Hugh Bowman who is the jockey who is riding the legendary race horse Winx at early morning track work who will be attempting it’s 17th win in a row when it races at Rosehill.6th April 2017.Photo: Steven Siewert Photo: Steven SiewertThe leading trainer sits in a white marquee tucked away at the back of the Inglis Newmarket Stables and looks as happy as a caged lion. He sucks down cigarettes and stubbies of Fourex Gold.
“She’s going to kill me,” he says. “The whole thing has become a massive pain in the arse. There’s some f—–g narks out there, even when it comes to a horse like her. There’s not a lot of enjoyment. Maybe a few years down the track I’ll be able to enjoy what she’s done. But at the moment, probably not.
“You know that aura of invincibility is what makes her so interesting to people away from racing. So you’d hate to lose that. I know, if that happens, I’ll be the f—er that will be kicked to death. The owners will be called greedy and I’ll be kicked to death for being a mug.”
The trainer isn’t Chris Waller and the mare is not Winx. It’s Peter Moody and the mare is Black Caviar.
Moody said it to me almost four years ago to the day just before the TJ Smith Stakes at Randwick. Black Caviar won her 25th race without defeat. Four days later she was retired undefeated.
Moody’s frank assessment perfectly explains the pressure Waller is starting to feel and the unwritten story this week is that it’s starting to show.
Winx chases her 17th straight win at Randwick on Saturday in the $4 million Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and when it’s over no person will be more relieved than the biggest trainer in the country.
Just after dawn at Rosehill on Thursday morning, Winx had her final hit-out in preparation for the final race of this brutal campaign. She’s defied extreme heat and never-ending rain and still hasn’t shifted out of first gear.
You would think that would make Waller’s job easy. But, just like Moody, preparing a horse that’s always expected to win brings a different kind of burden.
After trackwork, he fronted a media pack that continues to grow and looked straight ahead as he answered each question with composure and restraint.
Asked how the trainer’s nerves were this close to the race, Waller grinned and said: “He’s not too bad, but it’s a little bit like a child waiting for Christmas. It never seems to come. All we can do is our job.”
The more Winx has won in the past two years, the more Waller has grown accustomed to the interest. He’s accommodating with his time and ATC officials are grateful.
Waller rarely gives away too much about himself. He speaks slowly, calmly and never outrageously. “Nobody knows the real Chris Waller,” has become a cliche in racing circles.
He shows rare vulnerability when the cameras and tape recorders are thrust in front of him and he struggles to gets his words out. More and more people around racing are noticing that the pressure is showing. They don’t say it negatively; they just understand what he’s going through.
Waller is also said to be unhappy that critics are pointing to the fact his enormous stable has not had a group 1 winner – outside of Winx’s dazzling run – since Preferment in The BMW more than a year ago.
The criticism is typical of the sport he’s in. If rugby league is a soap opera, racing is the Real Housewives of Sydney.
As Waller’s star has risen, so too has the jealousy and criticism.
He and his wife Stephanie came to Sydney from New Zealand with almost nothing, slept on couches because they couldn’t afford even a cheap rental, and didn’t own a car for three years.
Now, Waller has a stable of 400 horses, has won buckets of premierships and group 1 races and now has a superstar that has won two Cox Plates and is aiming for three.
More than that, there are thousands of people watching with a lump in their throat, wanting her to win but fearful that this could be the day when she just might not.
If you were carrying all that around, you’d be edgy, too.
“If I have a fear,” he said in an interview with me three years ago, “it’s about getting behind in your work and not enjoying it. I very rarely drink because I am paranoid about not being right on the ball when that alarm goes off. I spring out of bed every morning and every Saturday night I’ll have a wine or two. Fear of failure and getting behind in work is what my fears are.”
Cronk to make Fox his new home
While nothing is certain in this crazy old game of life and rugby league, the smart money is on Cooper Cronk not playing beyond this season. Cronk appears genuine when he says he doesn’t know if he’ll play for a Sydney club or retire and take up a fat contract with Fox Sports – but some of his Storm teammates reckon he’ll call it quits. The 33-year-old announced this week this season would be his last in Melbourne so he can be with Fox Sports presenter Tara Rushton, his fiancee. It’s taken time to warm to him, but Cronk’s a ripper for us humble league hacks. He walks to the beat of a different drum. Actually, let’s call them bongos.
Who could forget this line about the salary cap scandal in 2010: “Sometimes it takes a small fire in your village to realise that your personal character at that moment in time is made of hay.”
Several of Cooper Cronk’s Melbourne teammates expect him to retire at the end of the season. Photo: Getty Images
Racegoers attending the first day of The Championships last Saturday were greeted at the traffic lights at the Alison Road entrance to some bloke from the Coalition of the Protection of Racehorses bleating on how we’re all supporting animal cruelty and how we should be ashamed of ourselves.
“Go Chautauqua!” yelled one fan, breaking the sombre mood.
According to NSW Racing boss Peter V’Landys, one per cent of prizemoney each year – about $2million – goes into the equine welfare fund.
Chautauqua’s stirring win in the TJ Smith Stakes brought a tear to the eye, although it almost cost trainer Michael Hawkes one of his when the fascinator belonging to wife Claire cut him on the face and left him bloodied during their jubilant celebrations.