LAST Tuesday marked the 58 year anniversary of one of the most eagerly awaited contests in the history of greyhound racing – a match race between superstar greyhounds Top Linen and Rookie Rebel.
On May 31, 1958, the two sprinters met on the old grass track of Harold Park in Sydney, with the undisputed New South Wales champion sprinter Top Linen taking on the undisputed Victorian champion sprinter and middle-distance star, Rookie Rebel.
The race was run over 500 yards (457m) on the sweeping one-turn grass surface, a perfect setting to prove which of the two was Australia’s best.
Top Linen (Fine Linen x Brenda Gay) was a white and brindle dog whelped in May 1955. At the time of the match race he had raced 25 times for 17 wins, four seconds and two thirds. He had won his previous nine races on end, including equalling or setting three track records at his most recent three outings at Harold Park, Maitland and Cessnock.
Top Linen had also won the NSW Straight Track Championship, equalling the Wyong 420 yards track record, and then equalled the Maitland 440 yards track record at his next start.
Rookie Rebel (Dream’s Image x Lady Janellan) was a white and fawn dog whelped in December 1954. He was part of a litter that included stars such as Sunview and Smooth Event. At the time of the match race he had raced about 65 times (records are very vague unfortunately) for 35 wins, 17 seconds and six thirds. He was in brilliant form having won 13 of his previous 18 starts, with five placings.
Rookie Rebel had been beaten a nose in the 1957 Hobart Thousand, won the Melbourne Cup by six lengths from the brilliant Montana Jet, won the 1958 Hobart Thousand and defeated Magic Babe by four lengths in the Australian Cup.
Rookie Rebel had raced twice before at Harold Park, running a close fourth behind Fine Earl in January 1958 after coming from last early and then second to Red Namoi a couple of weeks later.
The owners of Top Linen and Rookie Rebel agreed to stage a two-way match race. The first would be over 500 yards at Harold Park with a return over 675 yards (617 metres) on the sand at North Melbourne a couple of weeks later.
As has often happened in races of this nature, the event proved a disappointment. While an above-average crowd turned out to watch the two champions do battle, Top Linen turned the race into a one-act affair. He bounded straight to the lead and simply raced away from Rookie Rebel to score by six lengths, running 26.4 to equal the track record.
Sadly, the return match race did not take place. On June 9, Rookie Rebel broke two toes in running a courageous dead-heat second over 675 yards at North Melbourne and was forced into retirement.
Rookie Rebel was only a moderate success at stud, his best progeny being Bybrae (x Byasta), who won the 1961 Melbourne Cup and was third in the 1962 Australian Championship and Sandy Stone (x Diamond Tiara), winner of the 1964 Hobart Thousand.
When Rookie Rebel was forced into retirement, Top Linen was also retired.
He had nothing more to prove and went to stud. He proved very successful partly because he provided a perfect outcross to greyhounds with Chief Havoc in their bloodline. His mating with Classy Jane produced the great Black Top (who went on to be one of the greatest sires ever seen in Australia) and Keen Linen (the inaugural National Derby winner).
He also sired Blue Autumn (x Eliza Ann), who became the first NSW Greyhound of the Year, in 1965, Old Tops (x Half A Nip), the 1964 Australian Cup winner, and his litter brother Good Nip, second in the 1965 Christmas Gift and a 1967 Australian Cup finalist.