Winx overtakes Happy Clapper to win the Group One Chipping Norton Stakes (Lisa Grimm)
Winx breaks a lot of records.
These days, they’re usually her own.
31 straight wins. Check.
23 Group Ones. Check.
Race record. Check.
4 straight Chipping Nortons. Check. Well, sort of.
This one she’ll have to ‘share’ with Tie The Knot, who won 13 Group Ones throughout his illustrious career: starting with the 1997 Spring Champion Stakes and ending with the 2002 Chipping Norton.
Ultimately, Tie The Knot would compete in 35 Group Ones (among 62 career starts) and aside from the ‘baker’s dozen’ victories at racing’s elite level, the remarkable chestnut would also run Group One placings in the Victoria and AJC Derbies, the Ranvet, the Yalumba (twice) and, memorably, a second to Sunline in the 1999 Cox Plate.
However, in the Chipping Norton – first run in 1925 – he reigned supreme: four starts, four wins.
At the time, most would have felt safe to assume that his record would never be matched, but then along came Winx.
It was somewhat fitting then that Sandy Tait – who bred and raced Tie The Knot with his sister Jill Nivison – travelled up to Royal Randwick on Saturday to see the miracle mare tie with Tie The Knot.
The Tait family has been closely involved with the Australian thoroughbred industry for a century with Sandy’s parents racing such luminaries as Baguette (winner of 14 ‘principal’ races including the Sydney 2YO Triple Crown and Newmarket Handicap) and Epsom/Stradbroke winner Cabochon, while Sandy and Jill have also bred/raced the 3-time Group One winning mare, Spinning Hill.
Another of their mares, Fiancee, won a Flight Stakes and Silver Slipper and is the granddam of AJC Oaks winner, Wild Iris, in turn the dam of the Taits 4-time Group winner and multiple Group One placed, Zanbagh, winner of over $1.2 million. Interestingly, the Tait involvement with that particular family dates back 90 years!
“I’ve been fortunate to see a lot of very good horses in my time, including Tulloch, Kingston Town, Makybe Diva and, of course, Black Caviar,” Tait recalls. “I really don’t think you can compare horses from one era to the next, but Winx is a truly special racehorse and it’s a privilege to watch her race.
“To see her win 31 straight is testimony to just how well she has been handled throughout by her trainer, Chris Waller, the owners and all those people who work behind the scenes. Incredible achievement.”
Tait’s son, Olly, well remembers the thrill of watching Tie The Knot win four Chipping Nortons (not to mention the other nine Group Ones) and despite 15 years at the helm of Darley’s Australian operation, he is yet to see one good enough to match strides with Winx.
“She is simply a phenomenon,” Olly enthuses. “I’ve watched a lot of very good horses in the last 20 years – from all around the world – but for her to achieve what she has is beyond compare.
“The great horses usually have an excuse when they get beaten, but she hasn’t had to use an excuse for a long, long time. It takes an incredible racehorse to be able to build that kind of sequence. What’s more, she’s been able to defeat everything they throw against her – clearly the best of the local horses, but some outstanding imports as well.”
Tait and wife, Amber, are now the owners of Twin Hills Stud at Cootamundra in NSW, standing Group One producing sire, Smart Missile and Group winning sprinter Odyssey Moon.
Tait purchased the 2,500 acre showpiece from Darley in 2017, which had previously been owned by Woodlands Stud until 2008.
“It (Twin Hills) was originally established as a horse stud by Ferd Calvin before Mike Willessee really took it to the next level from the early 1980s,” Tait explains. “Mike stood the likes of Rubiton and Snippets at the farm under his TransMedia banner and had really made his mark in the industry before selling the farm to the Inghams (Woodlands).”
Sadly, Willessee – a giant of Australian television – died on Friday at the age of 76 and, apart from Rubiton and Snippets, his thoroughbred interests also involved Sir Dapper, Sovereign Red and Cerreto.
Commenting on Willessee’s legacy at Randwick on Saturday, Winx’s part-owner, Debbie Kepitis – daughter of Bob Ingham – alluded to the Group Two Skyline Stakes win earlier in the day by Microphone who is bred and raced by Godolphin and hails from one of the great Ingham families : all of whom have spent time at Twin Hills.
“What an omen … I’m sure Mike’s up there making sure Microphone won,” Kepitis claimed.
HOOFNOTE: The Ron Quinton trained, Dixie Blossoms, went within three quarters of a length of winning her third successive Group Two Guy Walter Stakes on Saturday – the final Group race on the star studded Royal Randwick program.
Known as the Wiggle Stakes until 2015, the race was renamed in honour of the late and much missed Walter who trained many of the Tait gallopers over the years, including Tie The Knot.
Appropriately, the race has been sponsored for the last two years by Proven Thoroughbreds, owned by Guy’s brother Jamie Walter, while the Tait home-bred – Zanbagh – ran second in the race in 2016 and 2017.