Has a champion horse ever missed a key race because of a jockey suspension?
That was the question we were left pondering after Chris Waller’s decision to delay Winx’s return to the track because of Hugh Bowman’s unavailability.
The champion mare will now attempt to take her winning streak to 23 in the Chipping Norton Stakes on March 3, two weeks later than initially planned.
It will also see her resume over 1600m, something she has never done before in her eight first-up runs.
The question Waller had to answer was 'Is the risk involved in her missing a run and kicking off over the mile less than running her in the Apollo Stakes with another jockey?'
The missed run for a horse as athletic as Winx is neither here nor there. Waller will likely choose another barrier trial to keep her ticking over and she has missed a run before, when the Chelmsford Stakes meeting in the spring of 2016 was washed out. She won the George Main Stakes at her next start off a four-week break.
The distance shouldn't be a query either. Based on her last campaign, the 1600m first-up should be more suitable than the 1400m, especially off the back of three trials.
The fact she is taking a different path than usual is surely counteracted by the fact she is going to a different destination, that being Royal Ascot. Waller has determined he wants Bowman there for every step along the way.
But that's one of the reasons why Waller's decision raised eyebrows. Racing is a sport built on precedent and while there may be isolated incidents of trainers opting to bypass races because of jockey availability, in general the rule is that the rider isn’t a major consideration in race planning.
That was the case for the great Black Caviar, who had Luke Nolen aboard in 22 of her 25 wins. When Nolen was suspended, Peter Moody opted to put on Ben Melham for what would be her first Group One victory in the 2010 Group One Patinack (now the Darley).
Of course, that was a Group One race at the end of her campaign, which is vastly different to a kick-off race at Group Two level.
Glen Boss won three Melbourne Cups and a Cox Plate on Makybe Diva, but when the champion mare resumed in what would be her final campaign in the 2005 Memsie Stakes, Steven King stood in for Boss, who was suspended.
The difference here is that the pressure on King, who also stood in for Boss in the 2005 Turnbull Stakes, was vastly different to what Bowman’s replacement in the Apollo would have been. King was riding a $7.50 shot, Winx would have gone around at $1.08 in the Apollo. Also, Makybe Diva was preparing for an eventual tilt at a third Melbourne Cup, so needed the miles in her legs.
There is no doubt that Waller, Bowman and the owners have become increasingly protective of Winx’s record in the past six months and that may have played a part. The scares at the start of the last campaign – and even in the Cox Plate – serve as a clear reminder that maintaining a streak as long as hers is stressful for all involved.
But much of the pressure centres around her trip to Royal Ascot. For all she has done, including winning three Cox Plates, a victory on racing’s most famous stage is the greatest challenge of her career.
Waller has clearly determined that missing the Apollo will not be detrimental to her chances of doing that.