Emotional Gray bids farewell to Kranji, Latest Racing News - The New Paper
Racing

Emotional Gray bids farewell to Kranji

Last trainer from 2000 Kranji launch to go, cites financial, mental stress as push factors

Even as Stephen Gray penned his farewell to the sprinkling of steadfast owners left at his depleted stable of 15 horses, he still could not fathom how it has all come to this.

Eight years ago, he and wife Bridget were on top of the world basking in the glory of their 2016 Singapore Gold Cup winner Bahana.

Granted, horse trainers – or any other sportsperson – cannot expect to keep scooping up awards and big races years on end.

But the New Zealand horseman has still managed to stay in rarefied air with four more Group 1 feathers to his cap, received international invitations to UK in the ensuing years, even during the pandemic.

The 59-year-old has weathered many storms, but never saw the mother of them all coming.

When the announcement that racing was ending on Oct 5, 2024 hit Kranji last June, it quickly dawned on him this was a nightmare he could not wake up from.

Like a real skipper, Gray then decided to not abandon ship before it sinks. Not only was he held accountable to his owners and staff, he still clung to a glimmer of hope.

He has held fort for as long as he could. But, much to his chagrin, he had to bail out six months out.

After the Waverley man first landed in Singapore on April 26, 2000, he will saddle his last Kranji runners at the April 27 meeting, almost 24 years to the day.

After Michael Clements left in September, he was the last trainer standing from the original batch of 19 at Kranji’s launch in 2000.

The closure is the main push factor, but two by-products of that end game keep cropping up – financial and mental stress.

“The time is right. Economically, we can’t stay on, mentally, we’re done. I informed our owners and the club in a letter today,” he said.

“We could’ve left earlier, but we hung in there to see if there was any change or financial help to help us stay, like join up with another stable to have numbers.

“But, after a meeting with the authorities, I came home and told Bridget my head was getting messed up, I had to get out of here.

“She’s had enough, too, and she’s spent more than half her life here.

“We have costs, rentals, workmen’s insurance, and all that stuff. A stable of 20 to 25 horses is not sustainable – 30-40 horses is the right size to break even.

“If we were paid $20,000 to help our monthly cash flow, we could’ve stayed. I don’t know how some trainers survive, but we can’t go on.

“There was no support, we have no clarity what’ll happen until Oct 5. My owners just want to get out.

“I’ve delayed the exit also because I had to sort things out with some of my own horses and some of my clients’ horses. It takes time.

“We found homes for our horses, moved some on and sent some back to New Zealand, Australia.

“I’m responsible for my staff, the heartland of Singapore. Some syces have worked for me for 24 years.

“Some don’t know what they’ll do, some will take cleaner jobs. It’s sad as they’re quite gifted people.

“I’ve tried to help the best I can. I can’t help them financially, but I can help them morally.

“They said the $1,000 upskill grant doesn’t help, they can’t afford to carry on mentally. It’ll be sad to part with them, we’ve shared a lot of good memories.”

As Gray packs his bags to return to New Zealand to continue training on a smaller scale with his father Kevin in Palmerston North – 2021 Singapore Derby winner Hard Too Think and Silent Is Gold will join him there – he will pack countless memories in a country he has called home for so long.

While Bahana’s Singapore Gold Cup heroics take pride of place from his haul of 825 winners and 22 Group winners, he also cherishes the Royal Ascot adventures with Emperor Max (2015) and Lim’s Cruiser (2019) as trips of a lifetime, even if they did not win.

But, the family man said his proudest moment in Singapore did not rest on four legs, but two.

“I think our two children James and Katie are our proudest achievements here,” he said.

“The were both born here, we gave them a good upbringing and education. We love Singapore.

“James went to the army for two years and became a captain, and got the Sword of Merit.

“I asked him if Singapore went to war, would he come back and fight for Singapore? He said yes.

“Here we are, he’s prepared to defend Singapore, but we haven’t been looked after one little bit.

“So, now, I’m just looking forward to going home because what we have now is like waiting to die.

“I don’t want to wait any longer.”

manyan@sph.com.sg

HORSE RACING