Chris Waller soaks up Cox Plate victory after Winx thrashes rivals
October 26, 2015
On the way through, from two maxed out credit cards and one horse to the first Group 1, then the 10th, then the 50th, there were always tears.
The scale of the journey, from somewhere in New Zealand, to Sydney, to becoming Australia’s Group 1 King, always had Chris Waller in constant disbelief.
On Saturday Waller won his 54th Group 1 race and this one was neon-lit, a mega-major.
One corporate bookie offered $1.25 that Waller would tear-up if one of his trio of Cox Plate runners beat the other two and 11 others.
It seemed “overs.’’
This was a Cox Plate, not a Doncaster.
And not just any Cox Plate. Irish hero Aidan O’Brien had won it the year before with Adelaide and had returned with a better horse, Highland Reel.
There was an English horse, Arod, and a French horse, Gailo Chop.
Individually they were among the best raiders ever to arrive. As a group they were a force of nature.
One bookie described the race as Waller versus the World, a tag that summed up the status of Waller’s role in it.
If he won, there would be waterworks.
He won it all right. Winx dashed up the inside approaching the turn and won it like Sunline.
That image — of his mare winning like New Zealand’s greatest — would overwhelm Waller, surely.
But there were no tears.
Waller strode into the winner’s enclosure, through a mad throng, with what appeared to be a swagger.
He chewed gum. He was a humble, grateful, possibly disbelieving winner, but the gum and the swagger presented the image of a man who now felt comfortable in his skin.
The Cox Plate had been predicted to go the way of the Melbourne Cup.
Our race would become “their’’ race, merely something for stronger, more powerful raiders to pillage.
Waller would not admit it, through his great modesty, but his role in recent times has been as leader of the resistance. David Hayes, also.
The fact Waller ran first and Hayes second was a reassurance that we are not yet ready to relinquish our great prizes to plundering raiders.
Waller has been insisting for some time that our horses are as good as theirs. Hayes half-proved it when Criterion, a luckless second, was competitive in Europe some months back.
Saturday’s race also proved that there is still some challenge in raiders playing on our dung heap, especially around tight little saucers like Moonee Valley.
Two of the great European hopes, Highland Reel and Arod, melted in the mounting yard. The Valley can be a claustrophobic place for horses accustomed to waking to gentle “commons’’ and racing before small crowds.
These two Europeans paraded as Daryl Braithwaite belted out “Horses’’, to a roar that was matched, but not bettered, when the gates opened for the great race.
But Winx paraded like an old cart horse, raced sweet and kind for mercurial Hugh Bowman and returned to the winner’s enclosure to meet a trainer who also took in a crazy day without raising a sweat, or shedding a tear.
Waller chewed and spoke to a huge throng of media as Winx stood like a statue nearby as 100 cameras clicked and flashed.
A commentator who may well have gobbled up the $1.25 from the corporates, asked Waller if he’d like a tissue, to which Waller replied: “You’ll have to try harder than that. It obviously hasn’t sunk in yet.’’
They were far more animated a few metres away.
Jockey Michael Walker was telling Hayes how Winx “flattened’’ Criterion at the 550m “and I was going just as good.’’
“It knocks the shit out of your momentum,’’ Hayes said, ruefully.
Waller spoke of the patience now required locally to match European horses who are rarely pushed before their minds and bodies are ready.
Waller said he never expected Winx to be good enough to win a Cox Plate when she won the Queensland Oaks last season.
“But that’s the beauty of horses and the way we train them,’’ he said. “It’s not about the first two-year-old race of the season, it’s about longevity.’’
Waller was measured, Bowman spoke of riding the race in some sort of daze.
“I really didn’t have a plan … it was all instinctive,’’ Bowman said. Asked if he heard the roar of the crowd as he dashed home, Bowman said: “I didn’t know where I was.’’
Waller did. He’d belted the sweaty Europeans into submission and didn’t seem all that shocked about it.
The journey is now complete. – Matt Stewart, Herald Sun