Could the winning run of Australian Super Horse Winx finally be coming to an end?
Aiming to increase her record streak to 29 in the Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, Melbourne, on Saturday the horse standing in her way, and the one many are picking to take the great filly down, is Godolphin’s own Benbatl.
The four year old colt, the sire of Dubawi and dam Nahrain, may not be on anything like Winx’s running streak but his form is still quietly impressive.
He won the Caulfield Stakes (G1), from stablemate Blair House, just two weeks ago and according to master trainer Saeed bin Suroor, the Cox Plate has been the goal all year, even before he streaked away to win the Dubai Turf (G1) at the Dubai World Cup carnival at the end of March.
But can he beat Winx?
“The filly (Winx), she’s a superstar,” bin Suroor said this week. “I have a lot respect for her and what she has done. She’s the best in Australian history.
“But my horse is doing good, he’s improved a lot this year. I have a lot confidence. He’s a class horse.
“If my horse wins it would be great, if she wins she’s the best of the best but we take our chance. I wish them both well.”
It’s clear bin Suroor is respectful of the mighty Winx but as we have come to learn from the canny Dubai born trainer, never ever write him off.
Some pundits suggested he had forgotten how to train when he had a disappointing run in 2016-17, but this was more to do with horse allocation than skill as a trainer.
But since he has been given more promising prospects after the departure of former CEO John Ferguson, his results have begun to turn.
He still may not have the most fancied runners but they have a way of coming out on top.
Take Thunder Snow at the Dubai World Cup. Before the race all the talk was about West Coast and North America, even Thunder Snow’s stablemate Talismanic.
But come race time it was the four year old colt that took the lead coming into the home straight and could not be run down.
Bin Suroor knows his horses intimately, he knows what they can and can’t do and he also knows when they are ready to deliver. Benabtl, as he did back in March, is ready to deliver on Saturday.
The other great quality about the Emirati horse whisperer is he doesn’t give up on horses.
Many would have written Benbatl off after he struggled to finish fifth behind Wings of an Eagle in the Epsom Derby last year, ran over 2400 metres.
But bin Suroor had faith. He reckoned the colt couldn’t stay so he switched him down to the 2000m Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot less than three weeks later, and guess what – he won.
Since then Benbatl has won five more G1 races, including the Caulfield Stakes, all over similar distances.
But bin Suroor is not one to gloat and this brings into light another interesting clash on Saturday – the battle of the trainers: the restrained Godolphin man and the brash outspoken Chris Waller.
The Sydney-based Kiwi has been firing shots off all-week, comparing Winx to the All Blacks, who came to visit her recently, and lashing out at an English pundit (Matt Chapman) who dared to suggest that Winx was beatable.
“I’ve taken those comments in and I was very, very surprised and disappointed,” Waller said, before adding a very colourful anatomical description of Chapman.
“You’re in a foreign country, you (should) have a little bit of respect.”
But does Waller have any respect for Benbatl or his stablemate, Avilius who has won four-from-four since coming under the stewardship of Godolphin’s head Australian trainer James Cummings?
For Team Godolphin, Saturday’s race will be a very hostile experience – a reverse Dubai World Cup, where every runner wearing the famous blue silk is cheered on from the Royal Box to track side.
Winx is probably the most popular sporting icon in Australia at the moment and for Benbatl and Avilius, and their jockeys – Oisin Murphy and Glyn Schofield, it will feel like they are running against the whole nation.
However it has been a glorious year for Godolphin both in Europe and Australia, with Best Solution winning the Caulfield Cup, Masar (trained by Appleby) winning the Epsom Derby and Blue Point taking out the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Just this week Godolphin was awarded the champion owner in Britain for the fourth consecutive year, amassing a staggering £4,498,707 (Dh21.3million) from 113 winners, including 26 Group 1 victories.
The Super Horse might have just met her match in the Super Owner. There will be only one winner come race time Saturday.
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby reports Cross Counter back on track for the Lexus Melbourne Cup at Flemington after making a full recovery from a minor setback.
The Newmarket handler confirmed that the son of Teofilo, as short as 9-1 to lift the prestigious Group One prize on November 6, has returned to routine work after spending a short spell on the sidelines with a leg injury.
Having run out an emphatic winner of the Gordon Stakes on his penultimate start, the three-year-old found only stablemate Old Persian too strong on his most recent start in the Great Voltigeur at York in August.
Appleby said: “Cross Counter is back cantering away and he is back on track for the Melbourne Cup. He is due to do a piece of work on Saturday.
“He knocked himself and gave himself a cut so he had to have a couple of stitches but they have knitted together well.
“He has been back in exercise since Saturday and we are pleased with him. He missed those few days there but it probably didn’t do him any harm.”
Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby believes the best is yet to come from Wild Illusion as she chases a Group One hat-trick in the Maker’s Mark Filly and Mare Turf at the Breeders’ Cup.
The daughter of Dubawi will bid to back up top-level wins over a mile and a quarter in the Nassau at Goodwood and Prix de l’Opera at Paris-Longchamp last time when racing over a furlong further on November 3 at Churchill Downs in a race Appleby landed 12 months ago with the now retired Wuheida.
Appleby said: “The plan is to go out to America on Saturday morning with Wild Illusion, and she deserves to be there She has come out the race in France really well.
“Although she has campaigned well so far over the summer, going back to her two-year-old career, the autumn is when she comes into her own.
“She goes there in good order, and if she adapts to her surroundings she should be a player.
“The trip will be fine. The drop back to a mile and a quarter has seen the improvement – but this is over a mile three on a flat track with a couple of turns, so there are no concerns regarding that.”
The Newmarket handler also intends to run last-time-out Grade One winner La Pelosa in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Line Of Duty in the Juvenile Turf, on the opening day of the meeting 24 hours earlier.
The 43-year-old added: “Line Of Duty has come out of his Group Three at Chantilly well. He has gained plenty of experience, although this is a step up in class.
“We feel he has got the right sort of profile for the race, so we will head out there and see where we are.
“La Pelosa won a win-and-you’re-in race at Woodbine last time, so she will take her chance in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf race. She has a similar profile to Line Of Duty.
“The only disappointing run she had was at Newmarket in the Duchess Of Cambridge when she nearly got knocked over – but up until then, she had been very consistent.”
“I feel with these races at this time of year, sometimes it is horses that have the experience like she has have a potential advantage.”