On the eve of Spring Rac­ing Car­ni­val, Gai Water­house re­flects on grow­ing up as a woman in the man’s world of horse rac­ing, her fa­ther’s tough love and his last words.

VOGUE Australia - - Contents -

Gai Water­house re­flects on grow­ing up as a woman in the man’s world of horse rac­ing, her fa­ther’s tough love and his last words.

Iwas an only child and we were a very close fam­ily. I was lucky in that I was one of the few peo­ple at that time who got to travel. I went to New Zealand from the age of six with my par­ents, as my fa­ther was there for the horse sales, and at the age of 11 I flew solo to Sin­ga­pore. “My mother was al­ways very mind­ful I got off to bed early, and my fa­ther used to take me to the track at the train­ing cen­tre in Rand­wick. It was some­thing he did and a way for me to be part of it.

“My fa­ther loved me very dearly and he was a very good fa­ther and teacher. He gave me a great work ethic, a great re­spect for peo­ple, and in­sight into peo­ple. He was very frank and di­rect and he wouldn’t fuss over you. He didn’t in­dulge you and he wouldn’t ever praise you, so you had to work very hard for what­ever re­spect you got from Dad. Yet he was a very kind man and a re­ally good per­son.

“Dad was very against me go­ing to the theatre; he thought it was a waste of time. He wanted me to come back to Aus­tralia [from Eng­land] and get on with my life. It was prob­a­bly only when I was in my 20s that he thought that maybe I should come back and join the busi­ness, not as a trainer (that never en­tered his mind), just in what­ever ca­pac­ity I could. I made the de­ci­sion after be­ing in Eng­land for three years that it wasn’t my life to be, that act­ing wasn’t the right ca­reer path. I woke up one morn­ing and I didn’t have an act­ing job and it was Christ­mas time and thought: ‘It’s time to pack up my bags and go home.’ It was the right de­ci­sion. I was 26.

“I didn’t have a job when I came home, so I started work­ing for Dad clock­ing the horses and he got me a job writ­ing a col­umn at a pa­per. Then I got a job at Chan­nel 7 do­ing a news seg­ment every Fri­day and that led to me hav­ing a rac­ing show called Track Time.

“I liked the tele­vi­sion work and I loved go­ing to the track and in­ter­view­ing the train­ers. I knew the way they trained in Eng­land, and the train­ing method that I knew best, which was by far the best train­ing method, was my fa­ther’s. He is the most suc­cess­ful trainer in Aus­tralia. He per­fected what we’ve all been striv­ing to­wards for over hun­dreds of years. His suc­cess was un­prece­dented.

“My ap­pren­tice­ship evolved nat­u­rally. I found the more I went to the track and the more I was in the sta­bles the more I wanted. I just adored it. I couldn’t get enough and was al­most in­sa­tiable with it.

“Dad taught me to be very ob­ser­vant and that you can never take your foot off the pedal: it has to be con­stant. He had a very open mind and he was a very in­tel­li­gent per­son.

“When I took over Tul­loch Lodge [sta­ble] in 1994 it was an un­usual takeover, be­cause I had a great re­sis­tance to me tak­ing up the place: one, from the gov­ern­ing body, who didn’t give me a li­cence for two and a bit years, and so I took them to court; and two, from my fam­ily mem­bers. My un­cle was against me be­com­ing a trainer and that caused enor­mous dis­tress in the fam­ily.

“I ques­tioned my­self, be­cause I didn’t know if I could train. I be­lieved I could train and I had enor­mous will to do it and I wasn’t go­ing to be dis­suaded from it, no mat­ter what my un­cle or oth­ers said. My fa­ther wasn’t for me go­ing to court; he was very cranky about it.

“It was only my hus­band Rob who stood by me and said: ‘No, you must fight for what you be­lieve in.’ We lost the first [court] round and we went back again and the case be­came an amend­ment in par­lia­ment called the ‘Water­house act’ [amend­ment]. It gives women the right to be able to earn a liv­ing no mat­ter who they’re mar­ried to and stip­u­lates that you shouldn’t be judged on your part­ner or hus­band.

“It was a huge bar­rier be­ing a fe­male. Dad’s own­ers turned against me and put huge pres­sure on my fa­ther, be­cause they were his client base, but I was his daugh­ter. Then he had his brother telling him that it was not the right thing.

“There have al­ways been a lot of women in rac­ing, but there’s a real bias in Aus­tralia and I don’t think it’s changed a great deal at all. I’m still called ‘the lady trainer’ – they don’t call Peter Snowden or David Hayes ‘ the man trainer’. It’s ridicu­lous.

“I felt I had to prove my­self to my dad, hugely. His fi­nal words to me be­fore he died were: ‘You make a man sick. You can’t train a two-year-old. I’m los­ing my money every time a horse goes around. Why don’t you get it right?’ So when he passed away I said to Mum and to my hus­band Rob: ‘I’m just go­ing to show Dad I can do this.’

“My great­est suc­cess is be­ing able to fol­low the ad­vice he’d given me over the years. We clashed a lot and it was a great sad­ness to him and I was too stupid and young and wil­ful. And it was a great sad­ness that I couldn’t just take a big breath, as I can now, and say to him: ‘Yes, I un­der­stand what you’re say­ing.’

“It was strange that the day Dad passed away was the day I was born. Do mem­o­ries of him come to mind on my birth­day? They do and they don’t. Dad is al­ways around me. The same with Mum. I so of­ten think about them.”

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