By Steve Wilson
If Winx’s career to date has been an exercise in relegating the extraordinary to the simply routine, someone forgot to tell her jockey, Hugh Bowman.
“It’s still exciting,” says Bowman, even after 22 wins in partnership with the mare.
“It’s just that feeling of acceleration, and the atmosphere that’s created by her dominance.”
So successful is the mighty mare that she is the closest thing there is to a racing certainty.
“At Randwick last start [victory in the Chipping Norton Stakes] when I came up and just let her go … I know she’s going to win,” Bowman says.
“It’s not worrying about that. It’s embracing the feeling that she’s giving me and to everyone else.”
Victory for Winx in the Chipping Norton Stakes earlier this month was her 23rd in a row. (AAP: Rafal Kontrym)
Despite a recent fall, Bowman will be back in the most famous saddle in Australian racing for the George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill this Saturday.
If — or when — Winx wins, it will be a 24th consecutive victory and world record 17th Group 1 flat win, enough to move her past the standard set by American champion John Henry in 1984.
Winning for the number one-ranked is horse in the world is not so much a habit as a compulsion. She is quite simply the perfect balance of raw energy and poetic grace.
“The speed and the power and the finesse. It’s just so special,” Bowman says.
“I guess I’m the only one who does truly get to feel it. [But] everyone gets their own bit of enjoyment out of seeing her stretch when I let her go.”
Punters have long drooled over, and profited from, that moment. When Winx ‘does a Winx’.
But does that jolting acceleration feel different to piloting other horses to victory in other races?
Jockey Hugh Bowman has forged a seemingly unbeatable partnership with mighty mare Winx. (AAP: David Moir)
“It actually doesn’t,” Bowman says, “[but only] because she’s so economical when she moves.
“When I’m going past horses — and it’s not that I’m asking her to go, I’m letting her go — I’m just harnessing the power.
“I let her pick up through her gears. And when she gets to top speed I ask her to stretch … she goes and stretches again.
“That feeling is why I wanted to be a jockey in the first place.”
It is three-and-a-half years since Bowman first mounted Winx. Her current winning streak began in May 2015.
When did the jockey realise just what he was dealing with?
“There was a stage where it was still developing. We obviously didn’t expect her to do what she’s done,” he admits.
“After her second Queen Elizabeth win (last April) — I think it was 17 or 18 in a row — was when the expectation started to really build.
“Up until then I didn’t consider it such a big deal, so that helped me cope with it.
“Though the media were pumping it up, for me it was just about doing my job and making sure she was in a good shape.
“But from that race it started to really develop into something else, that’s when it all changed for me.”
Winx has captured the nation’s heart in the same way as Black Caviar did before her. (ABC News: Jennifer Browning)
It would be tempting, and grossly unfair, to diminish Bowman’s role in the partnership.
So good is Winx that, to the untrained eye at least, it might be assumed the rider’s job is simply to hang on.
But that is several lengths back from the truth. Champion trainer Chris Waller puts Bowman on his prize horse for a reason.
“It’s not just a case of hopping on and turning the engine on and going, there’s a lot more to it,” Bowman says.
“She’s obviously a special talent. But at the end of the day she’s a horse. I just pay as much attention as I can to her manners and the way she moves and her general wellbeing.
“There’s a lot of concentration involved with riding her.
“Early on she was a little bit of a handful. Quite bubbly. But she’s not an aggressive horse. She’s a very focused individual. She just wants to work.
“Whatever she does, she does with purpose. If she’s walking, she walks with purpose; if she’s swimming, she swims with purpose.
“She’s a horse that doesn’t really appreciate affection. I’m not saying she doesn’t like it, but she doesn’t appreciate it.
“I find she’s at her happiest if I just leave her alone. Ride her. Get off her. Leave her be.”
Bowman says there’s no tricks to the champion mare, “she’s just got gears”. (AAP: Joe Castro)
Such is Winx’s celebrity, and such is the affection with which she is held by racegoers, that the great privilege of riding her comes with a responsibility far greater than with other horses.
“It’s unavoidable,” concedes Bowman. “But once I’m on her and I’m in the gate all that disappears.
“Or once I’m out of the gate, because she can be a bit fractious or unsettled in the barriers, because she wants to get on with it. We’ve seen her miss a start a couple of times.
“The difference with Winx is she can overcome adversity, more so than other horses. She certainly likes to chase, she likes having something to follow. But she jumps and relaxes.
“There’s no tricks to her. She’s just got gears. She just does it.”
Hugh Bowman admits he carries great responsibility every time he mounts Winx. (AAP: David Moir)
Winx has been much more than simply a champion racehorse for some time. She is an icon. A name that transcends the sport.
Bowman is part jockey, part custodian, of a mighty mare and the hopes and aspirations of punters and fans across the country.
“The actual race-riding side of it doesn’t change (compared with riding other horses),” Bowman says, when pondering such heavy responsibility.
“It’s just all the build-up and the hype, which takes your emotions to another level.
“Riding the race is the easy part, because she’s very straightforward and she’s obviously got so much talent. She’s not a complicated horse where she needs things to go a certain way.”
While Bowman accepts the story will eventually have an ending, for now he is just, well, enjoying the ride.
“I feel so humbled by all the support that I get personally, that we get as a team with [trainer] Chris [Waller] and the staff and the owners.
“I think we’re all really respectful of the position we’re in and ultimately of the horse. She’s just an amazing athlete.
“I’m just so grateful, I really am.”