Winx's bridesmaids get their All-Star clear air

7 min read
Eight-year-olds Happy Clapper and Hartnell meet for just the third time in Saturday's All-Star Mile at Flemington - and for the first time without the presence of a certain superstar mare.

The racing and sporting worlds are full of examples of star athletes unfortunate enough to be born in the same era with one who would prove an absolute immortal.

Hay List (Statue of Liberty {USA)) was brilliant enough of a sprinter to win three Group 1s but is often remembered as the horse who ran second to unbeaten Black Caviar (Bel Esprit) on four occasions at the top level.

In Australian cricket, the careers of Shane Warne, Australia's greatest ever bowler, and fellow leg--spinner Stuart MacGill, ran in parallel, and it was MacGill who suffered from the comparison. In any other era, the MacGill would have been a superstar, but the considerable shadow of Warne hung over him throughout his career.

In the Winx (Street Cry {Ire}) era there have been two horses who she has famously made play second fiddle. Earlier in her career, it was Hartnell (GB), (Authorized {Ire}), beaten by her four times, including by eight lengths in the 2016 Cox Plate.

Hartnell has been runner-up to Winx four times

In the past couple of years, it has been the grand miler Happy Clapper (Teofilo {Ire}) who has repeatedly been Winx's bridesmaid. Having raced her on ten occasions, the three-time Group 1 winner has been second five times, including twice in the past month in the G2 Apollo S. and the G1 Chipping Norton S. If not for Winx, Happy Clapper would have won seven Group 1s.

On Saturday, the two 8-year-olds get clear air, contesting the inaugural $5m All Star Mile with their nemesis resting up back in Chris Waller's stables.

Amazingly, it is just the third time they have met on the racetrack. Both their previous clashes have gone in Hartnell's favour, but with Winx a dominant winner. The first was in the 2016 Cox Plate, with Hartnell second, three lengths clear of Happy Clapper in sixth, while in the 2017 Queen Elizabeth S. Hartnell was second, with 'The Clapper' as he is affectionately known, a further 2.5l back in fifth.

Of all of his 13 rivals on Saturday, Hartnell is the horse that Happy Clapper's trainer Pat Webster respects the most.

"They are real tough weight for age horses." - Trainer Pat Webster

"I love Hartnell, he's a beautiful horse isn’t he?" Webster told RSN. "He's such a tough bugger, he won the Epsom with top weight. They are real tough weight for age horses."

Happy Clapper running second to Winx in the G2 Apollo S.

Two old warriors

As a new concept race, involving a considerable amount of public activation, there is plenty left to learn about the nature of the All-Star Mile. But as Webster points out, put simply, it is a 1600m weight-for-age race, conditions which he feels suit experience over precocity.

"I remember Robbie Laing was staying with me once and I said 'What makes a good weight-for-age horse?', and he said 'a big bastard like that' and Clapper was walking past him," he said.

"They are old warriors and they get out there and cop bumps and they cop everything. They are old warriors and they are there to be beaten, but you've got to beat them."

"They are old warriors and they are there to be beaten, but you've got to beat them." - Pat Webster

Certainly in terms of credentials over the mile, it’s hard to fault the form of the eight-year-old pair. Between them they have won two Epsoms and a Doncaster, while Happy Clapper has been runner-up in Group 1 miles to Winx on three occasions.

The most recent of those was two weeks ago, when jockey Blake Shinn threw the gauntlet down to Hugh Bowman and Winx by taking off at the 600m mark in the Chipping Norton. For a few brief strides, Webster admits his heart raced with possibility.

"I did at the 600m when Blake pushed the pedal, but I could see Hughie's elbows, he did panic a little bit but it was only for a matter of strides and then she went up a gear and he sat back on her and he had Clapper covered all the way. There was never any threat of him knocking her off," he said.

"There was never any threat of him knocking her off." - Pat Webster

It was a moment reminiscent of the 2011 TJ Smith S, when Hay List skipped four lengths clear of Black Caviar, only to be overpowered late. This proved one of the most memorable of her 25 wins and the one which defined the nature of the rivalry between the two sprinters.

The amazing thing about Happy Clapper is that while plenty of horses had had their hearts broken by racing against Winx, it doesn't seem to bother him or his trainer.

"He's used to it. That was his fifth second to her. It doesn’t seem to affect him, he's run second to her, but she's a freak and the best horse in the world. He seems to back up ok and he goes up to the next level. We are really happy with him," he said.

The people's champ

The indefatigably positive approach of both Webster and his horse is one of the reasons that Happy Clapper enjoys such enormous popularity in Australia.

That has been enhanced by the fact that he has won two of the major 'peoples' races of Australia, the Doncaster and Epsom.

Happy Clapper winning the 2018 G1 Doncaster H.

It was somewhat of a surprise, and perhaps a quirk of the first year of the popularly-elected system, that he did not get an automatic entry into the race and needed a wildcard from Racing Victoria to his ensure his participation on Saturday.

Being everyone's second favourite horse doesn't help when they can only vote for one, while in a racing world more divided along state boundaries than it has been for some time, being New South Wales trained would have not assisted him.

"At the moment he is going as good as he ever has." - Pat Webster

Added to that is the fact he has failed to win in six starts in Victoria, with his best performance when runner-up in the 2017 Emirates S. at Flemington. His most recent run south of the Murray saw him suffer a bleed when fifth in the G1 Makybe Diva S. last September.

That record doesn’t faze Webster, who is confident that at eight, his champ, a winner of $6.5m, is in career best form.

"If you take his Flemington runs, he's been good," he said. "At the moment he is going as good as he ever has. I think the two runs he has had show that. If this race was at Randwick on Saturday, he'd be a $2.50 chance."

Pat Webster is confident Happy Clapper is in career best form

No end in sight

The looming retirement of Winx, plus the discussion over the long-term racing future of star colt The Autumn Sun (Redoute's Choice), has brought into sharp focus the short window in which the public gets to enjoy champion horses.

But the Happy Clapper chapter of Australian racing is not yet ready to close.

"I hope he races until about 12," Webster joked.

"All going well, I reckon I can have him here again this time next year in the same form again, He's been very well looked after. And why shouldn’t he be? And he’ll be very well looked after he retires."

"I can't see him not being around next year, barring anything unforeseen."