The phenomenon that is trainer Chris Waller is likely to reach further and more frequently into the international scene - that is one message carried with his Longines Hong Kong Vase runner, Preferment.
Waller started with a small string at Sydney’s Rosehill in the late 1990s and steadily built his team and skills into a monolithic, record-consuming operation that dominates the city like no trainer before him. He has more recently shown signs the effect will reach into other Australian states and now it looks like the world is next.
In mid-year, sprinter Brazen Beau was touched off on the line at Royal Ascot in his first foray onto the international stage. Preferment will be his second.
“I wouldn’t say I’m setting myself to tackle the world, not striving for it, but if you’ve got a racehorse and they’re good enough - you’re not coming to run second,” he said today.
“Where Hong Kong is positioned isn’t easy for us. As a Sydney trainer, the Sydney carnival is our first target and I like to have my horses up early in case things go wrong later and you miss out, so it makes it hard to be here in December after you’ve had them up and going in August.
“It isn’t hard to bring one but respecting the public and the Jockey Club and bringing one that can win is another story.”
But Waller explained that his own self-observation suggests more overseas trips, whether to Hong Kong or elsewhere.
“What I’ve found in my career is that, once you’ve had a taste for a certain scene, whether
it’s taking horses to Melbourne or travelling to Royal Ascot, it whets the appetite,” he said. “Even having a Melbourne Cup runner, which I’d never had even though I’d been a trainer for years.
“Since I had the first, we’ve had one every year. So when we have the right horses, we will be travelling more often.”
The decision to bring Preferment was made after a Melbourne Cup disappointment that followed a Cox Plate disappointment but circumstances and the horse’s future played their parts.
“It’s not ideal trying to get a horse back to his best in this situation off two defeats like that but there were logical reasons. The Melbourne Cup was run 10 seconds slower than usual, he needed luck and didn’t get any, and really didn’t have a race. And he was in the wrong part of the race in the Cox Plate, too,” Waller said.
“My horses were inoculated during our winter so he was eligible to travel and this looked a logical choice. And there’s his stallion career to think about. He’s a Derby winner but Derby winners don’t get much respect in Australia - a 2,400m performance on the international stage, though, will get respect and that’s part of why he’s here.”
New Zealand-born Waller came as travelling groom for Paddy Busuttin’s runner in the QE II Cup in 1996 and he says “it opened my eyes”.
“It was a strapper’s dream - I didn’t imagine I’d be training one here one day,” Waller said.
“Just a great experience, and it was what international racing is about. It’s an incentive, an aspiration, not just for owners and trainers but for strappers, too.”