A life less ordinary: ‘respect’ is Waller’s watchword

Ahead of his double date with destiny at Royal Ascot this week, champion trainer Chris Waller spoke to David Morgan about the path to his phenomenal success, the challenges of staying on top and what winning on one of the world’s greatest stages would mean to him.

Chris Waller with Home Affairs after winning the Group One Lightning Stakes at Flemington, 2022. (Photo by Jay Town/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist


The photographers are converging from all compass points as they hunt for the morning’s defining shot. Chris Waller seems preoccupied with his star sprinters Home Affairs and Nature Strip, but a few glancing looks here and there from beneath the peak of his black baseball cap indicate he is well aware of their attentions as he moves around the Ascot pre-parade ring.

The colt and the gelding look to be in fine fettle after breezing about four furlongs to the famous winning post: Home Affairs, the poster boy three-year-old; Nature Strip, the ripped old powerhouse. But Waller is the focus at this juncture of this particular pre-Royal Ascot media call.  

The ‘snappers’ had kept their distance at first, feeling their way inward like circling wolves but the trainer has paused: they are close up now, clustered, taking aim, ‘Look this way Chris,’ rattling off multiple frames.

He acquiesces but only briefly. Behind the keen, hawkish eyes, he has assessed the pack’s movements and formulated a plan. He proposes a more controlled approach, walks a few paces to a suitable location and calls his staff to bring the horses to him: Australia’s biggest trainer is arranging an impromptu posed shoot.


Chris Waller and his crack colt Home Affairs at Ascot. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Waller and his Ascot team. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

There are smiles and joviality. Warm words. And a purpose to his orchestration.

Everything Waller does seems to be measured and uncomplicated, from the careful way he assesses his horses and observes his surroundings, to the purposefully delivered words he speaks into the journalists’ microphones. Like champion trainers from Sir Michael Stoute to John Size, there appears to be order to his ways; but Waller is media savvy, too.

The passion that draws his emotions from within, to break at times in tears in the aftermath of victory, is dormant beneath the polished exterior.  

There is no fluster, nothing is rushed. All is calm and assured, whether he is dealing with the media or his horses.

The horses need water: he strides easily towards an empty bucket and carries it to his assistant, Charlie Duckworth. The tap is running dry; Duckworth persists; Waller simply goes to the next box, another tap and hose, and fills the bucket in his assistant’s hands.    

This is the man who broke the legendary Sydney trainer TJ Smith’s 37-year record for the most winners ‘in town’; the man who has won the Sydney premiership every season since 2010-11, has a total of 136 Group One wins to his name and who trained the great Winx to win 25 Group Ones and 33 races in a row.

His achievements in the sport are extraordinary. But they are rooted in the ordinary.

Chris Waller spoke to Asian Racing Report at Ascot. (Photo by Asian Racing Report)

Banishing doubts

Waller was raised on a farm around the New Zealand town of Foxton, the son of John and Marilyn Waller. His grandparents, Colin and Elizabeth Waller were ‘hobby breeders’ with about half a dozen mares.

“My dad was a keen racegoer and punter,” he says, speaking one-on-one with Asian Racing Report. “I used to tag along with my parents, probably once a month, to the races. In my area, it was probably like a Lambourn area in that it was a racing town, and I got to spend some time with the locals and have respect for racing from an early age.”

Respect is a word Waller returns to often. ‘Respect the sport,’ he has said, but also respect the athlete, the process of training, the team you work with and respect the long tradition you are a part of.  

He had to work hard to earn respect. His move across the Tasman Sea, to set up at Rosehill around the turn-of-the-century – as a young, small-name trainer – was certainly a test of his character and desire. Like most trainers who started without an inherited string, finances were tight and good horses hard to come by.

Waller made his name improving stable transfers, making the most of the assorted athletes he had to work with, often New Zealand-breds; he was also an early adopter of English imports. And, when Triple Honour gave him his first Group One win in the 2008 Doncaster Handicap, he was set fair on a steep, rising trajectory.

Waller celebrates his maiden Group One victory with jockey Glen Boss after Triple Honour won the 2008 Doncaster Mile. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

But he admits that even after his career had taken off, he still harboured doubts.

“I think, like, after I’d trained a few Group One winners, I was still sort of thinking, ‘Is this a bit of a fluke?’ ‘Are we on a lucky streak?’ ‘Are things going to change?’ I didn’t really have the belief to say that we were going to measure up every year, so I’d been training 10 or 15 years before I could see that we had a system that worked and had great people around me that helped it continue to work on a bigger scale,” he says.

“I still don’t get too far ahead of myself; things need constant checking and there are always challenges along the way.”

That inward questioning of his own belief in what he was doing and what he might yet achieve, though, is a thing of the past.

“No fear anymore,” he confirms, with a light shake of his head and a smile that tightens the deep-lined crow’s feet around his eyes.  

“I hope people understand,” he adds. “I don’t just expect us to be producing a Winx or a Nature Strip or a Home Affairs every season. You’re going to have a couple of quiet seasons and I think we’re going to follow the system we know and keep doing the best we can.”

That best was not quite good enough when Brazen Beau charged down the Ascot straight. But Waller knows better than to view defeat as failure.

Guiding the chosen one

Craig Williams’ decision to take a solo path towards the stands side in the 2015 Diamond Jubilee Stakes came under stern scrutiny when Brazen Beau was pipped to the post by the American longshot Undrafted.

Frankie Dettori and Undrafted claim the Diamond Jubilee Stakes, with Craig Williams and Brazen Beau in second. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse)

“At least they were questioning the jockey, not the trainer,” he laughs when reminded.

But did he look at his processes and find any fault or lack in his own approach?

“No, not at all,” he says firmly. “We nailed it. We almost won it and if Craig had not come where he did, we might have run third not second, who knows?” He laughs again.

“Yeah, I don’t look back and ever say, ‘Gee, that was a missed opportunity,’ no, it was a great opportunity and if he hadn’t run so well, I wouldn’t be here today. You’d be thinking twice about coming here with any horse but we’ve got the right horses to bring.”

Brazen Beau was Waller’s first and, so far, only experience of having one of his horses race at the Royal Meeting, and it came a year after his Zoustar was scratched from the same contest due to an injury.

Brazen Beau was from the first crop of I Am Invincible, who has since gone on to become Australia’s leading commercial sire, and is on target to claim his first Australian Sire Championship this season. The Yarraman Park stallion’s covering fee for 2022 is a hefty AU$247,500.       

I Am Invincible is now rising 18, the search for an heir is on and there is a belief that Home Affairs, an AU$875,000 yearling purchase by Coolmore’s Tom Magnier and already a two-time Group One winner, could be the chosen one. A Platinum Jubilee Stakes victory – which would be Australia’s first Royal Ascot win since Black Caviar took the same race in 2012 – would expose the colt to the European market in the best light possible and make him even hotter property than he already is. 

Home Affairs, a son of I Am Invincible, obliterates his rivals in the Group One Coolmore Stud Stakes of 2021. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

Home Affairs’ 2022 Australian service fee has already been confirmed at $110,000, the highest fee for a first-season stallion in Australian history. 

Waller seemed content earlier in the morning when he handed his binoculars to his vet Tim Roberts and walked down the steps of Ascot’s imposing grandstand, onto the track, and over to his returning horses.

Home Affairs had breezed first, striding with some purpose up the Ascot incline; King’s Stand Stakes candidate Nature Strip was already on his way up the same tract, a good distance behind, when his stablemate passed the post, and stretched out fluidly, his power evident but contained.

Duckworth led Nature Strip back. Waller walked with Home Affairs, listening to the colt’s rider before taking the left rein and guiding him back to the pre-parade, breaking a smile as he passed the gathered observers.

Understanding his place

Waller knows well enough that a first Royal Ascot win, indeed, a first win outside of Australasia, would be a big enhancement to his already prodigious legacy.

Chris Waller prepares a bridle for his champion Winx before an exhibition gallop at Randwick. (Photo by Mark Evans/Getty Images)

“I’m probably more at a stage now where I think it’s about being an ambassador for racing, keeping the good news stories happening and making sure the people, the trainers, who came before me aren’t disappointed with what we’re doing,” he says.

“It’s more about tradition and there are a lot better trainers training than I was when things were tough. I’m lucky, I’ve got a great support team. I’m only one of a bigger number and it’s our job to make sure racing continues for another 200 years-plus and face the challenges along the way.”

So, does he see his position as a stewardship of sorts?

“Yeah, it’s being part of racing history: I just have respect for it,” he explains. “I couldn’t name all the big names that have won the Melbourne Cup or Derby winners but I just have respect for how hard those races are to win, whether it be a Hong Kong Derby, or a Dubai World Cup, a Kentucky Derby, you name it.

“Races like those and here at Royal Ascot, they’re bloody hard to win and you respect those trainers, jockeys and teams that win them.”

It is not easy, though, for a trainer from Australia or his horse to win over the often-parochial British race goers. The brash, blokeish Peter Moody and his incredible mare Black Caviar could not pull it off. But Waller, the Kiwi, is clearly a different character and if Home Affairs or Nature Strip can deliver the spoils, the greatest Australian-based trainer of his time might just earn their respect, however grudging it might be.

“Look, I’m just proud to be a horse trainer,” he adds as the last of the photographers exit the paddock. “I think it’s an honour to have a trainer’s licence wherever you are in the world and I respect that.”



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