A gem of a story

12 May 2022 Written by Michael Manley

The result of the 1978 Duke of Norfolk Stakes contains an old-fashioned racing story which would be unlikely to occur today. It’s doubtful the winner of this Saturday’s Lexus Andrew Ramsden, which is the race the Duke of Norfolk Stakes was renamed to three years ago, will have a story to match to this one.

The winner of the 1978 Duke of Norfolk Stakes, Near Gem, was trained by Graham Dowey, a 27-year-old hobby trainer who was, by trade, a Telecom technician.

Dowey had had his trainer’s licence for three years and hadn’t ever trained a city winner, let alone a feature race winner.

But the story is even better than that, as it involved several fortuitous events that led to that moment.

The ball started rolling when Dowey’s mother Matilda collected $1300 from a Daily Double at Sandown.

Dowey’s sister had to return home from Darwin after the city was ravaged by Cyclone Tracy and she was picked up by Graham and his mother at the airport.

When they were almost home, Matilda spotted a chestnut horse with a white blaze, which were the markings she loved, standing in a paddock.

She decided she would spend $1000 of her Daily Double winnings and buy the galloper named Near Gem. He then became Graham’s first horse to train.

At the time, Near Gem had had 13 starts for a best result of a third in a three-horse field at the Woolamai picnics.

It was no wonder renowned racing journalist Tony Bourke reported in The Age after the race that the most excited person on course that day was Dowey’s mother Matilda, especially because it meant that the Doweys collected $11,750 in winnings.

Dowey recollects that the photo finish result seemed to take as long as the race itself, but eventually the VRC judge found a short half head result for Near Gem over classy stayer Valadero.

Near Gem, ridden by Wayne Treloar, came from last with 800 metres to get up and win.

Dowey said his training philosophy was to aim high, and Near Gem was the horse that provided him with his biggest highlight.

“I was in training to win big races. That was the one I won. I’ve still got the tape of the race, the story in The Age and the developed print from the judge,” the 73-year-old said.

“Racing’s a fantastic industry. The highs, the lows, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s the relationship between man and beast. You give your horse your heart and soul and it gives back to you.” - Graham Dowey

Dowey loved Near Gem, who went on to win several more country races, and even had a “Tommy Woodcock and Phar Lap” sleeping experience with him.

He said that one night he was so tired after working horses and then working for Telecom he fell asleep in Near Gem’s stall on the straw bedding and woke up to find the horse’s head resting on his legs.

Near Gem was bred from sprinting lines, but was an orphan foal whose dam died after four days, so was raised on cow’s milk.

The Near Gem story has other chapters. For some unknown reason his victory in the 1978 Duke of Norfolk Stakes does not feature in any racing records, which racing historian Andrew Lemon deems a simple oversight.

The horse was retired shortly after his big win, and Dowey gave him to a friend who then passed him on.

Sadly, around 1981, Near Gem was one of six horses stolen from a paddock near the Waverley football ground and was never seen again.

Dowey recalls that news of the disappearance of the horses, particularly, the star horse, Near Gem, were lead stories in the television and print news outlets.

Dowey gave away training at the end of Near Gem’s career in the early 1980s as he and his wife had had five children.

He came back to it in the mid-1980s and trained a handful of horses until the mid-1990s.

His passion never waned, and he continued to ride work for former champion jockey Ron Hutchinson when he came back to training in Australia in the early part of the 2000.

“Racing’s a fantastic industry. The highs, the lows, the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s the relationship between man and beast. You give your horse your heart and soul and it gives back to you.” - Graham Dowey