GAI Waterhouse has trained eight winners since the spring carnival picked up speed at Caulfield two-and-a-half weeks ago. The only problem is they've been at Canterbury, Randwick, Warwick Farm and Kembla Grange, not Caulfield and Moonee Valley.
As if her fortunes needed a gloomier turn, her Caulfield Cup favourite turned Melbourne Cup longshot, Glencadam Gold, was unable to work at Flemington on Tuesday, calling in sick with heat in his off-hind foot, and sent for a regenerative dip at the beach. As ever, his trainer found sunlight in the shadows.
"He's going to swim to Auckland and back – I did that with Pharaoh and won two Doncasters!" said Waterhouse, as bright and warm as the dawn sun rising above her Flemington stables. "You think about athletes when they're training – often going into those big races they can just cruise. I find the swimming is a real arm to my training, I do it with a lot of my horses."
Yes, she conceded, the gelding's 15th in the Caulfield Cup was disappointing, but not really anything to worry about. "He's gone from a 5-4 chance to probably a 40-1 chance in the [Melbourne] Cup, and he's every bit as good a chance, probably better."
This was Waterhouse at her best. Racing's first lady has known unfulfilled springs before, but never come to Melbourne holding such a strong hand. Yet she heads into Derby Day having had 13 runners (14 if you count Our Desert Warrior in the Geelong Classic) without a win.
Her sunny outlook has been tested by the first two defeats of Pierro's career, two unplaced runs by More Joyous (the latter dominated by the Singo barrier saga) Proisir's midfield Cox Plate finish, and the shooting of Glencadam Gold's star. Flemington's four big days remain, and Waterhouse has already turned the page.
"I've put it behind me – I never think of the disappointments, I think of the positives, otherwise I wouldn't be a racehorse trainer, would I?
"Home track, it's where the horses are trained, you're always looking to kick a goal and this is the most exciting carnival in the world, there's nothing quite like it."
Corey Brown, who three years ago rode the Derby, Melbourne Cup and Emirates winners for three different trainers in a dreamy week, put another Sydneysider's perspective on the days ahead that offer hope for all. "It's our grand final – not just for jockeys, but for trainers, owners . . . just to be a part of it, it's really special."
Undoubtedly, there is time still for the Waterhouse stable to play as well as talk a good game. No matter what has gone before, it is to the boss's credit that she keeps fronting the cameras rather than slipping quietly down the back stairs.
Yes, there was no Glencadam Gold, but instead she worked Kabayan, once a Derby prospect, now reeled back in distance and into Saturday's Carbine Club Stakes. The horse is "a preparation away", still structurally "a little bit immature", said Waterhouse. "But I think the Carbine Club's most winnable."
Our Desert Warrior is only a $21 Derby chance with her bookmaker son, Tom, but the trainer pointed out that the horse's fourth at Geelong came after his saddle broke mid-race, and Geelong form has measured up in recent years, so why not?
Then there's Fat Al, nominated for Saturday's group 3 1400-metre race and the Emirates Stakes a week later. Waterhouse was beaming to recall that he had cost $29,000 and won an Epsom Handicap and nearly $1 million, a boon for the brain cancer charity that benefits from his success. "He worked super, Vlad Duric rode him and thought he was really impressive," she said.
Which leaves Glencadam Gold. Surely missing "training" so close to game day constitutes a setback?
"I don't think so. He's a very fit horse, he's been in work a long time. I give them plenty of work – they don't sit around twiddling their thumbs."
Jim Cassidy, who Waterhouse said had hit a wet patch on Glencadam Gold 1000 metres from home in the Caulfield Cup, which tends to stop such "high-cruising" horses in their tracks, makes way for young Sydney hoop Tommy Berry at Flemington. This, too, was regarded as a plus.
"Flemington's a much less complicated track than Caulfield. [There] I engaged Jimmy Cassidy, a senior rider who's won at Caulfield many, many times and many group 1s. I think he was the right jockey for the day.
"At Flemington, I think it's a much easier track for a young jockey like Tom Berry, and I think he'll be well-placed on the horse."
Their Cup week partnership will begin in Saturday's Lexus, which others will use as a last-chance passage into next Tuesday's big race, but Waterhouse sees it as an ideal tune-up for her horse. "He's a bit bottomless, he's one of those horses that's got a massive girth on him, he needs that extra mileage under his belt. I think he does anyway."
Recent weeks have merely been a reminder that you don't declare anything a good thing. Asked what we can expect to see from Waterhouse in the carnival's run for home, she said: "Probably a lot of dark glasses, because I'll have big bags under my eyes."