If you knew just two things about Gai Waterhouse - the high regard in which she is held, and the fact that she is the daughter of Tommy Smith, training icon, 33 times champion on the Sydney circuit - you might assume that she had had it easy. Learn the ropes, meet the right people, then inherit the business which father worked so hard to build; it has happened time and again throughout the racing world.
But not to Waterhouse, who had to spend two and a half years dragging the Australian Jockey Club through the courts simply to get a licence, and then started out with fewer than half a dozen horses. The problem, as far as the AJC was concerned, was a piece of paper, but not the one on which she applied for a licence to train. Instead, they objected to her marriage certificate, and the fact that Robert, her husband and once one of Australia's biggest bookmakers, is a disqualified person, warned off every track in the world more than a decade ago for his alleged part in a "ringing" operation.
"It was a long time ago," Gai Waterhouse says. "A horse called Fine Cotton was ringing [running under a false name] in Queensland. Rob had a bet on the race and they accused him of prior knowledge of the ringing. They never found him guilty, they just warned him off, because they're the Club and they can do that. It was out of all proportion, if there was a `crime', he has paid for it 1,000 times over. He hasn't murdered, pillaged or raped, he was basically guilty of having a bet on a race, but unfortunately people have very long memories."
Certainly, the AJC will not swiftly forget its bitter and ultimately humiliating fight with Waterhouse. The first court they visited, astonishingly, sided with the administrators, but Waterhouse persuaded the court of appeal to overturn the decision and the AJC finally acknowledged defeat. "They knew that I'd be taking them to the High Court of Australia and their lawyers had told them they wouldn't win," Waterhouse says. "They would have been made to look like fools. Basically, they tried to discriminate against me because of who I was married to, so when I won it was a windfall in two ways, firstly for us, but also for the working women of Australia. After that, the law was amended to stop it happening again, and they called it - this is quite hysterical - the Waterhouse Act."
Thus she had the stables and the licence, but not a single horse. "So I went to the sales and bought four horses, got them home and thought, that's really smart, I've got four horses and no owners. So I went out to find some owners."
It was probably not too difficult, since Waterhouse must be one of the most engaging characters ever to saddle a racehorse. Forever either talking or smiling, and usually both, it is clear within two minutes that you could send her the slowest horse in Australia and the experience would still be enormous fun.
Not that she has much time or need for slow horses any more. Within two years, she prepared her first Grade One winner, and now her 80-box yard is full 12 months of the year. "Every time one goes out, another comes in. I'm like a hotel, a body in every bed."
Waterhouse has won the Grade One Doncaster Handicap in each of the last three years, and it was the latest running, in the early hours of tomorrow morning, which forced her to cut short her visit to Dubai. She has three live contenders in the big race at Randwick, and another in the AJC Derby, but afterwards her thoughts will turn to Juggler, just as they did on in the early hours of Sunday morning when, after a 20-hour flight, a startled taxi driver was ordered to drive not to her hotel, but to the track, to check up on Juggler.
To judge by the latest British odds - Juggler is 25-1 with Ladbrokes - she need not have bothered, but with three Grade Ones to his credit the gelding must not be underestimated, not least because with four runs already this year, he may be far fitter than several opponents.
"He's got a lot of class," his trainer says. "Every time he goes out at weight-for-age, he goes out favourite, and he's very competitive. I've primed him for this race, it's not an afterthought, and this year there's no champion like Cigar, I think they're very even."
If Juggler is missing anything in the opulent surroundings of Nad Al Sheba, it is probably the cool waters of Botany Bay, where Waterhouse swims her string every day, one of the personal touches she has added to techniques learned from her father. "I'm very influenced by dad's training. I worked for him for 15 years, but I've got methods of my own. I don't bustle my horses, I'm very patient, I like to observe them and work with the ebb and flow.
"My father said I was riduculous to want to fight the AJC guys, and even then, having a famous father means everyone is pulling on your tails, saying "how can she be as successful as TJ?" I went in thinking that if I fail, it won't be the end of the world. I could do something else, but in my heart I knew I'd do all right because I'd taken a lot of time to do the groundwork."
Waterhouse passed "all right" several years ago, and has not looked back since. Outsider he may be, but if Juggler wins tomorrow he should raise a cheer from punters everywhere, if only at the thought of the glum expressions among the gentlemen of the AJC.Reuse content