Back to the beginning with Winx

In honour of the great mare’s swansong this weekend, I thought I’d revisit one of my earliest blogposts from May 2017 where I traced Winx’s Kiwi links…..

How “Kiwi” is Winx? Kiwi as….

Aussies have been laying claim to Kiwi greats since day dot, if you need proof then just ask them who invented the pavlova?

In the racing world, the battle still rages over Phar Lap.  What better time then, as the latest superstar of the Australian turf, Winx, is inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, have a little dig about the part New Zealand played in her creation.

And we aren’t talking about the indisputable Kiwi origins of her trainer Chris Waller, no this is purely a breeding story.

The daughter of the Irish-bred stallion Street Cry may carry the (Aus) suffix, but take a closer look at that dam line.  Bar one slight glitch it is, as the saying goes, Kiwi as.

It is also the family of a mare whose incredible staying and weight carrying feats earned the title of the best staying mare of her era.

Warstep these days is pretty much a footnote in history, acknowledged through the race at the Canterbury Racing Club which carries her name. But the winner of most of our notable staying races, including the 1914 Auckland Cup, was a crowd favourite.

Her trainer George Murray Aynsley recalled the mare being mobbed by racing fans who would pluck hairs from her mane and tail. Any wonder they loved her, at the time she ran in, and won, the 1915 Trentham Gold Cup the £3000 invested on her was a record for any one horse.

Given Warstep’s position as the pin-up girl of her generation, it is probably right that we start the Winx story with Warstep’s sister Stardancer.

A daughter of the champion sire of his era Martian, Stardancer left 11 winners, including the 1920 Auckland Cup winner Starland and the good winner Limelight.  The winner of 12 races, Limelight also went on to feature as the grand dam of Nereid, the dam of 1956 Wellington Cup winner Fox Myth (by Foxbridge) and 1963 Caulfield Cup winner Sometime (by Summertime).

Another of Nereid’s offspring was Galston who later found fame as the dam of the New Zealand-bred Galilee.  The Trelawney Stud product became the first horse in history to win the Caulfield, Melbourne and Sydney Cups in one season and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.

If we skip forward a few generations, through Stardancer’s daughter Spotlight (by Nassau) and Spotlight’s daughter Silver Beam (by Silverado) we arrive at Winx’s fifth dam, the Theio mare Gay Abandon.

Bred in 1945 Gay Abandon had a lengthy career as a broodmare, leaving her first foal in 1950 and her last, a filly by Stunning named Vegas, in 1969.

It was Gay Abandon’s second foal, a colt by Gabador, foaled in 1952, that was to put her on the map as a broodmare. Racing for Sir Woolf Fisher as El Khobar he made an immediate impact on the track with two wins from his only starts at two. While taken to Australia for a three-year-old campaign, illness meant it wasn’t until the winter of 1956 that the Australians got to see what the fuss was about. El Khobar’s seven wins in Australia included the Doomben Ten Thousand and the Ascot Stakes. He went on to win races in the United States before standing at stud.

Vegas was bred in the Wairarapa by Frank Robertson, son of Charles Robertson, widely regarded as the founder of our national yearling sales. She met with little success at stud, with her first two foals, a colt and filly by Sovereign Edition, both destroyed.  She left just two live foals before dying in 1979.

The first of those live foals was the Sovereign Edition filly Vegas Street, bred by the Estate of Sir Woolf Fisher. Placed as a two-year-old in Australia, Vegas Street left two winners and the placed Ballerina Magic, the dam of Listed VRC Auckland Racing Club Handicap winner Arabian Magic.

Of course, the most notable of her offspring now is the two-time winner Vegas Magic. The daughter of Voodoo Rhythm, and as such the only Australian-glitch in Winx’s bottom line, was purchased in Melbourne by New Zealand Hall of Fame trainer Graeme Rogerson.

Once her racing days were behind her Rogerson had high hopes for Vegas Magic’s first foal Black Magic Maggie. The daughter of Westminster won three races and was Group Three placed before breaking a leg.

Vegas Showgirl, foaled in 2002 and a stakes winner of seven races was described by Rogerson as a “good, handy filly.” But there was an interesting tale behind just how the mating which resulted in Winx’s dam came about.

Rogerson had sent Vegas Magic south to Grangewilliam Stud to be covered by Batavian when they received bad news. The multiple stakes winner from the Rogerson stable had dropped dead from a heart attack while serving a mare.  The decision was made to instead send her to Batavian’s associate sire Al Akbar and the dam of an absolute superstar was the result.

Given the amount of Kiwi history around the creation of the racing wonder which is Winx, I think we can lay claim to just a little bit of credit.

A flurry of omens and it looks like I’ve signed up for another horse!

I’m a sucker when it comes to omens.  I lay the blame firmly at the feet of my late paternal grandmother who was slightly fey – if not a witch exactly, then possibly something that rhymed with that.

Thanks to a handful of randomly occurring instances I now find myself with yet another (very small) share in yet another racehorse.  That takes the current tally to four.

I am not kidding myself that any of these ventures will bring with them great (or even moderate) wealth.  At the very most I expect there will be the odd win along the way, celebrated in fine style, but more than likely the journey to any victory will be peppered by disappointment.

Those who choose to dabble in racehorse ownership quickly become accustomed to disappointment.  The slightly off-track which hindered your chances; the momentary hold-up at the crucial second; coming up another athlete which is just that fraction better on the day; or even an inexplicably bad performance for absolutely no discernible reason (we are, after all dealing with an animal with a mind of its own).

You rapidly learn to become a good loser when you own even the tiniest hair of a horse’s tail.  If you don’t then you won’t be around for long because, unless you luck into an absolute superstar of Winx proportions, there are usually more lows than there are highs.

So why keep going?  It is a question I have been asked many times by those on the outside and one I struggle to answer.

Of course, we all aim to be the one who races that champion racehorse.  The horse which achieves giddy Group One heights and takes us along on the ride is the dream of every owner.

When the first horse I raced won at only her second start some 31 years ago the feeling of elation was indescribable.  I was shaking so much I could barely walk down the stairs to the birdcage but all I could think was, “I want to feel this again.”

She was always going to be very special to me as the daughter of a mare my grandmother (the slightly fey one) had bred and raced, but as my first runner and first winner she was now truly memorable.

From 15 starts she only managed two wins but the die was cast, no matter what else happened in my future there would always be a horse.

And there pretty much has been since then.  Even when I wasn’t working full-time, taking time off to have a family, I managed to organise enough freelance work to cover my ownership “fix”.

At one stage, having been part of a plan to do something to attempt to stem the drift of horses and owners from the Central Districts, I found myself establishing and running a massive syndicate which initially comprised around 12 horses with six different trainers. Managing the expectations of hundreds of others was the most daunting aspect of that task, yet I must’ve been a sucker for punishment as I later set up a similar syndicate in the North.

Most nerve wracking was the day our first runner lined up at Trentham and, guided by the very youthful emerging talent which was Michael Walker, romped home by two and three-quarter lengths.  The nerves evaporated as I watched that same look of elation I had experienced with my first winner reflected back at me.

We had two-year-old stakes winners, Cup winners and even a runner in the Group One Auckland Cup.   I got great enjoyment out of those runners and winners but, as the syndicate manager I felt a huge sense of responsibility, and the enjoyment was tempered by that.

Throughout the time leading up to forming these syndicates I had continued being a part of the beautifully named Ywuree Syndicate.  Our horses usually did just enough to keep us hopeful of the next win and then, in 2000 a horse we called Basil made a pretty promising debut.

I still remember watching him loop the field after settling last and storm home to be just pipped on the line.

Rodin – named to reflect his breeding (Masterpiece-Fine Decision) – had arrived, and I was excited thinking we might have a horse who could win us a race or two.

By the time Rodin aka Basil retired in 2007 he had lined up 57 times, won 12, amassed 18 minor placings and given us a hell of a ride.  He even provided us with the Group One glory so many seek and never achieve.

Since Basil there have been the usual run of ups and downs and now I find myself with shares in two horses which have made it to the races (one has even captured that often elusive maiden win); another which may make an appearance as a late two-year-old; and the most recent addition, my omen horse.

Most are at that stage of their career where dreams of future glory are still a possibility (one might yet be banished South!).  That is surely one of the greatest things about racing a horse – the hours of future dreaming where you still have the potential to win a Derby, an Oaks, a big Cup race.

That, and that indescribable winning feeling!

How “Kiwi” is Winx? Kiwi as….

Aussies have been laying claim to Kiwi greats since day dot, if you need proof then just ask them who invented the pavlova?

In the racing world, the battle still rages over Phar Lap.  What better time then, as the latest superstar of the Australian turf, Winx, is inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame, have a little dig about the part New Zealand played in her creation.

And we aren’t talking about the indisputable Kiwi origins of her trainer Chris Waller, no this is purely a breeding story.

The daughter of the Irish-bred stallion Street Cry may carry the (Aus) suffix, but take a closer look at that dam line.  Bar one slight glitch it is, as the saying goes, Kiwi as.

It is also the family of a mare whose incredible staying and weight carrying feats earned the title of the best staying mare of her era.

Warstep [pictured] these days is pretty much a footnote in history, acknowledged through the race at the Canterbury Racing Club which carries her name. But the winner of most of our notable staying races, including the 1914 Auckland Cup, was a crowd favourite.

Her trainer George Murray Aynsley recalled the mare being mobbed by racing fans who would pluck hairs from her mane and tail. Any wonder they loved her, at the time she ran in, and won, the 1915 Trentham Gold Cup the £3000 invested on her was a record for any one horse.

Given Warstep’s position as the pin-up girl of her generation, it is probably right that we start the Winx story with Warstep’s sister Stardancer.  

A daughter of the champion sire of his era Martian, Stardancer left 11 winners, including the 1920 Auckland Cup winner Starland and the good winner Limelight.  The winner of 12 races, Limelight also went on to feature as the grand dam of Nereid, the dam of 1956 Wellington Cup winner Fox Myth (by Foxbridge) and 1963 Caulfield Cup winner Sometime (by Summertime).

Another of Nereid’s offspring was Galston who later found fame as the dam of the New Zealand-bred Galilee.  The Trelawney Stud product became the first horse in history to win the Caulfield, Melbourne and Sydney Cups in one season and was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2005.

If we skip forward a few generations, through Stardancer’s daughter Spotlight (by Nassau) and Spotlight’s daughter Silver Beam (by Silverado) we arrive at Winx’s fifth dam, the Theio mare Gay Abandon.

Bred in 1945 Gay Abandon had a lengthy career at a broodmare, leaving her first foal in 1950 and her last, a filly by Stunning named Vegas, in 1969.

It was Gay Abandon’s second foal, a colt by Gabador, foaled in 1952, that was to put her on the map as a broodmare. Racing for Sir Woolf Fisher as El Khobar he made an immediate impact on the track with two wins from his only starts at two. While taken to Australia for a three-year-old campaign, illness meant it wasn’t until the winter of 1956 that the Australians got to see what the fuss was about. El Khobar’s seven wins in Australia included the Doomben Ten Thousand and the Ascot Stakes. He went on to win races in the United States before standing at stud.

Vegas was bred in the Wairarapa by Frank Robertson, son of Charles Robertson, widely regarded as the founder of our national yearling sales. She met with little success at stud, with her first two foals, a colt and filly by Sovereign Edition, both destroyed.  She left just two live foals before dying in 1979.

The first of those live foals was the Sovereign Edition filly Vegas Street, bred by the Estate of Sir Woolf Fisher. Placed as a two-year-old in Australia, Vegas Street left two winners and the placed Ballerina Magic, the dam of Listed VRC Auckland Racing Club Handicap winner Arabian Magic.

Of course, the most notable of her offspring now is the two-time winner Vegas Magic. The daughter of Voodoo Rhythm, and as such the only Australian-glitch in Winx’s bottom line, was purchased in Melbourne by New Zealand Hall of Fame trainer Graeme Rogerson.

Once her racing days were behind her Rogerson had high hopes for Vegas Magic’s first foal Black Magic Maggie. The daughter of Westminster won three races and was Group Three placed before breaking a leg.

Vegas Showgirl, foaled in 2002 and a stakes winner of seven races was described by Rogerson as a “good, handy filly.” But there was an interesting tale behind just how the mating which resulted in Winx’s dam came about.

Rogerson had sent Vegas Magic south to Grangewilliam Stud to be covered by Batavian when they received bad news. The multiple stakes winner from the Rogerson stable had dropped dead from a heart attack while serving a mare.  The decision was made to instead send her to Batavian’s associate sire Al Akbar.

While Vegas Showgirl was sold to John Camilleri’s Fairway Thoroughbreds for $455,000 at the 2008 Magic Millions National Bloodstock Sale, Rogerson still retained some members of the family.

Two of those, Antalaga and Eagle Magic, both daughters of Duelled out of West Magic (by Westminster-Vegas Magic) will go through the same sale later this month.

Given the amount of Kiwi history around the creation of the racing wonder which is Winx, I think we can lay claim to just a little bit of credit.