Leigh Gray Wins First 'White Horse Award'

Former Southern California exercise rider Leigh Gray was honored Thursday by the Race Track Chaplaincy of America with the organization's "White Horse Award," given to a backstretch employee who puts their own life at risk in order to help a horse or human in danger.

A crowd of nearly 200 gathered at a luncheon held at Santa Anita Park to honor Gray and four other finalists for the award.

"I am so honored to have won this award," Gray said. "It was an honor to even be nominated for doing something I love to do, let alone win it, and I'm touched to have been selected. Everyone is deserving of this award because they're all special people."

Gray's contributions to racing are many. When Gray was working as the foot person on the horse-drawn carriage that transports the Santa Anita patrol judges to their towers, exploding firecrackers caused her team of horses to spook and bolt, throwing the driver out of the carriage when they ran off in fear. Knowing a race was about to break from the gate, Gray climbed into the driver's seat and stopped the runaway horses.

Gray also rescues injured racehorses and places them in good homes following several months, and sometimes years, in rehabilitation. As a technician for the California Equine Foundation at Hollywood Park, she arranged for the vets to perform surgeries on horses without cost after stipulating she would be responsible, both physically and financially, for their after-care at her nearby ranch. To date, Gray has aided nearly 120 horses.

Gray is a two-time cancer survivor who takes her dog to nearby hospitals to visit terminally ill children. She said the $5,000 she received with the White Horse sculpture will be put into her retirement operation while the sculpture will go in her front room.

Trainer Elliott Walden and television personality Caton Bredar served as co-masters of ceremonies, which featured a moving speech from Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day and writer Mark Victor Hansen, one of the minds behind the book "Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul."

The luncheon also offered both a silent and live auction on halters actually worn by runners who are to compete in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) – Powered by Dodge. Medaglia d'Oro's sold for $1,200, while trainer Wally Dollase paid $5,000 for Ten Most Wanted's on behalf of the colt's co-owner J. Paul Reddam.

Kenny Troutt, who co-owns WinStar Farm in Kentucky and is also an active participant in the White Horse Award and the Race Track Chaplaincy's Capitol Campaign Committee, was the successful bidder at $10,000 for Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Funny Cide's halter, which was handed over to Troutt after the gelding schooled before the first race of the afternoon. Troutt bred Funny Cide.