Once shunned by the establishment, Gai Waterhouse is one of the most recognisable faces of the Australian racing community.
And now the charismatic horse trainer is also one of her sports most decorated figures, appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the thoroughbred industry and as a role model for young women.
“I could not have done any of it without my family,” Waterhouse told AAP.
“They have been so supportive of me right from when I first applied for a training licence.”
Waterhouse, 66, has had more than 7000 winners and has every intention of building on that as she works in tandem with her training partner Adrian Bott.
“A lot of people say to me ‘why don’t you retire?’ And look, I say ‘I hate to be rude, but what would I do?’
“I always said that until I roll out of bed one day and I can’t stand it then that would be the time.
“But that hasn’t happened yet and I enjoy it.
“I really find it a fascinating business conditioning the horses. I compare it to being the coach of a football team.”
Training Fiorente to win the 2013 Melbourne Cup ranks as a crowning moment, but for significance, nothing has been greater than winning a modest race on an outer Sydney racetrack in March, 1992.
It marked Waterhouse’s first success after a marathon legal battle to secure a training licence.
She was denied by the then-governing body, the Australian Jockey Club, because her husband Robbie, a bookmaker, was a warned-off person at the time.
It took almost three years to find victory in the legal case, which led to the Waterhouse Amendment to the Anti-Discrimination Act – making it illegal to discriminate against women based on marital status.
It was a watershed moment for a male-dominated industry; one that provided the impetus for other women to follow Waterhouse into a career in racing.
Yet Waterhouse, one of the turf’s most passionate ambassadors, is reluctant to call herself a role model for women’s causes, preferring to let her achievements inspire others.
“A lot of people scratch the surface and maybe they don’t achieve what they could achieve,” she said.
“Maybe it’s because I shoot from the hip and I’m very straightforward and direct in what I say.
“Sometimes it gives them a bit of a shock and they look at it and say ‘gosh, maybe we better look at ourselves in different ways and get on and do this’.”
In racing parlance, Waterhouse has made every post a winner as she closes in on three decades of sustained excellence in a sport that puts her father TJ Smith among the pantheon of the all-time greats.
TJ dominated Sydney racing and his only child, who had a penchant for the theatre before working alongside her father at his famous Tulloch Lodge stable, learned every valuable lesson racing had to offer.
“I felt when I came into racing I had a better grounding because of my father and family life,” Waterhouse said.
“I know Dad always said you’ve got to see opportunities when they present themselves and grab the bull by the horns.
“That’s probably been my philosophy: roll up your sleeves, do the hard work but you have to be able to take those opportunities when they present.”