|The Sydney Morning Herald - Adam Pengilly - 25 October 2018 |
If the ink was any fresher, it would have still been in John Messara's pen.
Yet almost the moment he signed off on The Autumn Sun's ownership change and then popped a cork on the colt's Caulfield Guineas success, Messara was being popped the question about the chances of his brash new colt divorcing Winx from that winning streak.
The knees went momentarily weak. Nope, it would be akin to "shooting Bambi" he said. Besides, the horse needs time to mature. Off to the paddock we go.
The meeting between the two best horses in the land can wait. If they sell tickets for that union, what's the bet you'll be snipped a cover charge to be ringside at some Hunter Valley breeding barn than heaving racetrack?
And then you talk to Denise Martin about the day Winx's biggest fright came from within the four Chris Waller walls.
That day ... was just harrowing," Martin shudders.
She sits in an office adjacent to Waller's stable every day. Her Star Thoroughbreds enterprise has almost single handedly redefined her chosen field, publicly syndicating racehorses. She's Waller's main backer, yet one of Winx's biggest supporters.
It's an uncomfortable topic talking about the prospect of beating Winx, however fanciful. No one really wants to beat her, but isn't that what makes her so great that everyone has busted a gut to do exactly that for more than three years and hasn't been able to?
Martin has come closest when Winx walked out of the gates and later grew wings to collar Star's gritty grey Foxplay in the final couple of strides of the Warwick Stakes last year. In that glorious run of 28 straight wins, no finish has been as frantic, as desperate, as compelling.
And who wants to be known as the inspiration behind toppling Winx?"There's only been a couple of days where I was really nervous or anxious on a racetrack," Martin says. "I thought if [Foxplay] wins, ?how am I going to explain it? What am I going to say? I'm going to be the most hated person in world racing'.
"I wouldn't have wanted to belittle the effort of our mare, but at the same time [it would have been] 'how did it happen?'
"I was actually walking through the tunnel [before the race] and [Sky Racing host] Greg Radley said to me, ?what would you do if Foxplay beats her?' I just smiled and said, ?I doubt that will be happening and gave it no thought at all'.
"By the time they got to the 80-metre mark and Foxplay gave a little kick I started to panic because I thought, ?what's going to happen now?' I only had one thought and that was with Winx, ?she's going to run out of time'. And for a second or a second-and-a-half I was really anxious."
History shows Winx won, barely. On Saturday, Martin goes again.
Her Star flagship has D'argento in Australasia's weight-for-age championship, Winx's expected Cox Plate coronation.
D'argento's a son of two-time Cox Plate winner himself in So You Think. He will run in the race 10 years after Star's first and only starter in the event, Theseo, finished fifth behind Maldivian. He will be ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, who just happened to be aboard Foxplay on that frightful late winter day.
There's more than a little bit of serendipity.
The easy call for Waller would have been to decide not to run D'argento in the Cox Plate, to make it completely free of banana skins - however unlikely - from within. He didn't make that call.
"I always leave the final decision to Chris," Martin says. "He's very courteous and will always call and ask my thoughts, but at the end of the day I say, ?you train and manage the horse and I'll train and manage the people'. His attention to detail and meticulous management style is something I respect greatly.
"[D'argento's] there and he's proven at 2000 metres. I know that he didn't enjoy the very firm surface at Caulfield [in the Caulfield Stakes] and I'm sure he didn't absolutely love Caulfield anyway. He has his chance to be in the Cox Plate and the owners are very excited."
But also excited to watch Winx.
"I hadn't realised how remarkable Winx was until the day she defeated Foxplay when she did the impossible," Martin offers. "That sealed it for me. She's sone it over all distances, on all tracks, in all conditions. She's beating the best there is, she's not beating moderate horses."