Being born the daughter of the most successful horse trainer in the history of Australian racing certainly comes with its benefits. However when the daughter decides to follow in her father’s footsteps, massive expectation and pressure soon follows. When Gai finally was granted her trainers’ licence and took control of Tulloch Lodge in 1992, not even the most optimistic of pundits could have predicted that not only would Gai emulate her famous father T.J. Smith but in fact would go on to steer the stable to the dizzy heights Tulloch Lodge has enjoyed since the turn of the millennium.
Gai’s first runner in a race won. Her first runner in a metropolitan race won. Her first runner in a Group One race won. Her first runner in a jumps race won. Considering the education Gai received during her 12 year apprentice with T.J. leading up to January 1992, it is little wonder the Lady Trainer was an instant success. Since her humble beginnings as a solo trainer in January 1992, Gai has gone on to achieve as much as humanly possible with racehorses. While many would rest on their laurels after such success, Gai simply wants to win more and more. Owners can rest assured that the Lady Trainer wants to win races just as much if not more than they do! Confirmation of this dedication to excellence came after just fifteen years of training when Gai was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame (2007). As we stand, in just over 20 years of training, Gai has amassed over 120 Group One wins and currently sits third on the all-time list (Group One winners) behind T.J. Smith and Bart Cummings.
By far Gai’s greatest achievements have been recorded in the best races of the year in both Melbourne and Sydney. Gai has won Sydney’s two best races, the Golden Slipper and Doncaster Handicap six and seven times respectively. To put this in perspective, in T.J.’s fifty years at the helm of Tulloch Lodge, the great man trained six Slipper wins. Gai, having won the 2015 Golden Slipper with Vancouver, is now on par with her great father with six Slipper wins. In winning seven Doncaster Handicaps, Gai is the equal greatest trainer in the history on the race currently tied with T.J. Included in Gai’s seven Doncaster wins, was her legendary ‘four-peat’ from 1994 to 1997. When going for five Doncaster Handicaps in a row in 1998, Gai, while being beaten, still managed to train the second and third placegetters.
Gai’s prowess in Sydney does not stop after the famous Sydney autumn. Gai is by far the most successful trainer ever in the Sydney Spring. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ is a phrase one often can hear Gai quoting. This attitude is reflected by Gai’s results in the best races contested during the Sydney Spring Carnival. The Flight Stakes (7 wins), the Epsom Handicap (7 wins) and the Metropolitan Handicap (8 wins) have become races at the mercy of Gai each and every year.
On the first Tuesday of November 2013, Gai managed to train the great entire Fiorente to do something that only three male horses before him had done in winning the Melbourne Cup after placing in the great race the previous year. Two of the three horses to achieve this feat before Fiorente were all-time immortal champions Carbine and Phar Lap. With Fiorente, Gai showed exactly what she could do with a horse thus demonstrating her brilliance on a truly international stage. After just three weeks with Fiorente before the 2012 Melbourne Cup, Gai managed to change up Fiorente’s work and get him in a head space where he was able to run a blistering second in the race that stops a nation. Come the spring of 2013, Gai had trained plenty more speed into Fiorente as was evident when the stallion won the 1600m WFA Feehan Stakes. Fiorente under Gai’s guidance then won the Melbourne Cup just fifty days later. To train a horse to win a 1600m WFA race and a 3200m handicap race in the space of seven weeks is a truly remarkable feat. In a further display of brilliance, Gai again produced Fiorente during the following autumn to win first up (first Melbourne Cup winner to win first up at their next preparation since Saintly) before the stallion won the 2000m WFA Australian Cup second up.
Gai gives each and every horse that comes into her care every possible chance to succeed. Gai’s attention to detail in regards to inspecting hundreds and hundreds of yearling every year is second to none. Gai sees a yearling early, sees it again at the sales, and should this particular yearling tick enough boxes, Gai will bid for it, before setting it towards greatness. Only six horses in the history of Sydney racing have won the two-year-old Triple Crown and Gai has trained two of them (Dance Hero 2004 and Pierro 2012). Gai in fact has won more Group One races for two-year-olds than any other trainer.
As Australian racing progresses and eyes are turned to the northern hemisphere to find stayers, Gai again finds herself at the forefront of the movement. Gai has purchased and continues to purchase many stayers from Europe. Over 90% of Gai’s European purchases have won in Australia already. In some cases they have won multiple races and even Group One Classics as is the case with Fiorente, Glencadam Gold and The Offer. With more and more European imports arriving in Australia each and every year, Gai has a foothold on how to train these horses. There has barely been an import lob at Tulloch Lodge that has not run well since arriving. This is a perfect demonstration of the patience, care and brilliance that one thinks of in regards to Gai Waterhouse.
Whether it is two-year-olds, three-year-olds, mature horses, colts, geldings, entires, fillies or mares, Gai can train them all. The Lady Trainer has won dozens of Group One races for all ages and sexes. However the absolute mainstay of Gai’s training method is her ability to get horses to win and to show their best very early in their careers’. Gai will travel a horse to where it needs to go as to win its maiden. If a horse demonstrates early that it is not going to be a champion, then Gai simply works harder to get the horse to improve to a level where it can win for its connections.
‘Balance’ and ‘momentum’ are Gai’s go-to words when asked to describe her training style. Gai wants a horse with perfect balance as she understands that all champion athletes both human and equine possess stunning balance. Momentum because Gai’s philosophy dictates that if a horse maintains its momentum throughout a race, then it will be more balanced and have a full head of steam when asked for the ultimate effort; horses rarely produce their best once they have been stopped in their tracks. After thousands of wins, hundreds of millions of dollars in Stakes money, Group One wins all over the continent and close to 30 horses from her care going to stud in Australasia, Gai’s philosophy and her striving for success have paid off for thousands of connections worldwide. Gai is a phenomenon, an Australian icon, and her achievements are a testimony to what vision, planning, hard work, energy and dedication can produce.