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Magical Milestones: Fiorente

11 October 2023 Written by Andrew Lemon

Fiorente gave Gai Waterhouse her first Melbourne Cup in 2013.

To everyone in the sport, she is simply ‘Gai’, the name and face of Australian racing since she first obtained her trainer’s licence in Sydney in 1992, after an arduous campaign. In the Australia Day honours nearly thirty years later, Gai Waterhouse was awarded the AO (Officer of the Order of Australia) for ‘distinguished service to the thoroughbred horse racing industry, particularly as a leading trainer, and as a role model for young women’. Not just young women: those of all ages took inspiration from her determination to pursue her profession independently of her husband’s livelihood and his family’s prominence as bookmakers – and to make her own reputation independently of that of her famous father, Tommy (T.J.) Smith, for whom she had worked as stable foreman since 1982.

When Gai secured her trainer’s licence in 1992 she had just a few horses, including Te Akau Nick which won the Group 1 Metropolitan at Randwick. The next year he won two Group 2 races in Sydney, ran second in the Sydney Cup and then in spring finished second to Vintage Crop in the Melbourne Cup. Two years later, Gai was back at Flemington to win the Victoria Derby with her rising champion, Nothin’ Leica Dane – and it was a second placing, again, three days later in the Melbourne Cup, behind Doriemus. Then, for a third time, in 2012, a Gai Waterhouse horse finished second in the Cup. This time it was Irish-bred Fiorente, a Grade 2 winner in England when trained by Sir Michael Stoute. Sold to a syndicate, sent to Australia with the Cup in mind, Fiorente was transferred to Gai Waterhouse. On a short preparation, he finished just behind Green Moon.

Three Melbourne Cup runners-up for Gai. Surely she had to break through.

‘Fiorente’ means ‘flourishing’ or ‘prosperous’ in Italian. So it turned out to be as Gai Waterhouse repositioned the handsome brown horse in 2013 for another attempt at the Cup. He was placed in the All Aged Stakes at Randwick, won the Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes at Moonee Valley, and was third to Shamus Award in the Cox Plate. It proved a perfect preparation for a Melbourne Cup triumph. Damien Oliver, the jockey who in 1995 on Doriemus had thwarted Nothin’ Leica Dane, now delivered the famous trophy to the owners, and the trainer’s trophy to Gai Waterhouse. It is one she cherishes.

Gai’s reputation as an unofficial ambassador for Australian racing has taken her to the best racecourses in the world. Her enthusiasm for Flemington and Melbourne’s spring racing never falters. For Gai, one Melbourne Cup trophy is never enough. In a hugely successful training partnership since 2018 with Adrian Bott, Gai is firmly based in Sydney, but Melbourne in spring remains the destination. “I can’t think of anywhere else in the world where racing, fashion and the sport of kings come together so beautifully,” she told the press, a year after winning with Fiorente. “I love being here. The nation stops every first Tuesday in November and everyone just dreams about winning Melbourne Cups, Oaks and Derbies – and it all happens here at Flemington.”