by Bob Gates
What can I say? Those of you who know Clayton Gray will see the humour in the title of this week's blog story.
Let's face it; you are more likely to see pigs fly than have a 15 minute conversation with the Dominion City native. Clayton's wife, Margaret knew I was in for a long afternoon. She looked at my recorder and asked, "how much room do you have on that thing?" Well, my 15 minutes lasted all of four hours and we barely scratched the surface of Clayton Douglas Gray's horseracing life.
The son of Lillian Margaret and Lloyd Gray and older brother to Carman Risdon "Don" Gray is a Multiple Graded Stakes Placed trainer who has raced thoroughbreds for over 50 years.
Currently Clayton ranks 9th on the all-time leading trainer board at Assiniboia Downs with 600 wins. This despite a 20-year absence from the Portage Avenue track, when he trained in the U.S. from 1981 to 2002. He won seven training titles at the Downs (1970, 72, 73, 74, 76, 79 and 80), and in the '70s, when he wasn't leading trainer, brother Don was (1975, 77 and 78).
Clayton registered his first win at Assiniboia Downs on July 25, 1964 with a horse named Tedders. The late Bob Anderson's Hillside Farms was his first public client. Going on a horse shopping excursion? Clayton Gray was your man!
After Bob Watt, Clayton became the second trainer at Assiniboia Downs to reach the 200 win plateau and he was the first trainer to win 300 and 400 races. When he left to ply his trade south of the border in 1981 he was our all-time leading trainer with more than 400 career wins. You are left to wonder how many more he would have accumulated had he stayed at the Downs?
His stats were sufficient to hold down the title of Downs all-time leading trainer until July 12, 1983 when brother Don scored win #453 with K5's Admiration.
Over the years Clayton had a stable full of great horses at Assiniboia Downs including charges Turn to Rule, Merry's Jay, Major Enterprise, Incorporator and Doc Kope, to name a few. While they never raced locally, he also trained a couple of dandies in the States: stakes winner and Minnesota Hall of Fame member John Bullit and graded stakes winner Little Bro Lantis.
Gray could have trained in Canada's hot bed of racing in Ontario if he had wanted to, but said he always got homesick. You see horseracing is not his first love. That title belongs to his charming bride, Margaret! The loving pair can still be seen walking arm in arm like a young married couple. They exude the kind of love and devotion that warms the heart and keeps a marriage going for 50 plus years.
While no one would dispute that Don and Clayton were accomplished horsemen, those who knew them would tell you that they were as different as night and day. Best quote ever? The credit for this goes to the late Albert "Bert" Blake in speaking of the Gray brothers. "Those two boys came from different mares!"
Clayton's contribution to the local racing scene is being honoured this year by the naming of Season 60's overnight stakes for some of the "trainees" that made their way through his barn over the years. The races, in no particular order are named after: Remiewaterbluz, Delay the Call, Merry's Jay and Major Enterprise.
The overnight stake on May 31 celebrates the illustrious career of Major Enterprise, who was owned by Harold Hanson and Wayne Jacobson of Minnesota and the Winnipeg Free Press' Elman Guttormson.
In case you've forgotten, Stevie (Major Enterprise's barn name) won the Osiris Plate at two and followed up with wins in the Free Press Stakes and Gold Cup, along with two wins in each of the River Park and the R.J. Speers Memorial Handicaps. An impressive resume for any horse!
There's so much more to Clayton's story than he was able to share with me in the time we spent together. You see, one story leads to another, and another after that. It was an honour and humbling experience to have the opportunity to explore Clayton's life stories in the sport that makes up the fabric of his soul.
Clayton is one of the dwindling few who can tell tales of a bygone era and share glimpses from the early days of the Downs. Gone are the likes of Bob Watt, Bert Blake, Scotty Kennedy and Max Freed.
Need to know a little history? You can still find Clayton and Margaret with their lawn chairs on the grass in front of the paddock on a race night. Feel free to stop by and ask him a question if you have the time.
Clayton hasn’t lived there in a while now, but for me our elder statesman and horseman extraordinaire will always be, the man from Dominion City.
Until our next 15 minutes!