Racehorse training has always been seen as a strenuous, patience-testing career, but the dream of training just one-star thoroughbred is the sole driver for most.
Mornington based trainer Daniel Williams is a rookie to the caper, and started training in his own right just over a year ago, but has already had a fairy-tale start thanks to the only horse he has in work, three-year-old gelding Valiant Spirit.
This made the decision to sell the horse to Hong Kong especially difficult.
Williams rode his lone runner’s success story from a lowly Ararat maiden win through to Group 2 success in the Autumn Classic at Caulfield in just nine starts.
The horse gave him the best kick start that any young trainer could hope for, but now after selling Valiant Spirit to Hong Kong, the journey starts again.
Williams admits he had worked several “dead-end jobs” before deciding that it was a career as a horse trainer that he wished to pursue.
“When I got into racing I always had the very ambitious desire to become a trainer,” he told upstart.
“I kept it quiet for a few years and gradually as I made it through the grades and became a foreman and assistant trainer for people like Anthony Cummings and started to make a few connections with owners, it began to become a realistic opportunity.”
Williams started out at Gai Waterhouse’s stable at Tulloch Lodge, where he stayed for four years before moving to Pat Webster’s set-up at Randwick where he “picked up a few little training techniques”.
But it was with Cummings that Williams says he really started to learn how to train.
Williams worked with Cummings for seven years before he took out his own licence and made the move to Tony Noonan’s stable in Mornington late in 2017.
Valiant Spirit practically fell into his hands soon after, thanks to a friendship with owner and breeder Pat Carroll which began at the races early in 2017.
“He told me ‘I’m going to give you your first horse to train’, and then a year later he asked if I had got my licence because he had a horse ready for me,” Williams said.
“He (Valiant Spirit) just had the physique, he was massive and in proportion with a huge stride. When I started to ride him in a few gallops I could tell he just had a huge lung capacity.
“He’s out of Graces Spirit and his father is Duporth, who I rode a couple of times for Anthony Cummings. The bloodlines don’t scream stayer but they certainly screamed class and that’s exactly what he was – all class.
“He didn’t take a lot of work, he could run a mile out of the paddock, and he was just a supreme athlete.”
Valiant Spirit made his debut at Pakenham over 1200m and started as an outsider in the field before finishing fourth in what turned out to be a hot maiden won by subsequent Group 1 winners Merchant Navy.
But despite that formline, Valiant Spirit took five runs to break through for a maiden win, a 2000m contest at Ararat, three runs into his second preparation.
A career high for both horse and trainer in the Group 2 Autumn Classic at Caulfield caught the eye of bloodstock agents and soon Williams, and his team were considering a life-changing offer for their stable star.
It was an offer too good to refuse.
“He’s given me my first winner, my first run in town. I learned so much about dealing with the pressure and the nerves,” Williams said.
“He’s given me that extraordinary success of winning the Group 2, has given me exposure and experience, and the confidence to be interviewed. Just to get all of that practice in nine runs was amazing.”
Now in the care of Hong Kong trainer Tony Cruz, Williams said Valiant Spirit’s original owners will head over to watch their former star when he runs in a “big race” which may well be the Hong Kong Derby next year.
And at the end of his career, Williams hopes Valiant Spirit will return to his care in Australia where he will make sure that the horse that started his career will have “a very good life”.