Champion trainer Darren Weir saddled up his first Melbourne Group 1 winner last month when Trust In A Gust took out the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes. Like so many other Weir runners he was a cheap buy at just $45,000, yet he took out the Melbourne trainer’s premiership last season. He’s on the podcast this week to talk about his success so far and what he’s most looking forward to this Spring.
Punting Insights You’ll Find:
- The benefits of beach work, country training and jumping
- How he tries to improve horses transferred from other stables
- A key member of his staff who’s proven to be an invaluable addition
- Whether he still likes to pull off a plunge
- A key runner to follow this Spring
Today’s Guest: Darren Weir
David Duffield: I’d like to welcome Melbourne’s leading trainer, Darren Weir, to the show. It’s a pretty exciting time of year and congratulations on your career so far, I’m sure there’s been a lot of cold mornings and hard work along the way. How satisfying was it to get your first Melbourne Group 1 winner recently with Trust in a Gust?
Darren Weir: Yeah, we’ve been trying for a while so it was a great thrill, great thrill for the stable and everyone involved. They’re a great bunch of owners and we ended up having a great night as well so it was good fun.
David Duffield: Was it a horse that you thought had that potential all along?
Darren Weir: To be honest, I’d have to say no. He was just a good honest horse as a younger horse and each preparation he just got better, and he’s made another step again this preparation. A good sound tough horse and just keeps improving, so hopefully he’s still got a bit more to come.
David Duffield: How do you run the operation having dual stables in Ballarat and Warrnambool?
Darren Weir: I’m based at Ballarat and that’s where most of the galloping work’s done so I spend most of my time there, but then get to Warrnambool as often as I can. We just have a policy that if the horses go to Warrnambool they don’t go to the track, they all go to the beach and the sand dunes and it’s very limited galloping down there. You gallop them at the sand dunes so it’s very easy to run down there and it works well.
David Duffield: With a team as big as yours, is your role a little bit like a football coach in that it’s actually more of a management role rather than hands on with the athletes, or in this case the horses?
Darren Weir: Obviously the bigger we got, yeah, it has been. I certainly enjoy the hands on side of it, don’t mind riding the horse and that sort of stuff, but as we’ve got bigger you don’t get as much time to do that sort of stuff and you’re just sort of more watching than anything.
David Duffield: We had Deane Lester on the show recently and he spoke very highly of your training operation and mentioned that he’s really enjoyed seeing you rise through the ranks, but one thing he said was that you had a real willingness to innovate. Is that something you’ve really focused on? Are you always trying to find a better way of doing things?
Darren Weir: Well, yeah. We were happy to try, obviously, different methods and that sort of stuff at the time to win and get them fit I guess, and now we’ve got not only that but we’re fortunate enough to get this new straight 1400m training track. That’s been the key, I think, to our success. We can gallop horses 365 days a year here and you don’t have to change the worksheet due to weather or anything like that, plus opening up the Warrnambool stable as well. Yeah, we’re willing to try something all the time.
David Duffield: What do horses get out of the beach work? What makes you such a believer in it? Obviously the results are there but why did you go that way?
Darren Weir: It’s a complete different training regime to training on the tracks so I guess when you get a new horse from a good stable, if they come to our Ballarat stable we can only do the same thing as what they were doing so that was the reason in opening the beach stable and that’s why I think it’s been so successful. It’s just a different training regime and it was fairly quite good for horses that have had soundness issues.
David Duffield: Is it generally older horses or do you think any horse can benefit from it?
Darren Weir: I think once the horse has had a run, I think any horse can benefit from it, but it’s very hard to train an unraced horse from the beach because, obviously, you need running rails and jumping out of barriers and all that sort of stuff to educate them but once they’ve had a run or two you can train on any sort of horse at the beach. It’s sort of more just to try and … You get the older horse just to try and get his will back to win again and get him sound and well and when you go to the sand it’s actually quite a good ride as well. It’s an enjoyable ride for yourself and the horse, so I think all that stuff is a part of why the beach works for us.
David Duffield: What about jumping? When would you school a horse over the hurdles?
Darren Weir: We school the horses all the time. We’ve actually got a little arena at our Ballarat stable with 12 hooks in it so all our horses jump at some stage throughout their preparation. Probably, to be honest, they jump over the logs at least once or twice a week, every horse in the stable.
David Duffield: Then it comes on to placing your horses and again it’s a big thing, it’s a job in itself. What’s your process in trying to place horses to their best advantage?
Darren Weir: When we get a new horse, unless it’s a good horse and it’s obviously going to target the good races, and you’ve got to plan out your preparation for the horses like for the spring and the autumn and those sort of horses. When you just get a maiden horse, we don’t plan anything out. Once we get them up to trial stage and we’re happy with the way that they trial and they’re ready to go to the races, then we pick out a race and then just from then on just follow the process of finding the next suitable race that suits the horse.
David Duffield: I mentioned the football coach comparison before, it sounds like you take it one start at a time.
Darren Weir: Yeah, we do. Unless they’re a horse that’s been set for a carnival and then you try to map out a program with them. When they’re just a young horse that hasn’t raced much yet, we just trial them, pick out a race and then depending on how they race is where you go their next start and what sort of race you go to.
David Duffield: As far as the race planning goes, do you have a general default preference as far as wanting to be up on the speed or getting cover midfield or is every horse and every race different?
Darren Weir: Well just in the last 12-16 months we’ve actually got help on that side of it because we thought we were sort of … We didn’t have our race preparations right and it’s very important, speed maps and following the right horses and where to go on the different tracks and we’ve employed a fellow called Peter Ellis and that’s what he does for us. He does speed maps and walks tracks and all that sort of stuff. He’s a big part in where we ride our horses in races and what part of the track we go to. There’s no doubt that since he’s been working for us it’s helped us an enormous amount. I reckon last year we probably won somewhere between 15-20 more races in Melbourne than what we would have if we hadn’t had him working for us. He’s been a great help.
David Duffield: You can’t say that, he’s going to want a pay raise.
Darren Weir: Nah he enjoys it as well so that’s a good … It’s a big team effort, I’m just a name behind a heap of good people working for me.
David Duffield: With the work that Peter does, obviously you’ve got a plan going into the race, but how flexible do you need to be depending on, say after he’s walked the track or even if you’re one of the later races in the day, if there’s a noticeable bias there, how do you then change your plans?
Darren Weir: Yeah. He’ll walk the tracks often two or three times throughout the meeting. He watches it carefully, and we can change things throughout the day. He obviously sends us what he thinks at the start of the day and the night before we get that and then we have a read of it. Then we can obviously change it if the pattern of racing is not suiting or is a bit of a bias to go somewhere else, we change that on the day. It works really well.
David Duffield: What about choosing a jockey? What’s the process there?
Darren Weir: We just have people … The main jockeys we use are the people that help us out at home. If you ride work and you help the stable out, you’ll get rewarded with race rides and that’s how I’ve been from day one, and it’s working really well. Now we have obviously Brad Rawiller, Dean Yendall, Michelle Payne, Damian Lane, Harry Coffey. They’re always riding work so they get the majority of their rides.
David Duffield: With a young progressive horse, is it your preference to have it work through its grades, or are you happy to throw it in the deep end and see how much talent they really have?
Darren Weir: I think it’s important to put them in the right races so that they can build confidence and if you’ve got one that’s just got a little bit better that you can raise the bar a bit higher and that can work as well but I’m a bit more in favour of just putting their horses in the right races and then hopefully, at the end of the preparation, end up in a good race.
David Duffield: What’s more important, do you think, in a horse? Is it talent or competitiveness, a real will to win?
Darren Weir: They got to be able to gallop obviously but attitude is a big part of it and soundness. I think if you’ve got a horse that can gallop a bit and he’s got a great attitude and he’s sound you can certainly bring him on a lot more than a horse that doesn’t want to help or that’s got a few soundness issues.
David Duffield: How and when would you use barrier trials as part of the preparation for a horse?
Darren Weir: We use trials quite a lot. We’re very big on trialling horses. We can trial up our hill track every day of the year so we use that quite a bit and we take horses to places, especially our Warrnambool horses, to places like Camperdown, Terang, Mortlake, those sort of places just to give them jump outs, and it works really well. We trial horses quite a lot.
David Duffield: In terms of horses that have raced wide, it’s always interesting when we’re doing the videos how much of a bonus you’d give that horse for how hard it worked. I’ve spoken to other trainers before who’ve said that the recovery for horses like that can be a little bit slower because of the hardness of the run, but then that can be a springboard for their next start. How do you find horses recovering and then performing next start after racing three or four wide?
Darren Weir: Since we’ve had Pete Ellis involved with us in race tactics, sometimes he’ll say sit wide in a race and it can often be the right move to obviously finishing closer to the placings. If the track’s racing fair and then your horse races wide, well often he has a tough enough run and you might want to wait a few more days before you target him again, but normally the jockey’s got a bit of common sense. If you can’t win, you look after the horse anyway if he’s had a torrid run.
David Duffield: Do you find next start that they’ll improve or they’ve actually taken a bit of damage from the run and then they can’t produce next time out?
Darren Weir: Often a horse after he has a tough run it can take probably an extra week to get over it so you just sort of monitor your horse and they tell you at home whether they’ve recovered quick or whether they need a little bit longer. It obviously would affect an odd one but not as much as what people think.
David Duffield: In terms of training skills, what’s required to be a successful trainer and whhy do you think you’re a better trainer now than you were a few years ago.
Darren Weir: Obviously opportunity is a big thing I think. There’s a lot of good horse trainers out there that don’t get the opportunity and we’ve worked pretty hard at it and now getting a few better opportunities of better bred horses, and also it was a building process in getting our facilities right at home. It’s been a 10 year thing, and we’ve got great facilities now. It would be as good as anywhere with the tracks and the stabling and all the facilities that we have. I think those things play a big part in it, but it’s pretty easy to train one that can gallop. It’s the ones that need a few things tinkered with, they’re the ones that test you out a bit.
David Duffield: Because you’ve got such a good record of improving horses from other stables, and I know you wouldn’t really talk yourself up too much or talk other trainers down, but why do you think that’s the case?
Darren Weir: Look, a lot of it’s facility wise, I got a horse called Akzar, the horse come to be in great order. He was brought into the Ballarat stables, had him there four or five days, he just wasn’t enjoying it. Thought I’m just going to get the same result here and then he went to the beach and he just thrived and loved it. It often can be as simple as that, just following where the horse is happy and hopefully they repay you for putting them in the right spot.
David Duffield: I’ll ask you about one in particular, a horse this week Proven Faith at Swan Hill, hadn’t beaten a runner home in three starts before it was transferred to you. I think it had been beaten 60 odd lengths in those three starts. How do you turn a horse like that around?
Darren Weir: Well, he’s just come to us a fit well horse and he just got put into our Ballarat system. He just got a lot of work. He was a very fit horse going into Swan Hill and he’d had two or three jump outs and his last jump out was quite good, he hit the line well so we were happy enough to take him to the races without huge expectations, and he might have found the right race. It was a pretty weak race but he was fit and well on the day so it was a good result for the owners.
David Duffield: What about on the betting side. You’ve pulled off the occasional plunge in the past, but do you still like a bet these days?
Darren Weir: I only have a bet if they’re over the odds. It’s too hard to be backing them all, but every now and then I have a bet, but I’m not that fussed about it to be honest.
David Duffield: Busy enough with everything else.
Darren Weir: Yeah.
David Duffield: Just before I let you go, Darren, can you give the listeners one horse that you’re really excited about for this spring?
Darren Weir: I think a horse like Signoff will win a good race at some stage through the spring. What race that is I’m not sure but he’d be certainly a good horse to follow later on in the spring once he gets up in distance.
David Duffield: Excellent. All right, appreciate your time today and best of luck for the rest of the spring.
Darren Weir: All right. Thanks a lot, David.
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