Gai Waterhouse / Maggie Alderson (p)
AUSSIES IN FRANCE
Summerhill CEOAbout sixteen years ago, I received a plaintive phonecall from a young man seeking a position on a stud farm. That’s not unusual. The call was strange though, because it came from a French-speaking person seeking employment in an English-speaking world, and it was remarkable for the fact that here was a young man qualified as both an accountant and a solicitor, looking for work at the beginning of his career in the bloodstock world, and he was happy to work for nothing. My immediate thought was that he was either mad or deeply dedicated to the idea of working with horses, and the longer the conversation endured, the more convinced I was that it was the latter. Laurent Benoit arrived in the dead of the 1997 winter for a six month stint in our broodmare division, and it was evident within a couple of months that at his price, he constituted a bargain. So much so that we quickly put him on some sort of subsistence allowance. Buoyed by this, he offered to supplement his services by assisting in the dark hours before work starts in the normal world, with the riding out of the Ready To Run string, at which he proved to be just as adept. We were not alone in our disappointment at his departure at the end of the season: there were more than a few tender young hearts that lamented his leaving, and longed for the fact that one day, “the piper” may return.
A year later, I got the call reminding me that the first time we’d got him “cheap”, that he was now offering his services at a price, but if necessary, he would repeat his toil for the love of it all. We didn’t need any convincing and took him on, this time for an extended stay of more than a year, by which time he was shaping up as a potential CEO of the business. Benoit had other ideas: his head and his training said “law or accounting”, his heart said “horses”, and he followed his heart, headlong into the bloodstock agency business. This coincided with the maturity and the winding up of thirty-seven partnerships we had entered into during the heady tax-driven days of the plantations, the aeroplane and the film schemes, which meant the dispersal of the vast bulk of the broodmare stock on Summerhill. It so happened that we were part-owners at the time of an apparently talented two-year-old daughter of Golden Thatch, who’d won her debut race in good style. It wasn’t so much the fact that she’d won, it was the way she’d won that attracted the attention of a bevy of investors, and the dispersal sale paralleled with the emergence in her pedigree of a new star in the Australian stallion firmament, Danehill.
The sense of enterprise that has made Laurent Benoit one of the world’s most successful bloodstockers was already burning inside him, and he was quick to assemble a string of international players to put their hands up for Lady Broadhurst when she entered the tented arena in our stallion paddocks. On the other side of the contest, we’d aroused the interest of John Messara, whose Arrowfield Stud was the home of Danehill, and needed little more to get him into the fray. In the end, the French connection prevailed, the filly hammered down to a partnership of Lady Chrissy O’Reilly and Charl Henri de Moussac’s Haras du Mezeray at R1million, a record for a horse in training that was to endure for more than a decade. In the event, Broadhurst Agency was born, its early fame enhanced when Lady Broadhurst took out her next five in a row, two of which at Group level. Suddenly, there was international and local interest at around R3million, and for all intents and purposes, Benoit’s new career was on fire.
It’s always been a source of pride to us to see graduates of Summerhill make a success of their lives in other realms, none more so than this young man whom I’ve seen more than a few times occupying lifts with the Coolmore team, and on other occasions, sharing his counsel with the modern day “Napoleon”, Andre Fabre. Small wonder then that M. Benoit is at the centre of the “Aussies in France” initiative announced in the international press Wednesday, a racing club whose interests in Australia will be placed in the charge of that country’s favourite racing daughter, Gai Waterhouse.
The Aussies In France syndicate was originally launched by the Broadhurst Agency with the support of ARQANA Racing Club to promote Australian ownership of racehorses in France under the care of trainer Alain de Royer Dupre. The additional goal of the syndicate is to simultaneously shape future G1 Melbourne Cup prospects who could race with distinction in Australia after their careers in France.
“We are truly delighted and honored to welcome Gai Waterhouse at the heart of our syndicate,” said Benoit. “Her record is particularly eloquent and the recent performances of Fiorente (Ire) in the G1 Melbourne Cup last year and in the G1 Australian Cup just a few days ago show once again her ability to shape and bring out European horses at the highest level. ‘Aussies in France’ Racing Club is proud to have two of the best trainers in both hemispheres.”
Waterhouse has collected over 110 Group 1 victories in Australia.
“I am thrilled to have been chosen as the trainer for this exciting and innovative new venture, the ‘Aussies in France’ Racing Club,” confirmed Waterhouse. “I have had a great deal of success with horses imported from Europe, with the likes of Fiorente (Ire), Julienas (Ire), Glencadam Gold (Ire) and The Offer (Ire) winning time- honored Classics such as the Melbourne Cup and the Australian Cup. I look forward to sharing in the joys and success of racing horses with all of the shareholders involved.”