By Ray Hickson
As a spectator, Black Caviar’s jockey Luke Nolen is in awe of what Winx has been able to achieve.
And, as someone who knows what the ride is like on a national racing idol, Nolen is well versed in the expectation in the air as Winx aims to surpass Black Caviar’s winning streak at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Five years and one day after Black Caviar’s 25th consecutive win, when she took her second TJ Smith Stakes in 2013, Winx matched the feat as she won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes also for a second time.
It’s almost poetic then that on Black Caviar’s 12th birthday – she was foaled on August 18 in 2006 – the world will be willing Winx to make it a record 26 straight in the race named in her honour, the Group 1 $500,000 Winx Stakes (1400m).
“It’s quite unbelievable these horses being so close to each other in the history of racing,’’ Nolen said.
“As spectators we’ve all been very spoiled.
“I didn’t think I’d see another horse win 25 straight but lo and behold. Black Caviar is her own story, though. She was unbeaten so they are removed slightly from one another.’’
Winx is racing’s record breaker.
Not only is she rated the best horse in the world, she’s chasing a remarkable 19th Group 1 and her prizemoney is about to tick over the $19 million mark.
As it happens Nolen not only had the best seat in the house on Black Caviar, he had front row seats to the moment the Winx legend was born. And on reflection of the day’s events he’s certain it was the moment.
It was the start of the streak. The Sunshine Coast Guineas in 2015.
It reminded him of watching the moment he felt Black Caviar stamped herself as something exceptional when she blew the start, raced wide and put six lengths on some smart three-year-olds in the Listed Blue Sapphire at Caulfield in 2009.
“I’ve only ridden against Winx twice and I gave Ulmann a very good ride in the Sunshine Coast Guineas when she started the sequence,’’ Nolen said.
“It was only when I saw the replay I thought ‘how the … did she beat me' from the corner. She went that quick Larry Cassidy (on Winx) nearly ran up the back of them on straightening.
“For me, you marry up Black Caviar’s second win with Winx’s first win of her unbeaten sequence and they are both unbelievable efforts.
The win that started it all - the 2015 Sunshine Coast Guineas
“Going back through their careers they were the moments where it all dawned. Good horses probably would have been beaten but great horses didn’t.’’
We all wonder what makes champions so great. Obviously they are faster but there’s not always something in their stature that stands them out.
Nolen feels there’s significant difference in appearance between Black Caviar and Winx but what can’t be disputed is what’s under the hood of both thoroughbreds.
“Black Caviar took a very big stride and she had explosive acceleration, but she looked like a stallion,’’ Nolen said.
“Winx looks more feminine in comparison. She’s not particularly overbearing and a big athlete so she must have a very big heart.
“But they are both world champion mares and probably the best two mares we’ve seen grace this country.’’
Nolen’s life has changed quite a bit since Black Caviar retired and her trainer Peter Moody left the training ranks. He’s not attached to a big stable and, like a lot of jockeys, is again on the lookout for that special horse to take him to the big races in the spring.
While he was never comfortable in the spotlight, a bit like Hugh Bowman he learned to handle himself as best he could.
He says the job Moody did with Black Caviar and how Chris Waller is guiding Winx should not be underestimated. Not only do they have the pressure they put on themselves to get it right they have the eyes of the nation, and the world, watching them.
And because they are both champion mares that’s another variable to try and control.
“Mares are finicky, and they don’t show up sometimes,’’ he said.
“For Chris to get her to show up and keep her in good sound mind 25 times straight, and for Peter to do what he did, is unheard of.
“Mares can have a real purple patch of form and they may never revisit it. It’s freakish that these two mares have been able to have these sequences of wins.’’
By the time the Winx Stakes is run both Waller and Bowman will have talked Winx just about all week.
Nolen knows the world wants to know everything about its racing idol and just wishes he’d been a bit better placed to deal with the constant interest in Black Caviar.
But he wouldn’t take a moment of it back and there’s no doubt Waller and Bowman feel the same.
“You do run out of things to say about them and Peter and myself weren’t wordsmiths either,’’ Nolen said.
“You say the same thing slightly differently 100 different times when you get interviewed – it’s a shame a Rhodes scholar didn’t ride her or train her. We would have had better one liners.’’