Bill Waterhouse: ‘Winx is superior to Phar Lap’
ONE of the last living links to Phar Lap has been moved to rate wonder mare Winx as a better racehorse than the legend of Australian racing.
Bill Waterhouse, once the world's biggest bookmaker, is 97 but his memory of Phar Lap hasn't faded with the passing of time.
But as Winx is being readied for her attempt at a 31st consecutive win in the Group 1 $600,000 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick, Waterhouse said the mighty mare deserves to be recognised as the greatest of all time.
Comparing racehorses from different eras - particularly two that are almost 90 years apart - is certain to create robust debate.
But Waterhouse is in a better position than most to make the comparison as he can still vividly recall watching Phar Lap dominate the 1930 Randwick autumn carnival with runaway wins in the AJC St Leger, Cumberland Stakes and AJC Plate.
"As a boy, I saw Phar Lap race at Randwick, winning three times over the seven days of the AJC Carnival,'' Waterhouse said.
"He created a huge impression on me. I 'knew' he was the greatest horse to ever race. Young eyes allow a champion to make an enormous impact.
"Then and thereafter, everyone recognised Phar Lap as an absolute 'wonder horse'.
"I remember Dad's (C.O.H. Waterhouse, a St Leger bookmaker) oft-repeated, sage advice to me, prompted by Phar Lap: 'Never bet against a champion'.''
Waterhouse has always rated Phar Lap as the greatest horse he has seen and unbeaten sprinter Black Caviar as the fastest but he now believes Winx has eclipsed both champions.
"I have to acknowledge, Winx is, I think, superior to Phar Lap,'' Waterhouse said.
"I think she the best racehorse I ever seen in my 97 years.
"Modern horses are better reared, better fed and, maybe, better trained today. Why wouldn't they be better?
"With 30 straight wins, Winx has screamed her domination of her generation.
"Moreover, I'm told, she may have the 'quickest' stride ever recorded. She is the best ever!''
But Waterhouse feels Winx may not be remembered as reverentially as Phar Lap.
"I am not sure history will be as kind to Winx as me,'' he said.
"In contrast, the memory of Phar Lap will be that of a great horse of taking on all distances, all weights, undaunted by the fear of defeat.
"Phar Lap won the 1930 Cox Plate and then won at each of the four days of the VRC Spring Carnival (1600m to 3200m).
"He won, over his lifetime, from 1000m to 3600m. He raced in the Melbourne Cup with 68kg on a 42.5kg limit.
"He won the world's richest race lame, wearing bar plates. A brave warrior.
"By contrast I fear Winx will, in time to come, be wrongly tainted with the tag a 'cotton wool' champion. But you can't blame the Winx connections. Times are different.''
Waterhouse said prizemoney for weight-for-age races are "worth so much more today compared with yesteryear" so there is no need for Winx to be tested in handicaps.
"Phar Lap's 1931 Cox Plate was worth only £400 as against his 1930 Melbourne Cup of £9,229,'' Waterhouse said.
Waterhouse is adamant Winx could race on for another year and still dominate Australian racing.
"Phar Lap didn't retire,'' he said, recalling how the mighty racehorse died from a mystery ailment when still in his prime, less than three weeks after beating America's best horses in the 1932 Agua Caliente Handicap.
"If I owned Winx, she would stay racing, forget about protecting her unbeaten record and show her greatness by 'stepping outside the crease' like Phar Lap.''
Webster Happy to race in champ's shadow
Trainer Pat Webster could be excused for wishing his stable star Happy Clapper wasn't racing in the Winx era.
Happy Clapper has clashed with Winx in nine races and chased her home every time. He's run second to the great champion on four occasions including three at Group 1 level - Doncaster Mile, George Ryder Stakes and George Main Stakes.
Winx might have cost Happy Clapper's connections more than $3 million prizemoney but rather than bemoan his luck, Webster has an unexpected take on the super mare's complete domination of Australian racing.
"I think it is good Winx is around,'' Webster said. "If she wasn't racing, I don't know whether I could stand the pressure of 'The Clapper' running around $1.10 favourite.
"I had ulcers before 'The Clapper' won the Epsom Handicap and Doncaster Mile last season.
"If Winx wasn't around, he would be $1.10 and I'd be sleeping with him every night I'd be so worried.''
Although Webster says Happy Clapper is in top form he isn't about to predict a boilover when he clashes with Winx in the Group 1 $600,000 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday.
Winx is at $1.08 with TAB Fixed Odds to score her 31st consecutive win. Happy Clapper is at $7 then it is $31 the field.
Webster has been at Randwick all his professional life stretching more than 50 years. He has seen all the great champions during this period including the legendary Kingston Town and maintains he hasn't seen a better racehorse than Winx.
"Winx has to be the best,'' Webster said when asked to rate the champions. "To win 30 races in succession at this level of racing - it won't happen again.
"If we run second to Winx in the Chipping Norton Stakes then there is no shame in that, I'd be proud of our horse.''
Happy Clapper was on the comeback trail after a bleeding attack when he resumed with another game second behind Winx in the Apollo Stakes two weeks ago.
Webster said Happy Clapper has been improved by that run but acknowledges Winx will be even better for her first-up win, too.
"Happy Clapper is great,'' the trainer said. "He galloped on the 'Kenso' earlier in the week and it was terrific work. He galloped on his own, I have to, because he pulls too hard if I work him with another horse.
"Actually, I don't let him anywhere near other horses until raceday and that includes Winx.
"I'd like 'The Clapper' to get near Winx but you just can't get near her.''
Webster said Happy Clapper's fierce competitive streak is an unusual trait for a rising nine-year-old gelding.
"You don't find too many horses who are as keen as he is at his age,'' Webster said.
"It's one of the reasons I think we can keep going with him for another year or two as long as he stays injury-free.
"He is not easy to train because he is such a hard-going horse but he is easy to train in another sense because I don't need to gallop him hard as he is naturally very clean-winded.''
Happy Clapper, a winner of 11 races including three at Group 1 level and more than $6.4 million prizemoney, has been allocated 59kg for his title defence in the $3 million Doncaster Mile (1600m) at Royal Randwick on April 6.
Webster is non-committal about a Doncaster Mile start, conceding the 59kg impost is a "big leveller". The last horse to carry more than 58kg and win the Doncaster was Super Impose under 59.5kg in 1991.
"I know it is a cliché but we are taking it one race at a time with him,'' Webster said.
"After all he has been through with the injuries he's had and the bleeding attack, 'The Clapper' owes me nothing.
"All I do now is look after his heath and well-being. He has been such a marvellous horse, he has nothing to prove to me. If 'The Clapper' is happy, I'm happy!"