The most challenging tasks for a sports journalist are not always the most obvious.
Sure, being stared down by a block of granite masquerading as a footballer can be intimidating. And sure, having a match drag on with the result entirely uncertain as your deadline creeps closer can be anxiety-inducing.
But what about not being able to find a new angle on a story your readers simply can’t get enough of?
For at least the past two years, this has been the dilemma of every racing writer in Australia.
At Christmas, we all ask: what can we give the person who already has everything?
During the Autumn and Spring carnivals, racing writers ask: what else can we possibly say about Winx?
If you haven’t heard of Winx, chances are you’re still using a Passbook bank account.
Anatomically speaking, Winx is a horse.
Broadly speaking, Winx is a phenomenon unlike anything we’ve witnessed before.
Winx has won 32 straight races. Most of those events have been top-shelf, including the past four Cox Plates. Most of those triumphs have been identical. Winx doesn’t just beat her rivals. She obliterates them.
Traditionally, the contest is vital to sport. It provides the essential ingredients that compel us to watch: unpredictability, tension, and conflict.
But with Winx, there is no contest. And yet somehow we can’t stop watching her. Somehow we can’t stop talking about her. Somehow, we head to the track festooned in the colours of her jockey’s silks, more like a horde of football fanatics than a clique of wheel-heeled racegoers.
The contest is also vital to journalism. Whenever two forces face-off for the lion’s share of equilibrium, their battle generates interest on a number of levels. The ebbs and flows, the shifts of momentum, the tactics and strategies designed to turn the tide in one’s favour, are all attractions of the contest as it unfolds. And then ultimately, there’s the result. The better-matched the opponents, the more conjecture and speculation around the outcome. And nothing sells a story better than conjecture and speculation.
But Winx offers her army of contemporaneous biographers none of that. Whenever she is season, they must churn out story after story with a shrinking supply of ingredients from the contest cupboard. And once all the records were smashed, their job became harder still. Winx’s last remaining opponent with any chance of victory – the record books – was also vanquished long ago.
So when the rising eight-year-old ‘contests’ her final race in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Royal Randwick on Saturday, we suspect the browbeaten lot in the media box might be cheering for a slightly different reason.
Unless, of course, she loses.
If you’re anyone else, that would equate to a sporting tragedy.
But if you’re a racing journalist, it would be the biggest story of your career.
It won’t happen. Surely it can’t. But if it somehow did, you’d not want to miss it.
And therein lies the true attraction of Winx’s farewell outing this Saturday.
Her legacy isn’t on the line. Just as Sir Donald Bradman wasn’t tarnished by a duck in his final innings, Winx’s colours won’t be lowered by defeat here.
And yet that score would probably be the most recognised of all Bradman’s individual innings.
Similarly for Winx, a runners-up placing would sit uncomfortably in the memory because it’s so at odds with her overall record.
And the prospect of that, albeit one no-one wants, is undeniably compelling.