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When Gai Waterhouse announced she was forming a training partnership with Adrian Bott many questioned just how it was going to work? The emphatic answer should have been “brilliantly”!
We spoke to Adrian at a time when he was enjoying Gr.1 wins including a Golden Slipper in his training career alongside the first lady of racing.
Adrian, where did you spend your formative years?
I was born in Scone and had a very fortunate upbringing, growing up on the old Segenhoe Stud which is now Vinery. I have plenty of fond memories of those times being around the horses and all aspects of the industry, including yearling sales, racing and so on, and that helped provide a good grounding going forward. We lived on the farm until 2000 when the property changed hands.
Your father Tony is hugely respected within the industry, how big an influence was he on you in those early years?
My dad was someone I looked up to and I still turn to him for advice both inside and outside the industry, relying heavily on him in that regard. Growing up you probably take in more than what you realise at the time, absorbing and just naturally taking things in, watching and learning from a young age I guess.
Having exposure to, and interactions with, my father and so many people within the industry at a young age really did help to lay some strong foundations.
As a youngster did you prefer racing or breeding?
For me it has always been about racing, and still is – that is where I have always found the real buzz and excitement within the industry. Originally it was about the form and then peeling back each layer and asking, “how do you get a successful horse?”. From there I would take it back through each stage before eventually arriving at the stud and understanding the role it played in the horse’s success.
Do you think that approach gives you an advantage in the sale ring now?
Not really. What it does do is give me an appreciation of the profiles of the types of horses each farm is trying to breed. I’m attracted to what they are trying to achieve from the pedigrees, by which mares they are sourcing to breed from and the stallions they send each mare to.
In terms of education away from horses where did you study?
I did my primary school in Scone and then for High School I boarded in Sydney before carrying through directly into Sydney University where I did three years studying Design Computing, a programming course. My parents and I had some discussions about entering the industry and the best ways to go about it, and they were fully supportive of any aspect, path or decision made, but one thing they were really strong on was securing a degree before I took on any of those steps.
So when did you break into the industry?
Straight out of university I was able to secure a position as a Cadet Steward at Racing New South Wales. I took on that role in order to understand the regulations around racing with an eye on the future, spending a year there working under Ray Murrihy and Marc Van Gestel. It wasn’t going to be the final career path I would go down but it was time well spent better understanding that part of the industry.
From there I was able to apply for the two-year Darley Flying Start course in late 2010, which was a turning point, gaining exposure to the industry internationally. Being able to gain that work experience globally really opened my eyes to what was possible and cemented what I wanted to do going forward.
And what came after that?
Once I graduated from Flying Start I jumped straight into a position with Gai in an Assistant Racing Manager role which meant working across all aspects of the business.
I really carved out my own role from there, taking on as much responsibility as I could. The opportunities grew from that.
How did the idea of the training partnership with Gai come about?
Fast forward four years to the end of 2016 and Gai offered me an opportunity to work towards going into a training partnership with her. I was quite taken aback when Gai made the offer but I didn’t have to think too long about it, given it was something I really wanted to pursue and then it only took a few months to try and put everything into place.
What were the months between the proposal and signing on the license like?
In fairness Gai was the one that was really driving it and making things happen in that regard. I was probably stalling things a bit, questioning if it was really the right time as I had only been in the operation for four years. I was learning very fast but still had a long way to go. But I bit the bullet and we got on with it.
Is there one particular aspect that you love about working with Gai?
The one thing that stands her out is her attention to detail, recognising what is right or what is not. And where there is something that requires attention, she’s not afraid of taking the next steps and won’t stop until it is exactly how she wants it. She doesn’t compromise on any aspect, either for the horses or the people involved and she will continue to ensure everything is carried out in the manner in which she wants.
Gai’s always got the pressure on and there is no chance of slipping into comfort mode, she is always striving to do more just when you think you’ve achieved what you needed to.
I’ve been very fortunate in having great mentors in my life. We spoke before about dad and then there was Gai who taught me not only about the training and preparing of the horses but all aspects of management of the operation. She’s been incredible in that regard and made it so much easier to take big steps in the initial stages.
What was your first winner and how big a thrill was it?
Our first winner as a partnership was Thronum in the Listed The Rosebud at Rosehill and I’d say it was more a relief than a thrill!
What does a typical day look like for you?
The first horses kick off trackwork at 4am so we’ll be in the tower for that, but prior to then, with the logistics of our operation across two states, the first hour of the mornings is spent going through and touching base with all the forepersons and managers to check how each horse has done overnight and making any changes necessary, so checking legs, temperatures, feed and so on, and altering what you need to. There may also be staff issues that have arisen.
From 4am to 8.30 I’ll be in the tower watching every single horse trot past.
We have 120 horses in work in Sydney and a further 20 horses in Melbourne, and we’ll give them their work then watch it carried out. Then its trot-ups from trackwork that morning before heading into the office for nominations and acceptances and to try and block out a period to give owners updates. Then at noon until 2.30 we are back in the yard again doing walk throughs with various stable forepersons discussing each horse’s condition and whether their workload or feeding needs adjusting to get the result we are looking for. Then the rest of the afternoon is piecing together the worklists for the next morning which can be quite time consuming. Then it is dealing with any sundry matters that have popped up before knocking off between 5 and 6pm. Things don’t necessarily stop then, you still have a business to run and responsibilities to the horses, staff and owners. Then throw into the mix race days as well. They are long days, but the staff work just as hard.
The partnership has been a tremendous success, what would be the highlights from your perspective?
Winning our first Golden Slipper in partnership with Gai was a big one, particularly looking it from the perspective of the industry and having grown up understanding the history and significance of the race. Add to that there was the success that T J and Gai had had in the Slipper with six wins each, and really wanting to continue on that success as a partnership – that was very important to me. So when Farnan won I think that was a defining point of the partnership and allowed us to be taken seriously. The respect from the industry that came with that win meant a lot to me personally and I gained a lot of satisfaction at that point in time.
From an emotional perspective it would be training Converge to win a Gr.1 for dad, the family and connections. Just to think you are making them proud by achieving the highest result you can on the track, it is sort of a way of saying thank you for all that they have done for my life and career. You love to try and give things back and I’d like to think that was a good way to do it.
More recently having Alligator Blood come along and the success we have had with him has been special as he seems to mean so much to so many people across Australia. It has been quite incredible.
Watching on Farnan’s Slipper win looked quite surreal. Was it for you?
It was for a number of factors. You think leading up to the race you had the right horse, but you try and not let your emotions get in the way by keeping a lid on things. There is a sort of relief once the race has been won and you’ve achieved what you’ve not allowed yourself to be built up to feel.
It was made more surreal by the events that surrounded it. I think it was the first Saturday of lockdown and the first raceday without crowds and having all the restrictions in place. Even standing there having won the race, not being able to shake someone’s hand was surreal. Even in the build-up there were a number of things that played havoc with the emotions, like the day before a fake text message was sent out saying ‘the Golden Slipper wouldn’t be run on Saturday’! Here we are thinking this is our race to win and then we got that message, it made us wonder what other curveballs would we have to deal with to get the horse there and just to get the race run?
You mentioned Alligator Blood, it looks a remarkable feat to get him back to his best.
The timings around him coming to the stables changed from the initial discussions that we had, and the horse had had a long time off from quite a serious injury. So with him being able to spend that extra time with Billy (Healey) and having that grounding under his belt before he came to us helped us take that next step with him from there. He has always been a sound, tough horse and we didn’t need to do any rehab with him.
He is a horse that has a great constitution for work and for racing and really thrives on it. I haven’t seen a horse that can cope with the workload that he can do, and do it so easily which helps him and explains in part why he is such a superior athlete.
We have been fortunate enough to win four Gr.1 races with him, three of those (in Melbourne) we may not have seen if Gerry Harvey hadn’t come in and brokered a deal with Allan Endresz that allowed the horse to keep racing. Without Gerry, Australia may not have been able to see him back at his peak and I know the industry owes Gerry a lot in a number of ways, but personally that is one we owe him.
What goals might you have for the future?
Obviously, I want to continue to improve the practices and efficiencies within the business. Each year we evaluate the results and fine tune things to make us better trainers and be more competitive. I’ve been pretty fortunate that I have partnered with Gai who has been thinking outside the box and looking for ways to improve for so many years now, and she always has her foot on the throttle, so I don’t have to look too far or search too hard for that inspiration. We’ll also remain open minded about things, the ability to take on new concepts, so not just settling on what we have achieved and what we are doing now.
What advice would you have for someone entering the industry?
Nothing can replace loyalty and hard work. Try and surround yourself with the right people and by working hard and remaining loyal you will create the opportunities that will open up the path you desire.