“I’m not just hungry for success, I’m starving”
Archie Alexander left school at 16 to spend more than a decade working for some of the very best trainers in the world. His experience in England, Ireland, France, USA and Australia has given him a great head start in learning what it takes to be a successful trainer.
His Ballarat stables opened for business in July of this year and he has already tasted stakes success with the win of Renew in the Sandown Cup.
OTI had planned to send Renew to Chris Waller after his spring campaign, but changed their mind following the Sandown Cup win so he’ll stay in Alexander’s stable.
Punting Insights You’ll Find:
- What he learned from the world’s best horsemen and women
- Why Ballarat is the ideal training base
- A typical working day for a trainer
- What he loves most about having his own stable
David: Welcome to the show, Archie, and congratulations on the Sandown Cup win with Renew.
Archie: Yeah, thank you very much. That was a great day.
David: I’m sure it’s what dreams are made of. You haven’t had him all that long though, have you?
Archie: No, I’ve had him for just over a month, so it’s all been pretty, sort of whirlwind I guess. He came to me as a surprise really after running below par for Marco Botti and they just needed a sort of change up, and maybe a different scene for him, and Ballarat seemed the place to go, and we just changed up his routine, jumped him and turned him out, and kept him sweet. Didn’t really work him too hard. Just changed things, and he’s done really well.
David: So in that change of environment, and change of preparation, how soon did you know that he had been rejuvenated?
Archie: It’s always hard to know because you don’t really know the horse beforehand, and you don’t really know him when you you’ve got a complete stranger on your hands, it’s tough. But he just, he seemed to be working well, and I had a bit of help because the vet who works up with me closely in Ballarat, he actually looked after the horse in quarantine and then looked after him in Ballarat. So he was the only one that saw the horse in both scenarios and he said he was a lot calmer and a lot happier when he was in Ballarat.
So he was probably our guide, and the horse just seemed, you know pretty happy to me, but I had never seen him beforehand. When he was a bit sulky. He was training well, eating well, looked well, and so really going into the first race the Caulfield Cup I knew he had no chance. He was 200/1, but then the second time, I was really confident and didn’t think he should have been the $13 or $14 that he was. I was confident his work was pretty good. He’s always a tiny bit lazy in his work, but I was confident and then going into the Sandown Cup, he was just the same as he was the time before.
David: You mentioned, obviously the fitness improvement, but also the fact that he was a happier horse. How important is that in terms of the horse being able to perform at its best?
Archie: I think it’s everything, isn’t it? It’s like a human, you know if you’re happy, you work a lot harder because things are well at home, and you know you perform well.
But if you’re sad and you know, things aren’t going well, you got to work and you don’t put your best foot forward. Definitely on an eating front, horses eat a lot better when they are happiest. You know if a horse is box walking, weaving, worried about where they are, they’re not going to eat, but they’re happy and loving life, they eat well and obviously eating well is the key for any sportsman.
David: He came to you from the guys at OTI. How long have you known Terry Henderson and Simon O’Donnell, and how did that relationship develop?
Archie: I’ve known them both for about a year, and really it was a bloodstock agent that buys a lot for the guys overseas, that put me in touch with them. At first it was more just a friendship level. We were doing no business and just sort of met them at the races and had a chat with them, and we were talking about European races and horses, had things in common, and Terry knew that I was keen to train, and they just said to me, we know you’re keen to train and if you were thinking about Australia, we’re just giving you a bit of confidence to say, you know if you kick on, we’ll be the first to jump on board and support you.
David: Which they definitely did. So just going back a bit then, how old were you when you decided that you wanted to be a horse trainer?
Archie: Very young I guess for someone who wanted to be a horse trainer, probably 15 or 16? I just, I knew that was the way forward for me. I just loved it, and I’d been around good trainers in England, and I’d just sort of seen the way they trained the horses in different styles, and I was always quite nosy, so I was always wanting to know what one trainer did differently to another, and I just compared them in my head and looked at different styles.
I always just thought one day I’d like to put all those different methods into place. That’s why I left school early, and travelled the four years with the top trainer in France, Criquette Head. Then I did a year in America. Helped Todd Pletcher a leading trainer in America. I did a stint up here with Anthony Cummings, Danny O’Brien. A stint in Ireland with Aidan O’Brien. Then spent three years back home, in between all that, in 2008 with Mark Johnson in England. Then finally, my last job was with Lloyd Williams, as foreman for a year and a bit. Then I decided, after twelve years with all those good people, to put some of that knowledge into practice and set up on July 1.
David: It sounds like a really solid grounding, and a smart move to work with some of the best trainers in the world. What did you learn in France?
Archie: France was great. Criquette Head, she’s a very relaxed trainer, as in she takes her time with her horses, and she’s in no rush as wealthy owner/breeders are very different because they’re worried about the page. In the female line, they’ve probably got the mother, the sister, and the brother at home. So they want the best. Even if it’s not a quick return, they want the best for the horse. So she would often train very laid back and give the horses plenty of time, and they might only run as a three year old first off, and you know a two year old career wouldn’t be important.
So it was very good to work for her, but all the trainers I worked for, they were very different to each other. Different styles, but I guess the one thing they all have in common is they’re hard working, like most top trainers are. You know it doesn’t come easy.
David: What about the USA you mentioned working with Todd Pletcher and also traveling foreman, and I think that included some time at the Dubai carnival. What did you learn from him?
Archie: Todd, he was very organized and he sort of performed his horses at a very good level, all over America. He had a barn in California, a barn in New York, a barn in Florida, and just being around Todd you’re around the best owners. He’s trained for all the leading owners in America. You’re around all the best jockeys, so just listening to those good guys in conversation, you would always pick up different methods, ideas, and you learned a lot from them.
David: Was it the same with Aidan O’Brien in Ireland?
Archie: Yeah, Aidan’s a little bit different, because you are dealing with the best stock in the world so you wouldn’t say, Aidan, he has it easy, but he is given the best horses. At the same time, he doesn’t make any mistakes with them, and he’s a complete perfectionist, and you know he doesn’t miss many things, and if a horse is a touch sore, he doesn’t pick up on it on day two. You know he sees it straight away. Yeah, he’s very good and just, I guess when you get to his stage, you know his record speaks for itself.
David: Then in Australia, I’d imagine you also learned a bit, but as successful as Anthony Cummings and Terry O’Brien and Lloyd Williams/Robert Hickmott are they probably don’t all operate the same. They have you know, different strengths and maybe different weaknesses as well.
Archie: Yes, for sure. I mean Lloyd, out of the three of them would be I guess the most unique, because he’s obviously a guy who’s training for himself. You know he doesn’t have any owners to answer to, so he can campaign his horses as he likes. Whereas he doesn’t have any pressure, whereas the average trainer … You might want to run in the 1400m race next Wednesday, and they owners, they have an opinion the horse is a 1200m horse. So you have to keep everyone happy. Whereas Lloyd’s operation is very unique, because he’s training for himself. He does very well with his staying horses, and gives them plenty of time if they need it.
David: So, you’ve seen successful styles wide around the world, and then you decided to, when you branched out on your own, that you’d be based at Ballarat. What appeals in particular about being based there?
Archie: I mean first you have to go somewhere that there is a lot of success, and one of them would be Darren Weir, he’s the obvious person here. He’s done so well, and I just thought if Darren Weir is doing well there, it’s a good enough reason. You know, why can’t I do, obviously not as well as him with two hundred and fifty odd winners, but I thought he’s obviously training winners from a good solid track. So I could, I could definitely give it a shot.
David: How have you found the other trainers? Are they welcoming to a new guy on the scene, like yourself, or are they so competitive that you’re really on your own?
Archie: No, Ballarat has been a lovely place to start off. The country environment. Everyone’s pretty helpful. Likes of Simon Morrish, Dan O’Sullivan, and obviously Weir. I get on well with all of them and they’re a great help. You know, if you have a concern I’d speak to Darren and, you know he’s very open with his knowledge.
David: So you’re actually enjoying the lifestyle of being a trainer? You’ve obviously spent a decade working towards it, but you’re enjoying it so far?
Archie: I love it. It’s been the best six months of my life. It’s very tough. Every day is a long day. You know, it’s not like before where you used to look forward to the weekend so you could just let your hair down. This carries on day in, day out. Although, it’s satisfying that you work hard, and you see your rewards. You know, it’s for you and your team, and it’s your name out there, so you know, you want your results to look good so you work hard to be successful.
David: What is a normal day for you then? You mentioned there are long hours, and that’s pretty much the industry norm, but what’s a normal day for you?
Archie: I’d arrive at around five in the morning, and I feed them, checking their legs. Checking the horses, making sure everything was running smooth. Putting them on the walker, the first set of horses. Some days I’d ride slow work. Other days I might be watching the track. Watching the gallops. See if we’ve got jockey’s coming in.
Then I would normally end the morning at about eleven. Head home. Then you just start a few email to owners. Trying to run a business really. If you need to speak to the bank manager, speak to owners, speak to people that you might need to be sort of getting in contact with, and then when all that’s done, you head back to the barn at about two, two thirty. You make sure the horses are all right, put them on the walker. Keep, keep the stable ticking over. The vet’s might pop in. Have a chat with the farrier, see what needs to be hooked up for the week ahead. Runner’s, things like that. Then normally, wrap it up at about half five, and then head back and a few phone calls, a few emails, speak to you guys. Then try and get something to eat and get to bed.
David: And then do it all again the next day?
Archie: Exactly, but you wake up ready to go. Definitely at my stage in my career, you’re not even hungry, you’re starving for success, and you just want to get on with it. Yeah, everyday is a great day.
David: So, you’ve obviously had success with Renew. Do you think down the track, you’ll have just as much success with sprinters as you will stayers?
Archie: Yeah, actually it’s funny how a few people have already wanted to label me as a staying trainer. My first two winners were 1200m horses. So, obviously the lesser grade but I think if you’re a trainer who’s got a bit of talent, you know whether it’s 1200m or 3200m, you should get the best out of your horse.
All the people I’ve worked with, you know, they’ve trained horses all different distances. I think people start to classify you some because that’s what you get sent. Criquette Head, she’s often labeled as a very good trainer fillies because she’s had Treve who has won two Arc De Triomphe’s but actually she’s sent far more fillies than colts. But at the same time, in her career, she’d done very well with colts, and won Derbies.
I think sometimes it’s easy to get labeled as a certain trainer because you get sent that stock. Like I said, I’ve had three winners in my short career. A couple of sprinters, and a stayer. So I think really it’s just whatever you get sent.
David: What about the stage of preparation for your horses? Are you the type of trainer who wants a horse to go first up, or would you prefer that they build their fitness as their campaign goes on, I know Darren Weir has been fairly successful at keeping horses up and racing for a very long time.
Archie: Yeah, I guess every horse is different you know. I’ve had, I had a horse that was second at Moonee Valley. Beaten in a photo finish on Friday night, and he’s a very hard horse to get fit, a horse called Martinvast. He’s taken three runs really, to get him fit. He’s just impossible to get fit at home.
Then I had another horse called Gambaccini, that I inherited off of Anthony Freedman. He won first up for me. He’s pretty easy to get fit, keeps himself in good nick. Ran him first up and he won.
So, I mean every horse is different, but in general you don’t really want them 100% first up. Then there’s nothing to look forward to.
David: Then, in the race itself, are you the type that wants your horses to find cover and a good rhythm, or is there a preference of being up on the speed?
Archie: That’s a tricky one because every horse, like I said, is an individual. I think the key thing is just where the horse is happy. Most of my jockeys have ridden for me, I just say go out there and you ride where your horse is happy. If he’s off, you know, not pulling, off the bridle just settle nicely, obviously with a bit of cover is best. Just make sure the horse is happy.
I don’t really like tying people down with instructions. I’m normally, if anything, maybe close to the pace in the first half, because then you don’t have to work too much. I can’t really see the logic of jumping well, and then bringing the horse back to sit last, and having to make up the ground late. It just doesn’t seem sensible.
David: You mentioned that you let the jockeys do what they do best, but do you get involved at all in speed maps, or walking the track, or anything like that? I know other trainers have had a fair bit of success in getting an outside expert or consultant involved. Have you done any of that?
Archie: It’s probably early days and later on with more runners and a bit more finance behind me. It’s probably something you might look into. I know Darren’s got someone helping him. Yeah, just at the moment, I just try and watch the races and see where the winners are coming from. Back in Europe, I would walk the course probably a little bit more myself than here. Probably something I should look into doing a bit more of. Yeah it really just helps as well, if a jockey has ridden on the track before. You can have a chat with him and see where he thinks the best ground is, and just try to be as observant as you can.
David: Fair enough and I know you’re probably taking it one day at a time, and one horse at a time at the moment, but you have a long term goal, let’s say three, four, five years from now?
Archie: I mean long term goal, you just like to just be in the leading, you know, I was going to say handful, but you know leading ten, fifteen trainers in Victoria. Something like that. That’s obviously a goal. Something you strive to be and just well respected. I mean it’s nice when if you go to the races, and you hear someone say Darren Weir, God he’s successful, or Peter Moody, Ciaran Maher. Those are the names. They’re the sort of people you hope in four or five years, someone will be saying the same about you. Just to be well respected and someone that people want to send horses to for the right reasons.
David: You’re definitely on the right track now. So I really appreciate your time, and thanks for coming on the show today Archie.
Archie: Always, it’s been a pleasure. All the best.
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