He may have just turned 85, but leading Central Districts horseman Kevin Gray isn’t going away from the thoroughbred industry any time soon.
At an age when many people are living a quieter life, Gray continues to train at his 56 hectare property just out of Palmerston North, breed from some high-quality mares, watch his son Stephen prepare top level winners in Singapore, and run a cattle and sheep farm.
“I wish I was dropping about 10 years, to be honest,” he joked about his birthday at the weekend.
“But we had quite a few friends in and people that I haven’t seen for a while. We had a nice get together, had a few small drinks and a nice meal. It was very good.”
Gray’s biggest achievements of the year came as a breeder. He reared Entriviere, who enhanced her record in 2021-22 with victory in the Gr.1 Railway (1200m) at Ellerslie on New Year’s Day, the Gr.2 Sheraco Stakes (1200m) in New South Wales, and finishing second in the Gr.1 Waikato Sprint (1400m).
“It was a great thrill. I’ve still got her mother Marcey’s Belt here – she’s at home in the paddock now in foal to Super Seth. I think nearly everything out of her has won,” he said.
“I’ve got two fillies out of Marcey’s Belt – Gucci Belt, she’s won a couple, and I’ve got Gucci Belt’s yearling full sister, who looks like Entriviere.”
Gray said he and his wife Kathleen have two or three nice broodmares in addition to Marcey’s Belt. One he does like is Classic Belt, a Burgundy mare who last year foaled an Embellish colt that he has a lot of time for.
“Breeding is a hobby really – I breed them and then get them up and running, and if I get good money I let them go, and if I don’t I keep them,” he said.
Training-wise Gray has been scaling down in recent years. He’s had just 181 runners to the races in 2021-22, only the third time in the past 32 years that he’s had fewer than 200 starters in a season, and recorded 14 wins.
“I’m a bit disappointed. I had some nice horses at the start but I’ve sold a few and we only have a young team at the moment,” he said.
“But we have some nice young horses. I think Gucci Belt is a good horse and I’m hoping to get her ready for some spring stakes races.
“I just hope the weather gets better. We’ve had so many races, trials and jumpouts called off in the Central Districts because the tracks have been too wet and it makes it a bit tougher to get them ready for spring.”
Gray has had no shortage of good horses emerge from his stables over the years: from the multiple Group One winner Copper Belt in the late 1970s through to the outstanding racemares Legs and Daffodil since the turn of the century.
But he’s just as well-known for his work with apprentice jockeys. Among the outstanding riders to have benefitted from his tutelage are Bruce Herd, Hayden Tinsley, Kim Clapperton, and Lisa Allpress, though as time has gone on he has scaled this back a little.
“Kathleen and I, when we were at Waverley, we used to have 20 people for breakfast every morning. Most of my staff lived on the property.
“I was a discipline man, it was ‘Mr this, Mrs that, thank you, please’, and I used to take them all to the races myself and have a post mortem the next day on how they all did.
“A lot of that doesn’t go on now. We don’t have any kids here in the house for breakfast anymore – I’ve got my staff quarters down at the stables, and the ones that stay there do their own cooking. Most of my staff now live in town and they travel out in the mornings.”
Right through his long career, Gray has farmed sheep and cattle – a good extra income source, and not surprising for a man whose first career was as a stock agent.
“Things are very good at the moment,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen overseas, but we’re getting good prices for beef, lambs, and ewes. I’ve got no qualms about that market, it’s good money.”
Gray also continues to take pride in the achievements of his son Stephen in Singapore. Among his son’s best horses of recent years is Hard Too Think, winner of the Singapore Derby and the Queen Elizabeth Cup in late 2021.
“He’s trained about 1200 winners up there now and it’s great to see he still gets these good horses,” he said. – NZ Racing Desk