with avocado and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and memories of her dad. She recalls cold winter dawns at Randwick back when 63-year-old Gai Waterhouse was five-year-old Gai Smith wrapped in the warm arms of her legendary trainer father Tommy J. Smith and they were sitting on a cream-coloured pony named Cornflakes riding out to the centre of the track to watch the horses work circles. She’d watch her father watching those horses and every morning she’d come closer to understanding what Tommy was trying to find in all those sprinters and stayers. After enough cold mornings she realised that, more than a horse’s speed and power and rhythm, he was trying to find a horse’s essence. That mysterious element found deep within it that would reveal to Tommy why and how it would be first past the post on any given track; what the horse would need from Tommy in order for it to be the best that it could be. And Gai watched her father watching those horses long enough that she eventually realised the elusive essence could not actually be seen to be found; it had to be felt.
On their way home, Tommy and Gai would cut through Centennial Park and each morning they’d inspect the duck nests fringing the park pond and every morning, without fail, young Gai would somehow manage to find a duck egg that they’d take home and cook for breakfast. Tommy would beam so wide with these miraculous morning discoveries and Gai would laugh with joy because she knew – she felt it deep inside her heart – exactly what Tommy J. Smith needed from her, his only child, to be the best that he could be. She had found her father’s essence.
There’s another part to that duck egg memory – something deeper, something life-changing – but our eggs are going cold and these eggs, prepared by her in-house cook, Fernanda, are the best in the world. “The world,” Gai stresses, loud enough for Fernanda to hear at the kitchen sink of this sprawling top-floor apartment overlooking Balmoral Beach on Sydney’s lower north shore.
Two grand sulphur-crested cockatoos land near a rosemary bush on the apartment balcony, their yellow plumage like some wild hat Gai Waterhouse might slay all those younger, less brave, less original, fashion wannabes with on race day. The Lady Trainer and her plumage, a rainbow of a woman, perched in the stands, binoculars in one hand, hope and 30 years’ hard work in the other, clenched tightly to will another beloved horse – athletes, she calls them – on to victory. Gifted Poet, her first winner in 1992. Te Akau Nick, her first Group 1 winner that same year. Dear mighty Fiorente, Melbourne Cup winner, 2013. (She ran her samurai eyes over that horse on the morning of that hallowed day and uttered just one word: “Wins”.) Dear courageous Pharaoh, the horse with arthritic joints that was called every lame name under the Sydney sun before Gai found his essence and turned him into the champion thoroughbred who won back-toback Doncasters in ’94 and ’95. That’s her thing, turning the stable roughies – the outliers, the outcasts – into warriors with a mother’s love. And they fight to repay her kindness.
She loved them like family. Grand Armee. Desert War. Dance Hero. All Our Mob. All Gai’s mob. She’s third on the all-time list of winning Group 1 trainers; 136 Group 1 wins and counting. Some 3827 total career wins and counting. More than $245 million in race winnings in this century