Source : Racenet, by Ray Thomas
Chris Waller often does his best thinking when he’s running laps of Rosehill racecourse. This is his time for reflection.
Sydney’s reigning premier trainer mulls over his horses, races, sport, family, life. There are occasions when he thinks about Guy Walter, too.
It’s still hard to believe that Walter passed away seven years ago. The tragedy plunged the racing industry into mourning. A training great, he was only 59. Taken so young, taken too soon.
Walter’s death had a profound impact on Waller – and still does. It’s the reason he has become a familiar sight jogging around Rosehill most mornings.
“Two days before Guy passed away I was with him at Randwick and we were having a good chat about life,’’ Waller said.
“Guy had just won the Doomben Cup with Streama and he was so good to talk to, so interesting.
“He was telling me how he handled everything – then two days later he passed away.’’
After attending Walter’s funeral, Waller booked himself in for a medical, concerned about persistent chest pain.
“At that stage I wasn’t doing any fitness work,’’ Waller recalled.
“I played sport as a kid, loved my rugby and cricket, but I hadn’t been to a gym or gone for a run in 20 years.
“I could feel myself getting tense, I did have some pain in my chest so I had the tests and the doctors said I was as good as gold, my heart was fine and my arteries were unblocked which was a relief.’’
But Waller knew he had to make changes, improve his work-life balance and take better care of his health. He started running.
“When I first started I could barely make half a lap. Now I can fly around pretty quick,’’ he said.
“It’s a good way to clear my head. I walk out of the office, put my running shoes on and go for a run.’’
At Royal Randwick on Saturday, there is further reason to remember Guy Walter with the running of the Group 1 $600,000 Chipping Norton Stakes (1600m).
Walter prepared his champion Tie The Knot to win the weight-for-age feature four years in succession from 1999-2002. Waller emulated that feat with his mighty mare Winx’s famous “four-peat” in 2016-19.
Winx was ridden in those four wins and for the majority of her career by Hugh Bowman.
Waller and Bowman have dominated this race, the first Group 1 in Sydney each year. The trainer has prepared eight Chipping Norton Stakes winner in the past decade, Bowman has ridden seven of them.
The trainer and jockey, both Hall of Famers, are joining forces again as they chase another Chipping Norton with proven Group 1-winning miler, Kolding.
If Bowman can win on Kolding, it will be the 98th Group 1 win of his spectacular riding career. His first major was on Defier in the 2004 Doomben Cup, trained by Walter.
“Guy was a very gentle, thoughtful person,’’ Bowman said.
“He is one of the few trainers I rode for who openly questioned himself in conversation rather than questioning a jockey’s ride or track conditions.
“He was always asking himself what he could have done better if a horse of his didn’t run to a level that he expected.
“His influence has helped my career no end.’’
Bowman admitted he often thought of Walter’s sage advice when riding Winx as the mare went on a 33-race winning streak.
“I would think of what Guy would say, not so much on raceday, but in developing Winx to peak fitness,’’ Bowman said.
“Guy often spoke to me about Shane Dye’s influence on him when he rode Tie The Knot and how that helped that horse race at the top level for so long.
“With Winx, it was not about the pressure of riding her but more about how to build her into a preparation.’’
Kolding is rated a $4.80 chance in a compelling Chipping Norton Stakes behind his stablemate, Verry Elleegant at $2.60 and Godolphin mare Colette at $3.30.
Bowman has climbed to fourth on the all-time list of Group 1 wins for a jockey while Waller, chasing his 119th major tomorrow, is fifth on the trainer rankings with a bullet.
Waller, 47, has time on his side to continue closing the gap on the nation’s greatest Group 1-winning trainers, Tommy Smith (282), Bart Cummings (268), Gai Waterhouse (144) and Lee Freedman (124).
When I interviewed Waller for this story, he had just completed another few laps of Rosehill racetrack. It’s become almost a daily ritual these days.
His fitness regimen has also given the champion trainer a better appreciation and understanding of racetrack surfaces.
“It was especially beneficial when Winx was racing because I would run around the track to check it out,’’ Waller said.
“I would drive poor Lindsay Murphy mad.
“But over the last few years, I have got a good feel for tracks and particularly how the Rosehill track changes through the seasons.
“I ran through the smoke last summer so I would know how the horses would cope. I ran through those very hot days to have a better understanding of how the horses would handle the really hot weather and humidity.
“The wind is another important factor. The angles of the wind and what effect it can have is mind-blowing.
“I also know if you are three-wide you are covering a lot of extra ground. I ask sometimes jockeys to come for a run with me and they can be three wide and I will be on the running rail and we will see who gets home first!
“There are so many variables. I haven’t mastered it yet and I’m not trying to but it has helped given me a better understanding of how a track will play.’’
Waller was four runners in the Chipping Norton Stakes with Funstar and Toffee Tongue lining up against their more fancied stablemates, Kolding and Verry Elleegant. He covets another win in the Group 1 race that Walter made his own nearly two decades ago.
Walter’s former Warwick Farm stables were acquired by Waller a few years ago, giving him a secondary stable base for the trainer burgeoning Sydney team.
Waller could have named the stables after one of his numerous Group 1 winners but the sign at the front the Warwick Farm stables honours the memory of Guy Walter. It will always be “Tie The Knot Lodge”.