How should we remember Winx?

6 min read
Few are better placed to explain the folly of comparing champions of different eras than Monty Roberts. And as we prepare to farewell Winx, the legendary horseman says we should remember her for her own deeds, not what she did compared to others.

Few people, if any, have seen so many champion horses of all kinds up close as Monty Roberts has in his 83 years. So as Australia prepares to farewell Winx (Street Cry {Ire}), who has what is likely to be her penultimate run in Saturday's G1 George Ryder S at Rosehill, the words of the legendary horseman hold particular relevance.

Roberts is globally renowned as a horse whisperer, but that description undersells the experience of a lifetime working with elite horses and developing understanding of their behaviour. He has worked with countless champion show horses, quarter horses and of course racehorses, including the two-time Arc winner Alleged (USA) (Hoist The Flag {USA}) and the Australian champion Tobin Bronze (Arctic Explorer {GB}).

It's an interesting phenomenon that the more champions of different eras one sees, the less inclined you are to compare them. Roberts very much subscribes that that belief, preferring to remember the champions in their own right rather than in comparison.

Monty Roberts

In his pocket, Roberts carries a picture of his own champion, the quarter horse Johnny Tivio, a four-time Reined Cow Horse World Champion, who is the greatest equine influence of his life. On the reverse of that photo is a picture of Sister Agnes Patricia, a school teacher who Monty credits with being his most influential human.

Speaking to TDN AusNZ during his recent trip to Melbourne for the Premier Sales, Roberts uses Johnny Tivio as an example of how we should celebrate champions like Winx.

"They may have gone on and improved, but don’t tell me he wasn't the best, he was the best in his day." - Monty Roberts

"The horse that was the greatest influence in my life is in my hip pocket right now. I will never, ever forget him, and yet in his discipline today, he might run a fifth or a sixth somewhere. They may have gone on and improved, but don’t tell me he wasn't the best, he was the best in his day," he said.

"I love him to death, and we should never forget him."

Roberts' emotional attachment to Johnny Tivio mirrors that of those who have surrounded Winx in her brilliant career, from strappers, to jockey, the owners and of course her trainer. In the pre-Winx days, Chris Waller wouldn’t have thought he was a man prone to sentiment, but now he fights back tears after every one of her wins.

Johnny Tivio

Roberts said it is the connection between a champion horse and the public that should be celebrated, as opposed to their specific achievements.

"Winx, Black Caviar, Tobin Bronze, who I took to California, these are all steps on the ladder of Australian racing that never should be forgotten. They need to be carved onto that granite monument somewhere," he said.

"Just remember what Winx was and what she did in her time." - Monty Roberts

"Just don’t say in the future, we have one now that runs faster or wins more races. Don’t say that! Just remember what Winx was and what she did in her time."

Champions a product of a tough school

The one quality that Roberts agrees all champions have is longevity. The longer they stay at the top of the game, the more their legend grows. And underlying the longevity of careers such as Winx and Black Caviar is a character forged through what he sees as a tough graduation for Australian racehorses.

"I think they are survivors of a very tough world of racing here. I have different concepts about the way they are brought through their racing career," he said.

"I'm not telling anybody that they should do it my way, they can do it whatever way they want to, but I think when one gets through this malaise of difficult times and they stay sound and they are tough as nails, then you get a Black Caviar and a Winx."

"Maybe we coddle our horses a little too much in the rest of the world. Australia has always been known as a tough world, with funny animals that bite you and kill you and you do hard work, you farm. Australia is a working man's country," he said.

Chris Waller and Winx

Fast and young

The obvious change Roberts sees in the Australian landscape in recent times is the increasing focus on fast and young horses.

It is little surprise then that as lot after lot of Australian-bred precocity goes before him at the newly-re-furbished Oaklands sales ring in Melbourne, the 83-year-old reflects on an industry increasingly focussed on the quick return.

"Being incremental is not terribly attractive to people right now." - Monty Roberts

"Being incremental is not terribly attractive to people right now," he said. "It’s about 'get it on' and I don’t think Australians would argue with me."

Indeed it’s impossible to argue, especially at a yearling sales ring, that the Australian thoroughbred industry is not enamoured with speed and precocity.

There was $464m spent on yearling sales in Australia in 2018, while the recent establishment of The Everest as the world's richest turf race, worth a staggering $13m in 2018, points further to that trend.

Monty Roberts has been inspecting yearlings at the recent Inglis Melbourne Premier Sale

"Australia seems to be favouring sprinting a lot. They want fast horses with big muscles and big backsides, like our quarter horses, it’s a bit unusual when you look elsewhere in the world," he said.

"They want fast horses with big muscles and big backsides, like our quarter horses." - Monty Roberts

"That's just a matter of preference in the moment, so to speak. I'm not saying it's a failure, it's different."

The arduous nature of yearling preparation is not something which sits comfortably with Roberts' 'concepts', which focus on equine behaviour of a different kind.

"My concepts are quite a bit different from the presentation of the animals we see here," he says.

'Best in the world'

Roberts' comments could be read as criticism, advice or just observations. But he also has utter respect in the way that Australian racing, especially through stars such as Winx, has engaged the wider public.

Monty Roberts

"You have to say, that the overall inclusion of your population to the industry of racing, stands alone at the top of the world," he said.

"It’s better than everywhere I've been and I've been everywhere there's racing." - Monty Roberts

"It’s better than everywhere I've been and I've been everywhere there's racing."

"Hong Kong is good, Hong Kong does very well. But what Hong Kong does is they maximise the betting to a public that loves to bet. So they get big crowds, that's all good. Australia has brought the Australian population into the world of racing to a degree that I've never seen before."