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Olympic gold medalist says beating Winx would be 'right up there'

Would beating Winx compare to an Olympic gold medal?

"Oh, it would be right up there," grins Sir Mark Todd, the man whose list of accomplishments just might match the horse he's trying beat.

And for reference, we're talking about an equestrian legend who is steeped in Olympic folklore.

He won his first medal in Los Angeles in 1984 and his fifth in London in 2012, setting an Olympic record for the longest gap between trips to the podium. He went to Rio in 2016, his seventh Games appearance to become the most prolific New Zealander. He's in the country's sporting Hall of Fame. His visit to Buckingham Palace came just days after his father's death.

But walking over Winx?

"We all dream about it and one of the owners is quite a character," Todd says. "He said, ‘if we beat Winx I think we’re going to have to get a helicopter in the infield and escape that way’. I said, ‘if that miracle happens, I could live with that’."

He's lived a lot of things, but never thought he'd live to see the day where people are fingering his horse as maybe the only one that can even dream about downing Winx in her racetrack farewell.

For perspective, Todd hasn't trained a racehorse for well over a decade. Then a phone call came out of the blue from Sir Peter Vela, the Kiwi owner of former top-class European He's Eminent. He wanted to know if Todd would try to reinvigorate a horse that had lost his way for a couple of Sydney runs.

Todd couldn't get a licence in New Zealand because he doesn't live there any more, was unable to get an Australian one too, and needed to be an international trainer for the Australian Turf Club to invite his horse to avail itself of the quarantine facilities at Canterbury.

So he reapplied for a licence through the British Horseracing Authority and is now preparing to waltz with Winx.

"I’ve always loved a challenge, and this was certainly a challenge," Todd says. "I haven’t trained a horse for over 10 years, 12 years probably.

"And then to be given a horse like this and told, ‘c’mon, we’re going down to Australia to run in two group 1 races’. It was a big ask. I said to Peter, ‘are you sure you want me to do this?’ He said, ‘yep’."

The first run was a brave second behind Avilius in the Ranvet Stakes in the Rosehill slop, the second the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes on the second day of The Championships.

Todd will use James McDonald as his jockey. McDonald isn't the five-year-old kid any more who used to ride a pony down with his brother Luke to see Todd, who lived two farms away. Todd's son is also named James. He still has pictures of his boy with Luke among farm animals at their school.

They'll have a few more to add to the collection if He's Eminent can achieve the unthinkable.

"It’s great to have one of the best jockeys in the world sitting on your horse, and it’s great we’ve got this association," Todd says. "Peter Vela has also had a long association with James as a jockey.

"I actually gave James his first winner in the south island. We’d moved to the south island and I said to him, ‘I’ll get you down when I think I’ve got a winner for you’. He came down and it did win."

McDonald has tried to tango with Winx so many times before he would be forgiven for rolling the eyes when the 'what if' questions roll around each time. At least he knows he will be settling ahead of Winx on He's Eminent. But that's about as good as it will probably get.

"He tries really hard and he’s very willing," McDonald says. "He’ll be in the race a long way."

Yet it might only be a question of how long?

"Our only hope would be on a firm track, but we’re not going to get that," Todd says. "I’m well prepared to see her powering down the outside, but we’ll be trying to hang on for as a long as we can."

Article courtesy of Nine and The Brisbane Times

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