Merry’s Jay: Lord of Avondale and the Toast of Manitoba

Jul 17, 2013 | ASD History


Merry's Jay wins 1976 Manitoba Derby

Merry's Jay wins 1976 Manitoba Derby.

First Manitoba-bred ever to win the Manitoba Derby

by Bob

In 1976 Merry’s Jay won the Harry Jeffrey Stakes. Eight days later he became the first Manitoba-bred ever to win our own Manitoba Derby.

Only two other horses have won the Harry Jeffrey Stakes (which is being run this Wednesday, July 17), and then gone on to win the Derby. L’Enjoleur was the first to do it in 1975 and and Hammers Bullet accomplished the feat in 2011.

Merry’s Jay didn’t win his first race until his third outing as 2-year-old, but he matured nicely from that point in his career, and on August 2, 1976, in the 28th running of the Manitoba Derby, the homebred 3-year-old enjoyed his finest hour. His win in the Derby was masterful.

Laying just off the pace under jockey Ken Hendricks for most of the race, the Clayton Gray trained colt made his move going into the final turn. By the time he reached the stretch the magnificent bay had the lead and he was increasing it with every stride. When he hit the wire he was 10 lengths in front and his owner, the late Hugh Jackson, couldn’t have been prouder!

Merry's Jay going to post at ASD in 1977.

Merry's Jay going to post in 1977.

What really made the stretch run so memorable was the unscripted roar of the crowd as they cheered on one of their own. The air was electric and the crowd deafening. There was something truly magical about what happened that day.

How impressive was his win? Well, eastern invader Laissez-Passer, who finished a badly beaten second in the Manitoba Derby, went on two weeks later to win the Canadian Derby in Edmonton by eight lengths.

A bay gelded son of Northern Hawk out of Merry’s Hi Note, Merry’s Jay compiled an impressive record of 10-19-7 from 49 starts at the Downs, winning five stakes and earning $98,733.

Merry’s Jay had a career plagued with injuries, but none more serious than those he sustained in a horrible accident in July 1980. In an effort to make a move on the leaders, he clipped heels and went down hard at the head of the stretch. Another horse, Twernt Nothin, went down as well. All jockeys and horses involved survived the mishap but it would be more than two years before Merry’s Jay would return to the races.

1976 Manitoba Derby winners. L to R: Ruth Jackson, Winnipeg Mayor Steve Juba, Derby Belle, Hugh Jackson, trainer Clayton Gray, jockey Ken Hendricks.

In the long and illustrious history of the Manitoba Derby, Merry’s Jay was the first Manitoba-bred to win the classic. Another 17 years would pass before Bert Blake’s Manitoba-bred Royal Frolic won the Manitoba Derby in 1993. By the way, the horse Royal Frolic beat that day was owned by none other than Hugh Jackson’s daughter, Lorraine.

Merry’s Jay was retired in 1982 to Jackson’s Avondale Farm, where he lived out the remainder of his life as the “Lord of Avondale.” On Derby Day in 1986, Hugh Jackson’s pride and joy was paraded before the grandstand to mark the 10th anniversary of his historic Derby win.

Is there another Merry’s Jay in this week’s $30,000 Harry Jeffrey Stakes? We can only hope!