By Gai Waterhouse
It is just over 10,500 miles from the training center at Newmarket, England to Tulloch Lodge Randwick in the inner Eastern suburbs of Sydney. I was asked by a leading English trainer why us Australian trainers don’t phone up our English peers and seek feedback on our imported horses and their previous race records. Well, I can only speak for myself, but the difference between Newmarket and Randwick–taking into account geography, weather and the vastly varying training facilities–is like comparing Antarctica to the Sahara Desert.
The horses that [husband] Rob [Waterhouse] finds for me to train from Europe are mostly colts. When they arrive in Australia their brains spin, as all of a sudden they have become inmates sharing very tight quarters in the middle of a metropolitan city of some five million people. Most of my imported horses have been sourced from Newmarket and the move from the spacious grounds of Suffolk to the training facilities at Randwick and Flemington is the first challenge I am faced with in the preparation of getting them ready to race at Group 1 level. But the Lady Trainer certainly loves a challenge, and getting European horses acclimatized upon their arrival is one of the biggest challenges a trainer can face. Horses such as Carlton House, The Offer, Glencadam Gold, Pornichet and of course the 2013 Melbourne Cup winner Fiorente have, to date, certainly made the challenge well worthwhile.
Horses that come from the Northern Hemisphere are suddenly faced with the hustle and bustle of Australia’s biggest cities. They have to cross busy roads in pairs, adapt to different feeds and different galloping regimes and, of course, harder tracks. My imported horses mainly gallop on an American-style dirt track in the centre of Randwick that is 11 furlongs in circumference (2200 meters). This is a quantum leap for the imports from the miles and miles of rolling hills in Newmarket. The best way to introduce a horse from a foreign land to my training process is through increased and concentrated exercise. I gallop the horses in the AM and then exercise them again in the PM.
Swimming in the afternoons is a big part of my process. Many in the Northern Hemisphere are surprised that I swim my horses as often as I do, but I can tell you that none have drowned yet. Swimming is part of Australian life. We are taught to swim as children and most of us who live around the edges of the Sunburnt Land (which is almost everyone) swim regularly for the majority of our lives. Swimming is a fundamental part of my process and all horses from yearlings to the older geldings enjoy a swim on a regular basis both in the pool at Randwick and in Botany Bay. Swimming, particularly in Botany Bay, increases the horse’s anaerobic levels, and coping with the surf and the waves in the bay really chills out the horses. No, I don’t mean the horses get cold, but rather, a horse that has participated in a swimming session is inevitably more relaxed upon returning to the stable.
A fresh face from Europe needs its feed changed immediately. My feed contains close to four times as much corn as the imports were previously fed. Without changing the feed, a horse can become too hot to handle due to their increased work load. The corn- based feed promotes muscle growth and body tone. Nowhere else apart from Australia is this more apparent.
I like to lead my imported horses off another horse in what I refer to as ‘copping it on the chin.’ This happens daily as to create a more user-friendly atmosphere. When an import lands, I give him 10-15 days of light work, which constitutes a ‘working holiday,’ before sending them to ‘rough it’ in the paddock for 4-6 weeks. I have done an article on the benefit of spelling previously in this publication (click here) and again I must reiterate that spelling or ‘freshening up’ is near on the most important tool in regards to getting an imported galloper ready to race at the top level. After a spell, a horse will come back into the stable and, voila, they have had some sun on their back, their feet are used to the hard Aussie terrain, and they are ready to step up their work in preparation for their Australian race debut.
The horses pace work over six and seven furlongs (1200-1400 meters) and they travel at between 13.5 seconds and 14 seconds for the furlong. By this stage of their acclimatization, the imports need some speed ‘injected’ into their work. Now I use the term ‘injected’ a touch loosely, but this is exactly what I am trying to do; these horses have been bred to stay, they have proved they can cruise over a trip back home, but the races are designed much differently in Australia. They need to develop a turn of foot and they need to be able to maintain their speed for longer than they have in the past. Getting a horse to run faster for more of the race by introducing it to a new way of training is one of the final steps in getting a European horse acclimatized to Australian conditions.
If I have a difficult one–and believe me, I have had a few–I must tell you that I thrive on the challenge. Maybe a difficult one needs more low-grade work; perhaps it needs to be ridden in a cowboy saddle during the afternoon session. A horse that refuses to accept my way of training needs to show signs of adaptation, and this may come from a session over the jumps. No, I am not training these European horses to be steeplechasers, although I do have quite a team of jumpers as we speak. All my horses jump at some stage. Sending a horse, any horse, over the jumps switches them on. The bottom line, I need to switch these imported gallopers on, get their mind on the job, and I have found jumping does the trick. Horses that hit a flat spot are taken away from the stable for a brief period of time to a property where they can work under the guidance of professional equestrian riders. Shane Rose and Ernie Connell do all the remedial jumping work with the horses. Those reading this piece in the Northern Hemisphere will be familiar with name Ernie Connell, as he is, after all, a three-time gold medal- winning show jumper. After a couple of weeks of thinking outside the box, it is amazing how many horses come back into the stable with a new lease on life.
My purchase of Glencadam Gold rose more than a few eyebrows at the 2011 Tattersalls Autumn Horses-in-Training Sale. The gelding won in Europe as a 2- and 3-year-old; however, in open company at his last three starts before joining my team, he had finished no closer than ninth. Once I taught Glencadam Gold how to relax, he in turn learned how to balance and stride right out in his work in dramatic fashion. His gait changed completely and he developed into a bold frontrunner that, at his best, was impossible to get past. He transformed from a handicapper in England that was being beaten out-of-sight in weight-for-ages races over 10 furlongs to a Group 1 winner in just four starts. In fact, the grand campaigner won his first four starts in Australia before, at start six, running a very brave sixth in the Melbourne Cup won by Green Moon in 2012.
The 2012 Tattersalls Sale resulted in an entire named The Offer being knocked down to the Aussie trainer for one bid of 200,000 guineas. The bidding had not started and the opening price for the entire was 20,000 guineas, but Rob worked out a tactic that would see The Offer making his way to Tulloch Lodge with little fuss. Bang, one bid later, the sales ring was in shock, and the future Group 1 winner was on this way. The Offer started his career at a country meeting in Scone, NSW, where he finished down the track. I believed the then entire needed to be gelded and he needed time in the paddock. Once gelded and given a decent spell, the son of Montjeu came back a different individual. He could now sit where he pleased in the run, and he had a blistering turn of foot that was never more apparent than over the last two furlongs of the G1 3200 meter Sydney Cup of 2014, where the gelding won decisively by four lengths.
Rob and I are again venturing to England for Royal Ascot this year, where I will have the champion 3-year-old colt of Australia, Wandjina, competing in the Diamond Jubilee S. We will also be attending the second Goffs London sale, where we will be looking to secure the next Pornichet or Cafe Society, two stunning individuals I acquired at the inaugural Goffs London sale in 2014. I am looking forward to seeing you there.
Gai Waterhouse is arguably Australia’s most recognized trainer internationally. Gai has trained over 125 Group 1 winners since earning her trainer’s license in 1992, including five Golden Slipper winners. Gai was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2007. She will be penning a monthly column for the TDN.