What more can be said about two men – brothers who dominated the leading trainer standings at Assiniboia Downs from 1970 to 1980? Clayton Gray won seven training titles (1970, 72, 73, 74, 76, 79, 80) and older brother Don Gray won three titles (1975, 77, 78).
Their love of horses was as natural as could be, as they followed in the footsteps of their father, Lloyd, and grandfather, Frank. It goes without saying that both were accomplished horsemen, but anyone who knew them would tell you that they were as different as night and day. Perhaps the late Albert “Bert” Blake said it best, “those two boys came from different mares!”
In the early days Clayton was the local blacksmith, but it wasn’t long before he made his mark as a trainer. Heading into 2012 he ranked 10th on the all-time leading trainer list at Assiniboia Downs with 586 career wins – this despite a 20-year absence from the Downs from 1981 to 2002. Prior to leaving to ply his trade south of the border, the native of Dominion City was the Downs’ all-time leading trainer with more than 400 career wins. Had he not left it’s difficult to say how many wins he would have amassed in his career here.
Believe it or not, Clayton started out as a 15-year-old, 6-foot, 120 lbs. rider on the fair circuit in North Dakota and Minnesota. His talents as a trainer are well-known, but he is also acknowledged as an astute judge of horse flesh, whether it be buying a yearling or just recognizing a good buy when he sees one.
When you’ve had such a storied career, highlights can be difficult to single out, but Clayton’s 1976 Manitoba Derby win with Manitoba-bred Merry’s Jay is a big one, as are his first two stakes victories with Doc Kope in the R. J. Speers and Gold Cup in 1972. His first ever win came on September 8, 1959 with the family horse Don’s Mistake.
In 2007, Clayton handed the reins of his operation to son, Randy, but soon found himself training again and doing what he loves best – conditioning racehorses. Keep it up Sir, the backstretch wouldn’t be the same without you -- and the blue and white silks of the Gray family.
Carman “Don” Gray (September 6, 1936 – December 25, 1993) sits in third place on the Downs’ list of all-time leading trainers with 879 wins. He got his first trainer’s licence in 1958, but didn’t go full time until the fall of 1971. From 1958 to 1961 he had about a dozen wins, but was only going at it on a part time basis. In between, Don was a school teacher and a vice-principal. He also worked at the Downs as Clerk of Scales and later as a Steward.
Special horses? Don had a few, but Phil Kives’ Island Fling was at or near the top of his list, and what about Rangatira? The latter was a gelding who re-wrote the record books here in the early ‘70s. Rangatira was an $1,800 purchase who was plagued with leg problems, but when he was good -- he was a lightning!
Rangatira was a son of the great Nashua. He required a lot of TLC to get back to the track, which in this case was provided by Don’s wife Lorna. Don was listed as Rangatira’s trainer, but make no mistake about it, he was Lorna’s horse. She cared for and loved Rangatira more than some would ever know. Rangatira set and/or equaled four track records at the Downs from 1970 to 1973.
Don was well-known for the way he treated the people who worked for him. Very Well! His was one of few barns that had the grooms share in the profits and those under his employ were fiercely devoted and loyal to the man! The Don Gray Racing Stable was the stable by which all others should be judged. It was said that Don knew how to bring out the best in people and horses.
Much has been written about his many accomplishments, so how about a couple of things you may not know:
- On five occasions in 1977 Don’s horses finished 1-2, when running as an entry!
- In June 1990, a Don Gray trained horse, T.G. Stables’ Gleaming Victory, paid a whopping $125.10 to win!
On Thursday, July 12, 1983, Don moved into first place on the all-time Downs’ leading trainer list when K 5 Stables Admiration hit the wire first. That was win 453 and moved Don ahead of brother Clayton. Don would go on to win 879 races and would remain in first place until May 26, 2001, when fellow horseman Gary Danelson chalked up win number 880. A new record set, but records are made to be broken, and Don’s legacy remains.
Don aspired to win 1,000 races and the prestigious Manitoba Derby. Well, a higher power called Don to heaven’s backstretch before he achieved the 1,000 wins, but not before he won the Manitoba Derby in 1991 with K 5 Stables’ Plenty Chilly.
The opening race of each new season at the Downs is dedicated to the late great Don Gray, who passed on Christmas Day 1993. The secret to his success -- good caliber stock, superb clients, dedicated barn staff, outstanding riding and just plain old luck, and lots of it!
Carman Risdon “Don” Gray would have been a success at whatever he put his mind to, and we should be very grateful that he chose to train horses.
Thanks for the memories Mr. Don!
Next Post Time for Live Racing: 7 p.m. Friday, September 7, 2012