Betting 360 Ep 004: Dave Gets Into the Specifics behind Race Horse Training with Chris Waller

Betting 360 Podcast - Betting From All AnglesDave has a chat with Chris Waller who shares invaluable insights from the perspective of a world class trainer, talking about the importance of a horse’s confidence, race placement, trials, weights and much more.

Chris has successfully grown his stables in Sydney and is a force to be reckoned with in this highly competitive racing jurisdiction. He likes to get involved in all aspects of preparing horses for a race, and has built a high class team of professionals that take a lot of pride in producing top quality race horses. The insights shared on the podcast are sure to be a great addition to any punter’s knowledge base.

Punting Insights You’ll Find

  • How Chris devises race plans when he has multiple runners in the same race.
  • When and why he uses trials.
  • Why his horses usually peak in their second or third runs of their preparation.
  • The benefits of having a satellite stable in Melbourne.
  • The strategy behind importing top quality horses to Australia.
  • How a horse’s bodyweight fluctuations can influence it’s race performance.

Today’s Guest:

Chris’ Closing Tip:

“From a punting perspective, the further you go back in a race the more trouble you run into.”

Episode 004 : Dave Gets Into the Specifics behind Race Horse Training with Chris Waller

Welcome to Betting 360, your number one source for horse racing and sports betting insights.

Coming around the bend is your host David Duffield, with another expert view to give you the winning edge.

David: Hello and welcome to episode 4 of Betting 360. I’m your host David Duffield, and every week I bring on a special guest to look at punting from all angles. Today that expert is someone who really needs no introduction at all, and that is Sydney trainer Chris Waller. Let’s find out right now what punters can learn from a record breaking trainer.

David: Hello again listeners. I’d like to welcome you to Sydney’s leading trainer, Chris Waller , to the show. How are you doing Chris?

Chris: Very good thanks.

David: That’s good to hear, thanks for coming on. I’d like to get started by talking about something that you mention quite a bit in post-race interviews and that’s a horse’s confidence. I know you like to take them through their grades, but why do you think that this is important?

Chris: I just relate it to people, we all like to feel good in what we’re doing, whether it be a job or sports. I think giving someone confidence is a big thing so obviously we’ve got staff and we try to include them as part of the team and they get a bit of confidence from that, and likewise with the horses, which I think is the most important. You just need to keep them interested. That’s what takes them home at night, to make them enjoy their stable environment and enjoy their food. Any sign of stress is directly shown in the feed bin and if the horse is not eating then they won’t maintain their weight, and then you have a double effect. They are struggling with their work because they aren’t eating enough so it’s just one big circle if I could explain it very briefly.

David: So do you think the opposite applies? I mean if you throw a horse in the deep end do you think they can lose confidence quite quickly, and maybe struggle to get that back?

Chris: In particular with average horses. With the good ones you can get away with having an off day and things like that, they’ll bounce back, but I guess the success of a trainer is getting the average horses to run well. There are a lot more of those types of horses, therefore you’ve got a lot more investors in those horses and more punters on those horses. A good trainer needs to concentrate on those horses, just as much as he does on his Group 1 horses.

David: Alright. You have such a large stable and so many horses to stay on top of and try and improve. What is your process in trying to place them to their best advantage?

Chris: I like to think that when I nominate my horses, or enter them for races, that they can run in the first five. What you get for running your horse in the first five is A –  you can get lucky and win the race, and  B – if they’re good enough or C – if they’re superior they’ll just win regardless of luck. That keeps the horse knowing that they’re competitive, and if things aren’t quite right on the day you can find a nice race in a couple of weeks time knowing that they’re competitive, and with just a few alterations you can make that necessary improvement that quite often needs to be made.

David: And so just logistically in trying to manage such a large team, how far out are you planning the preparations for the horses? I suppose there might be some internal conflict as well with having multiple runners in the line.

Chris: That’s something we don’t worry about and that’s unfortunately why we get multiple runners in a race. If I was trying to separate them it would be a nightmare. Fortunately our system and our owners in particular don’t mind them running together. They can see that a horse needs luck and therefore you run a race three times and you might get  three different winners, especially in competitive Sydney racing where the fields are very even and there’s not much between a good run and a winning run.

David: So when you do have multiple runners in a race, how do you go about devising your race plan or advising jockeys on where you’d like to be in the run? Because with some horses their pattern is to get back, others will be up on the speed. How do you manage that within one race?

Chris: We’re obligated to ride the horse the same as it’s normally ridden, so I guess that makes my job a bit easier. Obviously if you want to change instructions we’ll let the stewards know, but as a rule they are normally ridden in a certain way to suit that horse, and obviously jockeys need to take changes into consideration. That’s what the good jockeys are good at. We just like to get cover on our horses. I don’t like them to do it at both ends, if they do it at the start of the race – they’ll obviously need a breather. I hate my horses being out three wide because it makes it firstly very hard to win, but secondly you need to patch your horse up after the race. I’d rather have a hard-luck story, than a bad ride being out three and four wide with no cover.

I think that’s why you’ll quite often see few of our horses go back when they’re drawn wide, and that’s a rule of thumb that we normally go back. Of course there’s exceptions with speedy horses, they’ll try and roll forward and be ridden with cover. I guess you can compare our stable to Gai’s where she’s just unbelievable at getting her horses rock hard fit so they can do it at both ends. I guess there’s adverse effects from that as well, but these are two completely different contrasts of riding instructions that both work for each other’s team.

David: So when you say that with the on-pace runners that there can be adverse effects, are you talking about the longevity of the horse or the number of starts in a preparation, or what do you mean by that?

Chris: Basically, internally is what we don’t know a lot about horses and it’s always in the back of my mind that horses can bleed or once again suffer from a hard run, just like us. If we go out for a run and are not fit and we go out too hard you’re not going to finish your run, you’re going to pull up and walk. Well horses don’t. To some degree they run through the pain barrier. It’s not until they pull up where they say well gee that was a tough effort, and all of a sudden they work out if they don’t put in 100% it is probably a bit easier for them. We don’t like horses that don’t try so you can’t even go down that path really. I guess longevity is riding your horses quiet, but from a punting perspective the further you go back the more trouble you run into so that also needs to be considered. When you’re placing a bet and when you’re creating expectations for owners you’ve got to tell them that because your riding the horse back it’s gonna need a bit of luck.

David: And has that changed slightly at all in the last six to twelve months? Have you wanted your horses to be slightly more prominent in the run or is it unchanged over the last few years?

Chris: I’d say as our horses have gotten better we’ve been able to ride them closer and it’s certainly a preference to have them up there. I guess I still have in the back of my mind when I had a team of ten to twenty horses to train I needed to make sure every one of them count, make sure everyone of them was there in a months time or six months time and back in those days it wasn’t easy. So I guess it was a good way to learn because of how we just keep our horses running and I guess our results show that, with a lot of older horses in the team running.

David: And you mentioned before about having your horses racing three wide, and how you don’t like it and also how they might need a patch up job to recover from the run. How do you – obviously if we do a video replays we give the horse a bonus or a forgive run if they’ve been forced to race three wide. Just tell us how much of a difference you think there is between a horse one out one back getting a nice cheap run, and a horse that has to race three wide the trip.

Chris: Well it’s basically a length in my opinion, that’s my mentality. And once again, second up might be concern or the next start might be concerned if they’ve had a really tough run. Basically if you can imagine a horse running like a cycling race. If you can get out of a slipstream and finish your race off hard it basically gives you an accelerator that you don’t have if you’re out three wide. You’re going to be vulnerable over the concluding stages and that last 100 metres is really hard on a horse.  Again you’ll see a horse that’s unlucky and 9 times out of 10 they’ll springboard off that at their next start. They’ll jump out of the ground and attack the line when they do get clear running in the next start. Again, the feed bin is a good indicator of that. Almost always a winner will go home and eat up simply because he’s very well, obviously he/she won the race and consequently they go home and thrive. The horses that are struggling, that are hitting a brick wall at the 100m mark are hard to keep on their game and get them to improve next start.

David: Okay, what about trials? How do you use them to prepare a horse, both for a first up run but also within a campaign?

Chris: With trials I would see that similar effect when we like to keep them on the bridle. So that when they can go to the races they’re ready to accelerate, haven’t been burnt out and are ready to peak for their first or second up run. Unfortunately, sometimes they will go to the races a little bit soft and I’d say that would be our team in general. We still get some of the first up winners but the second or third runs are definitely their best because that’s how they are prepared. And with a trial, I would see it as probably like three or four gallops. They don’t have to be put under too much pressure, but I guess you would call it that nervous energy for a race like scenario. It just gets the mind racing, it gets the heart, the adrenaline pumping and they seem to get a lot more out of a quiet trial than they would ever get out of an extremely hard gallop. When a horse is running hard whether it be in a race, trial or on the training tracks they’ve got that risk of breaking down. So if you can keep them under wraps, under a good hold from their rider they’re less likely to incur injuries.

David: Okay, and under what circumstances or what kind of scenario would you want to use a trial within a campaign?

Chris: Basically to rebuild a horse’s confidence or if your completely behind and need to build fitness or simply if you are bridging the gap and need to maintain it’s fitness if you are mid-preparation. So if we’ve got a horse that has a bad run and is stepping up in distance I’ll 9 times out of 10 give him a trial, and likewise if it goes terrible well you don’t want to take them to a race and have it run down the track so you give them a trial to try and workout what’s wrong plus get a bit of confidence back into him. Normally it works.

David: What about handicap weights? Amongst the punters there’s some that swear by them and take a lot of notice of them, and others basically ignore them. What’s your view on horses going up in weight or on the flip-side do you think it’s a major positive when they are coming down in the weights?

Chris: Well weight does stop trains, and again it’s that half to one length advantage and you need things to be going your way to win races regardless of how good you are, especially when you’ve reached your mark when the horse has reached it’s capacity. So if you’ve got a kilo allowance in comparison to the last start, if you’ve got a perfect run, if you’ve got a horse at the peak of it’s preparation you’ve got three things in your favour. So I think that’s one thing. The weights, I think it’s a pretty good system that we’ve got in Sydney, and I think they get fairly penalised when they win races and they come down a little bit slow but it creates a pretty consistent picture in my opinion. The other thing would be about weights, I guess we are talking about a 600 kilo horse carrying say 60 kilos and if you work that out it’s 10% of its body weight. If you’ve got a 450 kilo horse, carrying 60 kilos, that’s a lot more than 10%. So it’s got to have an effect on a smaller horse. I am surprised a lot more emphasis is not put on size and weights of horses as it is in other countries around the world.

David: I mean as a punter I love the way it is in Hong Kong where they give you the horse’s weight before every start so you can see how it has fluctuated.

Chris: It wouldn’t be hard, and I think it’s a good guide. We weigh our horses every Monday and the old timer’s might say you need to look through your eyes and see how the horse is. Well that’s true, but it’s amazing that horses do seem to get back to their premium weight and perform at their best. You’ll see a horse 10 or 20 kilos heavier starting their preparation and see them struggle. But sure enough when they get back to that weight they were last preparation, whether it be a 3 year old turning 4 or even a 2 year old turning 3, of course you’ve got to allow some factor into the growing. Once you have a mature horse I’m sure they need to be a similar weight and what you see on the outside is one thing but what you probably don’t see on the inside is a lot of fat that does have an effect on that 100 meter business end of a race.

David: Alright. So just back to the training setup or the training operation. With you obviously it’s such a big stable, but am I right in saying there’s almost teams within your team? Like the foreman or whatever title you like to call it within your operation that might have say 20 horses that they’re responsible for. And so there is Chris Waller racing and it’s a team effort but there are teams within the team?

Chris: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is, and we run off multiples of 20 as you say. Each 20 horses has a foreman and they’ll have a right hand person under them. Then we’ve got 4 or 5 ground staff as well as a couple of riders. For each 20 those riders mingle around; there might be other riders from other groups that ride different horses from each barn. On top of that we’ve got an assistant lady that’s in charge of all the big work and the proceedings throughout the morning at the stables.

I’ve got my assistant trainer who comes out to the middle of the track with me and is in charge of all those foremen, and they’re reporting back to him as well as myself. There’s lots of checklists, waste spreadsheets, temperature charts and things like that to monitor. Each of those foreman take a lot of pride in their jobs, and as do their staff in that barn. That creates a bit of rivalry within the stable as a whole. They’re aware of who’s winning and who’s not and who’s had a double and who didn’t and who hasn’t won a race for a couple weeks and it creates a bit of friendly banter as well.

David: I bet. And so, you oversee all of that, and what skills do you see being most essential to be a successful trainer? I know you’ve separated yourself from the competition over the last couple of years. What do you think is most important to be successful as a trainer?

Chris: Well with all of the successful trainers you can see them interacting with their horses and their staff, and managing their time properly. Peter Snowden, John Hawkes and Gai Waterhouse are the one’s that come to mind just off the top of my head. Then we’ve got the smaller trainers around Sydney that are constantly working with their horses. So I guess I just want to have my involvement in everything. I like to be seen, I like to get there when the staff start and be there or at least go when the staff finish at the end of the day. I think they respect that, plus you see a lot of things that are going on that you wouldn’t see if you weren’t there.

David: And just switching to imported horses. You’ve had plenty of success there and you were one of the earliest I think to recognise that you can find some good value horses overseas, particularly the staying ranks. What are you looking for for those because some of them, in terms of exposed form it wouldn’t be that impressive on paper so what are you looking for when assessing import?

Chris: Well, we’re looking at value because that’s the thing that brings people back, and we want repeat business. We don’t just want people that are going to be on one horse and then never race a horse again. We’re trying to give them a good experience. First of all is the purchase price and the second of all we look at is a horse that’s going win the races. I don’t think anybody expects to win Melbourne Cups or Doncaster handicaps. I think they expect to go to a city meeting on a Saturday – 3 or 4 times a preparation – and have a competitive horse, and if your horse wins a race I think you’ll have a pretty happy owner that’s willing to reinvest again.

David: Alright, and just on the Melbourne stable then. What type of horse are you looking to send here and in the longer term what are you hoping to achieve with a satellite stable?

Chris: I just want to have a competitive base down there plus have a good base to go to during the carnival to give us more representation and have the horses on a familiar environment instead of begging and borrowing – so to speak. When we’ve done it in the past of not knowing where we’re gonna be or having one horse there and two horses there type of thing. So that’s what it’s giving us at the moment, and in terms of horses well basically every horse that’s been sent down there has been sent because there hasn’t been a race in Sydney. So instead of waiting for 3 or 4 weeks to drive them and they end up running a race that doesn’t suit them, we’ll see if we can find a second race for them as well if that’s inline. So we send them down there then they can race and spend less wasted time in their stables that obviously cost around $100 a day. This keeps the horse racing and allows them to reach their potential quicker, and in turn for the investor, the owner it doesn’t cost them as much at the end of the day.

David: Alright, good stuff. We’ll leave it there but just before I let you go, it is something that Richie gives you a hard time about at times but I love seeing your emotion after a big race. I think it shows what it means to you and that you don’t take any of this for granted.

Chris: Yeah, I guess I never really stopped to say I’ve really had a good day or gee we’ve had a good season or anything like that. When you actually do win one of those big races you may stop and talk about it, and it hits home. We’ve had tough times and it’s something that’s been tough and it certainly has shown what it does mean to me as the leader of a big team. Yeah, it reflects who I am and I’m very proud of it.

David: Yeah good stuff. Alright, thanks very so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and all the best.

Chris: My pleasure, thank you very much.

Thanks for tuning in to Betting 360.  Get more in depth analysis, tips and that betting edge by heading over to where you’ll find a full transcript of this episode.  If you liked the show, share us with a fellow punter or drop by iTunes to leave us your thoughts.  Betting 360, punting from all angles.

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