Source : The Sydney Morning Herald Sun, By Damien Ractliffe
Life without Winx is all that it seems for Chris Waller, but moving on after training the four-time Cox Plate champion wasn’t so easy.
Like the lingering memories of a break-up, it took a while for Sydney’s leading trainer to come to terms with the next stage of his career, but nearly two years after Winx’s retirement, Waller is thriving at the helm of one of the world’s most successful stables.
“The loss of tension side of things was good because we were able to get on and do what we enjoy doing and that’s working with horses, instead of worrying about Winx all the time,” Waller reflects.
“Going into Saturday – it’s a big day in Sydney and Melbourne – it’ll just be another day making sure we do the best we can and hoping the horses come home safe.”
Verry Elleegant’s Chipping Norton win last weekend gave Waller his 119th group 1 win and only four trainers have won more in Australian racing – Tommy Smith, Bart Cummings, Gai Waterhouse and Lee Freedman.
On Saturday, September Run can make that 120. Waller hasn’t lost count.
“I’m definitely very proud. The group 1s, you don’t lose track of them,” he says.
“They’re not easy to get and they take a long time to accumulate, believe it or not. We’re certainly appreciative of everything we’ve had and there have been some good horses along the way.”
In metro Victoria, six of the top 11 leading stables are training partnerships, with a similar ratio (five of the top 11) in NSW. But Waller, who has 109 metro winners across both states this season, has never entertained the idea.
“I think most training partnerships have a senior and junior partner,” Waller says.
“If that’s what you need to run a business I respect it, but I think ultimately one person is in charge and makes the calls, therefore if that’s the case there should only be one name. If people are sharing the responsibility, good on them.
“I’ve got a different philosophy; I’d rather financially reward those people that are higher up with money, more so than a scrapbook.”
Training satellite stables is all about having a good system, Waller says, and his is one that’s been perfected over many years.
“[The system] works for us and we don’t need decision makers, we just need people that pay attention to detail and get the little things right and everything else falls into place,” he says.
Saturday’s Newmarket Handicap favourite – the winner of last year’s Coolmore Stud Stakes – has the racing world at her feet, according to Waller.
A lover of the Flemington straight, September Run will jump close to odds-on on Saturday and would stamp herself as this season’s leading three-year-old if she were to win the time-honoured sprint.
“She’s untapped in my opinion, but there are still a few rungs in the ladder to step up yet,” Waller said.
“The sky’s the limit and the beauty of a good racehorse is there’s so many things to look forward to.
“We’re so lucky in Australia at the moment we don’t have to travel, so that’s one less thing to worry about but in time, if she keeps racing well in group 1 races, we’ll have a lot of fun with her.”
While Australia’s prizemoney, especially in the sprinting ranks, is world class, Waller hasn’t yet shut down the idea of racing his best horses in Europe.
Royal Ascot was once flagged for Nature Strip, while Verry Ellegant’s owners have expressed interest in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
“They both would have won last year, wouldn’t they,” Waller quipped.
“It’s disappointing for the owners of Nature Strip when they could possibly be missing out on travelling a horse like him at his peak.
“The likes of Verry Elleegant, that’s a big task for a mare but clearly it’s been mentioned and if their dreams are to participate in an Arc, then I would help them fulfil those dreams.”
Racing’s biggest issues
Waller believes racing is its own biggest threat. Negativity spreads like wildfire in racing, while positive stories can struggle to penetrate mainstream media.
But racing has a lot going for it, Waller says.
“It stood proud during COVID, it stood proud during the Depression in the early 1900s, stood proud through wars – we’ve all got to respect that and make sure we only produce good stories and positivity and it will stay in the heart of most Australians,” he says.
“[Racing must also] stick to community standards and what they expect – there’ll be changes along the way, you’ve got to be responsible – and if we do that I’ll be a pretty proud man when I stop training.”
Traditionalism v innovation
While Waller’s best horse Verry Elleegant is avoiding the $5 million All-Star Mile next weekend, the champion trainer lauds the imagination of administrators looking to capture the next generation.
But racing jurisdictions have also struggled to collaborate for the betterment of the sport and Waller believes that’s an area for improvement.
“As we see in most sports, if you don’t move with the times and respect that it’s an entertainment sport, you’ll get left behind,” he said.
“If there’s a way to work out how the great horses clash more often, that would be great … but working together is also part of Australia, isn’t it?”
Waller says the longevity of Verry Elleegant’s career means more to him than chasing All-Star Mile riches.
“Thirty years ago these big prize money races weren’t around so they had to travel and they had to race a lot more. We’re sort of lucky now we get the choice between a few races,” he says.
“It’s like what we did with Winx, she’d only race three or four times but she’d do it twice a year and I feel you get a lot more out of the horses doing that.”
Review into Melbourne Cup deaths
While Waller has to remain tight-lipped about how the wider review into deaths at Werribee and in the Melbourne Cup, in which he is involved as an industry participant, is progressing, he feels the sport will be left in a better place than it was leading up to the death of Anthony Van Dyck, trained by Aidan O’Brien.
“It’s taking a lot of time but it’s been so interesting,” he said.
“I feel privileged to be part of it because it’s an important step to get right. There are some great things being discussed and it’s an exciting step forward I think.”