Brett Gray – 178 Wins and Counting
25th April 2020
For the past three years Ryal Bush trainer Brett Gray has been training full time, and he’s really hit his straps.
Prior to that he was juggling two jobs; working the night shift at Blue Sky Meats as a boner and training horses during the day.
To date he’s trained 178 winners – 131 pacers and 47 trotters. 165 of those winners have come in the last ten seasons. Not bad considering that when he left school at fifteen Brett had only a small interest in the horses.
“When I was about twelve I used to go round to Hamish Hunter’s and help after school, and during the school holidays. I was more into motorbikes and being a lad. But when I went to Hamish’s fulltime I decided I’d like to be a driver. He’s just a great guy to work for and very respected. I couldn’t have wished for a better boss.”
As a junior driver Gray drove 61 winners, the first being Son Of Afella mare Texas Girl trained by his father Murray at Ascot Park in April 1992. He drove her to win three races in a row at Ascot Park, Forbury and Addington.
“I was very lucky to get started driving a horse like that.”
His biggest win was on Cairn Legacy in the Group Three 1995 Sweetheart Stakes at Cheviot.
“I liked driving but I didn’t really miss it. When Dad got a nice horse he generally sold them. It got a bit hard with the good ones going out the gate.”
Tony Herlihy and Ricky May were also around in those days so winning the junior drivers premiership was never on the radar.
“AG (Herlihy) and Ricky were the men back then (laughter). Tony had great patience. He was just a freak of a man and Ricky was the same.”
During that time Murray trained Cup Class pacer Giovanetto. The Fitch II entire won eighteen races and $371,625.
“I had only just started driving when he was coming to the end of his career. He always gave you a super feel, he was one of those X factor horses. Holmes DG was like that too. I qualified him.”
Holmes DG was a half-brother to Giovanetto and won 32 races and $1.9 million.
Gray worked for Hunter and his father until he was about twenty five.
“Dad was an amateur and was also shearing back then.”
Brett then decided he needed to start earning good money and like many trainers in the south he found work at the Freezing Works.
“I was talking to Brent McIntyre one day and he got me a job at Blue Sky Meats so I was doing the night shift in the boning room and working about six horses.”
He said he was always going to get into training fulltime but wanted to get financially established first.
“I knew how hard the game was. I did enjoy working at the Works and doing the horses. It was probably a far better lifestyle, but in time I was planning on doing the (fulltime) training thing.”
He worked at Blue Sky for fifteen years before moving into fulltime training three years ago.
“I did a jail sentence there (Blue Sky Meats). Brent told me to go for the good money and get it while you can. There’s a big difference being a boner to a labourer (money wise). There were quite a few of us trotting guys there – Wayne Adams, Ray Faithful and Snow Devery. ”
Gray’s first season as a trainer was 2001/2002. At that time he and wife Gina were living at Makarewa.
“I used to jog in the paddock at home and fast work at Tony’s (Tony Barron’s). Tony and Cheryl were good to me like that.”
His first training winner was Golden Holmes at Ascot Park on the 24th November 2001.
Gray’s been training for eighteen seasons and has won the Southland Trainers Championship twice, in 2017 and 2018.
Brett receiving the Southland Trainer Of The Year in 2017 from Gordon Lee
His best season as a trainer was in 2018 when he prepared thirty four winners.
The biggest winners have been trotters Smokey Mac and Jen Jaccka who both won seven races under his care.
“Yep, I’ve had a bit of luck with trotters and I’ve got a few nice ones at the moment. They seem to be my thing.”
Over those eighteen seasons he’s been supported by a group of loyal owners including Charlie and Ailsa Smaill and he’s trained fifty one winners for them. His first was Jaccka Frost in April 2003.
“When I first started off Charlie had a couple of horses with me. Charlie and Alisa got me going so I’m forever grateful for that. Charlie’s given me great advice and guidance in life.”
Ben and Karen Calder have also been great supporters of the stable racing horses like Mr Kiwi, Mr Mojito, and On Ice.
Nathan Williamson, Mr Kiwi, Brett Gray and Ben and Karen Calder
Recently Penny, John, and Kenny Baynes have joined the ownership ranks and provided Gray with some good winners.
“Penny and Kenny have sent me quite a few horses. They have nice stock so I’m grateful having them in the stable too. Kenny asked me a couple of times to train a horse and I knocked him back a couple of times (laughter). I trained one called Too Cool and she won a race (Gore – December 2017) and the next minute the horses started coming through the gate. Penny, Kenny, and John have been really good supporters of the stable.”
Baynes’ racing winners include Too Cool, Convair Hustler, Full Noise, Richard The Third, Stratofortress, The Interceptor and Afterburner.
Too Cool winning at Gore
Australians Merv and Meg Butterworth have also supported Gray. They’ve bought a stack of horses out of Southland with some staying here to race while others have been shipped north or direct to Australia.
“He’s really kicked things for me. I sold him a few horses. One was a horse called Jaccka Lonny. It wasn’t going too good so we bought it back, and he ended up doing a good job here. It (the relationship) just started from there. It’s a good relationship and I have about three of his horses here at the moment. Merv and Meg are great people. They’ve been super and great for the game too.”
Brett Gray and Merv Butterworth at Ascot Park
Winners for the Butterworths include Jaccka Loony, Sky Commander, Pavarotti, Mr Mojito, Born To Boogie, Loma Jaccka, Zealand Star, Cuchlainn and Son Of Brahma.
Like all trainers Gray has noticed how much the Standardbred has changed over the years, becoming more refined.
“They’ve got more athletic like thoroughbreds. A lot of pacers back in the day were converted into trotters. Those days are gone now. The trotters just get up and run. They’re just so natural.”
One of the keys to Brett Gray’s success has been his relationship with driver Brent Barclay, who’s driven 98 winners for him. The first was Frampton Bromac in January 2009 at Ascot Park.
“Brent has been a big asset to me. We get on good and I never give him any instructions.”
Gray also has good stable staff. His cousin Craig O’Callaghan provides great support on weekend race days. “Craig’s our main man. He comes at the weekend to run the ship. I’d be lost without Craigo.”
Craig was a junior driver back in the late 1980s when he worked at Drummond for his neighbour Graham Bond, and his first winner was Burn Ahead trained by his uncle Murray Gray.
Well known breeder and horseman Russell Morton also works at the stables.
“He’s been our rock. He was around when Dad was going. He’s always got great advice.”
Chris Walsh, Russell Morton, Brett Gray, Craig O’Callaghan and Brent Barclay with Pick Six Telfer after his win at Winton.
There’s plenty of good support from family too. Brett married Gina in 1996 and they have two children, Nick who’s at High School and Maison who’s studying to be a midwife.
Like all southern trainers Gray is looking forward to the return of racing to the south at the end of May, and one horse that’ll be ready to go will be quality three year old Cassius Bromac. The He’s Watching gelding won at Invercargill and was placed in two of his other starts this season before being stuck down by a virus.
“He’s just about ready to go. He got very sick over Christmas. He won at Ascot Park and the next start (Gore) he went terrible. When we got him back home he was coughing like hell. He just couldn’t shake it. We sent him to Diane’s (Cournane). He lost a lot of weight.”
Afterburner is another horse he has a high opinion of. The three year old trotter was impressive on debut at Wairio last month, winning easily by four lengths.
Afterburner winning at Wairio
“He’s a nice sort of a nag. Potentially he could be the best trotter I’ve had. I really rate him but he probably hasn’t done enough yet. He’s got a nice relaxed attitude and I really just don’t know how good he is.”
Afterburner returning to the birdcage
During this Covid19 enforced break, many in the harness industry have been mulling over ideas as they prepare for future changes in the industry. Gray feels it could bring with it some opportunities.
“I hope this turns into a good thing. It’s time to hit the reset button, we know what needs to be done. Down here in Southland we’ve been leading the way. I think we need to make decisions before they’re made for us.”
Gray says he’s read the Messara Report, has researched the report’s author and is impressed.
“If you look it up, he’s been a genius and he’s been great for New South Wales racing. I think he had the right idea. To a certain extent we do have to centralise down here. Even if we get down to a couple of tracks. Now’s the time. If we don’t do it now I worry for the future. All these young fellas that are coming along like Tristan, (Larsen) we want to have a future for them.”