Why Winx’s trainer is ‘preparing for defeat’
CHRIS Waller savours every win because he is ready to stare down defeat. The trainer of racing's relentless winning machine, Winx, is prepared for the unthinkable - the day when the great mare is beaten.
Sydney's super mare has developed an aura of invincibility that has earned her worldwide fame. She is on a 26-race win streak that stretches more than three years and shows no signs of ending anytime soon.
Winx remains so superior to her opposition that her races seem almost a foregone conclusion. She is expected to win every race - but losing has crossed Waller's mind.
"I never go to the races thinking Winx is a good thing,'' Waller said. "I'm always preparing for the day she may not win.
"If that day comes, it will require a brave face and a proper debrief to all her fans. But we see it every weekend in sport with the great teams or the individual champions, they can be beaten.
"I'm interested in how coaches handle losing because, to put it into perspective, you can't always win.
"This is a sport and even the greatest are beaten.''
Waller isn't saying Winx is vulnerable when she lines as the $1.10 favourite for the Group 1 $500,000 Colgate Optic White George Main Stakes (1600m) at Royal Randwick on Saturday. He's just being a realist.
The fact Winx has managed to avoid the vagaries of the sport and keep winning is testament to her ability and champion qualities.
Waller appreciates that he is the trainer of one of the all-time greats of Australian racing. Some would argue she is the greatest.
And Winx has done what few racehorses have done before her, she has transcended racing and become a sporting icon.
"I noticed after her (2017) Doncaster Mile win how much the general public became interested in Winx and started to follow her every move,'' Waller said. "There was interest in her from spelling to pre-training, the intended race program all the way through to her race performances. The racing media coverage is fantastic and a big part of keeping racing in the spotlight.
"But half-way through this winning streak it was noticeable more and more people were hopping on board with interest from sporting shows on television, radio and other media through to the general public.
"After her second Cox Plate win, she was starting to become a household name.
"Once you do get mainstream media coverage on TV and on the front and back pages of the newspapers, that rapidly increases the profile. For Winx to be on the morning TV shows, nightly news, and on the front and back pages has taken her to a whole new level.
"This shows to me how important Winx is for so many. Every sport needs their headline acts. People will remember her, she is a sporting hero.''
There is a very different pressure and expectation training a wonder horse like Winx. Every race she contests, the champion mare is the hot favourite carrying the bulk of punters' investments. There is unprecedented interest in her races around the world. Any mistake by trainer or jockey will be heavily scrutinised.
But Waller's training and management of Winx has contributed to her longevity and her continued exemplary form. Similarly, jockey Hugh Bowman's confidence and tactical nous has ensured Winx can perform at her best.
Waller accepts this is all part of the territory training a public idol.
"We are very lucky to have a horse like Winx,'' Waller said. "I realise we will never find another one as good as her to train but that won't worry me too much. I will never get the same feeling and pressure of going through a 26-race winning streak, either.
"I will remember what I have had to go through pre and post-race for a long time to come and I won't be too worried if I don't have to cope with that pressure and intensity again.''
Winx's phenomenal career has elevated Waller to superstardom, something the trainer doesn't court but has learned to accept. It was only a decade ago when Waller trained his first Group 1 winner with Triple Honour in the Doncaster Mile.
In the years since, Waller has dominated Australian racing, preparing an incredible 85 Group 1 winners, won eight consecutive Sydney trainers premierships, achieved Hall of Fame status and has become famous as the trainer of one of the great champions in Winx.
"It is always good to be noticed in any field that you work and Winx has helped elevate my status,'' Waller admitted. "I'm not looking for that status but I'm certainly proud that I'll be remembered as her trainer.
"Over the years, I've trained a lot of good horses and we have a lot of up and coming horses in the stable right now. There has been a lot of horses that we are so, so proud of and that have been just as important to me at different stages of my career.
"It hasn't been easy at times and in the early days there is some unknown horses to the public that meant just as much, if not, more to me. Those horses enabled me to train Winx.''
Winx is closer to the end of her race career than the start but where the finish line is, even the trainer isn't sure. She is now a seven-year-old mare but is showing no signs of slowing down as evidenced by her brilliant return to racing in the Winx Stakes at Randwick last month.
"I have had to pull myself up a few times and just enjoy her for each and every run rather than get caught up in everything,'' Waller said.
"When she will be retired, I don't know so for that simple reason, I just want to make sure she is in great form and enjoying her life, which she is.
"While she is like this we will push on and not worry too much about it (retirement).
"She can race through the spring providing she continues to perform well. We said after she won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes earlier this year that we will take it one race at a time.
"We will see how every race pans out, we are constantly checking her. With Hugh and her owners, we will know when the time comes and make a joint decision.
"We can enjoy it for a bit longer yet before the next phase of her life when she becomes a mum, which will be very interesting and almost equally as exciting.
"I will certainly be proud of that day when she has a foal by her side.''
LIFE AFTER WINX
Waller is prepared for life after Winx. When that day comes, the trainer will finally get the opportunity to reflect on her magnificent career.
"I'll look back with pride as the trainer of Winx,'' he said.
"So will Hugh Bowman in relation to being the jockey of Winx, my staff and her owners.
"There are so many great stories and great memories. I get to see them first-hand through the eyes and passion of the strapper, jockey, owners, and the people, the punters, who follow her when she races.
"I'm extremely proud but while in the middle of a job, I don't put too much emphasis on that now. But being the trainer of Winx is something I will be very privileged to be part of for the rest of my life.''