Gai Waterhouse rounds up her team for Sydney's autumn riches

Gai Waterhouse is a household name thanks to the deeds of her horses. Her bubbly persona has her sitting in racing's window to general public alongside living legend Bart Cummings.

Yet for her it is a career that is just getting started.

"As Lester Piggott said 'you are not a trainer until you have been training 20 years,'" she said. "It was at a dinner about five years ago and you know - I think he is right.

"You never stop learning. The horses are great because they are always teaching you new things."

It has been just more than 20 years since Waterhouse won her battle with the Australian Jockey Club, which ruled with a big stick, or maybe a sledgehammer at the time, to become a trainer.

As the daughter of Tommy Smith, who dominated Sydney racing for more than 30 years, she was expected to be a star.

Expectations and reality are often uncomfortable bedfellows.

However, in Waterhouse's case, they were perfect partners. It could be argued the ''lady trainer'', as she likes to call herself, left expectation behind her long ago.

She is unlikely to match her father's 282 group 1 wins but sits on 119 after Fiorente gave her a Melbourne Cup last year. Only TJ, Cummings and Lee Freedman are in front of her for elite successes.

There is the new challenge of the Championships this year for Waterhouse, but she would have rather seen the money invested to different areas of the industry.

"I think the money could have been better distributed. I think the training facilities at Randwick need a lot of money spent on them," she said. "That's where a lot of that money should have gone, at least half of it. It is an ongoing concern for the owners and it must be addressed by Racing NSW.

"All the money went into building a huge grandstand and prizemoney and nothing went to [training] facilities. You need to have a facility that is world class to train on to have the great racing, and it is not that at the moment."

The stars since Waterhouse took over Tulloch Lodge come to mind easily, Nothin' Leica Dane, Dance Hero and Grand Armee to name a few. But this autumn she starts without a superstar and it is about building towards the Golden Slipper carnival and ultimately the Championships.

A year ago, there was Pierro and More Joyous to fly the flag and then the emergence of Overreach, which went on to win the Slipper.

It is a different feel as carnival hopes Woodbine, Forever Loved and Ecuador step out at Rosehill on Saturday. The trio need to find a way to group 1 success.

"I love this time of the year,'' Waterhouse said. ''I love the strategies you have to put in put place. I always enjoy plotting the course. I always enjoy the battle. I always enjoy the opposition.

"I love training horses, things haven't changed that much. I guess as you get older you mature and you can look back and say I have done this before. I can do that.

"But I also love learning and that's why I love to travel so much because I'm always sourcing people's ideas, especially people I respect in racing."

Ecuador gets a bit of the Waterhouse buzz. He resumes in the sixth after being a gutsy sixth in Boban's Epsom, which he led to the 100 metres and was only beaten a length. "Ecuador is a very, very exciting horse," she said. "A really exciting horse".

"He is a son of High Chaparral, who I have the greatest admiration for. He is a lovely horse in the making. I want to get to a group or listed race next, then hopefully in the spring he could be anything.

"The Cox Plate isn't out of the question. He has got a lot of talent, a really exciting horse."

Three-year-old Woodbine will head towards the Randwick Guineas and takes the next step in the opener after an impressive first-up win. "He is certainly a horse on the make,'' she said. ''I think he can win again. I think it is a nice race for him. He is going up that next bit in class but it is not impossible."

Forever Loved has big goals but even Waterhouse has to admit it is a jump in grade for the High Chaparral filly. "She is on target for hopefully the Oaks, particularly if she can make the quantum leap on Saturday," Waterhouse said.

However, it is a more guarded Waterhouse when it comes to announcing plans for most of her horses this year.

"I just don't want to be put in a box," she said. "Once you say it in the press it very hard to say I don't want to do that. I want to do such and such. It just gives me room to move, so I am just leaving it open."

Her Melbourne Cup winner, Fiorente, will trial at Randwick on Friday and is an example of the flexibility Waterhouse wants with her charges. He could target any of the Australian Cup, The BMW or Queen Elizabeth Stakes, or run in all three. And then there's Ascot.

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