Chris Waller: “I feel safer at the races than at the supermarket”

Chris Waller: “I feel safer at the races than at the supermarket”

Chris Waller believes Australian racing’s ability to keep going hinges on the coronavirus curve flattening – but points out he feels safer at the races than he does at his local supermarket.In a wide-ranging interview with Racenet, Waller’s voice quivered with emotion as he spoke of his pride in the racing industry doing everything possible to continue in a bid to potentially save more than 200,000 racing jobs.The champion trainer also hailed the leadership of Racing NSW and said he had full confidence in racing’s strict coronavirus protocols and also applauded necessary measures to slash prizemoney over The Championships.Waller believes there may be a way racing can avoid a total shutdown but that will depend on the rate of new coronavirus cases flattening.

But he has told how he felt safer at the races at Rosehill on Saturday, where he won the Group I Tancred Stakes with Verry Elleegant, than he did on a trip down to the local supermarket on Sunday to buy food for his family.

Racetracks are almost like ghost-towns with very few people allowed on track, jockeys separated and social distancing measures practised.

“The only way that racing can continue is if that growth chart flattens out,” Waller told Racenet.

“If the curve is going the wrong way, we are going to be in trouble.

“But if that curve flattens out, we showed on Saturday that racing is handling things in a very responsible way.

“I went to the supermarket on Sunday morning, with my hand sanitiser and my gloves and a face mask in my pocket expecting overcrowding but it wasn’t too bad.

“But I felt safer at the races than I did at the supermarket.

“I am concerned about my health, I am concerned about my family at home and I am concerned about my staff.

“But I have got full confidence in the measures they have put in place in racing.

“It was so responsible there on Saturday – I actually felt proud to be there.

“I got very emotional when Verry Elleegant won, given the challenge that racing has had over the last week or two of uncertainty.

“And listening to stories of people who have lost their jobs and are doing it extremely tough, I felt very proud for what my industry has done to try to help 200,000 people around Australia.”

Racing NSW on Sunday announced drastic prizemoney cuts to The Championships over the next two Saturdays – with the top 10 races to be slashed by 50 percent.

Waller believes it is necessary and thinks owners will accept it – it’s a better situation than having no racing whatsoever.

“I think the owners will be able to survive regardless of prizemoney cuts as long as their horses can keep racing and in work,” Waller said.

“If it means 50 percent cut in prizemoney for a certain time it is simply going to mean the industry is going to be in a better position when we get back to normal.

“Like everything at the moment everyone is going to have opinions but the one thing that keeps coming back to my mind is the fact that Racing NSW have been leaders in tough times throughout my life before.

“From a downturn in racing and prizemoney they overcame it and sought ways to help the industry and got that on track.

“Most clubs were in debt and most clubs are now in a better position and that’s from a country perspective all the way through to a metro perspective.

“This is now exactly the same as EI (equine influenza) except it’s impacting all of Australia not just the racing industry.

“Officials put the participants first during EI and we were able to keep staff on and keep safe.

“My concerns at the moment are staff safety and keeping their jobs and secondly the owners who are the investors in this sport.”

Of all the measures announces in recent times to try to keep racing ticking along through the coronavirus pandemic, Waller believes the cancellation of the Queensland winter carnival could have the biggest impact on trainers and owners in the short-term.

Waller says he respects the fact Queensland took the step to abandon its carnival and its marquee Group I races.

But, he says, “Queensland calling off their carnival is not easy.”

“If you are cancelling races and not running those races, you are wiping out a lot of value from the industry,” Waller said.

“Not only does it affect jockeys and trainers but also owners.

“The racing industry is a little bit like the sharemarket – when big races are cancelled it can wipe out a lot of its value.

“My horses that were going to go up to Queensland are just now going to have a small winter prep in Sydney or wherever they are trained.

“I will give you an example – (Group I winner) Invincibella had bypassed the autumn to go to a Tatts Tiara type prep.

“And we have got two-year-olds that have bypassed the autumn to have a run in the new Queensland two-year-old series.

“We have got to respect they have cancelled it but that is some of the repercussions that it does have.”

Read all News by Ben Dorries