By Ray Hickson
On a typical morning, Charlie Duckworth leaves home at 3.30am and arrives at Chris Waller Racing at Rosehill at 4am.
On the way, he’ll ring the foreman to check all the staff are there or if there are issues with any horses he needs to know about.
He’ll then meet with Chris Waller and between 4am and 8am observe trackwork and also set up the following day’s work list.
“A massive part of the day is preparing all the horses’ work and I try to aid Chris as much as I can,’’ he said.
“It sounds a little boring but we have our individual check lists because with so many horses you have to be so thorough.’’
During the morning a number of alarms go off on Duckworth’s phone.
The 7.15am alarm is to remind him to deal with scratchings, at 8.45am it’s any acceptances then the 10.30am alarm to take care of nominations.
“It means you know exactly what you’re doing,’’ Duckworth said.
“If Chris or I or the foreman didn’t turn up, theoretically, the system is designed so that it should still run smoothly throughout the morning.’’
This is a rare insight into what it’s like being the right hand man to Australia’s leading racehorse trainer.
And it’s why Charlie Duckworth describes being Waller’s racing manager for the last 18 months as his dream job.
Four years ago in the UK, Duckworth wrote an email to Chris Waller asking for a job. He was working for Ralph Beckett in Hampshire and had aspirations to be a trainer but felt he wasn’t going anywhere fast.
Soon after sending that email he applied for the Alex Scott Assistant Trainer’s Scholarship – a prize of 3000 sterling aimed at sending aspiring trainers abroad to further their careers – and won.
“I thought I had to start somewhere in Australia, I didn’t really know where,’’ he said.
“I was only leaving England because I couldn’t see a better job than the one I had.’’
He negotiated an arrangement with Waller to be more than just a trackwork rider, to work in the office a couple of days a week and attend the occasional race meeting.
It was originally a three to six month internship then Waller entrusted Duckworth to travel to the UK with his star colt Zoustar and prepare him to race at Royal Ascot.
“Unfortunately he went amiss and it wasn’t an easy thing to be ringing your boss, who you don’t know that well, to tell them their first Royal Ascot runner was going to be retired to stud,’’ Duckworth said.
“It was one of the defining moments for me wanting to stay with Chris and one of the main reasons I’m still here.
“While I was over there Chris offered me sponsorship and I got my 457 (visa) and came back to Australia.’’
Everyone can see Waller runs a very tight ship.
Exactly how regimented things are was something that Duckworth found "mind-boggling’’ when he first arrived but has learned the value of leaving no stone unturned when you’re dealing with a big team of horses and 100 workers.
As a comparison, his former boss Ralph Beckett had a team of 105 horses.
“Chris has a high expectation of what he wants from his horses and his staff and you just have to keep lifting your game and make sure you meet those standards,’’ he said.
“He’ll ask me to do something and will not expect to ever ask for it again.
“If he says ‘can you stick a set of blinkers on this’ or ‘nominate this horse for a race’ then I’ll write it down, even if I’m going to do it that second. If I get distracted I can go back to my pad of paper.
“He’s a hard boss but he’s very fair.
“I’m sure there a plenty of people that are envious of my role and I’d probably say I have one of the best jobs in racing in Australia. I’m incredibly privileged to be where I am.’’
Of course part of that privilege is not only watching the Winx story unfold in front of him but being in the inner sanctum.
As an aspiring trainer Duckworth, 28, knows he can’t stay under the Chris Waller banner forever and the day will come when he decides to go out on his own.
He’s adamant when that day comes he will stay in Australia to train – the prizemoney on offer is much more conducive to "start up’’ training businesses than in the UK.
“The problem is I came over here thinking I’ll work for Chris Waller and be on the sidelines a bit, learn as much as I can and maybe six months later I’d go work for Gai, or Darren Weir,’’ Duckworth said.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to take every opportunity Chris has given me.
“It makes the step to move away so much harder. I have the dream job so it’s hard to say I’m going to turn down my weekly wage and set up by myself out in the sticks somewhere and make a go of it.
“I think I’ll be with Chris for a while longer yet.’’