Budget buy gives Waller his chance for a missing trophy
He's Sydney's premier trainer and he has made an enormous impact on Australian racing since leaving New Zealand for his first hit-and-run raid Down Under 14 years ago.
But while he has won a stack of group 1 races, Rosehill-based Chris Waller has yet to taste success in any of Australia's ''big four'' - the Caulfield and Melbourne cups, Golden Slipper and Cox Plate.
Given his youth, his status, the size of his stable and his ability to prepare horses, it's surely a matter of time before he, too, etches his name on the honour roll of the great Australian events. That might be as early as Tuesday, when he goes into the Melbourne Cup with his best chance in lively lightweight Kelinni and a late booking for Glen Boss to be in the saddle.
Bolter … Chris Waller's Kelinni wins the Lexus on Saturday for Nash Rawiller, who will hand over to lightweight specialist Glen Boss for the nation-stopper. Lexus form is a key guide to the Cup. Photo: Pat Scala
Kelinni won his way into the field by barging through the doors of the last-chance saloon in Derby day's Lexus Stakes, and the son of Refuse To Bend thus goes into the marathon in tip-top form and rock-hard fit. He looks a certainty to stay the demanding 3200-metre journey and he handles the track, the ground and the big occasion, as he demonstrated admirably on Saturday. The gelding will want for nothing by way of assistance from the jockey with Boss on board.
Certainly Nash Rawiller, who rode him to victory on Saturday but can't ride at Kelinni's low weight in the Cup, believes he is a boilover chance, saying after the race that he would ''run the trip on his ear''. Waller points to the horse's stout pedigree as further evidence that the journey, so often an unknown for most Cup contenders, won't be an issue.
His dam Orinoco, is by Darshaan (trained, coincidentally by Alain De Royer-Dupre, who saddles up Cup favourite Americain), which won over 2000 metres as a two-year-old before graduating to classic honours at three when he won the French Derby, aka the Prix du Jockey Club, then run over 2400m. He has also proved a potent influence for stamina through his daughters, having been the sire of mares which threw such class staying individuals as Arc winner Marienbard and High Chaparral, the Epsom and Irish Derby winner which is better known here for being the sire of So You Think.
And that pedigree and stamina potential is, in a nutshell, why Waller has been such an enthusiastic proponent of importing stayers bred in Britain and Europe.
Multimillionaire owner Lloyd Williams aside, Waller was probably one of the first Australian-based trainers to start importing gallopers from Britain to target distance races here, reasoning that the paucity of Australian-bred stayers gave him a real chance of making an impact with tried horses which at least could prove they can run a trip.
While Williams and other wealthy owners bought at the high end of the market, Waller scoured the catalogues of the Newmarket horses-in-training sales to identify likely candidates he could buy at a relatively cheap price, reckoning that if they could win a couple of Saturday metropolitan races they would pay for their purchase.
Mostly these horses are four- or five-year-olds. Kelinni was a bit unusual in that he was bought as a younger horse and brought to Australia after his juvenile career in Britain. He won at the second time of asking in England, in a mile maiden at the lowly track of Wolverhampton in a race worth a meagre $4652 and did not see the track again for a year, until Waller produced him at Canterbury to win over 1250m in September last year.
''We bought him as a two-year-old, it puts them at a big disadvantage when they get here, they are six months behind, and at that time of a horse's life it's massive. As four-year-olds they start to catch up. His pedigree is very stout, and his brothers and sisters have won beyond two miles so there won't be a problem there,'' Waller says.
The Lexus win was at group 2 level and took Kelinni's earnings to more than $500,000, which shows the sort of return that can be had in this country if the right horse can be found at a competitive price.
''We are getting close to 50 imports and only one hasn't won. We bought another eight this week. They haven't won yet, but I am sure they'll be adding to the total shortly,'' Waller says.
He doesn't believe in shelling out big sums, however. ''They are just bread-and-butter horses. We don't try and go there to buy a Melbourne Cup winner, we want Saturday winners. The prizemoney is very good and that's what pays for the horses. The market we look at is $100,000 to $300,000 and if you can win a few of those Saturday races you can pay for them. Races like the Lexus [and Melbourne Cup] are a bonus.''
The eight he has just signed for will land in Australia at a cost of about $1.2 million, he says. ''We didn't pay a lot of money, I thought it was quite good value this year.''
With 17 of the 24-strong Cup field bred overseas, it's a trend that is not likely to change unless the Australian breeding industry does.