Rival Stayers to Out Play Waller at his Own Game

Chris Waller

Chris Waller

Defending Stayer’s Cup champion Strike One is ready to face off against a diminutive but classy field of rivals at Rosehill on Saturday, his trainer Chris Waller preparing to be challenged at his own game by two of his former employees.

Local Rosehill-based horseman Waller is known in the racing industry for seeking out and importing well-bred overseas stayers and bringing them to his Sydney stables to race in down under.

His most recent and prolific importing success has been with the former Queen-owned Kingmambo gelding My Kingdom Of Fife, now a Group 1 winner in Australia having saluted in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes in April.

On Saturday another one of his more established imports, Strike One is engaged for the $100,000 Listed Stayer’s Cup (3200m), a race the Danehill Dancer seven-year-old won by over a length 12 months ago.

Strike One is the clear $2.20 favourite to make it back-to-back wins in the two-mile feature, Waller also set to be represented by his American-bred galloper Patrician’s Glory.

Coming off a last-start win over 2800m at Canterbury, Proud Citizen five-year-old Patrician’s Glory is the $3.80 second elect to beat home their stablemate in the Stayer’s Cup on Saturday.

While only seven horses remain in the Stayer’s Cup field for this year following the early withdrawal of the Heath Conners-trained Davcon, one of the biggest threats to Waller securing his second successive win in the race will be from the Lisa Cohen and Oldrich Jiricka co-trained galloper Spence.

Cohen, originating from North Carolina, and Jiricka, from the Czech Republic, both spent time working for Waller at his stables and now they are ready to show their former boss just how well he taught them.

“I expressed my interest to Chris that I wanted to train and I was willing to do anything,” Cohen, who gained her own trainer’s licence in 2006, said.

“I started at 3.30, 4 o’clock in the morning with Oldrich (Jiricka) doing boxes and he (Waller) told me the best way to learn was just to get in there and get your hands dirty.”

Cohen joined forces with Jiricka less than 12 months ago, setting up a base in the Blue Mountains.

The unlikely but dynamic training duo, however, have confidence their Stayer’s Cup starter Spence can steal the glory from Waller on Saturday.

Laranto gelding Spence is a dual country cups winner having taken out this year’s Bathurst Gold Cup (2000m) back on May 22, their other big win being in the 2010 Taree Cup (2000m) last August.

While Strike One is the 58kg topweight on Saturday, Spence has a much more manageable 53kg and is due to be ridden by Tim Clark for the first time.

The Stayer’s Cup will also be the first time Spence steps up to the traditional Cup distance of 3200m, but his trainers believe he will handle the two-miles without issue.

“He’s really happy, he’s holding his condition really well, he’s bright-eyed and I think he can really go the distance,” Cohen said of her stable frontrunner whom she bred, broke in and also owns as manager of Sapphire Lodge Racing Syndicate.

Jiricka too holds a high opinion of Spence and said he loves working with horses in Australia, Jiricka having come over from the Czech Republic a decade ago.

“There’s no real racing in the Czech Republic, so I came to thoroughbred racing when I came here and met Lisa and her husband,” he said.

“It’s been unbelievable, you learn every single day.”