Foxplay’s journey from recalcitrant to Group 1 Thousand Guineas glamour girl

Denise Martin tells a fascinating story about how a year ago Thousand Guineas favourite Foxplay didn’t seem to want to be a racehorse.

Imagine having to tell a group of owners that the horse they invested in was refusing to co-operate and was testing the patience of Sydney’s leading trainer Chris Waller.

Foxplay is the favourite for the $500,000 Schweppes Thousand Guineas (1600m) at Caulfield, something the Star Thoroughbreds syndicator didn’t think possible this time last year as she revealed the rollercoaster ride that Foxplay has taken everyone on.

‘’What I told the owners in the middle of last year was that she was proving difficult to handle,’’ Martin said.

‘’We anticipated she would have a race career but she needed to turn things around in a big way to make Chris and his team confident about her prospects.

‘’Chris needed to send her to one of his pre-training farms on two or three occasions to ensure she became more manageable.

‘’It was quite strange, she was fine on the ground and fine in her box but once she got out of the box to go onto the track she wouldn’t move.

‘’It took six or seven months to turn her around and make her a reasonably easy filly to handle.’’

Another surprising Foxplay fact is that Martin had to think long and hard before she committed to outlaying $160,000 for the filly.

She said Foxplay hasn’t changed significantly stature wise since she first laid eyes on her as a yearling.

‘’Foxplay was not a big filly on first inspection,’’ she said.

‘’I recall having to look at her many times before deciding she was going to be big enough.

‘’That’s not something you can always identify at a yearling sale but it gives you an idea of what you might end up with two or three years down the track.

‘’While she hasn’t grown very much in the past 18 months she is just naturally talented and clearly that can take a horse a long way.’’

Foxplay eventually made it to the track and debuted with an honest fifth in the Widden Stakes in January and fourth in a strong Canterbury maiden won by Kiss And Make Up a few weeks later.

Martin said once she returned for her second preparation things were a bit different and her future looked very bright with a dominant win at Rosehill in mid-June.

‘’When she won at Rosehill I thought she showed determination that would take her some way, not having any idea at all we might finish up a Group 1 favourite,’’ she said.

‘’That wilful attitude she had 12 months ago has transformed into a determination on the track, thankfully, and is probably one of the reasons why she’s where she is now.’’

That standing was on show when Foxplay overcame plenty of traffic – broadcaster Darren Flindell exclaimed she was in need of ‘’chopper rescue’ – to win the Group 2 Tea Rose Stakes (1400m) at Randwick on September 17.

Waller said Foxplay has continued to improve as the year has progressed and isn’t surprised she’s made it to Group 1 level so quickly.

‘’It’s just great when you get horses that keep improving, you hope for the best and look after them as much as you can,’’ he said.

‘’Racing is full of ups and a few downs and you hope for the connections their horse is one of the ones that goes up in the spring or the autumn. She is certainly one of those.’’

Foxplay completed her Thousand Guineas preparation with a Caulfield track gallop on Wednesday morning with superstar stablemate Winx.

Waller, who won the race with Amicus in 2014, has no concerns about Foxplay handling the Caulfield circuit which has famously brought Sydney trained horses down in the past.

‘’I feel she is an adaptable type of filly, she’s not a big filly,’’ he said.

‘’Therefore if some horses struggle around Caulfield I’d be hoping she would be one that didn’t because she’s such a light footed smaller horse and very manoeuvrable

‘’The barrier (five) just makes it so much easier, you don’t even have to look at the speed map. You can let her be where she wants to be from that barrier and let the race happen.’’

If Foxplay, or another Star syndication Veladero in the Spring Champion Stakes at Randwick, can win a Group 1 race tomorrow it will be a milestone for the Martin-Waller alliance.

It’s been over two years since Waller became Star’s exclusive trainer and the partnership is still searching for its first Group 1 from limited opportunities.

‘’Winning a Group 1 is every owner and syndicator’s dream,’’ Martin said.

‘’It would be special to win either of the Group 1s and if we happened to win two I don’t think I would believe it.’’ – The Daily Telegraph