Donn's Articles » Gai Waterhouse


Gai Waterhouse

Where to start with Gai Waterhouse?  Maybe start with the achievements.  She has trained the winner of the Golden Slipper six times, and she has trained the winner of the Doncaster Handicap seven times.  In 2001, she trained the first three home in the Golden Slipper, a feat never accomplished before or since.  And yes, she has trained a Melbourne Cup winner.

Go back a step.  Gai was bred for this.  Her dad, TJ Smith, was a racing legend.  Literally.  Having been inducted to Australia’s Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in 2001, he was given Legend status in 2012.  He won the Sydney Trainers’ Premiership every year for 33 years, his first in 1953, his last in 1985.  He trained two Melbourne Cup winners – Toparoa in 1955 and Just A Dash in 1981 – four Caulfield Cup winners, six Golden Slipper winners and seven Cox Plate winners.

“My father trained me,” says Gai.  “He taught me everything I know and I still use many of the methods he developed in the years after the War today.”

Gai herself was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.

There’s the context, now proceed.  She was born to train racehorses, but not immediately.  She started out after college as a model and an actor, broadening horizons.

“After graduating from university, I was on the first plane over to the Old Dart (say in Australian accent and understand: England) to work in theatre.”

She worked on the famous Australian soap opera The Young Doctors, and she starred as Presta alongside the quintessential Dr Who, Tom Baker, on four episodes of the eponymous BBC series in 1978.

But horses were always in her blood.  She returned to Tulloch Lodge and worked as assistant trainer to her dad for 15 years.  Granted her trainer’s licence in 1992, she prepared Te Akau Nick, an unconsidered 160/1 shot, for the 1993 Melbourne Cup, Vintage Crop’s Melbourne Cup as it turned out.  After convincing owner David Ellis to pay the $10,000 final acceptance fee, Gai sent out Te Akau Nick to finish second to Dermot Weld’s horse.

She took over at Tulloch Lodge in 1994, and sent out Nothin’ Leica Dane to win the Victoria Derby in 1995.  Three days later she sent the Danehill colt out to finish second to Doriemus in the Melbourne Cup.  It was a massive effort by the fledgling trainer, her second runner-up in the Melbourne Cup in three years, and by the three-year-old colt.  No three-year-old had won the Melbourne Cup since Skipton in 1941, and none has won it since.

There is a bit of the Aidan O’Brien about Gai Waterhouse.  She is always pushing boundaries, always exploring options, always trying new ways.  She says that she gets up at 2.00am most mornings, and that she still feels she is behind.  Reminds you of Aidan O’Brien coming home from Royal Ascot every night, work to be done at home, because he doesn’t feel that he can afford the time to stay away.  That’s perfectionists for you.

Gai travels the world, still broadening horizons.  You are as likely to find her at Royal Ascot or at Flemington or Sydney as you are to find her at The Orangery in Kensington Palace or the JRHA Sale at Northern Horse Park in Tomakomai.

“The world has become smaller and it is easier to link together all the different racing jurisdictions. We can read pedigree charts instantly on the internet, we can view photographs of sires and yearlings from anywhere in the world at any given time. We can watch race replays minutes after the horses have passed the post at almost racetrack in the world. My husband Rob can view international form with the click of a mouse rather than having to wait weeks for documents to be mailed.”

As such, she is better-placed than most to appreciate the differences between European racing and Australian racing.  For starters, racing tactics are different.

“The positioning of a horse in a race is different,” she says.  “I teach my horses from a very early age to jump and run. This is not necessarily an advantage in England or Ireland.  In Australia, most of our races are run and won around a bend. I  like my horses to be balanced and full of momentum when they corner, then they have to negotiate, on average throughout Australia, a 350-metre straight.  At Royal Ascot, the majority of the races are completed up the straight, and it looked to my eye that the horses that were full of running at the two-furlong pole were invariably being run down.

Interestingly, feeds are also different.

“On my recent trip to Newmarket with a horse in work, I couldn’t help but notice the vast differences in feed. In Australia all the feeds are individually made and quantities of corn and oats are much higher. I use blends of tic bean, chaff, lucerne, salt and molasses plus additives. This helps build muscle and gives the horse extra stamina. In Newmarket, most of the stables I visited had a pre-mixed feed.”

But the internationalisation of racing continues unabated, and Gai is a proponent.  Australian runners at Royal Ascot, European runners in the Melbourne Cup, Tom Hogan winning the George Ryder Stakes with Gordon Lord Byron, the Aidan O’Brien-trained Adelaide (Australia-named but Irish-bred and Irish-trained) winning the Cox Plate.  It’s all good.

“Horses from all over the world are travelling more often in greater numbers to all the major meetings around the world,” she says.  “We have a lot of group and listed races in Australia.  International horses have won a few of these races, but they have hardly dominated our racing, especially our races up to the mile. Yes, the European breed are performing well in the Melbourne Cup and other staying events at the minute, but in a previous era it was the Japanese horses, and before that it was the New Zealand horses that were winning our greatest races. Things change in racing all the time and racing is truly a global industry. I am proud to say that Australia is an integral part of global racing and will be for a long time to come.”

There was a time when the accepted wisdom was that a horse trained in the Northern Hemisphere could not win the Melbourne Cup.   That all changed in 1993, however, and the message resonated around Media Puzzle in 2002 and the Japanese 1-2 in 2006.  Now, three of the last five winners were trained in Europe and all five originated there.

The 2013 winner was the Ballymacoll Stud-bred Fiorente, Gai Waterhouse’s first, and that was massive.

“Fiorente was the favourite,” says Gai, “and in the days leading up to the race, hundreds of people were coming up to me in the street and wishing me luck. I wanted so desperately to win the race for myself and my team, but also for all the people who had wished me luck and had who told me they would be having their money on Fiorente. I knew I had the horse, I knew he had the miles in his legs and I just hoped and prayed that he would at least get his chance in running.

“Damien Oliver gave him the perfect ride and the rest is history. Before Fiorente won the Cup, I had won almost every other major race in Australia, some many times over, and I had achieved a lot in my training career.  But winning the Cup was something completely new. It is something I had been trying to do for twenty years and it certainly has been the highlight of my career to date.”

At last year’s Goffs London Sale, Gai purchased two horses.  The first was Café Society, who finished third in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot a couple of days after Gai bought him.

“Café Society has surprised me and he is fast developing into a quality stayer. He may make it to the 2015 Melbourne Cup and he may not. He is still only young.  While horses like Fiorente land in Australia and thrive from day one, others like The Offer can take 12 months.  I was thrilled with Café Society’s run at Royal Ascot, and I knew that once I got the gelding back to Australia and got my claws into him, he would become a quality racehorse.”

The second was Pornichet, who won the Group 1 Doomben Cup for Gai in May, and who could be a leading player in the Cox Plate in October.

“There is no better feeling than when a plan comes off, just as it did with Pornichet. Rob felt that his profile was one that would suit the Australian racing scene perfectly and, as a physical type, I felt that he was quite a special colt. When he landed in Australia he was still quite mentally immature but everyone knows that I love a challenge.  He could race quite keenly with his head in the air but with a bit of patience, my team and I taught him how to relax in-running and find the line at the business end.  I knew he possessed the talent to win a race like the Group 1 Doomben Cup, it was just a matter of maturity.  He is the perfect candidate to win me my first Cox Plate.  Watch this space because he will take a stack of beating.”

Gai will continue to travel, continue to broaden her horizons.  Europe will always be a part of what she does, and Ireland features strongly.

“I travelled extensively throughout Europe in my early days both for pleasure and in theatre companies, and I was particularly fond of the Irish Hinterland during my early 20s.  My son and daughter both got married in Europe, so the continent will forever be a special place for me and my family.  Perhaps one day I will have a runner in Ireland, perhaps on Irish Champions Weekend, but first things first: a win at Royal Ascot, then I will see what happens from there. I do love international racing and I have a particular fondness for Ireland, so perhaps in the future, with the right horse, you never know.”


Gai on:

The importance of family

I learned all I know from my dad and my husband Rob has been my backstop.  He provides all the moral support I crave plus more, and he is one of the world’s great form men. Rob has had a major hand in picking all the stayers with which I have had success over the years.  My children Tom and Kate have been unbelievably supportive. They both have forged their own careers and, while thriving in their respective fields, they could not have been more supportive of me and my business. Without the support of my family, there is no way I could have achieved what I have achieved.

Royal Ascot

There is a renewed excitement at Royal Ascot now.  Everyone from Australia and abroad that I have talked to who went to this year’s five-day meeting shared the same excitement.  The racecourse, the facilities and the pomp and pageantry, certainly give punters value for their money. The best horses from all over the world compete, the track plays evenly and everyone who attends the races is there for the horses and the racing.  Yes, fashion is still a major drawcard, particularly for some of the ladies, but the Ascot crowd is a racing crowd first and foremost.

The Melbourne Cup

It is the race that stops a nation.  I once read a quote from the legendary race caller Bert Bryant that stated: ‘Countless thousands stop whatever it is they are doing on the afternoon of the first Tuesday of November each year, whether they are debating matters of great importance in Parliament House, Canberra, or washing the baby’s nappies in a miner’s hut at Cooper Pedy, and for three and a half minutes transport themselves to the rose-bedecked lawns at Flemington.’ Australia stops for this race.  In the days leading up to the races, all the talk is about the Cup.  I would suggest that at least 99% of our adult population in Australia have an interest in the Melbourne Cup.

The future of the Australian bloodstock industry

Australia is part of the global racing industry, a big part, and international owners and breeders, in greater numbers than ever, are looking Down Under for speed in their horses.  With more and more stallions shuttling around the world, Aussie sires will be much more sought-after throughout the world.  As we speak, plenty of our Aussie-bred horses are being sold to Asia, and many of these horses are by sires that I selected, purchased and trained.  For a while now, a big part of our bloodstock industry has been based on speed, but it is slowly changing. Well, not changing, but developing to become a much more even spread between speed and stamina.  We have Golden Slipper winners producing Derby winners and middle distance champions like Lonhro producing Slipper winners.  Australia has a huge bloodstock industry and I predict it will continue to grow and therefore change for the better.

Gai’s Gazette

After reading Mark Johnston’s racing magazine, Rob said that I should do something similar. ‘How the devil am I supposed to write a magazine on top of everything else I do?’ was my instant reply.  But, as I have noticed for the last 30 years or more, Rob is rarely wrong. Together with my best friend Lea Stracey and academic Zeb Armstrong, we were able to put Gai’s Gazette together and it has grown exponentially.  I am very proud of the content and I am pleased to report that we have been taken over by the brilliant lifestyle magazine, Highlife. So expect Gai’s Gazette to continue to grow.

The Goffs London Sale concept

The London sale concept is a smart idea and as it is still in its infancy, I have no doubt it will continue to grow. Any sale, and the London Sale is no exception, needs to have the best horses available and for them to be affordable.  Sales also need to be well patronised by the vendors. I have no doubt Goffs will continue to grow.  With the sale on the eve of the world’s biggest race meeting, everyone is running around and very busily.  It will just take a little practice but this sale certainly has a world of potential.

© Goffs Magazine, October 2015