By Christian Nicolussi
Gai Waterhouse in Tulloch Lodge at her Randwick stables.Credit: Kate Geraghty
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Gai Waterhouse, arguably Australia’s most famous horse trainer, is sitting at Tulloch Lodge, her historic stables in suburban Kensington, staring at the countless oil paintings of her late father, the legendary trainer Tommy Smith.
Smith died a day before his 82nd birthday, but was still training.
He never retired. And even at 69, Waterhouse has no intentions of giving up the caper any time soon. If ever.
“The day he died, Dad was sitting in his office, very much foot on the pedal,” Waterhouse says.
“He loved it. When you become a horse trainer, it’s a lifestyle that you’ve chosen, and you’re 24/7 in the environment.
“I’ve said it before that when you stop, people stop calling. We wouldn’t be doing this interview. People wouldn’t ring me for my opinion, to come here, do this … while you’re in the workplace, you’re an integral part of the business.
“The grandkids only want to see so much of their grandmother. You need to learn your place. I’m not at the top of their pecking order.
“I love racing. I don’t want to retire.”
Waterhouse is still switched on. The only thing causing her grief are the ligaments in her right knee, which has led her to swimming every morning at Balmoral Beach whenever she’s in Sydney.
Before she leaves the house for track work and the early dip in the harbour, Waterhouse chops up a banana and arranges the pieces into a smiley face on top of a bowl of cereal for her husband, bookmaker Robbie Waterhouse. She has done it for years.
Gai Waterhouse will be in Melbourne on Saturday with her Cups hopeful Just FineCredit: Kate Geraghty/SMH
“But when Gai isn’t happy with me, it’s an upside-down smile; those are the days I need to make amends,” Robbie says.
Waterhouse is class, and she has an old-school appreciation of good fashion and being a good host. She apologises for there being no fresh-cut flowers when we sit down for our interview, then asks why I did not bother to have a shave.
“You have a much better chance of being successful if you’re attentive to detail,” Waterhouse says.
“In this day and age, everyone has become very slack. When you walk into Tulloch Lodge, I almost want you to feel like you’re walking into a David Jones or Harrods.
“You don’t want to see people chewing gum, or tears in your clothes. The stables are a special place.”
Waterhouse has now been training in partnership with Adrian Bott for seven years. At the time, most people in the racing game viewed it as a succession plan, with Bott to eventually take over, and Waterhouse to slip quietly out the back stable door.
Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott have their stable flying.Credit: Getty
Who seriously expected the odd couple to be humming like they are after all this time?
“I want Adrian to be successful, I want him to make our business a success, I want him to have his own home, to have a lifestyle he can enjoy, and to get the recognition he deserves,” Waterhouse says.
The 35-year-old Bott who grew up in Scone – serious horse country in the Hunter Valley – and was educated at Sydney’s prestigious Riverview College, certainly knows how fortunate he is to be working alongside Waterhouse.
The two seem to fit. They have had their run-ins but Waterhouse gets disappointed rather than angry.
They speak up to half a dozen times by lunchtime, sometimes more, depending on what is happening with the horses and what time of year it is.
Bott, who was still in nappies when Waterhouse commenced training in 1992, knew there was immense pressure to deliver when teaming up with such a giant of the sport.
‘In this day and age, everyone has become very slack. When you walk into Tulloch Lodge, I almost want you to feel like you’re walking into Harrods’
“I definitely never lost sight of the opportunity I’d been given, and who I was going to be working with,” Bott said.
“That was always the most difficult aspect to overcome in the early stages of the partnership, just that pressure, which did not come from Gai, but the pressure I put on myself.
“But you become more comfortable in your role and in your ability as the partnership grows.”
The winners have come thick and fast for Waterhouse and Bott since the new racing season commenced on August 1. They have a healthy roster of two-year-olds, which is always the best guide to a stable’s health.
As for The Everest on Saturday, they will saddle up Alcohol Free, the ultra-expensive mare purchased from Europe, and the Gerry Harvey and John Singleton-owned giant horse, Hawaii Five Oh.
Both have excellent chances.
Gai Waterhouse celebrates with her father TJ Smith.Credit: Fairfax
Waterhouse, however, will be nowhere near Randwick. In fact, she has not been sighted on a Sydney race day since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Going to the track [at dawn for work] and then the races, I found it was a very long day,” Waterhouse said. “I thought I could be of much more benefit to Adrian if I watched from home, if I spoke to the jockeys in the morning to get their thoughts, then leave it to Adrian to have the final say.
“Seeing jockeys for two seconds before a race, and knowing you could be deciding the fate of millions of dollars, it’s madness.
“I like being on the control panel and trying to work out how we can win the race. If we were to win The Everest it would be phenomenal. It would be a dream come true.”
As for where she will be in five years, Waterhouse says: “Still training with Adrian, working with fascinating people and fascinating horses, and probably sitting here being interviewed by you. Hopefully, you’ve learned how to shave by then.”
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