Warrnambool carnival lures nation’s first lady of racing

AUSTRALIA’S first lady of racing Gai Waterhouse is plotting a strong assault on next year’s Warrnambool May Racing Carnival, including the showpiece Grand Annual Steeplechase.

Waterhouse revealed she is planning to obtain a jumps trainer’s licence and intends having starters in the feature jumps races at the carnival as well as a runner in the feature flat race, the Warrnambool Cup. The Australian Racing Hall of Fame trainer’s involvement in jumps racing is a step that could bring back lost followers and open up new audiences for the sport, which was on life-support only two years ago.

In a move to broaden her training operation, Waterhouse will redirect stayers in her vast team of horses at her Flemington stables towards careers over obstacles in both Victoria and South Australia.

The vibrant personality and energetic promoter of racing spoke exclusively about her Warrnambool ambitions to The Standard yesterday from New York, where she is holidaying with her husband Robbie.

“Robbie and I are still on holidays for three more weeks but as soon as we touch back down in Sydney I will be making an application to Racing Victoria for a jumping trainer’s licence,” she said.

“I want to get some jumpers ready for the Warrnambool May Racing Carnival and the Oakbank Easter Carnival. I would love to have a runner in next year’s Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeplechase.

“I’ve already been in contact with Irish-born jumps jockey Richard Culley to come and ride my horses in the jumps races. I’ve got plenty of horses in my stable which would be suited to jumps racing. 

“There are not many people that know I school my horses over hurdles at Flemington or Cavalettis at Randwick all the time.”

Waterhouse said the May carnival was iconic and she wanted to be part of it.

“Robbie and our son Tom worked as bookies at the 2010 Warrnambool May carnival and they described it as a marvellous carnival. 

“I’ve heard the same comments from so many different people. Robbie and I have been to all the big racing carnivals over the world but Robbie rates the Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeplechase race as one of the most amazing races he has seen.

“Robbie and Tom watched the Grand Annual from up on the hill. I just want to get up on the hill and watch the Grand Annual with the crowd. 

“I’ll be working really hard to have a runner in the Grand Annual but if I can’t get one next year I’ll focus my team towards some of the other jumping races over the carnival. 

“One horse that l’ll be aiming at jumps races is Reuben Percival. He looks an ideal jumper. 

“A strong New Zealand bred stayer. I’ve got a lot of horses like him in the stable.”

The 58-year-old said jumping was an important part of winter racing and had to flourish.

“Jumps rawcing gives the sport some character and atmosphere in the wet, cold months. 

“Apart from the Melbourne Spring Carnival, which is one of the best in the world, and the other metropolitan carnivals, the next biggest carnival is at Warrnambool. We should all work together to ensure that jumps racing continues so carnivals like Warrnambool can grow. Jumps racing is offering excellent prizemoney so it’s a great move for owners and trainers to get involved in it.”

Waterhouse said she was willing to help the Warrnambool Racing Club promote the event.

Chairman Des Roberts said the club would take up her offer.

“We would be delighted to have Gai and Robbie down at the 2013 May carnival,” he said. “It’s a promoter’s dream to have someone like Gai Waterhouse put her hand up to get involved in the carnival. 

“Gai’s brand is the most powerful and positive in Australia racing. 

“The committee will sit down shortly and work a few things out but I’m sure we’ll be able to find a job or two for her to get involved in the lead-up and during the carnival.”

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