Today we remember an Aussie lass whose looks were nothing special, but could she run! Admiration was a bay mare owned by K5 Stables. Actually at that time it was still the K4 Stables that ran at the Downs from 1980 to 1983.
K-Tel founder Phil Kives purchased Admiration for $12,000 at a sale in Sydney, Australia, primarily as a broodmare prospect. He liked her bloodlines, and for good reason. Her paternal grandsire was the mighty Nijinsky ll, who in turn was the son of two Queen’s Plate winners, Northern Dancer and Flaming Page. Need we say more?
Kives’ trainer, the late great Don Gray would come to describe “Plain Jane” Admiration as the biggest surprise he’d ever had in racing. Why? Because as far as he was concerned, he didn’t think “she was worth a dime.”
In Australia horses celebrate their universal birth date on July 1, not January 1 as in North America. As a result, in her early years, Admiration competed at a huge disadvantage because of her November 1977 foaling date. In her first race at the Downs in the spring of 1980, Admiration was just little more than two years old, but she was forced to race as a 3-year-old. She overcame the disadvantage quickly, breaking her maiden in her first start.
The more research I did on the bay mare from down under, the more she intrigued me – so I spoke with Lorna Gray, Don’s wife, to find out more about this granddaughter of Nijinsky ll.
Before I tell you what Lorna said, I would like to say a word or two about Lorna. She is an accomplished horseman in her own right, who has been in the business for longer than she’d want me to tell you. So when Lorna offers an opinion on a horse it means something, because back in the day she was the “west coast marketing manager” of involved, and she together with Don were equal partners in the Don Gray Racing Stable!
Lorna described Admiration as her favourite mare of all-time, a strong endorsement from someone who has been around horses her entire life, and some pretty nice ones at that.
As unremarkable as Admiration was in the looks department, she was an incredibly gifted, but quirky mare. Medium-sized, pleasant and mild mannered with the smoothest gallop ever! Lorna explained that you could barely feel her feet touch the ground – now that’s smooth -- but she wasn’t without her idiosyncrasies.
Admiration was afraid of doorways and would do a “double-time” step until she cleared the entry way of her stall, yet the starting gate didn’t bother her. Go figure? And when she first stepped out on the racetrack she would stop cold, pause a minute or two, and then and only then would she proceed. According to Lorna, you didn’t force the issue; you just let her go at her own pace, in her own good time.
In terms of career stats at the Downs, Admiration was in the money in an astonishing 80% of her 34 starts, sporting an impressive record of 15 wins, eight seconds and four thirds. Included in her stakes wins was the 2nd running of the $50,000 Matron Stakes, which by the way celebrates its 33rd edition on September 2 this year. So perhaps this is a good spot to share a little history on the Matron Stakes.
Matron Stakes History:
In addition to Admiration, previous winners of the Matron include Electric Fever (1985), two-time winner Coral Prospect (1989, 1990), Body Works (1992) and the classy western invader Miss Victoriana, who has won the race for the past three years (2010, 2011 and 2012). Don Gray trained the winner of the Matron a record-setting six times from 1982 to 1992 and five of those wins were for Phil Kives’ K5 Stables. Jockey honours for the race go to Frank Licata who won the Matron three times for three different owner/trainer connections in 1987, 1992 and 1996.
August 16, 1981 – Was victorious in the Sears Distaff Stakes, paying $55.20 to win. Following the race, owner Phil Kives said, “I didn’t have a dollar on her!”
July 12, 1983 – Won an allowance race, giving trainer Don Gray win number 453, moving him into first place on the all-time Downs leading trainer list, surpassing his brother Clayton.
July 22, 1983 – While in foal to Island Fling, she set a track record for about seven furlongs. Her time of 1:24 1/5, bettered the previous mark of stablemate Intercontinent by 1/5 of a second.
August 31, 1983 – The final race of Admiration’s career. She was five months in foal to Island Fling when she finished second in the Duchess Handicap. She was retired and sold to an agent in her native Australia. And as happens far too often, there would be no fairly tale ending for the multiple stakes winner. The van that was transporting Admiration from the airport to her new owner’s farm was involved in an accident. Sadly, Admiration succumbed to the injuries she sustained.
Today we fondly remember and honour Admiration, the Runner from Down Under!