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.’’