Winx walks with The Hermitage Thoroughbreds stud manager Olly Koolman. Picture: Chris Lane

Secret to Winx’s success lies in Wollondilly

June 7 2019

Winx’s record-breaking racing career has made her a household name across Australia but a small team in Wollondilly has been her secret weapon.

The Hermitage Thoroughbreds, a 250-acre stud at The Oaks, is home to Australia’s best ever race horse, who arrived as a promising three-year-old filly in 2014.

The Hermitage has been Winx’s secret holiday home for half a decade.

She’s been resting at the property since mid-April following her history-making 33rd consecutive Group One win.

The buzz of the racetrack has been left behind for lazy days spent grazing in the paddock and hanging out with an equine companion.

Hermitage stud groom Caitlyn Hestelow told The Advertiser this week that Winx was an easy going horse who eagerly awaited feeding time.

“She knows when it’s time to go out to the paddock and come back in,” Ms Hestelow said.

She was brought to The Oaks alongside another Chris Waller-trained talent, Amicus.

The Hermitage stud manager Olly Koolman told the Advertiser that Winx “made an impression” early on.

“Winx and Amicus were two really nice fillies with good futures ahead of them,” he said.

“Amicus had won the Thousand Guineas at Caulfield Racecourse but someone said to me one day, ‘this horse [Winx] is something else’.”

Mr Koolman said The Hermitage was chosen as a spelling location because it was a quiet and peaceful setting.

Mr Koolman said Winx adjusted quickly to the Hermitage stud and quickly settled into a routine.

“We even had a little paddock built for Winx which was previously a lawn area,” Mr Koolman said.

Winx, of course, would go on to forge her place in Australian sporting folklore.

The champion, trained by Chris Waller and ridden by jockey Hugh Bowman, thrilled the crowds every time she raced.

She returned to the Hermitage twice a year, enjoying a spell after major racing festivals such as the Cox Plate.

Mr Koolman said it was a “secret” operation whenever Winx returned to The Oaks.

“She was here under the fake name ‘Skinner’,” he said.

“My kids Kian [now seven] and Riaan [10] were in pre-school and public school when Winx first arrived and they couldn’t tell anyone for a couple of years.”

Her Hermitage support crew included Mr Koolman and his wife Karen, Shannon Beasley and Ms Hestelow.

Mrs Koolman and Ms Beasley had the great honour of riding Winx during her stays.

Mr Koolman said Winx was “always a dream” to work with and was always keen to get back into training.

“Winx had a mind like an athlete. If she was a footballer, she would have no off season,” Mr Koolman said.

“It was like she had her own manual which she had written and read herself.”

Mr Koolman said Mr Waller, Mr Bowman and Winx’s owners Peter Tighe, Richard Treweeke and Debbie Kepitis deserved credit for her superb career.

“I think the stars aligned and everyone was the right person for their job,” he said.

“This also includes the half a dozen people involved with Winx on a daily basis.”

Ms Hestelow said Winx was a “freak” but had benefited from having “incredible people” around her.

“She’s easy going with everything you do, she’s like a pro,” the Oakdale resident said.

“Working with her hasn’t felt real.

“I go home and think ‘I was just working with the best horse in the world’.”

Mr Koolman said he wasn’t sure if there would ever be another horse like Winx.

“But I thought there wouldn’t be another Makybe Diva, then Black Caviar came along,” he said.

“I didn’t think there would be another Black Caviar, then Winx came along.”

Ms Hestelow said Winx, who turns eight in September, was enjoying a well-earned spell in the paddock alongside 19-year-old pony Kiawah.

“Kiawah is really cool but he can be a cranky old man sometimes,” she said. “But Winx absolutely loves him to death.”

Mr Koolman said he enjoyed seeing Winx and Kiawah spending time together.

“She is just one of two horses in the paddock, it’s normal animal behaviour,” he said.

“Everything else Winx does is not normal.”

However, Mr Koolman said Winx was now also preparing for the next phase of her life – green pastures and motherhood.

Winx will be sent to an unnamed commercial horse stud in the Hunter Valley in the coming weeks.

She will start mating in September and Mr Koolman said he hoped Winx would fall pregnant by October.

“She’s never let us down yet,” Mr Koolman joked.

“I think she will adapt to being a mother because she is a really caring horse.

“Winx won’t be back here so it’s the end of an era. There is an element of sadness, but relief too.

“Our efforts will never be forgotten, and we will never forget her.”

– Joshua Bartlett, The Macarthur Advertiser