Gai Waterhouse is no stranger to controversy. She's also no stranger to winning. By Richard Cooke.


Gai’s golden time: Gai Waterhouse, 60, horse trainer

Gai Waterhouse has been called our First Lady of Racing. Third on Australia’s list of group 1-winning trainers (her father T.  J. Smith is first), she won last year’s Melbourne Cup with Fiorente. Her horse Hampton Court is an early favourite for today’s Victoria Derby at Flemington. 

Richard Cooke How do you make horses run fast?

Gai Waterhouse Well, sometimes you can’t. It’s like dealing with an athlete, mustering their talents and their ability, getting them to concentrate, especially the colts, and go from there. But they don’t all have the maturity to develop. And some don’t develop ’til quite late.

RC Which horses have taken you by surprise? Were there any real ugly ducklings that turned into swans?

GW I quite like the ugly ducklings. The horse you have to work quite hard on to bring the ability out. There have been many over the years that just looked like they weren’t going to do much. One would have to be Desert War. He was a bit slow thinking and not very wonderfully talented, but as he matured, he became such a lovely horse and, of course, a multiple group 1 winner. 

RC You’ve been in many situations in public life where controversy has followed you. But it doesn’t seem to have perturbed you. What’s your advice for others facing public adversity?

GW Just get your head down, bottom up, and get moving along. I always say that what’s today news is tomorrow’s wrapper on those fish and chips. So I don’t let it affect me.

RC The Waterhouses are unusual because almost the whole family is in the public eye. There must have been some trepidation when your children first started heading in that direction.

GW Not really. When Tom started with his advertising, there was quite a bit of flak. I think it sort of toughens you up. He’s a mature young man; he can handle it.

RC What advice do you give him?

GW I just tell him to keep focused and thinking forward. He had a business to run and he had to make a success of it. As my father used to say, “All news is good news.” You are better off when people are thinking and talking about you. There’s more chance they might bet with Tom, they might have a horse with Gai. It works both ways.

RC So after all this time, you still believe in that “better to be talked about” adage.

GW I think so. You don’t want to be forgotten. I think it’s important that people know you’re not dead, or retired, or both.

RC In some ways horse racing is an old-fashioned sport, but it still seems to attract huge numbers of young people. What’s its enduring appeal?

GW Well, it’s exciting to go to the races, it’s exciting to have a bet. You’re getting your two bob’s worth, so to speak, against the corporates or bookmaker or whatever. It’s very much an Australian way of life. 

RC You’re a true expert in a field where everyone thinks they’re an expert.

GW It’s like everything nowadays. We’re all two-minutes geniuses. But it helps with the business of training horses that you’ve got the expertise, because at the end of the day that’s what I have to call upon to train the horses. 

RC Do you feel there are a few more comments from the peanut gallery than there used to be?

GW I don’t know. I’ve got better things to worry about, the two grandchildren, a stable load of horses, owners, my husband [former bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse], my family, my friends. I don’t worry about them.

RC Are you still getting up at 2.30 in the morning?

GW I am, yes. We start very early on the track because there’s a lot of horses around – there about 650 horses around to be trained. The people that are helping us, a lot of them might have a second job, so they’ve got to go to that. 

RC There must be a few bleary eyes.

GW No, no, there aren’t. Because people with bleary eyes don’t last around here. We need people with energy.


This week’s highlights…

• Asian Champions League final (second leg)

Al-Hilal v Western Sydney Wanderers, 4.30am (AEDT), Sunday; live on Fox Sports 1

• Melbourne Cup

3pm, Tuesday; Flemington Racecourse

• T20 International Series – Australia v South Africa 

Wednesday, Adelaide Oval; Friday, MCG

Buy tickets now for…

• Australia v India Test Cricket Series

December 4-8, Gabba, Brisbane; December 12-16, Adelaide Oval; December 26-30, Melbourne Cricket Ground; January 3-7, Sydney Cricket Ground

• Australian Open Tennis

January 19-February 1, Melbourne Park

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on November 1, 2014 as "Gai’s golden time".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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