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If you can't beat them, recruit them

5 min read
An influx of British trainers to Australia could play a role in reviving hopes of keeping the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in Australia, according to OTI's Terry Henderson.

The key to repelling the annual international raid on the handicap riches in the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups could be importing the right trainers as much as the right horses according to OTI's Terry Henderson.

Henderson and OTI have made an art form of importing quality stayers to Australia for the big spring handicaps and went within a nostril of Melbourne Cup glory when the internationally-prepared Bauer (Ire) (Halling {USA}) was beaten in a photo by Viewed (Scenic {Ire}) in 2008.

OTI has two runners in Saturday's $5m G1 Stella Artois Caulfield Cup in Night's Watch (NZ) (Redwood {GB}) and his Darren Weir-trained stablemate Gallic Chieftain (Fr) (Tamayuz {GB}).

Henderson told TDN AusNZ that Weir has been the key to that pair's progression to Group 1 level.

"It's 50 per cent getting the right horses and 50 per cent training skills." - OTI's Terry Henderson

"He does it with patience and the right sort of resources. He's done an extremely good job with these horses as he has with a number of our horses," Henderson said.

"It's 50 per cent getting the right horses and 50 per cent training skills. You've got Weiry and (Chris) Waller, especially, who are capable of training these European horses. But there are a lot of our trainers who aren't interested in training them to be honest."

With a strong focus on stayers in a market which is largely obsessed with speed, Henderson, who has horses in work with trainers all over the world, believes horsemanship is key.

He suggests the arrival of a wave of young British trainers in the past five years could play a major role to reviving the depth in locally-prepared stayers.

"We are bringing in trainers like Archie Alexander and Matt Cumani, who are used to training these horses. Dave Eustace is another one, with Ciaron Maher now," he said.

"There will be more trainers capable of training quality stayers. There's a few, but there are not that many. The younger guys, if we can get them in from Europe, well they’ve been trained to train stayers, so that certainly helps."

It's not something that Henderson sees can be a widespread antidote to the drive towards sprinters over stayers in Australia. But the connection between the Australian public and those big races will be enhanced by having horses which are at least locally prepared.

David Eustace, now co-training with Ciaron Maher

Importing the right horses

Finding the right horses to be competitive in Australia has been a formula Henderson has been working on for a long time. He believes there are three key characteristics every imported horse needs to have in order to have success in Australia.

"Broadly, it’s athleticism; horses that are capable of being athletes. Secondly, it’s that ability to have a turn of foot, which is so essential if you are going to race in Australia compared to Europe and then finally, especially in Melbourne, being able to go on top of the ground. That basically gets down to feet," he said.

New Zealand-bred Night's Watch is a horse which ticks those boxes, but Henderson and his fellow owners, which include breeder Gerry Harvey, have had to show significant patience with the son of Westbury Stud's imported stallion Redwood.

Night's Watch

"As a 3-year old, he was talented but he was very unruly. We really had to be slow with him. He was well-prepared early days by Peter Williams in New Zealand but his behaviour was erratic to say the least," Henderson said.

"At the end of his 4-year-old year, we gave him a spell from February right through to until September. We gave him plenty of time to come together. During that time Weiry was able to do some work with him at the farm and he's come back a more mature horse behaviour-wise."

"As a 3-year old, he was talented but he was very unruly. We really had to be slow with him. He was well-prepared early days by Peter Williams in New Zealand but his behaviour was erratic to say the least." - Terry Henderson on Night's Watch

Night's best still to come

Henderson believes that whatever Night's Watch does on Saturday, he can improve on in the next 12 months.

"We've always thought he'd be better in the autumn and in the spring next year." - Terry Henderson

"He's a very talented horse. He probably lacks ringcraft generally. He's still on his way up as a horse. He's five, but he's an immature five," he said.

"We've always thought he'd be better in the autumn and in the spring next year. Now that he's won that Naturalism (S.), we'll take the step of going to the Caulfield Cup and ride him conservatively, hope he can run into the race and you never know."

Night's Watch as a yearling

Henderson is confident that the French-bred Gallic Chieftain, who began his career with Francois Rohaut and has now won nearly $700,000 in prizemoney including two Listed races, can make his presence felt from barrier two on Saturday.

"I think he's got a real show. He'll float back and won’t get involved in the early hustle and bustle," he said.

"As a result of that (barrier), we’ll float back into midfield and he'll try and pick his way through as we get closer and closer to the wire. I think he's got a real outsider's chance in the race."