If Pierro wins the Caulfield Guineas this weekend, there's an added reason to watch owner Gai Waterhouse's reaction, ConnectPink's Breanna Tucker writes.
Gai Waterhouse is known for her animated celebrations. When the legendary Australian race trainer’s horses charge across the finish line in winning position (and god knows, she’s had a few) the cameras immediately swing to the stands to capture her bouncing, pumping her binoculars into the air and hugging those closest to her in delight.
But if her latest star, Pierro, pummels the field at the Caulfield Guineas (1600m) this weekend as is expected, Gai has a different dance up her sleeve. She is ready to celebrate “Gangnam style”.
“I love him, I think he’s great,” she says of South Korean pop sensation Psy’s funny racing-style dance moves. “I was watching him on YouTube the other day. He’s a little bit of a chub, he hasn’t got the perfect figure and he has this little round face but gosh, he can dance. I was giving it a go last night.”
If the hype is anything to go by, the chances of seeing Gai’s version of the dance are close to 100 per cent. Her three-year-old mare, Pierro, has the racing world in awe. He has already been described as “bombproof”, “foolproof”, “a superstar” and the “King of Cool”. His training run at Flemington on Tuesday was so impressive clockers had to look twice at their stopwatches in disbelief.
It is a hype that Gai's well and truly used to. As Australia’s first female to be inducted into the racing industry’s Hall of Fame and one of the most highly regarded in her field, she is as confident of her own talents as she is of her horses. Of Pierro, she admits he is a horse that will be near impossible to defeat.
“There is no better three-year-old in Australia,” she says matter-of-factly. He has raced against them all and beaten them all.” But in an interview with ConnectPink, Gai highlighted how important it was never to get too far ahead of yourself. No matter how long your run of successes or much talent is shown, she says it is important never to count your chickens before they hatch. “That’s the lovely thing about races – you’re never a sure thing until you pass the post,” she says. “We feel confident we can win but anything can happen.”
Gai doesn’t read the press either, despite creating many of their headlines. She thinks it is dangerous to get too wrapped up in your own hype and can find out enough of other trainers’ thoughts and plans through general talk in the industry.
In the same way, she does not dwell on the fact that she is a role model for women. When she was first awarded a trainer’s license in 1991 after two years of fighting anti-discrimination laws, she was proud to have made a step forward for women. But ever since the license landed in her hands, it has been “head down, bum up” to prove to everyone that the decision was worthwhile.
“I suppose I have shown that you can be happy, married, have children and still be a successful person in business, and in that respect it is a good thing,” she said. “But other than that I’m no different to anyone else. I get up, go to work, get everything I need to get done there then do the same at home. That takes up most of the day so there’s no time to think of anything else.”
Despite the recent scandal surrounding jockey Danny Nikolic’s threats against the family of Victoria’s chief steward, Gai says there is no reason why more women shouldn’t enter the racing industry. She admits it can be a tough game and one that she would have found hard to negotiate without the guidance of her father – race training legend T.J Smith. But in the same respect, she admits that being a businesswoman in any industry is tough. “You’ve just got to have your head screwed on … be prepared to work hard and hopefully have a touch of talent to go with it,” she says.
If anything, Gai relents women’s declining interest in racing – even Fashions on the Field. As an ambassador for David Jones, she finds picking her outfit just as thrilling as picking her horses (well, almost). She says Australian designers are “in a league of their own” and describes them as having a “nice, edgy cusp”. But even the thrill of dressing up had worn off to the point that women were nowhere near as interested in racing as they had been in the past.
“If you look back at photographs of the `50s and beforehand, women were always seen at the races dressing up,” she says. “I find that now they only turn up for major events like the Spring Carnival in Melbourne, Autumn carnival in Sydney and the Melbourne Cup. I think people were better educated in years gone by, about racing and horses. Now it is too easy to place bets in TABS or on Sportsbet and to watch it on television. It is one of our greatest, saddest things.”
For Gai, the love of racing is in her blood and the reason to keep going lies in her horses. She describes the joy of a win as “hugely satisfying”, not only because of the thrill but because it takes months of hard work to get a horse to that point. “Their will to win, to dig deep, their determination not to be defeated… they are just remarkable,” she says.
It is a trait invested in them by their owner, no doubt.
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