Julien Welsh

Trainer Julien Welsh (Image: Racing Photos)

Julien Welsh: The Horse Whisperer

As the theatre and excitement of the yearling sales season comes to an end, now is the time trainers and owners alike sit and wait, daring to dream that their purchases could well be the future stars of the turf.

Without as much as a hair turned out of place, these immaculately presented youngsters are whisked out of the sales ring and find their way to be broken in before their future trainer sets eyes on them next. Many of them find their way to Julien Welsh.

Old-school horsemen will tell you the breaking-in process cannot win you a race, but it can certainly lose you one.

It is here that a horse is taught the dos and don'ts, where a horse will be ridden for the first time and also learn to become familiar with all the gear they will wear as a racehorse. It's a time where bad habits can be formed or ironed out.

It is a skill that Welsh performs on an astonishing 350 yearlings a year, for some of the country's leading trainers.

"Pretty much from the Magic Millions at the end of January right the way through to October it takes us to break in the horses each year," Welsh explained of his business.

"We have about 100 at a time and around 30 staff that make it all possible.

"I don't knock anyone back, there's a bit of a waiting list but from the big guys to the small guys I look after everyone."

From a business the 56-year-old started some 26 years ago, Welsh is now one of the most in-demand horsemen all-year round. Not only to break in horses, but he is a revered educator for those horses that have barrier issues.

Some of Welsh's biggest clients to his Nar Nar Goon property include Team Hawkes, Peter Moody and Philip Stokes.

"It is very humbling, I appreciate people are prepared to wait as they think we do a good job," Welsh said on the respect he is held in the industry.

"It's a lot of hard work and I started it from nothing, but it's very satisfying watching them go well on the track."

Thirty-six Group 1 winners have come through Welsh's hands, including the likes of current stallions Reward For Effort and Magnus.

"There are too many to remember off the top of my end," Welsh says when asked to recall some his most famous horses he has broken in.

"Thirty-six is probably a small per cent when you add it all up, it shows how rare the good ones are."

However, there is one who Welsh will not forget easily.

"Elvstroem was the horse who really got me going and one of the nicest horses I've ridden," he said of Tony Vasil's five-time G1 winner.

"He was my banner horse and there is a sign of him out the front, he probably stands out."

Asked if there is a trick to breaking in horses, Welsh stands by a simple philosophy.

"Don't annoy the horse," he revealed.

"Treat the horse with kindness and respect and don't rush the job."

It is hard to believe given the demands of his business that Welsh also has time train his own team of horses. Having saddled up 62 winners in his career, a fortnight ago he trained his first Flemington winner when Don't Doubt Dory won the $125,000 Victorian Jockeys' Association Plate (1800m).

"The breakers take up most of our time, but we like to keep a handful of our own horses in work," Welsh said of the balancing act.

"It was a great thrill to get one at Flemington and the horse is owned by my next door neighbours too, which is just great.

"We tried to sell him at the Adelaide yearling sales, but he only made $6000, so I said send him down the road, I'll take a half-share in him and break him in and see how we go."

Don't Doubt Dory, a son of Fiorente, has now won five of his 12 starts and more than $200,000 in prizemoney.

Just 14 days after saddling up his first winner at Flemington, Welsh will be back at Headquarters again on Saturday, this time with Maritana in the $125,000 VRC Member Lesley Millson Trophy (1400m).

"It's lovely isn't it, I wouldn't knock it back," Welsh said of the prospect of back-to-back Flemington successes.

"He is an honest horse with a nice record, he's won five of 15 and ran ok last start and was a little bit heavy, so I think he'll be fitter for that.

"I expect him to run a nice race."

Welsh's apprentice Carleen Hefel will take 3kg off the gelding, reducing his impost to 57kg.

"Carleen is going well, her time in Perth has done her well just to get that constant riding," her master said.

"She is a beautiful rider who works well with the horses, she's got a good brain and she will go a long way in the game once she establishes herself."