Gai Waterhouse: Australia’s Surf & Turf

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Gai inspecting yearlings

By Gai Waterhouse

By Gai Waterhouse

The Magic Millions Sale, which is held between Jan. 6 and 10, takes place a long way away from the Surf and the Turf of Del Mar, but I must say that there are a number of similarities. First and foremost there is a real holiday vibe about the place. My owners aren’t quite as concerned with booking their ski trip to Aspen in January as they are with booking their holiday to the Gold Coast in Queensland. The moment the Melbourne Carnival is over the only thing people can talk about is when they are heading up to ‘the Coast,’ the wonderful cocktail parties, the magnificent white sandy beaches and of course the Magic Millions Sale and race day (which takes place on Saturday Jan. 9). The real jewel in the crown is to have a runner on the Saturday, whether it is in the $2 million Magic Millions 2-Year-Old Classic, the $2 million 3- Year-Old Guineas or the $1 million Magic Millions Cup, the Sprint, the Trophy or the Fillies and Mares Handicap. Each of these races are worth a million dollars-plus and each are restricted to graduates of the Magic Millions Sale.

My team and I have traveled to three different states inspecting the yearlings catalogued for the sale and I can honestly say that the quality this year has surpassed all others.

I currently hold the record as the trainer who has won the most Golden Slippers (a Group 1 event for 2-year-olds, over 1200 meters in March. Worth A$3.5 million, it is the richest 2-year-old race in the world), equaling the feat with my late father TJ Smith, and each of those winners who passed through a sale ring were purchased at Magic Millions, many of whom were sold on for tens of millions of dollars. My three most recent examples, Vancouver (Medaglia d’Oro x Skates), Pierro (Lonhro x Miss Right Note) and Sebring (More Than Ready x Purespeed) were purchased for A$185,000, A$230,000 and A$130,000, respectively, and each were champion 2-year-old colts of their years.

Each of these aforementioned colts were inspected by me on their farms two to three months before the sale commenced and then again up at the sales ground in January. I love to see their development over that period and then once I have created my shortlist, my team and I will do our due diligence with regards to vetting and valuations. I often get asked what it is I look for and why many others aren’t looking through the same lens. Well firstly I can tell you that I do not want to know any part of a horse’s pedigree when I inspect him or her as I think that it colors your opinion. As I always say, a horse cannot read its page and I am looking for athletes who can be successful on the track, not horses for the breeding barn. In saying that, if a horse makes my shortlist due to its physicality I might value it lower if it were out of an old mare than if it were out of a young mare. I regularly say to the farm managers who try to entice me with a 20-year-old stakes-producing mare, ‘would you rather I have a baby or my gorgeous young daughter Kate?’ We all know the answer to that one but they are very polite in their responses. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, which is why I like to inspect the yearlings with no knowledge of their pedigrees. Vancouver broke all of ‘the rules’ but he was just so athletic and had the most wonderful attitude. I knew I had to buy him the moment he walked out of his stable.

I pay a great deal of attention to the way a horse carries itself and its demeanor. If a horse is going to become a champion it is going to stride out of its stable like it owns the sales complex whether it’s his first or his fiftieth parade of the day. It is worth noting that it can be very hot and humid up at the Gold Coast at that time of year but in my experience the top-class racehorse cops it on the chin and gets on with the job. That’s the exact type of racehorse I want in my stable.

With the Australian dollar being so weak we are seeing more and more foreign investment, and why wouldn’t we? In Australia we breed good bone into our horses. We focus on strength and precocity in the horse and getting our owners an almost immediate return. Our prize money levels are sensational and we are sent a smorgasbord of top-class stallions from the Northern Hemisphere, providing us with access to some of the best bloodlines in the world.

Everyone is welcome to the sales in Australia, irrespective of your knowledge of conformation or pedigrees. There are many of us on whom you can count on for advice. It is a wonderful time and opportunity to meet and to catch up. I urge all of you to consider making the trip Down Under. I know you will find it worthwhile and I look forward to meeting you at the Gold Coast, Australia’s version of ‘Where the Surf Meets the Turf’. And in the meantime, don’t miss Gai TV.

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