Sixth time lucky?

20 April 2022 Written by Patrick Bartley

She has made the race her own with five VRC St Leger wins within eight years. Will Gai Waterhouse, with training partner Adrian Bott, make it six this year?

Gai Waterhouse had been at the Sydney Easter yearling sales for some hours before I caught up with her. She concluded trackwork at her Melbourne and Sydney bases and was deep in study of a vast catalogue of yearlings that would directly influence her and co-trainer Adrian Bott’s team for years to come.

As she ran her hand down the leg of a potential purchase, this amazing trainer was managing to do two things at once.

After she had finished examining this impatient colt, I mentioned the race name, ‘St Leger’.

“Now that's a race that I’ve had a lot of luck with. A very successful strike rate!” she said.

Waterhouse has indeed made the ANZAC Day staying test a race of her own. In recent years, the stable name has become very much synonymous with the 2800-metre event.

Waterhouse and Bott scored their third consecutive VRC St Leger in 2020 when Sacramento beat Saint Eustace. Waterhouse and Bott had won the race in previous seasons with Runaway (2018) and Transact (2019).

Waterhouse also won the VRC St Leger with Hippopus (2013) and Order Of The Sun (2014) before commencing her partnership with Bott, which leaves her with a staggering win rate of five victories in eight years.

“I just love this race,” the Melbourne-Cup winning trainer said. “In fact a few years ago things just fell into place perfectly. I had five winners across five different tracks. It’s a day I will never forget. There’s something really wonderful about winning staying races like the St Leger. It’s not that I’m against sprinting races, I love them, and I’ve won plenty of them. But to sculpt a stayer can be so satisfying. I know stayers can take a little bit longer, but in time when they start winning you are then giving your owners serious bang for their buck,” she said.

Waterhouse points out that all of the behind-the-scenes work that keeps a stayer working until his or her day comes is all worth it when the major races like the VRC St Leger, VRC Derby and the Lexus Melbourne Cup come around.

As for this year, she is looking forward to seeing what three-year-old gelding Zoumon can do in Melbourne. “He’ll take his place in the VRC St Leger on ANZAC Day and hopefully bring another trophy back to Sydney for the owners. He just didn’t quite get there in the ATC Australian Derby. But one thing is for sure, 2800 metres will be just what the doctor ordered for him. I like his toughness and I think toughness and a touch of brilliance is what wins St Legers. I have, over time, like my father Tommy Smith, always found that some Derby runners we’ve had just fall a bit short. But the St Leger is the ideal stepping stone before a spell and then hopefully the Melbourne Cup,” she said.

Amazingly her five St Leger winners – Sacramento, Runaway, Transact, Hippopus and Order Of The Sun – were all ridden by different jockeys.

“It is interesting. It’s a time of year where strong races are being run all over Australia and the jockey ranks are spread a bit thin. However, each year I’ve managed to book a jockey who knows exactly how my distance horses like to race.”

In fact two of the most legendary families in Australian racing history, the father daughter Waterhouse-Smith combination and the Bart Cummings family dynasty have had a remarkable impact on one of Australia's oldest races, with Bart Cummings training seven winners and Tommy Smith six.

Will Gai Waterhouse equal her father’s record with another win again in 2022?