Hartnell has never defeated Winx in seven tries, but after his victory in the Ladbrokes C.F. Orr Stakes (G1) at Caulfield Feb. 10, his trainer thinks the planets may be aligned for the eighth time to be the charm.
Godolphin's Hartnell, a 7-year-old son of Authorized, surged to the lead late in the 1,400-meter (about seven-furlong) Orr and held on to beat Single Gaze and Brave Smash in a blanket finish. Last year's Orr winner Black Heart Bart was scratched.
Several of the well-fancied runners were compromised by traffic issues in the Orr and at least half the field had a chance turning into the stretch, making Hartnell's first-up triumph all the more impressive.
It was his first run since he finished 20th of 23 in the Emirates Melbourne Cup (G1) Nov. 7 at Flemington, and the win off the bench gave trainer James Cummings a glimmer of hope that his old nemesis Winx might now be a vulnerable target.
In four of their seven meetings, Hartnell has finished second to Winx, who currently has 22 straight victories. But Winx's return to the races has been postponed because her regular rider, Hugh Bowman, is serving out a careless-riding suspension. Rather than leg up a substitute for the planned season opener in the Apollo Stakes (G2) Feb. 17, trainer Chris Waller has opted to await the TAB Chipping Norton Stakes (G1) at Randwick March 3.
Hartnell's trainer said he reads the cards that, with the handy win under his belt and Winx coming off a layoff, the Chipping Norton might tilt in his charge's favor.
"We would have the fit horse on the scene," Cummings speculated.
"I won't lock in any plans today," he added. "But I know where my preference lies."
Winx has been idle since she landed her 22nd consecutive win in the Ladbrokes Cox Plate (G1) Oct. 28. She has trialed twice in preparation for her autumn debut, with another scheduled between races on the Apollo card, and Waller said the 6-year-old Street Cry mare is doing well enough to afford him the luxury of waiting for Bowman's return.
Hartnell, who races in Godolphin blue, most recently faced Winx in the Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes (G1) April 8 at Royal Randwick, where he finished second, beaten 5 1/4 lengths. He reported eighth in last year's Chipping Norton, which was won by Winx.
Waller has tantalized the racing world with talk of bringing Winx to Europe later this year, perhaps with Royal Ascot at the center of a campaign. She also holds an entry for the Dubai Turf sponsored by DP World (G1T) on Dubai World Cup night March 31 at Meydan—an engagement that seems unlikely at best.