Bowman is determined to retain Australia’s ‘best race’

Superstar: Winx (ridden by Hugh Bowman) is unbeaten in 11 races. Photo: Sharon Lee Chapman

The Melbourne Cup will forever be the ‘race that stops a nation’, but jockey Hugh Bowman has made known his feelings on which race should be regarded as the best in Australia. The first Tuesday in November brings the country to a standstill as the gates open at Flemington for the Melbourne Cup, and few races worldwide command more attention.

But it is that status as a handicap that makes Bowman look elsewhere when he considers his nation’s benchmark contest. For the star Sydney jockey, that honour goes instead to Moonee Valley’s G1 Cox Plate.

The weight-for-age status of the 2,000-metre contest dictates that talent is the deciding factor and, for Bowman, there is no better race to win. The 36-year-old has tasted glory in many of Australia’s big races and has amassed career prize money in excess of $126,000,000 along the way. Steering superstar mare Winx to glory in last year’s Cox Plate is something Bowman describes as ‘humbling’ as he reflects on his sole success in the race to date.

Preparations are now well underway for Winx to go back to Moonee Valley on October 22 and attempt to defend that crown. The latest  betting news suggests that Winx – currently unbeaten in 11 starts – will take some stopping should she get there in one piece. The omens for a successful defence are strong. Since 1999, Sunline, Northerly and So You Think have all landed back-to-back renewals of the Cox Plate, while Fields Of Omagh is also a dual winner, having scored in 2003 and 2006.

Winx made it 11 straight wins last Saturday, when she overcame a slow start to win the G1 George Main Stakes (run as the Colgate Optic White Stakes) at Royal Randwick with plenty in hand on her rivals. At the winning post, she had one and a quarter lengths to spare on Hauraki, with Bowman conceding afterwards that his mount did only what she needed to do to win the race.

The Chris Waller-trained mare has now elevated her status to such a level with the Australian racing public that Bowman admits there is an added pressure every time they go to post together. Winx is a headline act in her own right and being part of the show comes with a great deal of responsibility. Typically, the jockey suggests that he has unerring faith in his equine partner when it comes to producing the goods on the big stage.

Her Randwick success will have to be improved on if the Cox Plate is to be retained. Bowman says he is under no illusions about that. By late October, the plan is to have Winx set for Moonee Valley on the back of one more prep race in the Caulfield Stakes. Success there will bring up a dozen on the trot for the great mare.

As he gears up for the Cox Plate, Bowman won’t want to be considering the option of 13 being an unlucky number. The Melbourne Cup might be the ‘race that stops a nation’, but when the gates open at Moonee Valley on October 22, Bowman and Winx will be eager to prove the Cox Plate isn’t the race to stop this brilliant mare.

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