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A close association with Louis Mihalyka’s Laurel Oak Bloodstock going back over 30 years has given Matt Grady a deep knowledge and understanding of the racing industry.
A very large percentage of what I know about the industry has come from working with Louis,” Matt says. “I could say that he has sculptured me in the way he goes about handling Laurel Oak’s business.
“I’ve watched closely the way Louis handles subjects ranging from form analyses to dealing with owners and trainers, programming and everything else. “I have also taken notice of the way Louis injects fun into racing horses. “He is always organising trips to feature events like the Melbourne Cup, a trip which he makes annually.
“He has taken groups to Royal Ascot and to America and, of course, to Hong Kong where Laurel Oak horses Into The Night and Rebel Dane have represented Australia in the International Sprint.
“Louis also arranges golf days or anything that he thinks will be fun.”
As Matt says there have been “stacks of highlights” along the way but none more so than Fireburn’s triumphant performance in last year’s ATC Golden Slipper Stakes-Gr.1 (1200m) at Rosehill with Brenton Avdulla in the saddle.
Besides earning $2,844,500 for her share holders the win by Fireburn was particularly special with her being a daughter of Rebel Dane.
“Winning the Golden Slipper was a sensational moment,” Matt says. “Unbelievable, really, the way she flew through on the inside from a long way back. It is a memory that I will always treasure.” Being from a So You Think (NZ) mare, Mull Over, Fireburn surprised by displaying her ability early on.
After a first-up fourth at Warwick Farm on December 12 she scored over 1200m at Randwick 10 days later and then won again at Randwick, this time over 1150m, on New Year’s Day.
That was when Gary Portelli was convinced of Fireburn’s Golden Slipper potential and his view was reinforced when she conquered her opposition in the ATC Sweet Embrace Stakes-Gr.2 on February 26.
“We were all on tenterhooks leading up to the Slipper but Fireburn did what we hoped she would,” Matt says.
“It became even better when she won the Sires’ and even though we remained on a high it was little bit of a letdown when she didn’t complete the Triple Crown in the Champagne Stakes.
“But it took an outstanding filly in She’s Extreme to beat her.”
While not soaring to the heights Fireburn’s connections have reached Matt has enjoyed success as a member of Laurel Oak ownership syndicates in his own right, as has his father John.
These have included having shares in Typhoon Fury, by Hurricane Sky, who ran second in the CRC Black Opal Stakes-LR (1200m) and third in the ATC Todman Stakes-Gr.2 before finishing 10th in Sebring’s Golden Slipper.
Another has been the Chris Waller-trained Sebring gelding Sir Bacchus, who won eight races and earned nearly $600,000 in a fine racing career.
It was almost inevitable that Matt would join Laurel Oak once he moved into the work force because his relationship with Louis and his wife Jill goes back to his early childhood.
The family relationship began in the early 1970s when his father met Louis while they were students at the University of New South Wales.
“They became mates as they were going through university,” he says.
“Dad and Louis have other mates, who were with them at university who are still mates and have been in horses with Laurel Oak syndicates.
“Through my father’s friendship with Louis I have known him and Jill all my life.
“With both Louis, Jill and their son Alexander being very family orientated I feel as though I am part of their family.”
However, while Louis has had a decided influence on Matt his family also played a significant part in his interest and enthusiasm for the racing industry.
In the years he was growing up in Toongabbie, about 30km west of Sydney’s CBD, Matt was surrounded by a family of enthusiastic punters.
“We did not have a background in racing but my family loved punting,” he says.
“Both sides of the family were into the having a bet, especially on my father’s side.
“My grandmother Dorothy was a really keen punter and when she was around I can remember helping her and my father filling out TAB tickets.
“My mother Helen would also have a flutter whenever she went to the races.
“By the time I was eight or 10 I’d be allowed to have my 50 cents each way.
“I’d also went to the track with Dad, which I loved doing.
“I remember when I was about 10 we went to Rosehill and saw Better Loosen Up, Sydeston, Super Impose and Horlicks, in what I think was then named the Segenhoe Stakes.
“I’d also do the form sitting on a couch alongside Dad.
“My teachers, when I was in primary school, wondered why I was so good with fractions and that came about from multiplying the odds.
“I remember one school holidays my parents were at a loss about what to do with me. Louis had a runner at Hawkesbury named No Tolerance, by Whiskey Road (USA), so he took me with him.
“That meant Louis was baby sitting an eight or nine year old boy at the races.
“I remember Billy Sorensen was the jockey and although No Tolerance didn’t win it was a great day.”
After completing his days at St Anthony’s primary at Girraween he headed to Parramatta Marist High School at Westmead.
Although his interest in racing was burgeoning through his high school years Matt was not sure which direction to follow after leaving Parramatta Marist in 1998.
He considered going into the hospitality business before learning that Louis and Jill needed assistance in running their office at Bella Vista, about 30km north-west of Sydney’s CBD.
“Loving the horses and the racing game I jumped at the opportunity to help out,” he says.
“I started working there on a part-time basis, which turned into a full-time role doing everything really.
“The majority of what I was doing was looking after the accounts.
“As I got to know Laurel Oak’s clients and everything began falling into place I started doing the pre-race and post-race communications for all the horses.
“Besides that I was going to the races where I looked after clients. “I’d also go on trips to wherever the horses were racing.
“Louis takes a group of 50 to 100 people to the Melbourne Cup carnival each year and I went on a number of those.”
Those trips coincided with successes on the track, most notably, with Into The Night, by Rhythm (USA), winning the VRC Century Stakes-LR on the last day of the carnival in 2002.
The following year there was even more reason to celebrate when Into The Night finished second to another Laurel Oak representative Ancient Song, by Canny Lad, in the VRC Salinger Stakes-Gr.1 on the first day of the carnival.
Into The Night returned to the winning list seven days later when he stormed to a second victory in the Century Stakes.
“Although he was unable to crack it for a Group 1 Into The Night took his owners on a huge ride, “Matt says. “He earned an invite to the Hong Kong International Sprint and Keith Dryden took him up there a few weeks after the Century Stakes.
“Into The Night finished out of the money in Hong Kong but it was still a great thrill for everyone with a share in him.”
Also in that era was Texarcana, by More Than Ready (USA,) from the Kala Dancer (GB) mare Cottonfields in which Matt’s father had a share.
A winner from 1500m to 2100m Texarcana showed sufficient staying ability to be set for the V.R.C 0aks-Gr.1 (2500m) in 2005.
“She ran last in the Oaks but we had a huge after-party in Lygon Street in Carlton,” Matt says. “There were about 30 owners at the party and you would have thought we’d won the Oaks.”
As Matt says Texarcana subsequently “led Laurel Oak on a huge adventure” by producing a colt by California Dane, who was to race in the white, green crossed sashes, red sleeves and cap as Rebel Dane.
Foaled in 2009 Rebel Dane proved to be an absolute star coming out of Gary Portelli’s Warwick Farm Stakes.
He scored the first of his victories at the elite level in the MRC Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield in 2013 and four years later he rattled home to win the MVRC Manikato Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley.
In addition to that he scored twice at Gr.2 level and once in a Gr.3. and on his retirement he had registered eight wins, four seconds and five thirds for prize money of $2,427,350.
“Rebel Dane was a low cost horse but he raced in high grade races from the beginning of his career,” Matt says “He also went to Hong Kong when he was seven-year-old, which was a great trip for everyone involved.
“He was able to race from 2012 to 2017 and was such a warrior.”
The legend surrounding Rebel Dane has soared to new heights now that, after receiving a limited number of mares in his first few years at stud, he was able to sire Fireburn.
“Of course now that he is at Widden he is receiving a lot more oppportunities,” Matt says.
In between Rebel Dane’s achievements on the racetrack and in the stallion barn Laurel Oak has had another brilliant ambassador in Handle The Truth, who is a 2015 foal by Star Witness from the Bernardini (USA) mare Assertively.
Prepared in Canberra by master trainer Keith Dryden, Handle The Truth won two Highways in Sydney before, with Nash Rawiller aboard, capturing the $1.3 million Kosciuszko on October 19 of 2019 to earn his ownership group $735,000.
He has added another $1 million to that so he, again, has been a wonderful investment for his syndicate.
“Handle The Truth’s winning the Kosciuszko was fantastic thrill,” Matt says.
“There was great excitement on the day and afterwards for a lot of loyal Laurel Oak supporters, who had been around for a long time.
“So it was another example of the great experience and fun for everyone involved with Louis, Jill and Laurel Oak.”
Also a “favourite” of Matt’s, was Soul Diva, by Grand Lodge (USA), who raced a little after Texarcana and was trained by Tony Noonan at Mornington.
“She was a tough mare,” he says. “She had two tendon injuries but came back and was still able to win 11 times mostly in high grade metropolitan races.
“We took her down to Hobart for the Cup in 2007 and 2009 but she was unplaced both times.”
In between those trips, in 2008, with marriage and a family beckoning Matt and Renee, his wife-to-be, felt an additional work outlet was needed.
“Although I was reluctant I felt I had to leave working full-time at Laurel Oak to explore other opportunities,” he says.
“But my connection with Louis and Laurel Oak didn’t stop.
“I continued to help out doing the pre and post race communications and when Louis was away with tour groups to Royal Ascot, the Kentucky Derby, Hong Kong and elsewhere, I would jump in and do all the communications.”
Initially Matt joined Renee in a managing role for a McDonalds franchise before a chance to launch a fibre-hauling business for mobile towers came along.
“We have upgraded towers all over New South Wales for the major telcos, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone,” he says.
“It was very tough work, managing staff and that sort of thing, but it was rewarding and we managed to get through it.
“I was away a lot, but thankfully with technology these days, I was able to fulfil my horse duties and family duties as well.”
In 2012, as his fibre-hauling involvement was developing, Matt and Renee were married.
They now have two children, Sienna, who is 10, and Olivia, who is eight, and a Jack Russell named Diva after Soul Diva.
As the years have gone by Matt has been able to limit his hours on-site.
“Having my own business I have been able to balance my requirements at Laurel Oak with my other responsibilities,” he says.
“I am still doing a lot of the pre-post communications as well as a lot of the communication with trainers.
“I know with the technology these days most of the trainers keep everyone updated but we like to add a little bit extra and we try and get as much information to syndicate members as we can.
“We like to have our fingers on the pulse so we know where all our horses are going and I am pretty much on the phone with the trainers at least once a week.
“We also do audio recordings and we can send them out with videos, so we make sure all the information is out there for owners.
“Fortunately I can do that from home or the stable, so it all works out well.”