SPORT

Winx's Inspirational Trainer Reveals The Secret To The Wonder Mare's Success Is 'Lots Of Pats'

Winx is Australia's best horse since Phar Lap. Meet her trainer and you'll understand why.

07/04/2017 7:17 AM AEST | Updated 07/04/2017 7:24 AM AEST
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Niiice horsey.

Chris Waller was in typical Chris Waller form at a press conference on Thursday.

You don't know who Chris Waller is, do you? That's OK. The trainer of Australia's best racehorse Winx is not the highest profile person in racing -- an industry in which self-promoters and egotists tend to flourish.

Waller is none of that. The 43-year-old Sydney-based trainer is a dairy farmer's son from New Zealand who did it tough for many, many years before success eventually came, mostly through sheer hard work and perseverance.

In a great piece in the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of years ago, Waller's high school sweetheart and now wife Stephanie told how she knew Chris was always going to make it because he never took sick days and was more driven than anyone she'd ever met.

Cwallerracing.com

Waller was driven in every sense of the word in his early days in Sydney. For his first three years as a Sydney trainer, he couldn't afford a car and would hitch a ride to the races with jockeys, horse truck drivers, anyone.

That was in the 1990s. His fortunes eventually changed, partly through that dogged perseverance we've already mentioned, and partly through a smart idea Waller had in 2007 to bring ready-made European stayers to Australia while the equine influenza crisis was decimating local racing.

Jason McCawley via Getty Images
He's got time for everybody.

Cut to the present: Waller has now won the Sydney premiership for six years running. That means he has trained more winners than anyone else, which speaks to the depth of his operation across the board. But of course, it's all about one horse this week, and that horse is Winx.

Winx will attempt to win its 17th straight race on Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick in Sydney. Her previous 16 wins are in the video above, and there are some pretty remarkable performances among them.

There are two constants in all of those wins: the brilliance of Winx, who can win a race from anywhere, and the Zen calm of Chris Waller, who carries himself in pretty much the exact way ebullient trainers like Gai Waterhouse don't. That's not to bag other trainers. It's just to say that Waller is so cool, he could turn boiling water into ice cubes.

We just watched the full 22 minute video embedded above, and we loved every minute of Waller, then Winx's regular jockey Hugh Bowman, talking about the race this weekend and life in general.

We particularly loved the bit where Waller said:

"At the moment to us she's just another horse that has to be put through her training and her routine. There's no real special treatment, just lots of pats I guess after if she's successful again on Saturday. But if she's not, we'll realise that you can't always win forever, there's lots of good horses she has to race against and regardless, she's certainly going to have a soft spot for the rest of our lives."

Lots of pats. Simple as that. Winx obviously knows she is loved, which can't hurt her desire to perform well. We also loved the bit where Hugh Bowman said:

"For me personally, when I go out onto the track and I'm clapped onto the course -- or when WE are clapped onto the course -- that to me is very special, and it really hits home when you see all the young kids there lining the fences to see a champion. It really hits home to see what a great thing she's doing for our sport and how special she is to a lot of people."

And also:

When I go out onto the track and canter off, all my emotions disappear and go to the side. It's just me and Winx. She knows what she's there for, the confidence she gives me pushes away all those emotions."

You sense Chris Waller has become pretty adept at putting his emotions to one side too. A horse as good as Winx clearly helps people do that.

But that narrative can be flipped on its head too. Waller has such a reassuring calm about him, you can't help thinking Winx would never have been half as good without his touch. Call it mindfulness, call it good old-fashioned diligence, call it whatever you want. But it works.

Vince Caligiuri via Getty Images
When Chris Waller hoses you, he hoses you properly.

There was a really good insight into Waller's character last spring when he issued a series of press releases to keep people up to date with Winx's progress. The tone was just so unfailingly respectful and polite.

The Winx story is as much the Chris Waller story as it's the story of a fast racehorse who was voted the world's best horse on turf last year. The genius of Waller is he refuses to frame it that way.

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