GAI Waterhouse has found another reason to love the south-west, declaring the smiles of an inspiring group of riders as the highlight of her trip to the May Racing Carnival.
The first lady of racing dedicated a big part of her busy morning schedule yesterday to the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) program at Illowa’s High View horse complex.
Waterhouse was in her element, helping young children onto their horses, presenting cups as they rode past the winning post and talking to volunteers about the program which she said was “close to her heart”.
She also met former Warrnambool jockey Brenton Primmer who has been riding with RDA for the past 11 months with the aim of making the Paralympics equestrian squad.
Primmer, 25, broke two vertebrae and sustained severe brain injuries in a horrific fall at the Warrnambool track in 2006.
“I still have a bit of that competitive instinct in me and I’d like to make the Paralympics,” he said yesterday. “There’s a lot of steps to make to get to that level but there’s no harm in trying.”
Waterhouse heard about Primmer’s quest for national selection from friend and former royal trainer Lord Huntingdon and was keen to follow his progress first-hand during her visit to Warrnambool.
“You should be very proud of him,” she told Primmer’s mother Rose. “He’s going great guns and he’s a good flagship for RDA isn’t he.”
Waterhouse was quick to open her wallet when volunteer trainer Sharyn Van Someren mentioned that RDA was hopeful a new saddle would allow Primmer to improve his skills.
She offered to organise and donate a saddle that would be custom-made to Primmer’s fit by one of her Sydney contacts.
It follows a move by veteran Rosehill trainer, Terang-born Gerald Ryan, to request that guests at his 60th birthday party later this month donate to the Warrnambool RDA rather than buy him a present.
Waterhouse and husband Robbie also ventured to the beach yesterday morning, watching the horses work in the freezing waters of Lady Bay and later making a trek to The Cutting at Tower Hill to view the possible site of the legendary Mahogany Ship.
Robbie is a keen historian and had read about the ship 30 to 40 years ago.
“It seems plain the Portuguese were on the east coast of Australia 200 years before the English,” he said.
“It’s an interesting subject. I suspect it is there and from the things I’ve read and the documents I’ve seen, that seems the most likely spot.”
Today, the Waterhouses will be back at the track, Robbie working as a bookmaker and Gai watching the Grand Annual from the top of the hill with hundreds of other punters.