By Matt Kelly, G1X
Randwick trackwork at 5am and there’s a mob of people surrounding Gai Waterhouse.
Bit early for a school excursion isn’t it?
But this is no ordinary school. These young men and women are second-year students in Godolphin’s Flying Start program.
They all listen to Waterhouse intently, two girls perhaps with even more intent than the rest.
The two almost appear hypnotized; concentrating as if to remember every word so they can tattoo it on their skin.
Alayna Cullen and Lauren De Arias are their names, and De Arias does little to suggest otherwise when asked what she learnt from meeting Australian racing’s First Lady.
“She’s amazing, what haven’t I learnt from her?” she asks with a grin.
De Arias talks with the racing knowledge of an Aussie girl who’s been around thoroughbreds her whole life. Truth is she hasn’t. And despite sounding like one, she’s not even an Aussie.
“Once upon a time, I didn’t even know there was a racing industry. In Spain we don’t have a racing industry. I didn’t even know I could have a career in it,” she says.
Born and raised in Madrid, De Arias would never have fallen in love with horses had she not crossed the seas.
“It wasn’t until my third year of university. I went to New Zealand and spent all my money travelling, and needed a part-time job,” she says.
“All I could find was a thoroughbred stud. At the time I didn’t know what thoroughbreds were. That my very first experience.”
Stints with Rick Worthington at Warwick Farm and Coolmore in Australia and Ireland followed, before De Arias was accepted into Flying Start.
Cullen’s story couldn’t more different, as unlike De Arias, she reveals, “I’d never travelled before.”
While De Arias never knew of thoroughbreds, Cullen grew up with them. An Irish native, she worked with her grandparents in their small time breeding operation in Kildare, moved to Curragh to work under a horse trainer before moving into racing media.
“The Flying Start program started in 2003 and from the day I found out about it, it was always my ambition to apply. I thought, ‘I want to give this a go,’ so I gained the right experience before applying and now here I am,” she says.
The trail to the trainer’s hut at Randwick has already been an extensive one. De Arias and Cullen started the program in Ireland 12 months ago. They’ve since been to Newmarket in England and America before landing in Australia.
“We’ve been here about two weeks. We’re based in Aberdeen in the Hunter Valley (in New South Wales). That’s where we started,” Cullen says.
“Now we’re in Sydney and we’re doing a leadership module.”
The Australian leg of the program involves watching Waterhouse put a number of her unraced two-year-old’s through several barrier jump outs.
Again, De Arias and Cullen are absorbed by the demonstration.
(Pic: Matt Kelly)
“Gai’s also taught us a lot about being a person as well,” Cullen says. “Things like our personal appearance, how we come across to people, our body language and how it can make such a huge impression on somebody.”
De Arias, Cullen and their Flying Start colleagues will graduate in June 2017. But there’s still plenty to experience before that day comes.
“We get to go to Melbourne for the Cup. I can’t wait for that,” Cullen says.
“We do a four-week placement here in Australia, so we’re all thinking about who we want to go to.
“We finish the Australian leg in December, then we go to Dubai in three months and then we finish in Ireland, where we do one final work placement in Europe. Be it Ireland or England or France, we get to choose.”
Is there a better classroom across the entire world than that?
With Waterhouse’s work done, co-trainer Adrian Bott steps up to discuss barrier jump outs for the stable’s two-year-olds, Bott himself a graduate of the Flying Start program.
Bott’s is a two-fold lesson – how to educate juveniles to jump from the barrier, and just how much one can achieve after they’ve graduated from Flying Start.
“That’s the best thing about it, we don’t just learn about horses and people, we learn about ourselves,” De Arias says.
“It’s a huge opportunity, it’s a life-changer.”