To know how much it means to Chris Waller is to look at his bottom lip. It quivers and wavers and doesn’t know what to do.
His crack colt Kermadec knows better. He emphatically won the $3 million Doncaster Mile on Monday at Royal Randwick, which was special for many reasons not least because he wasn’t in the field until 7.30am on the day of the race.
So that’s five Donnies for Waller. Five.
If you think claiming headline races becomes unfashionable for the New Zealander in the trademark black suit and striped black-and-white tie, you should think again.
“It means a lot to me this race,” Waller says, voice croaking. “It’s a tough job. It’s not just Doncasters, it’s every day. It’s tomorrow morning when you don’t have a winner. I’m so proud.”
Unlike the unpredictable Sydney weather at this time of year, you can set your clock to Waller’s emotions after a big-race victory.
He has won the Sydney trainers’ premiership for the past four years. He’s won the Doncaster for the past two years with Sacred Falls.
The most you’ll ever see Waller tear up was in the minutes after Rangirangdoo saluted in this race in 2010 – the horse that had to be put down after a race at Doomben in 2013.
He won for Queensland owner Neville Morgan back then – the same owner of Kermadec in the late gloom at Royal Randwick on Monday, before a crowd of 11,000 after the first day of The Championships was postponed because of ill weather on Saturday.
The connection to Morgan was only part of the reason for Waller’s emotions.
In the main, it was because of his sense of perspective.
Waller never forgets the journey: from son of a dairy farmer in New Zealand, to strapper living at the Doncaster Hotel up the road from where he savoured victory on Monday, to finally getting his trainer’s licence, to sleeping on the floor of friends’ flats in his early years, to getting a lift to the races in Newcastle because he didn’t own a car, to struggling to make rent every week, to chipping away and working for every single thing he has to surpass Gai Waterhouse as the King of the Hill in Sydney.
Being on top is better than being at the bottom. But with it comes expectation.
“It all changes,” says Waller, croaking again. “You’re now expected to win. You’re not expected to win when you start, but now there’s a sense of pressure to win and perform.
“I’m just grateful for the people who got me there. You can’t think about it [the emotion] before you race. It just hits you in the face when you win.”
Before the Doncaster, there was much interest for one of Waller’s other horses, Royal Descent, who finished second in the Doncaster last year and now third this year.
Royal Descent is owned by the country’s best-known furniture salesman, Gerry Harvey.
His wife Katie Page – who is just as well known in sport as her husband – approached Brazilian jockey Joao Moreira in the Theatre of the Horse before the race and exposed how much a victory would mean.
“Hi Joao,” she told arguably the best jockey in the world. “I pay the bills. I’m the wife. I’m so happy it’s you today … although we are very nervous.”
If not for the sliding doors of racing, it could’ve been Royal Descent welling Waller’s eyes.
Kermadec slotted into the field on Saturday after Moriaty and It’s Somewhat were scratched.
After the meeting was abandoned because of wet weather, connections required the same two horses to be ruled out again on Monday if the colt was to start.
“I knew we had a group 1 horse,” Waller said. “I didn’t get worked up when he didn’t win the Australian Guineas, and I didn’t bother when he missed the start in the George Ryder. Group 1 horses get their chance.”
The decision on Saturday morning to abandon the first day of the two-day Championships divided opinion.
Some leading trainers wanted to go. Others did not. Waller was one of the latter.
Thunder claps before the first group 1 of the day, the Sires Produce (1400 metres), were ominous. The rain came and suddenly the only dry place at Randwick was the Coolmore corporate box.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa was in the box, with the strict religious ruler banning alcohol in his presence.
His horse, Pride Of Dubai, won with his other starter, Rageese, finishing third.
The Sheikh might’ve thought it was divine intervention.
Waller thought the same with Kermadec.
“It was in the lap of the gods,” he smiled of his horse finally securing a place in the Doncaster field.
He said it with a straight face. It was about the only time after the race his bottom lip didn’t move.