Chris Waller Urges Transparency and Engagement to Build Ownership

Chris Waller Urges Transparency and Engagement to Build Ownership

Chris Waller Urges Transparency and Engagement to Build Ownership

Champion trainer Mr. Chris Waller told the 39th Asian Racing Conference in Melbourne on 16 February that transparency and regular communication with owners are the keys to retaining and increasing racehorse ownership.

Mr. Waller, who trained champion mare Winx to 33 consecutive victories and had the world’s highest-rated sprinter Nature Strip racing at Flemington in the G1 Black Caviar Lightning Stakes on Saturday (18 February), said owners would quickly leave racing if they weren’t treated well.

Interviewed by Mr. David Eades during the fourth session – titled ‘The Owner’ – of the 39th ARC’s three-day business programme, Mr Waller emphasised the importance of the quality service and communication with owners.

“It’s the same as any business, if you are not looking after your investor, they won’t reinvest and I am not blessed with having great communication skills or being an outgoing person,” Mr. Waller said.

“If you close the door, it’s hard to reopen it. Always leave the door open and the customer is always right. It’s just the same philosophy that works in any business."

Mr. Waller, who has 240 horses in work across four stables in Australia, said he tried not to give owners unrealistic expectations, while at the same time chasing good results.

He said good boundaries are set with owners by telling them the truth and being transparent with contemporary information.

“It has to be consistent and they need to know the bad news as it happens and I feel they deal better with it that way, other than saying ‘By the way we have sent your horse for a break or it hurt itself last week’,” he said.

Mr. Waller said providing information to a new generation of owners had evolved because of the explosion of social media and the availability of online data.

For all that, connection to the individual remained paramount.

“Understanding people and what they want out of ownership, you can gauge that feeling quickly from their body language and how they talk,” he said. “Just learning how to deal with the person is a big thing.”

He said ownership was similar to the share market with a variety of options from blue chip investments in AUD 1 million horses, to less expensive options with a range of percentage holdings as well as speculative shares, but returns on investment would see owners reinvesting.

During her address to the conference, Star Thoroughbreds owner, Ms. Denise Martin, highlighted the importance of finding out what owners wanted from ownership, as many came to the industry without a detailed understanding of the sport.

Mr. Sebastian Hutch, Chief Executive Officer of Inglis Bloodstock, also delivered a presentation in which he highlighted the breadth of ownership across Australia, which he said was driven by not only great prize money but “getting the little things right” in providing a good experience for owners.

A four-person panel – Ms. Martin; Mr. Hutch; OTI Racing Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Terry Henderson and Racing and Bloodstock Executive of Cape Racing, Mr. Justin Vermaak – was then introduced by ARF Executive Council Member and the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa Chief Executive, Mr. Vee Moodley, to discuss key ownership issues.

Mr. Moodley said Mr. Waller’s comment on engagement with the owners was critical. He said owners just wanted the truth and transparency.

“The point of attracting owners and retaining owners, my philosophy personally, is that attraction is a function of stakes and retention is a function of return and both have to exist,” Mr. Moodley said.

“I categorise ownership in three forms. You get owners for the passion, fame and fortune.”

Ms. Martin, who has been syndicating horses for three decades with great success, believes people who want to have ownership in a horse were looking for friendship, to go to the races with like-minded people and, while searching for success, were also looking for an environment where they are welcomed, made to feel special and are informed about what’s going on.

“In the 30 years I have had Star (Thoroughbreds), that’s the biggest change in my view in our industry – information and technology have changed communication,” Ms. Martin said.

Mr. Hutch said without the support of owners, there wouldn’t be a sport that everyone enjoys so much.

Mr. Hutch said that, while the next generation was hugely important to the future of racing, “I cannot stress enough to you about the importance of us enhancing the experience of existing owners."

Mr. Henderson, whose company syndicates horses in Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, indicated his support of micro-ownership in horse syndicates.

“I think it is enhancing racing, making ownership accessible to more people,” he said.

Mr. Vermaak said Cape Racing had injected more money into juvenile races after previously concentrating on a middle-distance classic series.

“I think shortening that ownership cycle to a few months from a year plus has had a profound effect on the ownership journey and it also obviously frees up a lot of funding for owners to go back to the yearling sales,” he said.


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