Rising trainer Wez goes from chauffeur to big-race Huntery

Nov 14, 2013

By Christian Nicolussi, The Daily Telegraph

A CHAUFFEUR for Nash Rawiller. A representative basketballer. A terrible art student. And a former neighbour of Kingston Town.

Meet Wez Hunter, the little-known trainer who upstaged some of the biggest names in racing during the Flemington Carnival.

And a bloke who will no doubt try to keep the spring fairytale going at Caulfield on Saturday when Bel Thor - one of just five horses in his stable - runs in the Group 3 Eclipse Stakes (1800m).

As Bel Thor and stable ace Smokin' Joey took a dip at Balnarring Beach early Thursday, Hunter told The Daily Telegraph about his earlier life, and how he came to be a trainer.

Up until a month ago, few punters had a clue who Hunter was.

For starters, his real name is Wesley.

"But I've always preferred 'Wez', and if I had written 'Wesley' in the racebook, that's what people would have called me,'' Hunter said.

The 33-year-old was the son of a chicken farmer.

While spending time on the farm at Red Hill, in the hinterland of the Mornington Peninsula, Hunter discovered David Hains, the owner of Kingston Town, was his neighbour. He'd often spend time just looking at his champion horse.

Once Hunter got to high school, he was forced to go out and find a week's worth of work experience.

"(Trainer) Tony Noonan's wife Gabrielle was my art teacher at school, and she said I could do some work in the stables if I liked,'' Hunter said.

"I did some work for Tony, and from that I got a weekend job. "I did that for 18 months, and then I decided to leave school at the end of year 11 and work there full-time.''

Hunter loved his horses, but a trackwork fall led to a broken back - and a career change.

He managed jockeys, including Brad Rawiller, then later became Nash Rawiller's chauffeur.

'"He was riding work for (Brian) Mayfield-Smith, and I'd pick him up at 3am, drive him to the city, he'd ride work, go the sauna and then come home,'' Hunter said.

"Nash was just starting to kick along down there, before Elvstroem came along. He's flying now.''

After returning to Noonan's stable, Hunter continued to learn the training caper before he broke out on his own three years ago.

He had just one city winner prior to Smokin' Joey and Bel Thor getting the cash at Flemington this month.

Some cynics must be wondering how a trainer has emerged from nowhere, then trained a couple of winners during the biggest carnival of the year, and almost pinched the Group 1 Emirates Stakes with Smokin' Joey.

"I've had a few people say stuff to me, but Bel Thor was always going to win a nice race, and it happened to be at Flemington, while Smokin' Joey always had ability, and it was just a matter of recapturing that form,'' Hunter said.

"You shouldn't underestimate a happy horse. (Smokin' Joey) went from being in a concrete box, three metres by four metres, to being in a paddock and swimming every day.''

Smokin' Joey is getting ready to head west for the rich Perth carnival. But what about Bel Thor in Saturday's Eclipse Stakes, where he's a $5.50 second favourite with the TAB behind Gai Waterhouse's Rain Drum ($2.15)?

Four-year-old gelding Bel Thor fell just short two starts back at Moonee Valley, then was too good over 2000m at Flemington last Saturday.

"His best runs have been when the sting is out of the ground, and hopefully he'll get that on Saturday,''

Hunter said. "If it stays in the 'dead five' to 'slow six' range, I think he'll be hard to beat.''