Assiniboia Downs All-Time Leaders: Trainers Edition

Jun 28, 2024 | ASD History

by Track Historian Bob Gates

Most local racing buffs already know that veteran horseman Gary Danelson is the current Downs All-Time Leading Trainer (ATLT).  Coming into the 2024 season Gary had notched 1,250 wins here.

It’s a challenge to tell the history behind the Downs ATLT without boring you to death with a truckload of statistics.  So if at some point you feel a tad drowsy, hang in there because the men who earned the title ATLT are deserving of our attention.  To avoid any confusion trainer wins and reference to the ATLT will only address wins recorded at Assiniboia Downs.

Any decent records of the Downs early days have long since disappeared and for the most part anyone with the responsibility for keeping those stats is gone as well.

According to records published in the Manitoba Thoroughbred magazine, the following trainers were winners of the Downs early training titles: 

1958        R. W. Mathes                  23 Wins

1959        Les Lear                           23 Wins

1960        Glen Magnusson             33 Wins

1961        Tom Patton                       16 Wins

1962        Bud Greenwood               19 Wins

1963        Bus Greenwood                18 Wins

1964        R. J. Watt                           22 Wins

1965        R. J. Watt                          29 Wins

In the April 15, 1966 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press we unearthed the following little gem:

“When the 1966 racing season opens at Assiniboia Downs, veteran Bob Watt will be out to win his third consecutive training title.  He needs only four wins to become the leading all-time trainer at the track.  Also, 22 more wins will give him 100 lifetime winners there.”

On the strength of this information we recognize R. J. “Bob” Watt as the Downs first All-time Leading Trainer.   On June 18, 1966 Bob saddled his fourth winner of the meet to become the ATLT.  In June 1967 Bob won his 100th race, his 200th winner followed in July 1972 and his 250th in August 1976.


R.J. “Bob” Watt. 200 Wins.

Bob’s stranglehold on the ATLT title lasted until Clayton Gray took over in 1978.  It goes without saying that Watt was the first trainer to reach the 100, 200 and 250-win plateaus.

We can’t be sure exactly when Clayton passed Bob Watt, but we know Clayton scored his 300th victory on September 24, 1978.

In the 1970s Clayton was a dominant force at the Downs.  He won six leading trainer titles (1970, 72, 73, 74, 76 and 79) and added the 1980 title to his already impressive resume.  His seven titles are the second most in the history of the Downs.  In the process, Gray was the first Downs conditioner to score 300 and 400 wins.

Come 1981 Clayton travelled to the U.S. where he continued to train until 2002.  When he went south Clayton was the Downs ATLT with more than 400 wins.  He held the title until July 12, 1983 when his brother Don Gray saddled his 453rd win.

Clayton Gray. 300 Wins. September 24, 1978.

Don Gray. 500 Wins. May 1984.

They may have been brothers, but they weren’t much alike.  Downs patriarch, A. E. “Bert” Blake once said, “Those two boys came from different mares.” and that pretty much says it all.

Like brother Clayton, Don caught fire in the 70s, winning the leading trainer title in 1975, 1977 and 1978.  While Don never won another title after 1978 he racked-up the wins, finishing high on the trainer leader board every year.  Don was the first Downs trainer to reach 500, 600, 700 and 800 wins.  He would go on to win 879 races before his untimely death on Christmas Day 1993.

Carmen Risdon “Don” Gray aspired to win the Inaugural Handicap, Manitoba Derby and 1,000 races.  He ended up winning back-to-back Inaugurals with Rockcliffe in 1984 and 85, the Manitoba Derby in 1991 with Plenty Chilly, and only death would deny him his 1,000 wins.

Don’s mark of 879 victories held until May 26, 2001, when Gary Danelson the current ATLT chalked-up win #880.  According to Gary, had Donny not been taken from us so soon “… no one would have caught him.”


Gary Danelson. 1,000 Wins. August 10, 2004.

Gary recorded magical win #1,000 in August 2004, won the Gold Cup twice and won the R. J. Speers five times, in addition to a host of other stakes races.  The man from Montana will have 87 candles on his birthday cake this August 28 and was recently inducted into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Our review of the ATLT  wouldn’t be complete without the mention of Ardell Sayler.  We lost Ardell on May 26, 2019 .  Ardell, who had won a record 12 leading trainer titles had registered 1,188 wins come the end of the 2018 season.  His win total had him “in the hunt” for the Downs ATLT. Danelson closed out 2018 with 1,213 wins, giving him a slim 25-win lead over Sayler, but that was as close as life would let Ardell get.


Ardell Sayler. 1,300 Wins (All Tracks). June 2018.

At this point Gary’s lead in the ATLT race is solid.  When you look at trainer wins amongst those that are still active, Gary’s lead is probably safe for years to come.

As we close out our tribute to the men who wore the ATLT crown we are left to wonder:

What if Clayton Gray hadn’t raced in the States for 20 years?

What if Don Gray wasn’t taken from us prematurely?

What if Ardell Sayler wasn’t struck down when he had Gary D looking over his shoulder?       

“What ifs?”  Life is full of unexpected events that are thrust upon us,  but imagine what that ATLT board might look like.  Clayton, brother Don, Ardell and Gary all duking it out for the top spot. 

As race caller Ken Miller once said… 

“Who You Gonna Call?  Were Not Sure!”