In many ways horse racing is only as good as its spokespeople.
A good horse is only half as good if its people are not decent. If they are well spoken, even in the coarse language of the racetrack, horse racing is more easily appreciated.
Peter Moody was hardly Shakespearean but he was a wonderful mouthpiece for Black Caviar, meshing his own life story, which began humbly in the bush, into the story of one of our greatest champions.
After Black Caviar was almost rolled at Royal Ascot, Moody gathered himself in the aftermath to say the mission had never been about margins, just getting the job done and keeping the mare safe. Perfect.
Without Moody’s recognition of Black Caviar’s status of a public hero, staying back late after the races and signing endless autographs with an equally-willing Luke Nolen, hosting media parades of the mare at his Booran Road stables, the Black Caviar story would simply have been less good.
It’s a shame the Alligator Blood story has been highjacked by a self-serving, bad egg part-owner because the mood has now shifted on what was once the feelgood story of resurrected trainer David Van Dyke and his courageous gelding.
Chris Waller had been the perfect partner for Winx. Waller was not the same as Moody, the appealing knockabout with the hatful of blue-collar anecdotes.
Waller wore his heart on his sleeve. When Waller spoke post-race about Winx it was as though Waller’s life story had flashed before his eyes, causing an emotional overload of tears and a stuttering voice.
Waller put Winx, himself and horse racing into automatic context with those emotional post-race interviews. The message was that he was the luckiest guy in the world and that horse racing had made his dreams come true.
Andrew Rule later wrote a book that added extra context to the Waller journey, including a photo of a knee-high Waller with a pet goat he’d lovingly prepared for the Foxton Show.
Waller is Australia’s champion trainer. He is industrial-sized in an industry often perceived as defined by gambling and where the horses are the fodder. It is vital for racing that Waller, and others, provide a counter-image, and Waller does.
It’s rare to find time for a candid chat with Chris Waller because of the scale of his operation and the demands on his time. He made a conscious effort a year or so ago to scale back his obsession for direct client communication. It was becoming madness. Even on race-day, Waller would have his head buried in his phone and iPad, tapping away or recording a post-race summary for big owners and five percenters.
Waller once said training Winx was like living in a cage and that part of him craved the day she would retire so he could rekindle a hint of a normal life.
He’s done that but he’s still a hard man to pin down.
We managed to do that for 15 minutes on RSN on Saturday morning where Waller provided a reminder of why he is the greatest ambassador Australian racing has, especially now Subzero is gone.
Waller spoke mostly of the army of horses he had running that day, including a personal record of 25 starters at Randwick. He didn’t speak the language of the punter, just the man lucky enough to be entrusted with all of these wonderful horses.
He always provides nice distance between himself and the gambling machine, saying he just feeds and trains them and it’s up to the betting marketplace to work it all out.
He offered reservations about Nature Strip without trying to push punters one way or another. Without attempting to present himself as a genius, he told how dust particles in the stable had perhaps affected Nature Strip’s airways, so he encased his box in cardboard.
He said he was in no hurry for Kinane to meet punter expectation, rather that the horse would perform and mature at his own pace. John Gosden speaks similarly about his horses, including Enable. It makes the public warm more to Enable because the public also likes Gosden.
Waller said he had no expectation with Humidor, an old horse who had entered Waller’s stable like a family hand-me-down. There was very little to gain for Waller in accepting Humidor, whom many felt had done his job and had earned retirement,
Waller insisted both before and after Humidor’s Lazarus-like Feehan Stakes win that the only thing that mattered was Humidor’s health and well-being, not whether he could graft out one more win or place cheque.
On RSN Waller was asked to describe life as a horse trainer in the terrible world of coronavirus and offered inspirational, encouraging words, praising the sport and its people for their courage and spirit.
Late yesterday, after Humidor won and Nature Strip and Kinane were both beaten, Waller was interviewed on Channel 7 and was a mess.
He was probably a little emotional about old Humidor but earlier that day he learned that one of his best mates, trainer Rick Worthington, had succumbed to cancer.
Waller had casually trained the trifecta in the Chelmsford Stakes and dedicated it to Worthington.
There was nothing “stagey” about Waller’s teary tribute, it was just him.
It is vital that horse racing’s biggest player is a human being, not a hardened by-product of the sport.
Resurrecting Humidor to win the Feehan was one of the training performances of Waller’s career. But it was the furthest thing from his mind late yesterday.
– Matt Stewart, RSN