It is no secret that Michael Gray has had his fair share of ups and downs in the saddle since making his debut back in 2014.
Gray was always a popular face on the picnic circuit, riding his first ever winner at Bong Bong on Dominico for Billy Hayes before travelling the circuit in the following years, registering some good victories in the process.
Unfortunately, the 27-year-old has struggled to find his best form following a terrible fall at Tomingley back in April 2019.
Gray fell in a three-horse fall that involved Ricky Blewitt and Michael Hackett, with the later of three never riding again, while Gray and Blewitt took some time before eventually returning to the saddle.
In a candid interview with NSW Country and Picnic Racing, Gray explained that he had been getting help following the fall, and after a breakthrough win at Wellington aboard the Andrew Molloy trained, In The Mail in the 1000m maiden, the young hoop believes he is back to his best.
“If I’m completely honest, if I see a race fall on TV, it all comes back to me,” Gray said.
“I do talk to a councillor and that has helped, and I’m no longer scared of taking runs, but that took a while and I finally showed that I’m back to riding at my best at Wellington.”
Based in Gilgandra, Gray now works for Bryan Dixon, riding work and fine-tuning his technique, and he said the move and change in scenery had made all the difference when it came down to his riding.
“Bryan has been a massive help,” Gray said.
“I wasn’t riding my best, and I know that, but in the last three months I haven’t missed a day at work and that showed at Wellington with my riding.
“I have been on the equicizer three times a week and I’m seeing the difference.”
Gray was meant to start his apprenticeship the week following his fall at Tomingley in 2019, and while it has been a long two and a half years following the incident, he still dreams of one day going professional.
“My goal is to be an apprentice again,” Gray said.
“I wasn’t meant to be going to Tomingley. I was approved to started my apprenticeship, but my partner wanted me to ride her horse. I won the first race but fell in the next and couldn’t start my apprenticeship.
“Bryan now has me back riding good and he is getting me back into the full swing of me riding a proper race and doing it consistently and that is the main goal before I decide to switch over again.
“I just need to be consistently in the right head space, and I’m confident now, but I just need to show it.”
Gray will get the ultimate chance to showcase his skills to the world on Sunday when hopping aboard the well-fancied, Madison Point, in the $50,000 Picnic Champion Series final at Coonamble.
The seven-year-old qualified 11th overall, collecting 19 points throughout 2020/21, and after a recent win in a 1300m Class Two Handicap at Narromine, Madison Point gets into this race very nicely.
“This is by far the best horse I’ve saddled in a final,” Gray said.
“I’m on top of the world and I honestly think I can win it. When Rob Potter messaged me, I thought, ‘how has he not got a rider for this horse’ and I thought it was blessing in disguise.”
In what could be a career defining day for Gray, he admitted he would be riding for his family, as he wanted to prove himself to everyone who had ever doubted him.
“You have falls but it’s about getting back up and trying again, and this weekend, it is all about proving to my kids that if you work hard and keep getting back up, you get results,” Gray said
“What me and my partner have gone through, if I can win this weekend, it’s going to be that boost we need.”
Nominations for the NSW Picnic Champion Series final have been finalised, with 20 gallopers entered in the race, and Madison Point is guaranteed a start.
Full fields will be available on Thursday and NSW Country and Picnic Racing will continue profile each runner ahead of the highly anticipated finale.
For more on how the NSW Picnic Champion Series works, the current top 20 and previous winners, readers can click here.