Monday, 06 February 2017 08:13

Singing in the Backstretch

Written by Curtis Stock
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Jamie Gray has his life and his career in tune. Now the veteran Alberta harness trainer/driver also has his hobby - writing and singing songs and playing the guitar - in harmony as well.

“It was getting to be like the movie ‘Ground Hog Day,’” Gray said of the film starring Bill Murray where a TV weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again. “I work seven days a week, go to bed and wake up the next morning doing it all over again. I needed something else in my life so I took up the guitar.

“I also did it to show my kids to never say never - that you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it. I wanted to show them that anything is possible

“It’s kind of like my motto in life: if someone else an do it why can’t I,” said the father of two daughters, Brie, 23, and Riley, 24 who has been married to his wife Shelley for 27 years who he met in his home province of Saskatchewan when she drove the starting gate in Saskatoon.

One of the first songs Gray composed, sang and recorded was about his cat. “It was 10:30 on a Sunday night and our cat was just meowing and staring at me. It didn’t matter what I did the cat just kept staring at me. “I asked her if she wanted food but it wasn’t that; the cat just kept staring at me. “Then I asked her if she wanted some milk and brought a bowl of it to her. But that wasn’t it either and she continued to stare at me.”

That prompted these lyrics:

“I don’t even know you or what you want anymore.
I don’t even know you or who you are anymore
But you have me knocking down every door.”

Obviously a song about relationships as well as wondering what the heck his cat wanted, Gray has written three more songs. 

One was a country song with this chorus:

“When I went to bed last night I thought everything was alright.
But when I woke up in the morning you were gone.
Now I don’t know what I did or what I didn’t do.
But it wasn't right for me; I guess it wasn’t right for you.”

Following those up with a song for Shelley for their 25th anniversary, Gray, who took up the guitar three years ago, has now written a fourth song called ‘My Baby Girl’ for Riley and her eight-month-old son Raiden:

“My baby girl had a baby boy.
Throughout his life he will bring her joy.
Now times will get tough.
And times will get rough.
But through it all
There will be lots of love.
You will watch him take his first step.
Then his first word that comes next.
Oh please take it; take it all in.
Take it all in because your life with this boy just begins.”

“It’s a song that just about anybody who has a child and who then has a child of her own can relate to,” said Gray, 55, who has more than 1,600 training wins and is closing in on 2,400 driving wins and who was B.C.’s 2015 driver of the year for those limited to 20 to 100 starts. “It’s about a father giving his daughter some advice. I haven’t recorded it yet. But if I say so myself it’s pretty good. If I got a professional singer to sing it, I think it could go somewhere."

“I keep thinking of someone like Gord Bamford doing it,” he said of the multiple award winning country/western singer and song writer who was born in Australia but moved to Lacombe, Alberta when he was five.

“If you are going to go big you might as well go real big. I think someone like Gord Bamford could really do it justice. The singer makes the song but I have no idea what the procedure would be. The worst thing that could happen would be if he says ‘no.’ Like I said before anything is possible.”

Gray’s musical talent isn’t by accident. “I always loved music. My brother played in a band in Vancouver - he would play the guitar and sing in the barn all the time. My grandmother played the piano and my grandpa played the clarinet. I also used to play the trumpet as a kid.”

Gray’s career in harness racing was no accident either. “My dad, Allan, who ran construction companies, raced standardbreds and his brother, Sid, raced thoroughbreds. I chose standardbreds,” said Gray, who grew up on farm outside of Saskatoon.

“When my dad was away I fed the horses before school and then after school I’d feed them again and jog them.” When Gray was just 16 he wrote letters to five Ontario horsemen asking for work including the esteemed Dr. John Hayes Jr., who found a spot for him. Spending three and a half years in Ontario, Gray came to Alberta in 1982.

“My dad said he had a horse and if I came back west I could train it for him. But when I came to Alberta he had already sold it to Keith Clark so I went to work for Keith for a while. Then I went back to Saskatchewan for eight years driving and training in Saskatoon, Regina as well as in Winnipeg.”

In 1989 Gray went to Los Alamitos, California where he says “he had a really good go.” A year later he was back in Alberta. This time to stay.

Using the money from the sale of three stakes winners (Ringo Star, Blue Star Destiny and Imwarningyou) that he owned half of Gray and Shelley bought a piece of land 7 kilometres north of Villeneuve on Highway 44. “We basically built it from scratch. There was a house but it wasn’t finished. We built that and then we built a barn, a garage and a half-mile track which is where I do all my training.”

“Ringo Star was the one who got us started. He made $93,000 one year - he was third in the Nat Christie Memorial and won a division of the Western Canada Pacing Derby - and we sold him for $80,000. Blue Star Destiny made $100,000 and we sold it for $65,000; Imwarningyou made $95,000 and we sold her for $65,000.”

Another horse Gray campaigned, Myvillasonfire, set a two-year-old filly track record of 1:54 at Lacombe while Sotally Tober made $150,000 and was runner-up as Alberta’s three-year-old of the year in 2015. Currently campaigning a stable of 12 horses - five are three-year-olds and five are two-year-olds - the only older horse that is racing is Mothers Melody.

“Mothers Melody took a mark of 1:54 3/5 and paced in 1:53 4/5 as a three-year-old. She’s got a very strong dam side: her sister had a foal that finished third in the North American Cup while her half brother, won the Golf Cup and Saucer in Charlottetown in 1:51. I’m going to breed Mothers Melody this spring,” said Gray of the six-year-old that will join Gray’s three other broodmares: Sealedwithapromise, who won $200,000 and took a mark of 1:54; Ross Ridge Divine, who won $158,000, paced in 1:54 and won the Miss Edmonton Pace by five lengths and Blue Star West, who paced in 1:56 as a three-year-old.

All three broodmares are sired by As Promised, who was unbeatable in Alberta and went on to win at The Meadowlands in 1:50 2/5. As Promised, who died in 2013, also went on to be the most prolific stallion in Canada.

“The older I got the more I’ve wanted to concentrate on the breeding part of the business - having broodmares and selling their foals. If you happen to get a good one that’s where you make the money.”

“Now I never tried to be something I’m not,” sings Gray in the chorus of a country/western song he also wrote.

“And I’ve never tried to give more than I’ve got.
But I did my best
Always will get me on through
So that’s why I’m going to do what I’m gonna do.
Now I’ve had fun
By the time I settled on down
Plant my feet firmly on the ground
Raised a family like I am supposed to do
And throw away my book just for you.”

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