By Marlee Horobin
There are not very many places in the world where you travel, where someone hasn't heard of the Melbourne Cup. It's slogan ‘the race that stops the nation’ is exactly what it is. Whether you do or don't follow the racing calendar throughout the year, the spring racing carnival is almost on everyone's agenda.
Andreas Wohler is no exception. A humble man, he is soft in character and has an infectious laugh and a fabulous sense of humour. With the cup sitting next to his Peroni, on the back porch overlooking the water on the pristine Mornington Peninsula, you can sense this is a man who is starting to relax after a big week of festivities. Andreas says, “I just can't get over that the Melbourne Cup is a state holiday, it is crazy!"
Even though the Melbourne Cup itself is not as glamorous or articulate as some of the elaborate and impressive trophies that line Andreas' dining room cabinet, you can sense his feeling of achievement and pride.
"The atmosphere of this week is unbelievable, like no other race in the world. Everywhere you walk you hear people talking about what horses they will back, the clothes that they will wear, the parties they are having. It is brilliant, it really is the race that stops the nation."
One of Andreas' favourite pass times is to sit and have a cigarette and a coffee and like most Europeans he pulls it off naturally.
"You know, when I was sitting in a coffee shop with Ryan (winning jockey) there were four girls sitting at the table across from us with a race program.... Where in the world do you see young people chatting over a glass of wine studying a race form?"
Moving onto the 'big day' Andreas elaborates on his feelings before the race. "I was driving back from Werribee, the sun was out, there was no traffic and I was thinking about my father and how I think he would have been proud of me, and I really thought this horse had a great chance; but I was definitely not thinking about winning."
In 1986 Andreas was 24 when his father, who was training 60 horses at the time, died suddenly, leaving Andreas to take over the business. Andreas says “It was a tough time for me back then, I didn't even know if I wanted to be a trainer, I was so young."
Now Andreas and his wife Susie run an amazing training complex in the heart of Germany. Rolling green paddocks, a brilliant training track and all of the facilities you could think of to make a horse feel like royalty. When we took a visit to the Wohler stable, the feeling of walking down the different stable blocks looking at all of the horse’s, we could sense the different personalities. You could tell each horse was well looked after and as each track rider approached the horse you had the inclination that they were paired perfectly to suit each other, as a team. All staff were extremely polite, not one missing a "guten morgen" as they trotted past in the fog, with long stirrups and a long rein.
When we start talking about Protectionist, Andreas smiles, "Protectionist is such a baby. Always playing around, he needs a lot of care, a lot of nurturing. Over the last little while he has matured but he needed a lot of preparation.”. He then continued with rolling off a few injuries the horse had as a youngster, including a hairline fracture as a two year old.
Pausing for a moment, Andreas said, "You know, I was so surprised and impressed with him, because in Germany we have boxes at the races, in Australia you have stalls. I had forgot about this and it was amazing, he stood so still. A four year old colt. Just like an Australian horse. He is quite a learner."
Wohler's concentration moves to the StrideFree saddle he has just signed for a display in the Peter Horobin Shop. I then take the opportunity to ask, "So what do you like about these saddles?”. Andreas responds, "It is important for horses to have good quality gear, in Europe we use mostly leather gear, these saddles are comfortable for the horse, comfortable for the rider and I think they are all part of looking after the horses."
He then continues "The riders at home love them!”. I ask about any up and coming prospects. He says "Oh, you won't know any of them because you are here in Australia and we are in Germany". I explained to him that an Aussie can bet on absolutely anything and that we have been following and punting on his horses over the previous months. "Really?”, he laughs, “That is crazy!”.
Taking a moment to think about which horse he would mention, Andreas says, "Arles, he is a good german prospect for next year.”. I ask what her personality is like and Andreas replies "Arles is very dominant, could have easily been a boy!"
Leaving him to enjoy the rest of his afternoon overlooking Port Phillip Bay, I ask one final question, "So you have won the Melbourne Cup, what next?”. Andreas answers, “I have been to Apollo bay, Mornington and Tassie. Susie wants to go to the Whitsundays next, so maybe...... another Melbourne Cup!"