By Michael Manley
Australia's Queen Of Racing Gai Waterhouse loves jumps racing but even with her overt positive outlook she can’t believe she’s training Australia’s latest jumps star, Social Element.
On Sunday, Waterhouse, who trains in partnership with Adrian Bott, is hoping to add the Grand National Steeplechase to her amazing CV as a trainer when Social Element competes in the 4500 metres event at Ballarat on its jumps only race day.
In her 30 years of training Waterhouse has trained 145 Group One flat winners and she said if Social Element could win at Ballarat on Sunday that would be the equivalent of a Group One success.
Waterhouse pointed out that she only trains a handful of jumpers and has only been doing it for ten years so if Social Element was to win the Grand National Steeplechase it would be one of her proudest moments.
“It would be great to win one. It’s something I haven’t achieved before and I’d be very proud of it. It would be an enormous kick. I really love jumps racing,” Waterhouse said.
Social Element has burst into prominence with wins at his only four steeplechase starts which have been at his past four runs.
His winning sequence began at Warrnambool on June 17 with a 1.8 lengths victory.
He followed that with another win at Warrnambool by 30 lengths, then the Mosstrooper Steeplechase at Pakenham by nine lengths and at his last run the Crisp Steeplechase at Sandown Lakeside by eight lengths.
Waterhouse said Social Element in those starts had made the quantum leap from going through his grades to being “the most exciting chaser in Australia.”
“His performances are eye-catching. He just loves it. The best thing about him is the end of his races. He just grows wings at the finish of a race. He’s got such wonderful acceleration,” Waterhouse said.
Waterhouse said a couple of years ago she suggested to Social Element’s owners that they should give him an opportunity over the jumps and she was thankful they agreed to it.
“He’d finished his racing career and I said to the owners let’s try him over the jumps. They had to decide whether to do that and said yes and since then everything has fallen into place.”
Waterhouse said she didn’t get her love of jumps racing from her legendary father Tommy Smith but from her stint in Ireland and England in the early 1980s as an actress.
“Dad was a jumps jockey and in the 1940s he had a fall where he lay on the ground for several minutes. It actually caused his limp and he didn’t like the jumps after that.”
“I’d go jumping in Ireland and also used to hunt there. I also went to the Grand National at Aintree and also the Cheltenham carnival. I loved it.”
Waterhouse though said she had never considered training jumpers until her husband Robbie Waterhouse took her to the Warrnambool May carnival in 2013.
“I loved it. I thought I should be back there with a horse the next year and I was with Valediction. Since then I’ve always had a jumper or two in my stable,” Waterhouse said.
Waterhouse said her team which ran the Melbourne arm of her stable, Alva Prendergast and Beau Dunn had done a great job with Social Element.
Waterhouse said Social Element’s rider Tommy Ryan, who has been on him in his four wins, had gelled with the jumper and had done a great job in riding him.
“He’s a very capable rider and a pleasant young man.”
Ryan is trying to win his second Grand National Steeplechase as he won in 2011 on Man Of Class.
Waterhouse will be watching from her Sydney home on Sunday wishing she could be at Ballarat hoping a memorable moment will eventuate with Social Element.
“In reality I’ve had a short career as a jumps trainer and I’ve only got a small team of jumpers. To win a Grand National Steeplechase would be a considerable achievement.”
After Sunday, Waterhouse will set Social Element for next year's Warrnambool Grand Annual Steeplechase and she said she can't wait to make her annual pilgrimage there.