Phar Lap Versus Winx-Aussieraces.com
Phar Lap Versus Winx – Who’s The Greatest?
After the wonder horse Winx claimed a record fourth Cox plate in a row in October 2018 the accolades began to flow. Even prior to that victory the mare had been crowned as the best thoroughbred racehorse in the world. Highly respected Channel 7 sports commentator Bruce McAvaney in an interview in the Sydney Telegraph newspaper said “Winx is the best I have seen - she is up there with Phar Lap.'' McAvaney may be right – after all, Winx wasn't beaten in nearly four years and won a record 33 races in a row.
It is very human to attribute greater significance to things that we have seen, experienced or have first hand knowledge of and to give less weight to things that don’t tick those boxes. Born in 1953, McAvaney is of course too young to have ever seen Phar Lap race. Few people alive have witnessed both Phar Lap and Winx race in the flesh. One who has is 97 year old former bookmaker Bill Waterhouse. In a recent interview with racing journalist Ray Thomas Waterhouse said ”I have to acknowledge Winx is, I think , superior to Phar Lap. I think she is the best racehorse I have ever seen in my 97 years”.
McAvaney’s and Waterhouse’s comments amount to high praise indeed, but it has been 87 years since Phar Lap raced and Winx is the star of the modern era. How can we possibly compare them objectively? Well, Aussieraces.com has had a serious crack at it, comparing each galloper on many key measures. The facts and stats of both horses are listed on the table below. Which horse is the greatest? You be the judge.
Phar Lap Versus Winx - the Facts and Stats
Number of Race Starts
Number of Wins
Winning Strike Rate
Group 1 Victories
Major Derbies and Oaks
AJC Derby & Vic Derby
Greatest Winning Margin
No market offered
Average Winning Margin
Winning Distance Range
1200 - 3200 metres
1100 - 2200 metres
Won 32 of last 35 races
Won 33 races in a row
Career Prize Money
1932 Agua Caliente Hcp.
2015 Cox Plate
Highest Winning Weight
Highest Weight Carried
* The Group racing system was only introduced in 1978. According to australianracingrecords.com.au Phar Lap won 27 races that are now recognised as Group 1 events.
** Phar Lap had won career prize money of A70,123 pounds by 1932. According to the Reserve Bank of Australia’s Inflation Calculator this equates to $6,616,634 in Australian dollars in 2019. However, this does not take into account the fact that prize money of races in Australia has increased dramatically in real terms since Phar Lap raced. The winner of the first Melbourne Cup received a gold watch. When Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup the prize money for the event was A12,500 pounds whilst the 2018 version of the event had a whopping purse of $7.3 million. Tallying up all the prize money that Phar Lap would have won had he won the races at today’s value’s (for example first prize money for the 2018 Melbourne Cup was $4,000,000) he may very well have won as much or even more prize money than Winx. However, it is not possible to carry out this calculation accurately as some of the races that Phar Lap won such as the Agua Caliente Handicap are no longer run.
Winx’s 33 race winning streak speaks for itself as does her world record 25 Group 1 wins. Her four Cox Plates are also incomparable. In taking out the race by 5 lengths in 2015 she recorded course record time for the Moonee Valley 2040 metres. In 2016 she struck a rain affected surface for the race so no time records were broken – but she bolted in by 8 lengths - a record winning margin for the race which was first run in 1922. If there has been any criticism at all aimed at Winx, it is has been that she has never raced and taken on the best in the world overseas. All her racing has been limited to the eastern seaboard of Australia. Also, 27 of her 37 wins have been achieved at just two race tracks - Randwick and Rosehill.
In 2017 I attended the Cox Plate meeting at Moonee Valley to witness the Winx phenomenon first hand. Studying the mare in her stall prior to the race I was surprised at how plain she looked. However later on, when she stepped out onto the track she looked very different altogether. Wearing her shimmering blue ‘battle colours’, with Hugh Bowman aboard and to the roar of the adoring masses, she held her head high, strided with confidence and appeared to acknowledge the crowd and the occasion. According to Dr. Graeme Putt of the University Of Auckland one factor that contributed to Winx’s stunning success is the frequency of her footfalls. She can put in 14 strides in the same time that her rivals get in only 12. Apparently it’s exactly what Usain Bolt did to dominate his sport.
Phar Lap also had many career highlights. His first win was in a maiden race at Rosehill but he very quickly rose to prominence with his very next victory being the ‘Group 1’ Rosehill Guineas. At odds of 8/11 Phar Lap started the shortest priced favourite in the history of the Melbourne Cup in 1930 and had a huge weight to carry in 62.5 kgs - 6.5 kilos more than his nearest rival - but he won the race in a cakewalk by 3 lengths. Phar Lap put in a phenomenal performance in the 1931 Futurity Stakes when he missed the start by 5 lengths and still won. It was the horse’s 39th race start and after the win it was reported that it was the first time that jockey Jim Pike had ever drawn the whip on the horse. However, it was his victory in the Agua Caliente, then North America’s richest race that represents the apex of Phar Lap's career.
Phar Lap had endured a long trip by ship to get across to the other side of the world. He also had never raced on a dirt track and had lost his trainer as Harry Telford refused to go with the horse to Mexico leaving Phar Lap in the care of his strapper Tommy Woodcock. Just to make things even more challenging Phar Lap went into the race under an injury cloud with a heel problem. Phar Lap took on some of the best racehorses in the world in the event. When the field jumped, Big Red was slow to leave the gates and from that point had the entire field in front of him. Phar Lap’s jockey W. Elliot wasn’t happy being in that position though, so he quickly took off on the horse and went around the field racing 3, 4 and 5 wide and covered a ton of extra ground. He made the long, sustained run on the horse and he didn’t stop when he hit the front either - he just kept forging further ahead. By the 600 metre mark Big Red was travelling at a breakneck pace and had shot 4 lengths clear of the field. Then in the space of just 200 metres the early effort appeared to take its toll and the 7/1 chance Reveille Boy moved up and quickly whittled down Phar Lap’s advantage to nothing. Phar Lap looked gone as Reveille Boy joined him in the lead early in the home straight. Australian hearts sank and hopes of victory faded as the race caller excitedly declared that Reveille Boy “Has got him!” However, at the very moment he uttered those words, Phar Lap found another gear and showed grit and determination to draw away to win easily by 2 lengths under hands and heels riding – winning in course record time. You can watch Phar Lap’s amazing win in the Agua Caliente here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bROtR5ivyZw .
Winx may have started at odds as low as $1.08 to win in her races but bookmakers actually refused to offer any odds at all about Phar Lap in many of his events – he was simply expected to win and most often he did just that. Phar Lap’s dominance of horseracing upset bookmakers and some racing authorities. Bookmakers were liable for huge doubles payouts if Phar Lap was successful in the 1930 Melbourne Cup and were rumoured to be behind the shotgun blast that was fired at the champion just days before the race. Some racing officials believed that Phar Lap’s clear superiority was detrimental to the sport and they did their best to weight him out of races. Phar Lap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup with 62.5 kgs and the following year was burdened with 68kgs. By comparison Makybe Diva carried 55.5 and 58kgs in her last two Melbourne Cup victories.
Winx raced as a 2yo each season to a 7yo (six racing seasons) whereas Phar Lap raced for only four before tragically dying in mysterious circumstances days after his victory in the Agua Caliente. Looking at the above table you could argue that Phar Lap has Winx’s measure in many of the key categories listed - the number of ‘Group 1’ victories, the greatest winning margin, the average winning margin, the distance range they won over, the greater weights carried to victory, the number of course records run and the number of ‘iconic’ races won. Also the highly respected Timeform rates Phar Lap’s peak performance at 141 whereas Winx’s best at 134 - a difference of a couple of lengths. Of course, Phar Lap also travelled halfway across the world by boat to take on the best and beat them – which is somewhat of a sticking point with Winx. Whilst the Agua Caliente Handicap is no longer run, in the 1930’s it was one of the richest races in the world and it’s list of winners reads like a who’s who of racing. After Phar Lap, the legendary Sea Biscuit took out the race. Both horses would later have their stories retold in big budget movies.
Who’s the greatest? Let us know your thoughts on the subject. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aussieraces.com April 2019