In the hot seat for the latest edition of ‘A trainer of the week’ is Cranbourne-based young gun Alex Rae.
We chat to Alex about his decision to take up his training licence at such a young age, the win at Flemington during Cup week that shot him into the spotlight, his current stable star (and sometimes punters’ nemesis) Chief Altony along with bad beats, big punting wins and plenty more.
1. You were born into a racing family, tell us about your background?
The family has always been involved in the racing industry. Mum and dad have always owned horses and they worked for the Victorian Amateur Turf Club (now the Melbourne Racing Club). That’s where they met, actually. Because mum and dad have always owned horses, we were always around horse racing. Probably growing up it was more football and cricket. As I said, we had horses when I was younger and I had the occasional riding lesson, but it was probably the horse racing scene that got me more interested in racing as a sport in the first place. I always obviously had a passion for the horse and loved horses and was around horses, but my obsession with racing is probably what triggered the path I took.
2. What was your first job in racing?
When I was old enough to get a job, a few months before my 15th birthday, I started mucking out boxes at Caulfield for Robert Smerdon. I was there for about five years before I moved to John Moloney’s for a few months. And then with dad owning a few horses of his own, we thought it was probably time to try and get my own licence. And that’s what I did when I was 20 years of age.
3. Was it a tough decision to go out on your own at such a young age?
Oh, definitely, of course. I mean, everyone that knows anything about horse racing knows you’re always learning. So missing out on probably a good deal of experience, probably made things a little bit difficult. But the positive I took from that and looking back at that now as a 26-year-old, you have to learn pretty quick because if you got things wrong, it was quite a big mistake as opposed to just paving over it and moving on.
Alex chats to the media after a win by Chief Altony
4. Did you have a few people around you or a few at the stables that you leaned on as you started out?
Yeah, of course. I mean, the support from the important people was overwhelming, straight up, straight away. And then there was obviously a few people that, probably with my best interests at heart, said maybe wait a few years. But, I had confidence and I had faith and I thought that I could do it. I was 110 per cent fully committed to becoming a racehorse trainer. So, it’s been fantastic. Even looking back on it now, would I have got my license so young? Well, yeah, without a doubt, because as I said, there’s only one way to learn and when you make mistakes and people have significant money at stake or a lovely thoroughbred, you learn pretty quick.
5. You came to prominence in Cup week in 2018 when Cochada won on Oaks day. Tell us about that horse?
I reckon I’d probably only had eight or 10 winners (at that stage), a fair few at the non-TABs. Avoca on Caulfield Cup day is one that I remember vividly, it was a great day. Anyway, I had a Von Costa De Hero gelding (Cochada) come into the stable, a big lanky horse that didn’t have much of a pedigree. But he was a lovely type, and he just kept improving and improving and improving. And we actually tried to sell Cochada, but he failed the vet examinations and we were stuck with him. And at that point in time it was a massive disappointment having that sale fall through because it was a significant amount of money, but I suppose what was to come and that Oaks Day when he won the Country Cup, it was probably worth a lot more than the sale price. It was a massive thrill and probably the best day I’ve had as a racehorse trainer to this point.
6. When did the offer come for the sale?
There were discussions before he even went to the races on selling the horse. He was a very lightly-framed horse, and after he won his maiden there was some further interest. But word had spread pretty quick that he had OCD (Osteochondrosis) lesions in both stifles and people weren’t interested in him. So it was disappointing, but at that point in time he was a sound horse and he was going well. I remember actually speaking to a couple of agents who said, ‘I wouldn’t go near that horse for a purchase’. You sort of took it a bit personally. He was held together long enough to win on Oaks day and then his issues started unravelling from then. But he did a fantastic job, and as I said, it was a massive thrill to win that race on Oaks day.
7. Do you think he would have measured up at a high level if he stayed sound?
At the time, of course I did. Looking back on it now, he was an extremely talented horse, but one thing I have realised is that you can’t just have the talent, you need to have the attitude and the will to be a good racehorse. And the will was there for Cochada, and the talent was certainly there. But maybe from a constitutional perspective he wasn’t there and that reflects in his form because he couldn’t stand up. But look, he was an extremely talented horse, he was clearly probably a stakes level horse. Whether he could have got to top class, well we’ll never know. I’d like to think he could have, he’s definitely the most talented horse I’ve put a saddle on to this point in my training career.
Cochada (AUS)Alex Rae7yoG (b) Von Costa de Hero x HurghadaRATING 72Career8 2-2-1Earnings$145,760Last 108 2-2-1Win Range1415-1600m
8. And you mentioned that it was probably your biggest day on the racetrack so far. Do you remember the celebrations?
Well, it’s funny because – and I’m sure a few trainers would say the same thing – sometimes you just feel, it’s almost like a blissful feeling when you go to the races and you know you’ve done everything you could possibly do. And even if you had your time again, you wouldn’t have changed a thing. I get terribly stressed when I’ve got a runner all the time, but I was really calm because I knew that he was a really talented horse. Maybe it’s just me looking back on it now, but I always thought he was going to win. I never looked at any other potential scenario.
Alex celebrating a momentous win during the Flemington carnival.
9. Was it a big night?
Once he went past the winning post the plan was to have a big night, but I remember we went out for dinner and it got to about nine o’clock and I was buggered. I’ll tell you what, when it got to about nine o’clock, we hit a brick wall. I remember the next morning I had a couple of conversations on the radio and I slept in for an hour. I was just buggered. It was a good sleep in anyway.
10. And you do have another good horse on your books at the moment in Chief Altony. Tell us a little bit about him and where you think he can get to?
Well, we all adore Chief Altony because he’s had 16 runs now and he’s finished out of the top four on two occasions, and one of them he should have won at Sandown and the other he ran on a good track at Caulfield and still only got beat a tick over three lengths. But Chief Altony is the ultimate professional. He is a lovely-bodied horse, but he’s not the most attractive animal. On the training track he shows me nothing. In his trials he’s playing a game, but you put him under pressure and he just finds a gear every time. And you can’t ask for much more than that.
He’s done a really good job. His racing pattern doesn’t help him. My personal belief is that if we get a horse to relax and race tractably, you save your best for last and that’s the way Chief Altony races. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone his way on a few occasions, but he’ll continue to pick up races. I’m really excited to next winter, getting him on some wet tracks and hopefully he can graduate up in class.
Chief Altony loves the slop. Video: Racing.com
11. Is he the most exciting horse in the stable at the moment or is there one or two that we mightn’t have seen much of?
He does it week in, week out. He’s obviously very exciting and he’s a great advertisement for the stable because he runs in metropolitan grade and runs well more often than not. But there’s a couple of really nice young horses coming through and they’ve shown a little bit of talent and hopefully they can continue to step up – and once again – deal with the pressures of being a racehorse.
12. How many horses do you have at the moment?
So we’ve got 18 in work at the moment, which is a really good number and we’re having some new yards built as we speak. I’m getting some new facilities to move that number up to about 24, and that will see us at capacity.
13. Are you a punter?
I am the world’s worst punter. I put a quaddie on every Saturday and if I’m at the pub I’ll put on a few bets, but when it comes to my own horses, I had to give that away after a very difficult lesson I learnt a couple of years ago with one of my runners.
“… when it comes to [punting on] my own horses, I had to give that away after a very difficult lesson I learnt a couple of years ago with one of my runners.”ALEX RAE
14. What happened when backed one of your runners?
Well, I went to races with a horse called Volontiers and me and my friend were going away the following week. We had saved up a little kitty by having a bet here and there. And we plonked it all on him and it was the most enormous run. He was just fantastic. We had a good bet on him at $10. But he went down a nose and I was bitterly disappointed, whereas I should have been rapt in the horse’s performance. So from that point on, I said, I’ll keep the money in my pocket. I’ve got to focus on doing the right thing by the horse and judging his run on its merits.
Missed it by that much. Video: Racing.com
15. Any good wins on the punt away from backing your own horses?
Yeah, 2014 Galaxy day, when Tiger Tees won. The quaddie paid over 100k. I basically picked every wet tracker I could and then trimmed it down a bit and I had it for about 10 per cent. So that was a big night, straight out of school.
(Tiger Tees won at $19, Gordon Lord Byron $19, Criterion $14 and Intimate Moment $21).
16. Would’ve celebrated nicely that night?
Yeah, we certainly did. It was a big one. I was a very popular bloke that night!
17. Changing tack a little bit. What’s your favourite track?
I like Ballarat. It’s been good to me. We’ve gone there a few times and had a couple of results there. It’s just such a big, open track as well, everyone gets their chance. Down the south eastern districts, Moe and Bairnsdale, those tracks are always pretty good to me. So, those three. But primarily Ballarat, I love going there.
18. Is there any that you don’t particularly like, or you don’t seem to have the success you’d like at?
Geelong. I’m never returning there ever again.
Not sure if Alex has barred the city or just the track. Image: Getty
19. Are you capable of delivering a spray to a jockey?
Not to their face!
20. What’s the best bit of training advice you’ve received?
If you do the right thing by the horse, you do the right thing by the owners.
21. Any ‘not so good’ advice you remember receiving?
No, we like all the advice we can get because sometimes I’ll look at it and I’ll learn what definitely not to do! I’ll take all comers.
22. How do you celebrate a good day at the track?
Bed. Early as possible.
23. Before bed, what’s your drink of choice?
Probably Emu Export.
(We would’ve had Emu Export at long odds for a Victorian trainer)
24. How do you shake off a bad day?
Copious amounts of Colonel from KFC.
The Colonel provides Alex with some finger-lickin’ comfort after a stinker.
25. Your favourite aspect of racing?
I love seeing horses develop and I love seeing horses giving everything they’ve got.
26. The worst thing of being a horse trainer?
The 4 1/2 hours sleep I get seven nights a week.
27. And finally, which current horse would you most like to train heading into the spring?