Se­cret

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Front Page -

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

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