Trainer Pat Webster fulfils Cox Plate dream after 44 years

Wayne Webster and Happy Clapper, who is a 70-1 outsider.
Edwina Pickles

Wayne Webster and Happy Clapper, who is a 70-1 outsider.

A few plunges and a Cox Plate runner. That's all Pat Webster ever wanted. No masses of money and a machine-like stable. Just a few laughs and a chance in the race. At least that's what he wanted his own fortune cookie to say.

"The day I took out a trainer's licence I sat with my wife in a Chinese restaurant and she said to me, 'what's your ambition?' I said, 'just to train a few winners and have a runner in the Cox Plate'," Webster said.

"That was 44 years ago. I didn't say a Melbourne Cup, I didn't say a Doncaster and I never wanted a runner in a Golden Slipper because I reckon more horses break down getting there than don't. That's all I said to her."

Father and son training team Wayne and Pat Webster.

Father and son training team Wayne and Pat Webster.

And how many times did he think the Cox Plate part of the puzzle had passed him by?

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"Probably every day since then," Webster joked. "No, I'm serious. Who cares about any other race? Put it this way, I'm not buying any green bananas or long-playing records. I'm 66 in February and I'm probably on the downward spiral in terms of horse training as well. This might be my first and only chance to have a runner."

The race is meant to be all about Winx. But it's about the Websters, too: Pat, who breeds Angus cattle as passionately as he's pursued his Cox Plate dream, and his son Wayne.

Wayne has been welded to the "Clapper" all along to tend to the horse's list of problems, which are as long as the Moonee Valley straight. Even a stray fox was enough to send the best horse they've had into a fright and scampering across Randwick, and months went down the drain.

Wayne hasn't been as close to Happy Clapper this week. Diagnosed with cancer, he assures all and sundry he's on the improve. And has made it to Melbourne this week, too, losing little sense of history in reminding everyone of the time Shy Hero upset stablemate Ab Initio at bolter's odds in the 2000 TJ Smith Stakes. He reckons Happy Clapper is not without a chance of doing the same.

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"He's got so much confidence in the horse," Pat said. "He's telling me he's got him at 25-1."

Bookmakers think otherwise. Happy Clapper is 70-1. Some whispered he and another grand old stager, Happy Trails, maybe should have been culled from the field – even though it is nowhere near capacity and the fact Webster's wonder has arguably come the closest to beating Winx in the last 12 months. But what type of killjoy would that have been?

"They pay $100,000 down to eighth and I'd be more than disappointed if he didn't collect a bit of that," Pat said. "I've stuffed up if that happens. We couldn't be happier with the horse – and I don't use those words lightly. I looked at him this morning and he's really contented; bright in the eye and pink in the gums. From a horse's viewpoint, he's in a really good spot."

A spot his trainer has been trying to find for 44 years. And won't he enjoy it.

 - Sydney Morning Herald


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