Time can fade memories, but there’s one race that Bruce Kay will never fail to recall.
Kay has trained gallopers for more than 40 years, but a provincial meeting in Perth’s South West will forever hold sentimental and historical attachment.
The meeting and venue was Bunbury, the race a 1000m handicap, the winner Mr Gudbod and the successful jockey, apprentice Damien Oliver.
As a 15-year-old, it was Oliver’s first win and he beat home Stephen Miller on River Plate and Danny Miller aboard Champagne Fool.
In sharp contrast to Oliver who progressed to become arguably Australia’s greatest jockey, Mr Gudbod failed to go on with it and never won another race.
From those humble and modest beginnings in 1988, Oliver’s ridden 129 Group 1s and comfortably sits in the Australian Racing Hall Of Fame.
In front of an expected bumper crowd at Ascot on Saturday, Oliver’s glittering riding career draws to a close in a race named in his honour.
Oliver partners Munhamek in the Damien Oliver Gold Rush (1400m) and a win on the Victorian eight-year-old will be a fairytale ending.
Kay says he’s proud to have played a small part in Oliver’s climb to the top of Australian and world racing.
“Jason Oliver used to ride for me, but got suspended and said how about putting his brother Damien on,” Kay told the Races WA.
“The horse was average and a maiden and I couldn’t get a run with him, I had to put him in way out of his class.
“And if I’m not mistaken, I gave Damien his first two city winners as well on a horse called Epcott.
“Horses just ran for Damien, that Mr Gudbod didn’t go on and win another race.
“Colin Joss actually leased him off the owner I trained for, he was a trotting man with Satinover and wanted to get into the races.
“But Mr Gudbod never got warm after that and didn’t live up to his potential.”
As an experienced horseman with over four decades of experience, Kay is recognised as a trainer who supported and backed in young riders.
He said even before Oliver hopped aboard for his first ever ride, he stood out and showed signs of having above average talent in the saddle.
“I said to someone before he even started riding because he was riding track work for me and this is as true as I stand here, I said keep an eye on this kid as he’ll be going places,” Kay said.
“I remember saying to him after Mr Gudbod won that I’m stuck, I don’t know how you got him to win a race.
“He wasn’t much good and was out of his class. He paid $69.
“I’m a bit biased but I think Damien has to be in the top three of Australia’s best riders.
“It’s going to take a lot of stacking to beat that.
“They can never take away what he’s done.”
Oliver’s record speaks for itself. His skills in the saddle are sublime. He’s claimed a plethora of the best events. He’s won more elite races than anyone in Australia.
But for Kay, what stands out, aside from Oliver’s race accolades, was a simple but touching personal gesture that reflected his attitude and measure as a person.
“A few years ago, on the 30th anniversary of Mr Gudbod’s win, he rang me to reminisce about the race,” Kay said.
“That’s the sort of guy he is, he didn’t have to do that, but he did.
“I thought that was a marvellous gesture after 30 years.
“I am forever grateful for him doing that.
“We’ve kept in touch over the years and we are mates.
“He’s a pretty humble sort of a guy.”
With a small team of horses, Kay doesn’t venture to Ascot too often, but there’s no place he’ll rather be than Perth racing headquarters on Saturday.
He was there for Oliver’s first win on Mr Gudbod and will be cheering as loud as anyone that the retiring jockey goes out in the same style on Munhamek.