Bede Murray toasts 50 years

… with wife Edie at Kembla Grange … … their son Paul Murray…

and with his first group-class winner Hussar’s Command.

Bede Murray and his star galloper Universal Prince …

For a man who has been around horses almost his entire life, only once has Bede Murray felt completely out of place.

“I went to Melbourne with no hope,” he said of a 1983 expedition with Hussar’s Command.

“I’d never been to Melbourne before.

“When I drove over the top of Flemington and saw the size of the track I thought, ‘God, what am I doing here?’ We had to run fourth or better in the Hotham Handicap (now Lexus Stakes) to get a run in the Melbourne Cup.”

Considering Murray’s long and distinguished career, it was no surprise how Hussar’s Command fared.

“He was in front past the clock tower [200 metres pole] and just got nabbed on the post and ran second,” Murray said.

“He was automatically in the Melbourne Cup.”

History has Hussar’s Command leading the Melbourne Cup field into the straight that year.

He eventually wilted to finish eighth, providing Murray with a “great memory”, as Kiwi stormed from second-last on the turn to win the race that stops a nation.

Fast forward almost 30 years and Murray is again celebrating a remarkable milestone.

It’s taken a fair bit longer to achieve than his first Melbourne Cup runner, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

Today the Illawarra Turf Club will make a special presentation to Murray on the eve of the 50th anniversary of his first winner at Kembla Grange.

First winner

Murray remembers it like it was yesterday.

“You always remember your first,” he said.

The horse was Corn Vista, the day was August 29 and the man Murray is forever thankful to was Ted Latta. On the verge of taking out his trainer’s licence after riding as an amateur on the “number nine picnic circuit”, Murray was persuaded to head to the sales by Latta where they purchased Corn Vista.

“He came down and I said he’s very fat and out of nick,” Murray recalled.

“I worked him and he did well and he ran third at his first run and we went back to Kembla his next start and he won.”

The ill-fated Corn Vista won multiple times in the city before being involved in an ugly five-horse fall at Warwick Farm in Sydney.

Nevertheless, he had provided the springboard to the former dairy farmer’s career and Latta was keen to send more horses in his direction.

“I ended up having six to eight horses while trying to do the dairy so I ended up training horses full-time,” Murray said.

“Luckily it worked out.”

Top gallopers

Elkalyn, Hussar’s Command, Universal Prince, Victory Vein, Half Hennessy, Coniston Bluebird – all names synonymous with Murray’s success.

Hussar’s Command really put the South Coast horseman on the map, winning the 1982 Villiers before snaring the Doomben and Ipswich cups.

“Hussar’s Command in the ’80s was my first group winner,” Murray said.

“I was pretty lucky right throughout the years as I’ve usually had one horse that’s a city-class horse and kept me at the forefront a bit.”

And Murray was definitely front and centre at the turn of this century when Universal Prince, Victory Vein and Half Hennessy burst onto the scene.

A winner of almost $3 million in prizemoney, Universal Prince pinched the Spring Champion, Canterbury Guineas, Australian Derby and Ranvet at group 1 level.

Champion juvenile Victory Vein cut her opposition to shreds during a stellar two-year-old season which had her a head short of claiming the Triple Crown.

Half Hennessy was the second of three Murray-trained horses to win a derby after claiming the Queensland version in 2003.

Coniston Bluebird completed the trifecta in New Zealand six years later.

Country and

family influence

Despite all the horses who have come and gone, two things have never changed in Murray’s operation – the family and country always come first.

“The country lifestyle – that’s my style,” Murray said on why he had never taken up offers to train at a metropolitan track or overseas.

“Twenty years ago we bought stables at Kembla. We’ve run it with the farm and it’s been a very good combination.

“I was probably one of the very early ones and a lot of other trainers have followed suit with a property in conjunction with their training stables.”

Behind the scenes all along has been Murray’s wife, Edie, who has run the administration side of the business.

And then there are sons Graeme and Paul, thrust into the racing life much like Bede was when father Bill rode against his barely teenage son at a bush racing carnival.

“The pressure of training and handling good horses has been nothing new to him and Graeme.”

The future

Think Murray is ready to retire? Not quite yet.

Even considering that he’s closer to 80 than 70 now.

“I haven’t got any physical problems and I enjoy what I do. I think that makes a big difference – if you enjoy what you do.”

Regardless of whether he has a winner today, Murray will toast a victory just by being at the track.

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