Winx: Is racing's good news girl enough?

Hugh Bowman on Winx returns to the mounting yard after a trackwork session at Rosehill Gardens. Mark Evans/Getty Images

Winx returns to racing on Saturday. She's racing's good news girl and, like Black Caviar, is that name that resonates above all others. As she embarks on another feature race campaign this one is just as important as any other as retirement beckons.

For the racing game overall, Winx's return is a very welcome diversion in a period where another seemingly heavy black cloud hangs above it.

Scandals of varying degrees are threaded though this sport's history but in an age where competition for eyeballs on screens and gate admissions is so fierce, horse racing is seemingly in a pattern of one bad news story following another. The recent four-year disqualification of Australia's most successful trainer, Darren Weir, for - amongst other charges - the use of battery powered shocking devices colloquially known as 'jiggers' on horses-in-training, is just the beginning of the latest chapter of negative 'press'.

The sporting world is also still yet to hear what will happen on a legal front from Victoria Police's involvement in the raids on Weir's Ballarat and Warrnambool stables little more than a fortnight ago.

Successful Group 1 winning Cranbourne-based trainer Robbie Griffiths is the president of the Australian Trainers Association. His is a line of work that is very susceptible to the positive and negative ebbs and flows within racing. He believes that it actually is a good thing that the 'dirty laundry' is aired.

"Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what the perception of, and the damage to, the industry will be", Griffiths tells ESPN.

"As trainers we think that events like a four-year penalty being handed to Australia's biggest trainer shows that 'integrity' is such an important thing. We're hoping that it is a statement that draws the general public to say 'well, no one is bigger than the sport and they're doing something about it'.

"We're hoping that participation in the sport carries on. The races roll on and it is a big industry that soldiers on."

Griffiths also believes that be it Winx, Weir or anything else, that sometimes people's opinions are already made up and difficult to influence otherwise. In Victoria alone around $10 million is spent on the policing and defence of the rules of racing.

"A lot of money is spent on integrity measures. This just shows that all of that working. It has to have a positive flow-on.

"When I was younger, I know that people out there thought that racing just swept it's problems under the carpet. This has to be a statement that it is not the case."

The lifeblood for Australian racing is the punting dollar but as TAB's Adam Hamilton also told ESPN, scandals and negativity don't seem have an effect on betting turnover. In other words, the punters are still punting.

Last Saturday's Group 1 C.F. Orr Stakes meeting at Caulfield was the first major race day that could have been impacted by the events surrounding Weir's downfall. It wasn't. As the Melbourne Racing Club told Racenet this week, betting was up nearly 24 percent when compared to the same race meeting in 2018.

Garry Blenkinsop is a loyal racing follower but also a sports fan in general. His week usually consists of a mix of Major League Baseball, NFL and other popular sports. Racing, though, is his main passion.

"When I heard that there was raid on a major name racing figure's stables, I thought 'gee I hope it's not Weiry'", Blenkinsop says. In his early sixties, he gives the impression that there would have to be something horrifically wrong in the sport to rock his devotion.

"I'll always love racing and it's just a reality that these bad news hurdles will keep popping up. But that's what they are - hurdles. These things are disappointing when they happen but I still love a bet and I still enjoy going to the races."

Jarrod Brookes falls well within racing's target market for new 'engagement'. In his mid twenties and building his own personal training business, Brookes is out there talking to people everyday. However, neither Winx nor any of racing's bad news rates any mention in those conversations.

When asked about Winx he thought that he might have heard of her. Similarly for the recent front page splash headlines of Weir's disqualification, he didn't have any firm opinions on those events because he doesn't follow horse racing at any level to impact on his impression of the sport either way.

"It doesn't change what I think because I'm just not interested", he said.

His sentiment could well be a fair reflection of the world outside of the 'racing bubble'. The positivity that a horse like Winx brings with each win-after-win does represent a silver lining, but racing - like any other sport - should perhaps go about dealing with its issues and the headlines that go with them without worrying too much about what 'other' people think.

In reality, racing's good and bad mightn't be any different to other aspects of life: those that care always will. Those that don't won't.

The Apollo Stakes is scheduled to run at 3:50pm AEST at Royal Randwick on Saturday.- Winx is rated a $1.09 chance with TAB to win. Should she do so, the seven-year-old mare will achieve a remarkable 30th-straight victory.