flight Stakes at Group 1 Level over 1600m, both at Randwick.
Then came a short spell and a couple of glitches. Unplaced in the Light Fingers Stakes (Group 2) over the Randwick 1200m and also unplaced in the Surround Stakes at Warwick Farm (Group 2 over 1400m). She bounced back to win the Phar Lap Stakes at Group 2 over 1500m at Rosehill, but failed in her first crack at the middle distance of 2000m in the Vinery (Group 1) at Rosehill. She finished that preparation with a second in the Australian Oaks (Group 1) at the Randwick 2400m, a win in the Sunshine Coast Guineas (Group 3) over 1600m at Caloundra and a win in the Queensland Oaks (Group 1) over the Doomben 2200m. The Sunshine Coast Guineas started the current 14 win streak. The shortest break between races in that preparation was 10 days.
So, in her first preparation, Winx had two starts and in her second, 10 starts.
The 2015/16 Season saw Winx racing seven times, again with a decent break in the middle. This time 22 weeks. In this preparation, the big girl raced only at Group 1 and Group 2 Levels winning her first Cox Plate. In this preparation, she raced from 1300m to 2040m, starting at Rosehill, Randwick and Moonee Valley.
She spelled again, this time for 20 weeks before kicking of the 2016/17 Season in the Warwick Stakes (Group 2) over 1400m at Randwick. Winx had only 4 starts this preparation, the remaining three all at Group 1 Level before spelling again after her unbelievable stroll to win her second Cox Plate.
And yesterday, after a spell of 16 weeks, she went on her winning way in the Apollo Stakes (Group 2) over Randwick’s 1400m.
That’s certainly an impressive record, and we have all seen the ease with which she appears to rack up the wins. But remember, Winx has contested 5 handicaps in her entire career of which two were juvenile starts in her first preparation. The other 3 were in the Group 2 Theo Marks along with the Group 1 Epsom and Doncaster Handicaps. All in total, Winx so far has had 24 career starts and is a 5 year old mare.
Now to Phar Lap.
Big Red had five starts as a 2 year old, one stakes race and four handicaps, and did not place in any of them. He raced at Rosehill, Randwick and Hawkesbury over 1000m, 1100m, 1200m and 1400m. Those five races were contested in 11 weeks before he had a 15 week spell.
As a 3 year old, Phar Lap had four more unplaced starts, at Warwick Farm and Rosehill over 1200m, 1400m and 1600m, before showing up in fourth place over 1600m at Warwick Farm and then second place when he ran over 1800m at Randwick. Interestingly enough, these placings were his first go at WFA.
Phar Lap then went on his winning spree, and racked up four wins over 1800m, 2400m, 2200m and 2400m before running third over 3200m in the 1929 Melbourne Cup, followed by another third in the St George Stakes over 1800m. Then followed nine consecutive wins from 1800m to 3200m, before he went for a 15 week spell.
Phar Lap had now had 27 starts as a 2 and 3 year old.
He started his 4 year old season with a second in the Warwick Stakes over 1600m, before starting on his 14 win streak. Those races were all at WFA, except for the 1930 Melbourne Cup. The winning streak was broken in the CM Lloyd Stakes when he ran second at Flemington, coming back from 2400m to 1600m in three days – a very big ask! When he went for this break, 24 weeks this time, he had already reached legend status.
Phar Lap had now had 43 starts before his fifth birthday. 10 of these were handicaps, two of them arguably the hardest handicap race of them all, the Melbourne Cup.
At 5 years old, the same age as Winx is now, Phar Lap raced 10 times from 1600m to 3200m, with his only loss being the 1931 Melbourne Cup when the handicappers slotted him with 10 stone 10 pounds, as close as dammit to 67 kg. The winner, White Nose, carried 43.45 kg. The first 9 starts were in a period of 11 weeks.
When he died in the USA, Phar Lap had started 57 times, with 4 spells of around 15 weeks each. On no less than 15 occasions Phar Lap raced on a 5 day back up or less, and on 8 occasions on a 3 day back up or less. In one week in his 4 year old preparation, he raced in 4 races - over 2200m, then 3200m (winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup), then 1600m, then 2400m. Bloody amazing!
Now to their breeding.
Street Cry, the sire of Winx, was primarily a middle distance performer and never raced at distances above 1900m. So, the probability of Street Cry, who traces back to Mr Prospector and Raise A Native, also middle distance horses, throwing Melbourne Cup winners may not be thought to be high. But as with all generalisations, Shocking provided the exception to the rule! Given her breeding and the way Winx races, and her brilliance over 2000m, it would be a very brave decision to send her out to 3200m. It would be a big surprise to see her lining up in the Big One on the first Tuesday in November!
Night Raid, Phar Lap’s dad, was different. His record is dotted with 3200m staying tests, in Australia and New Zealand, traces back to Radium and Spearmint, both staying horses, and also was line bred to Galopin, an Epsom Derby winner. So Phar Lap’s focus on longer races than Winx contests is really no surprise. In fact, looking at their records, it is arguable that a 2000m race bet ween the two would really have been the only viable option.
Just imagine a Cox Plate with the two of them starting!
So, what does all that mean?
The first conclusion is that times were tough in the 1930’s. If they were fit, they raced, and they raced often. Phar Lap was clearly an iron horse, and Harry Telford was a trainer who would be hounded out of business by the RSPCA, were he around and using the same methods now. But the horse thrived on those methods. Nobody really knows what killed Phar Lap, but none of the history blames his demise on a lack of concern for the horse.
The second conclusion is that none of us would want to see Winx under a Phar Lap- like racing regime.
And the final conclusion is that times have changed – and thank heavens they have!