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Gai Waterhouse has eyes on the prize

The reflection of jockey Damien Oliver in the sunglasses of trainer Gai Waterhouse during Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington Racecourse on November 3, 2015.

Gai Waterhouse has eyes on the prize

IN THE dusk or dawn light at the Tulloch Lodge stables at Sydney's Randwick racetrack, legendary horse trainer Gai Waterhouse is at her most content, watching others walk the horses.

"I love the mornings, watching the horses in the half-dawn or in the afternoons when I go and look at them, watching them being dressed or walked. I enjoy it all," she said.

"It's a funny industry, you know. You're only as good as your last winner. It's an unusual industry and there's not a huge amount of loyalty in it, but it's an exciting industry to be in. I love it, and I don't want to do anything else, but it's being with the horses that I most enjoy."

 

Troy Parkinson rides Excess Knowledge, from Gai Waterhouse racing, during a trackwork session at Altona Beach in 2015.
Troy Parkinson rides Excess Knowledge, from Gai Waterhouse racing, during a trackwork session at Altona Beach in 2015. Vince Caligiuri

The trainer, 62, has spent much of her life around horses. Her father, Tommy "TJ" Smith, arguably Australia's greatest trainer, won 279 Group 1 races including two Melbourne Cups (with Toparoa in 1955 and Just A Dash in 1981), four Caulfield Cups, seven Cox Plates, six Golden Slippers and 35 Australian derbies.

One of her favourite memories of her father, who died in 1998, is time spent with him at Coogee Beach in Sydney, exercising horses in the water. She said she learnt a lot from him over the years, including how to train a horse to react with balance and momentum during a race.

"I think I learnt from watching Dad and listening to Dad. It's amazing how you become so savvy. I was with him all the time," she said.

Waterhouse gained her trainer's licence in 1992 and took over Tulloch Lodge two years later after TJ became ill.

She has chalked up more than 120 Group 1 wins and sits third on the all-time list of Group 1-winning trainers behind her father and the legendary Bart Cummings, who died last year aged 87.

Waterhouse said she felt no pressure to emulate her father's Melbourne Cup successes, but Fiorente crossing the line to win the Melbourne Cup in 2013, ridden by Damien Oliver, remains her proudest moment in racing.

"As soon as I saw Fiorente I thought he was an exceptional specimen, he just took my eye," she said. "I'd been looking at 30 to 40 horses in Europe that year and I said to my husband, 'gosh, there's the horse that I would like'. It took a few months to secure him, but eventually we got him."

 

Trainer Gai Waterhouse reacts after winning the Melbourne Cup with her horse Fiorente at the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in 2013.
Trainer Gai Waterhouse reacts after winning the Melbourne Cup with her horse Fiorente at the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in 2013. DAVID CROSLING

One thing Waterhouse said she learnt without her father's help was her well-known power of perception.

"I look at people or the horse and just see things that help me train my horses better. It's just subtle things I see that I believe make me a better trainer," she said.

 

Trainer Gai Waterhouse poses with Melbourne Cup-winning horse Fiorente in 2013.
Trainer Gai Waterhouse poses with Melbourne Cup-winning horse Fiorente in 2013. JULIAN SMITH

She also corrected an assumption that her family was obsessed by the horse racing industry.

Her husband of three decades, Robbie Waterhouse, was a bookmaker before being ordered off Australian tracks following the infamous Fine Cotton betting scandal of 1984.

Fine Cotton was a gelding substituted for another horse in a race at Eagle Farm in Brisbane, and Robbie was one of six people subsequently banned for life over the affair. His ban has since been lifted.

As well, Waterhouse's son, Tom, is a fourth-generation bookmaker, but the family talks of many topics around the dinner table other than horses.

"Tom likes to talk a lot about horses and he tends to zoom in on (his dad), but when we're together as a family we talk about things in general. We might talk about kids, we might talk about racing. We talk a lot about a variety of things," Waterhouse said. "I don't know if we're obsessed with racing. We're certainly absorbed with racing. That is the more correct word."

Waterhouse's history has not only been melded by the turf of Flemington and Randwick racetracks. Before she was a trainer, she spent time in England acting in theatre and television.

A little-known fact, perhaps, is that she has appeared in four Dr Who episodes.

After she returned from England, she was working part-time in the theatre as well as helping her father on the track.

"The theatre gave me confidence in myself, helped me focus and gave me direction in life," she said.

 

Trainer Gai Waterhouse is seen with performers at the launch of the Melbourne Cup Carnival in the The Park at Flemington racecourse in Melbourne, on October 24.
Trainer Gai Waterhouse is seen with performers at the launch of the Melbourne Cup Carnival in the The Park at Flemington racecourse in Melbourne, on October 24. JULIAN SMITH

Waterhouse was one of few women in the industry when she took over Tulloch Lodge. The racing stalwart does not agree, however, with jockey Michelle Payne's comments about sexism in the industry.

Following her Melbourne Cup win last year, Payne made explosive and highly publicised statements about the chauvinistic nature of horse racing.

Payne acknowledged trainer Darren Weir for giving her a go, but then let loose.

"It's such a chauvinistic sport. I know some of the owners were keen to kick me off, and John Richards and Darren stuck strongly with me, and I put in all the effort I could and galloped (Prince of Penzance) all I could because I thought he had what it takes to win the Melbourne Cup and I can't say how grateful I am to them," Payne told Channel 7 after last year's Cup.

"I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because women can do anything and we can beat the world."

Waterhouse said she had never let sexism worry her.

"I just do what I do. I don't think of myself as a woman when I go on the racetrack - I think of myself as a trainer," she said. "I think if you treat life like that you don't have to worry about chauvinistic, misogynistic or any other 'istic'. You just get on with things, you know."

 

Trainer Gai Waterhouse draws barrier 9 for the Manikato Stakes during the barrier draw at The Valley ahead of the Cox Plate in Melbourne, on October 18.
Trainer Gai Waterhouse draws barrier 9 for the Manikato Stakes during the barrier draw at The Valley ahead of the Cox Plate in Melbourne, on October 18. TRACEY NEARMY

NSW Trainers' Association chief executive Glenn Burge said Waterhouse had been a trailblazer for women in a tough industry.

"Trainers are up well before dawn for trackwork and then their days are not over. They're nominating horses, where they're going to place the horses and then taking owners' phone calls too," he said.

"It's seven days a week. There are horse races seven days a week, and it's a highly regulated industry too. She is so upbeat and effusive. She understands what she does. She's always out there talking and she always makes time to chat with people. You have to be a real people person to do that, and be genuine with it as well."

Burge described Waterhouse as racing royalty.

"It's hard to think of another person, apart from Bart Cummings, who's done more for the brand. With Gai, it's what she hasn't won rather than what she has won. Gai showed incredible tenacity to get her licence," he said.

"And in what is a pretty blokey world, Gai trailblazed. The thing about her is her personality, her business acumen and a deep understanding of the entertainment side of the racing."