IT WAS a sentimental win in more ways than one for Bendigo driver Haydon Gray when Do Ball prevailed in the Graeme Maher Memorial Trot at Lord’s Raceway on Sunday night.
The race was named in honour of the former Bendigo Harness Racing Club track manager, who lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in June 2017, and whose family’s Junortoun stables are the base for Gray and partner Maddie Ray’s training operation.
Gray made no secret of his desire to win the race, openly discussing it with Graeme’s father and veteran trainer Len Maher during the week.
He was able to make good on his word, guiding to victory the four-year-old trotter, who is trained by his uncle David Van Ryn.
An emotional win was marked by a special celebration, with Gray raising his whip to the crowd as he and Do Ball crossed the finishing line.
Gray could not speak more highly of the support he and his partner had received from the Maher family – in particular Len and wife Jan – since Ray settled in Bendigo last year following eight years with Craig Turnbull and Rebecca Cartwright.
“I couldn’t think of anything better than winning their race,” he said.
“Lenny’s always joking with me and he said to me to make sure that if I win Graeme’s race to give a little salute, so when I won I gave him a little salute.
“We were all hoping I could win and I’m glad I could win for them.
“It was only a TR0 race, but it was special being Graeme’s race.”
The win was made all the more special coming with a horse trained by Gray’s uncle.
“David has had the horse for about three months now and has done a great job with him,” he said.
“He’s real quick and probably should have won about three or four races this year (instead of one).
“David has been pretty patient with him and taken his time with him, but the horse rewarded him with a win on Sunday.
“There’s more wins in him no doubt, he only needs to keep his good manners. I’m not saying he’s a star, but he does have plenty of ability.”
For Len Maher, who still has three of his own horses in work, the gratitude of having a race named after his son was matched only by the satisfaction of seeing Gray get the win.
He said Gray and Ray had been a breath of fresh air around the Junortoun property since their arrival about 12 months ago.
“Haydon winning was something that we laughed and joked about all week, hoping he could and he did,” Maher said.
“He and Maddy are a lovely couple; we’re really pleased that they are here.
“Graeme and I worked the horses together for years and then Haydon came in – I was quite happy to have them come here, they are good company for me and my wife as well.”
Sunday night’s other memorial races were named in honour of Ron Pocock, Henry McDermott, Robert Birthisel, Ken and Daphne Pollock, Mervyn Dillon, Ted Manton and Kevin ‘Boofa’ Innes.
Meanwhile, Gray will be hoping for a return to the winners’ circle with the Ray-trained trotter Rigondeaux on Thursday night’s big meeting at Lord’s Raceway in support of ovarian cancer awareness.
“He’s been a bit of a handful but he has some ability,” he said.
“He’s won a few trials recently and should be real competitive.”
The first of 11 races on Thursday is at 5.10pm.
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