Waller making sure Winx is not perceived by public as a wuss
February 26, 2017
You can imagine Chris Waller’s swirling thoughts as he trudged through the slops under his umbrella late on Saturday.
Waller had opted out with Winx twice before at Randwick; once, in a Queen Elizabeth Stakes, because he didn’t trust the shifting surface, once again months later because the track was simply too wet.
On those occasions Waller wasn’t as much bothered that the mare might be beaten but that she might be either bottomed out or emerge from the sludge with some injury.
Those withdrawals came with at least a day’s notice.
The crowds knew when they clicked through the gate that she wouldn’t be there.
Truth be told there weren’t many at Randwick on Saturday — the deluge meant it wasn’t a day for picnic rugs.
About 7000 turned up for Winx, 3000 fewer than trekked out to Menangle the same night for the Miracle Mile.
But those who braved the weather did so because Winx was waiting for them.
So as Waller picked his way through the slops less than half an hour before the Chipping Norton Stakes he was thinking primarily about the horse but also about the crowd.
After the race a teary Waller said: “There was so much expectation to run her — I didn’t want to see tomorrow’s newspaper if I didn’t run her.”
Perception usually only meets reality halfway, but Waller is probably now alert to how Winx is perceived.
In twice opting out at Randwick in previous campaigns, he pulled the right rein.
The Queen Elizabeth run without her was won impressively by a mudlark called Lucia Valentina.
The day she came out of the Chelmsford last September, Hartnell hover-crafted through the slops and won by panels.
Waller reduced the risk of defeat and protected the horse.
He was also forced not to run in the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington last year because Winx pulled up with some niggling issues after her Cox Plate romp.
So, three legitimate opt-outs.
But would one more have created a perception that Winx is being mollycoddled to protect her winning streak?
Waller would have thought that.
Winx ploughed through the mud and made it 15 straight, but the deluge appeared to have provided Hartnell with the perfect storm of factors.
Turns out he ran nowhere, but the feeling at Randwick was Winx, for the first time in so long (with maybe the exception of last year’s Cox Plate), was just a little vulnerable.
Over the years many great horses have been dubbed “cream puffs”.
Colts with $30 million price tags have been scratched at the hint of a drop of rain or a double-figure barrier.
Not many, but some.
It’s sometimes the great challenges — even the defeats — that endear us to champions.
Kingston Town’s courageous Melbourne Cup defeat; Lonhro’s failed Cox Plate bids; Sunline’s hit and miss international forays, her wins and losses with big weights in handicaps; chapters in the stories of these great horses.
It appeared madness to run sprinter Weekend Hussler in a Caulfield Cup, but there was a larrikin appeal in Ross McDonald’s decision to do it.
Black Caviar’s winning streak had lulls because rivals scattered in the other direction.
She’d beat up on stablemates in fields of five and six.
But just when it became boring, she flew to Royal Ascot and got the fright of Luke Nolen’s life.
Waller will partly be desperate to preserve and add planks to Winx’s picket fence, but he also realises champions are there to accept challenges, not avoid them. – Matt Stewart, Herald Sun