Racing: Another Race Of The Century?

By Mike Dillon

Hartnell and James McDonald could  "race  into equine immortality" should they beat Winx in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley today. Picture / Getty Images
Hartnell and James McDonald could "race into equine immortality" should they beat Winx in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley today. Picture / Getty Images

The phones of Frank and Shaune Ritchie have been running hot with transtasman calls all week.

Australian media, which dubbed Bonecrusher's and Our Waverley Star's 1986 Cox Plate unforgettable clash "The Race Of The Century", is desperate to set the scene for a similar titanic duel between Winx and Hartnell in the 2016 renewal at Moonee Valley this afternoon.

The words of the late, great racecaller Bill Collins: "And Bonecrusher has raced into equine immortality" had more relevance than even he would have anticipated. In 30 years the memory of that great gladiatorial match-up has not even slightly dimmed.

Depending on what happens today they may be talking similarly about Winx and Hartnell a further 30 years down the track.

"The Press labelled that race the race of the 20th century and they are determined to make this the race of the 21st century," says Shaune Ritchie. "Dad and I have answered every possible question this week.

"What made Bonecrusher's race so dramatic was that the two horses treated the others with utter contempt, because the riders, Gary Stewart and Lance O'Sullivan, knew they could.

"The same situation exists with Winx and Hartnell this time, but the likelihood of these two [Hugh Bowman and James McDonald] doing the same is slim."

But, make no mistake, this will be a race just as tactical as it was in 1986. McDonald declared midweek he wants Hartnell to be in front of Winx at the 600m. It might seem surprising to some that McDonald would declare tactics in advance, but Bowman is smart enough to know that's exactly what McDonald will attempt to do.

Bowman will do everything to prevent his mate away from the racetrack from getting his own way.

Neither horse lacks heart and Winx will fight to the death, but it is inescapable that Hartnell has remarkable staying powers for one so brilliant to tackle a mare of Winx's dash.

It is truly wonderful Hartnell is a real chance to win a Cox Plate and a Melbourne Cup 11 days later. Yes, Makybe Diva did it, but don't lose sight of what an extraordinary effort is required to achieve it in two completely different disciplines. It's 2030m to 3200m and at this level only champions can build that bridge.

Here is something that might surprise you if you do not already know - what does Winx and this year's $125,000 Great Northern Steeplechase winner Kickback have in common?

Their respective dams Vegas Showgirl and Take Three are by former sprinter/metric miler Al Akbar.

That's where the comparison pretty much ends apart from an absolute determination to win on the part of both mares.

Vegas Showgirl was no slouch when trained in New Zealand a decade ago, winning seven races and $209,206. Leith Innes, Allan Peard, Lisa Cropp, Opie Bosson, Andrew Calder, Darryl Bradley, Trudy Thornton, Kelly McCulloch, Michael Coleman, Gavin McKeon and Bruce Herd being the jockeys that steered her on raceday, none possibly aware of what greatness the progeny of this horse under them would one day achieve.

Going into today's magical moment the state of play is:

Winx: 22 starts, 16 wins, last 12 straight. $7,498,175

Hartnell: 26 starts, 10 wins, $2,233,999.

Most betting shops have it: $1.80 Winx, $3.30 Hartnell, $15 or better all other runners.

- NZ Herald

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