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How do you say goodbye?

6 min read

As Chris Waller and the connections of Winx (Street Cry {Ire}) contemplate the right time to retire the superstar mare after her extraordinary fourth Cox Plate victory, we reflect on the decisions to retire the two other star racehorses of this century.

In November 2005, Lee Freedman stood in the mounting yard at Flemington at the top of the racing world. He'd just overseen Makybe Diva's (GB) (Desert King {Ire} third Melbourne Cup win, a feat unmatched in the race's 145-year history.

Always a man for the moment, in front of 106,479 people at Flemington, he summed up the achievement perfectly.

“Go and find the smallest child on the course today because that is the only person here who will live to see this again, we won't," he said.

He then confirmed that at 7 years of age, she had run her last race of an amazing career.

"She is the best horse I have ever trained and seen, and it was a great decision to retire her,' he said.

“Go and find the smallest child on the course today because that is the only person here who will live to see this again, we won't." - Lee Freedman

While a racing world without The Diva seemed a hard thing to contemplate, Freedman was right, it was the correct decision and moment to retire her.

Watch: Makybe Diva winning her 3rd Melbourne Cup

The race she had made her own three times in a row, the race many say is the hardest to win in the world, was the only stage she could possibly ascend to again.

Having lumped 58kg for her third victory, it was impossible to think she could revisit the summit 12 months later with an even bigger weight as an 8-year-old mare.

"I’m probably a bit disappointed in myself that I retired her, or the owners retired her, on that day." - Lee Freedman

Ten years' later, reflecting on that moment, Freedman conceded she may have been retired too soon.

"I’m probably a bit disappointed in myself that I retired her, or the owners retired her, on that day,” Freedman said. “There was probably some good racing in her beyond that. But I guess the risk scenario with a horse that valuable and that popular is always ever-present."

“In all honesty, I’ve always harboured these views but kept them to myself but I thought being perfectly honest, we could have raced on.”

Unbeatable

A few years later, we were blessed by Black Caviar (Bel Esprit), the superstar mare that would rewrite all the record books with 25 straight wins, including arguably her greatest and certainly her narrowest, her Royal Ascot win in the G1 Diamond Jubilee S. at Royal Ascot.

While Makybe Diva's dominance was primarily reserved for one event, Black Caviar was expected to dominate every race she contested. Remarkably, she lived up to the mark on every occasion.

As her record built, and particularly after that Royal Ascot success, it was apparent that the pressure to maintain the streak was impacting those around her.

"I think in our wisdom we thought, 'what else can we achieve?' We don't want to do anything wrong by the horse." - Peter Moody

Black Caviar winning the 2013 Lightning Stakes

Luke Nolen was almost broken by his decision to go easy on her in the final stages of that Diamond Jubilee win, while even her irrepressible trainer, Peter Moody, started to feel the strain as well.

On an April afternoon in 2013, a few days after she won TJ Smith S. for the second time, Moody called a press conference at Caulfield and confirmed that she would be retired.

"The owners and myself have had a long chats for the past couple of days [and] this afternoon at lunchtime we decided 25 was a great number," Moody said..

"I think in our wisdom we thought, 'what else can we achieve?' We don't want to do anything wrong by the horse."

"She's done everything we asked her to do, she couldn't possibly have done any more." - Peter Moody

"She's been so wonderful for us and Australian racing. She's been a great shining light for our industry and my career [so] let's stop now before something can go haywire."

"She's done everything we asked her to do, she couldn't possibly have done any more."

As much as the end of such an amazing career was a moment of sadness for the trainer, it was also, clearly a moment of relief. Less than three years later, he too retired.

Will Winx go on?

Maintaining the streak is something which has built pressure on Waller as well. Winx has gone past Black Caviar, with 29 consecutive wins, but the scrutiny has not been quite at the same level as she of course has been beaten, but not for three and half years.

“We’ve got a superstar horse. I guess you could say we flirt with danger in terms of keeping her racing and keeping her up there to be beaten," Waller said on RSN Sunday morning.

“The simple fact is – soundness perspective, her body language and as I say or the time she is going as well as ever, so it’s a calculated decision every run and it’s a huge relief to know you get it right on such a big stage."

“We’ve got a superstar horse. I guess you could say we flirt with danger in terms of keeping her racing and keeping her up there to be beaten." - Chris Waller

Black Caviar and Makybe Diva both called it quits at seven and it wouldn’t be surprising if the same happens with Winx.

Any decision is on hold for now, as Waller and co soak in the history she has created as a four-time Cox Plate winning champion.

“She is going to be a mum, I just don’t know when,” Waller said.

“We had a chat about six weeks ago to see how everyone was travelling. I was starting to get a little bit antsy, just to know what everyone was thinking."

“She is going to be a mum, I just don’t know when.” - Chris Waller

“Everybody quickly agreed. If the horse is happy, that’s a tick, if she’s sound that’s a very important tick as well. The jockey’s happy, the trainer's happy, there’s nothing to worry about and it's full steam ahead, one run at a time."

“We will have a collective look at it and see what we’re doing and when the end will be. I’d say that decision could be made when we meet, whenever that may be, whenever we decide."

Winx