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Turf's first lady flexes her muscles

Date

Patrick Bartley

Gai Waterhouse, renowned for her muscle-and-bone training philosophy, threatens to overrun Melbourne with her brilliant spring team.

Group 1 double, no trouble ... Tom Berry and his boss, Gai Waterhouse.

Group 1 double, no trouble ... Tom Berry and his boss, Gai Waterhouse. Photo: Jenny Evans

Gai Waterhouse left Randwick racecourse on Saturday publicly elated at her record-breaking day at the races and confident that she has an unprecedented grip on the Melbourne spring carnival.

In fact, no trainer on the eve of Australia's most celebrated five weeks of racing has shaped to have so much influence.

Australia's most talked-about horse trainer has pre-post favourites in the Cox Plate and the Caulfield and Melbourne cups, and also prepares the shortest-priced favourite in Caulfield Guineas history in Pierro.

While the three-year-old is at $1.35 to give Waterhouse the classic, her other remarkable galloper, More Joyous, will also be favourite for the group 1 Toorak Handicap as she has her last run before being one of three the trainer intends to start in the Cox Plate.

While jockey managers across Australia have Waterhouse's phone number prominently displayed, she yesterday spoke of her relationship with stable rider Nash Rawiller, who will shoulder the bulk of her hopes.

''I asked Robbie [Waterhouse's husband] a few years ago to give me the name of the best heavyweight jockey and the best lightweight. He came back with Blake Shinn and Nash Rawiller. Shinn got straight on a plane to Sydney to speak to me, but Nash wanted time to discuss the proposition with his wife,'' Waterhouse said.

While a relationship with Shinn never eventuated, Rawiller did take up the offer and today the former Bendigo boy and Waterhouse have a strong partnership. However, Sydney's leading trainer said she had doubts even up until the end of the first 18 months.

''What most don't understand is that I train differently to many other trainers. While they like to get them ready with a run or two, my horses are ready to go from the start.

''I like them to be dominant, I like them to be on the pace and some jockeys don't get it. But after a time Nash and I worked out a good relationship with the team,'' she said.

Waterhouse's father, the late Tommy Smith, was arguably one of Australia's finest trainers and enjoyed a strong relationship with jockey George Moore. Moore and Smith carved out hundreds of major race wins and numerous premierships.

''No, I didn't follow on that style that dad did. Dad and Moore were pretty feisty customers. They had many arguments and I didn't see the need for a trainer-jockey relationship to be as confrontationist as theirs was.

''I don't like arguments and confrontations. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a 'yes' person, but confrontations can be negative and if I find a person like that in my system, I weed them out of the operation,'' she said.

Rawiller, throughout his career in Victoria, was known to be a patient and old-style jockey who liked his horses to settle and come home late. However, Waterhouse says Rawiller has refined that and rides as she wants, but she takes his input on board.

''He's a deep thinker and I'm also a thinker, and it's a good way to be as we're always working towards the best for the horses. I know some of my jockeys think 'here she comes again with another idea' but that's the way it's got to be looking ahead and getting the best out of horses.

''Again, I'm a bit different from dad, whose jockeys were worked hard as he believed they were extremely well paid, better than any horse trainer, so they had to do their share.

''I let Nash cut his cloth to suit himself. He probably rides three mornings a week and he's a terrific worker, but I've always got to remember that a jockey's lifestyle is not easy and they are wasting to get down in weight and it's got to tell on them.''

Just two years ago Waterhouse saw the opportunity of a jockey whose talents she believed could be moulded into the upper echelon of Australian riding ranks.

At the Magic Millions on the Gold Coast, Waterhouse approached Sydney jockey Tommy Berry and offered him a position at Tulloch Lodge. On Saturday, that belief materialised into the 21-year-old Berry winning the Epsom Handicap and Metropolitan double.

''Tommy is another who has fitted in well. His instructions [on Saturday] were to be positive and what happens, he's successful on both after he went whoosh at the top of the straight.''

In the next five weeks Waterhouse will have upwards of 15 horses leave Sydney for Melbourne for a spring carnival in which she could rewrite the Australian racing record books.

She said yesterday she wanted to let the dust settle before making plans for her horses, but it would seem certain that she will have a mixture from speedy two-year-olds to dour stayers for the Melbourne carnival. Waterhouse, a noted perfectionist, says her stable riders will fly in and out of Melbourne on the day. ''They're only an hour away,'' she said.

If, as it seems, according to one bookmaking firm (Centrebet), Waterhouse is a $61 chance to win the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup treble this spring, her efforts at grooming jockeys will well and truly be worth it.

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