Widely known as the First Lady of Australian racing, trainer Gai Waterhouse broke down many barriers to become one of the most recognisable and most loved personalities in Australia.
Waterhouse’s ongoing stellar career in the thoroughbred industry is set to be recognised with induction as a General Member into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the sold out 34th Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 11th October 2018.
Waterhouse joins her father Tommy (TJ) Smith AM MBE as Hall of Fame members and in doing so the pair make history as the first father-daughter pair to both receive this prestigious accolade.
Waterhouse becomes the fifth horse trainer in the 168-year history of the profession to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, joining Bart Cummings AM, Etienne de Mestre, Tommy J. Smith AM MBE and Colin Hayes AM OBE. Father and son pairings Lindsay Gaze OAM (General – Coach – Basketball) and Andrew Gaze AM (Athlete – Basketball) and Bill Roycroft OBE (Athlete – Equestrian) and Wayne Roycroft AM (General – Coach – Equestrian) now stand alongside the first father-daughter combination.
General Membership of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame was established to recognise those who have shown excellence and outstanding achievements in roles supportive to Australian sport, such as administration, coaching/training, media or science.
“It’s a lifetime dream come true,” Waterhouse said.
“It’s very special to be recognised at this stage – even though I’m still training. And it means so much more to be in the Hall of Fame with Dad. If he was looking down he’d be extremely pleased, and he’d probably say it was well overdue. He’d be very happy and probably have wished that he and Mum were here to see it. But I feel they will both still be there in spirit.”
Having trained more than 7000 winners across more than two decades, Waterhouse’s track record includes her record of 156 season metropolitan wins (equalling TJ’s record), more than 130 Group 1 wins and seven Sydney trainers’ premierships. In 2013 with her horse Fiorente, Waterhouse became only the second woman, and the first Australian woman, to train the winner of the nation’s most iconic race, the Melbourne Cup.
Waterhouse proved that not only can women survive in the male-dominated industry, but thrive, commanding respect and paving the way for many other women to develop a career in racing.
Growing up an only child to one of Australia’s greatest ever trainers in Tommy J. Smith, Waterhouse says she had no greater influence on her life, both professionally and personally.
“Growing up Dad was the person I most wanted to emulate,” Waterhouse said.
“I just wanted to please him and try to make him proud of me as I’d taken on the sport that he’d dominated. He wasn’t just good at it, he perfected it!”
Waterhouse’s mother, Valerie Smith, was also very influential.
“She taught me poise and she gave me a great understanding of family and the importance of family support for which I’ve been so grateful because without it I wouldn’t have been successful.”
A one-time actress, Waterhouse has never been one to shy away from the cameras, always bringing a vivacious and flamboyant style to her craft. Not being media shy was a characteristic she says, again, comes from her father.
“Dad was a great trainer, but he also captured the moment very well. Yes, I would say that side of me comes from him and I think it’s a very smart thing to do. He would say ‘all publicity was good publicity’. It is free advertising. You need publicity to build your business.”
“What a lot of people forget is that racing is entertainment, it’s very important to never lose sight of that. If you can keep the customer entertained hopefully they will keep coming and gambling because if the gambler loses interest we all wouldn’t be employed.”
Waterhouse struggled to get her start in training, after a disputed battle to obtain her licence from the Australian Jockey Club which ended up in the courts where Waterhouse eventually won and saw ‘The Waterhouse Amendment’ brought to the Anti-Discrimination Act. Finally granted a licence in 1992, Waterhouse enjoyed immediate success, training her first Group 1 winner later that year – Te Akau Nick in the Metropolitan Handicap.
She took over her father’s Tulloch Lodge Stable after he became ill in 1994 and trained quality colt Nothin’ Leica Dane to win the Victoria Derby before finishing a gallant second in the Melbourne Cup, a race no three-year-old had won since Skipton in 1941.
Waterhouse won the Sydney premiership in the 1996-97 season, with 10 Group 1 wins. In 2002-03, she won the first of three successive premierships, training 156 winners to equal her father’s Sydney record. She has won most of Australia’s biggest races multiple times, earning several hundred million dollars for connections, but her crowning moment came in 2013 training the Melbourne Cup victor, Fiorente.
“It was one of my greatest moments,” Waterhouse said.
“No one realises until you’ve actually won the Melbourne Cup that it is life changing. When people said that, I thought ‘I can’t believe that’, but it is life changing. It is the ultimate satisfaction and propels you to extraordinary prominence in the eyes of the average Australian – that doesn’t exist with any other race.”
“The Victoria Racing Club have been able to build and mould a handicap which is accepted worldwide. You only have to look at the 30 horses from overseas all migrating this year to the Spring Carnival and especially the Melbourne Cup.”
The large numbers of imports heading Down Under for the ‘race that stops a nation’ is a non-issue for her, Waterhouse says.
“I am a great champion for the local horses, but we breed sprinters not stayers. It’s become a prestigious international race now which is what the club and everyone wants. You’ve just got to move with the times – I qualified a Japanese horse and I’ve won the race with an English horse, so I can’t complain.”
At 64-years-of-age, Waterhouse is as driven as ever, refusing to pull the reins in on her distinguished career. This racing spring carnival will see her and co-trainer Adrian Bott aim for more success, with a passion to pass on what she knows to future generations.
“My job is to make Adrian super successful. He’s my protégé and I’m very thankful that he found the investors that wanted to take on the business two years ago which allows me the freedom to still do what I adore – training horses but without all the admin, I also have a little bit of free time.”
“At the Lodge I get huge satisfaction seeing the boys and girls who work with me, going ahead and doing well in racing and in life. Focusing on the youth is something that drives me, I want to inspire them to be the best they can be. I think it’s really important in this day and age where there are so many things that can distract people, but I know young people can do great things. If you can help by giving guidance and keep them happy and healthy, that’s important.”
With her passion for youth, its little surprise she declares the two-year-old Group 1 Golden Slipper as her favourite race on the calendar. No wonder, she has won it six times and trained the trifecta in 2001 – a feat no other trainer has achieved.
“I love that race – it encapsulates everything good about youth in Australia, it is in my view the number one race for two-year-olds in the world. I just love the speed and electricity of working with the two-year-olds.”
Recognised by the National Trust of Australia as a National Living Treasure, Waterhouse’s commitment, zeal and energy has ensured she takes her rightful place in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame says Selection Committee Chairman Rob de Castella AO MBE.
“Gai is an individual who has changed the landscape of sport,” de Castella said.
“Her success, profile and drive has stood out above all others. Her record is phenomenal with over 7000 winners, 130 in Group 1 races. For Gai to achieve all this is a sport often dominated my men, demonstrates her drive, passion and ability.”
Young at heart and always with supreme confidence, Waterhouse’s tireless work in the Australian racing industry has won many admirers over the journey and will see her take the crown as a queen in the sport of kings.
Gai Waterhouse will be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Australian sport’s “Night of Nights” – the sold out 34th Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala Dinner on Thursday 11th October at Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
Established in 1985, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame plays a vital role in preserving and perpetuating Australia’s rich sporting heritage, whilst promoting the values of courage, sportsmanship, integrity, mateship, persistence, and excellence, all underpinned by generosity, modesty, pride and ambition.
2018 will mark the 34th edition of this event, with eight Australian sporting icons, from on and off the field, to be inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
In addition, Richie Benaud will be elevated to Legend status, becoming the 40th official Legend of Australian Sport.