AFTER Healesville, the premier straight track in the country, conducted its showcase Cup day on Sunday September 11, it’s worth remembering that in past decades one of the ways in which owners and trainers would spruik the merits of their latest kennel champs was by challenging all comers to the four-legged equivalent of a duel at dawn: the match race.
While the record books are full of some classic, and not-so-memorable, match-ups on the circle, the seven match races recounted below all took place up the straight and, notably, not one of them featured a greyhound who was, or would become, a household name.
It will probably be no surprise that a lot of tracks in the early days following the start of mechanical hare racing in May 1927 were of the straight variety. After all, it was easy enough to plough a straight run of about 300 to 400 metres or so and the primitive technology in use was good enough to host competitive racing.
Taree was one such track and on January 21, 1928, it played host to what must surely have been the most one-sided match race in history. Competing over just 220 yards (the old Imperial furlong) Squizzy, probably named after the infamous Melbourne gangster ‘Squizzy’ Taylor (who had been killed the previous October) led all the way to defeat Javelin by a massive 15 lengths in 13.2 seconds.
On October 22, 1932, at the White City straight track in the suburb of Tottenham in Melbourne, the reigning champion Marion Hawk led all the way but only just held on to defeat Cormorant by a neck in 21.0 seconds, a new track record. The win was Marion Hawk’s seventh successive victory.
On April 19, 1949, the judge was unable to separate Bronze Imperial and Falcon Lair in a straight track race run over 400 yards (366 metres) at Wyong. This apparently led to an argument between H. Gentle and A. Thomas, the respective owners of the two greyhounds as to which one of them was in fact the superior of the pair. So, four days later, the duo met in a match race over the same distance at Wyong for a £200 ($400) wager, quite a sizable sum in those days. Bronze Imperial managed to run out the winner, but only by half a length over Falcon Lair.
The Appin straight track proved a popular place for match racing for a short time, with a 274-metre clash taking place there on January 13, 1978, between Black Chamfer and Salland Galaxy. Worth $2,000 to the winner, Black Chamfer defeated Salland Galaxy by a length in 16.30 to take his record at the course to 11 wins, three seconds and one third from just 17 outings.
On June 16, 1980, Appin played host to a memorable match race between local stars Pavan Jack and Eagle Warrior. Running over 366 metres, Eagle Warrior bounced out of box eight to lead by two lengths at the half-way mark, but this was cut back to just half a length as the pair reached the grandstand. Pavan Jack then finished far too strongly and pulled away to score by three lengths in 21.23 and collect $2,000 for his connections.
On November 21 the same year, a match race run over 366 metres at the Capalaba track proved a fizzer when Ambitious Eagle (the winner of the Capalaba Derby) downed Lazy Buck Too by six lengths. The latter had twice won the National Straight Track Championship and had won 11 of his 12 starts at Capalaba, so the resounding defeat was a shock. However, after the race it was found that Lazy Buck Too had injured his groin.
Finally, on January 17, 1981 Appin hosted a 274-metre match race worth $4,000 to the winner between Onyx Zephyr (out of box one) and Lazy Dynamite (box eight). Onyx Zephyr, trained by Ron Oldfield, had raced 15 times for nine wins, five at Appin, while Lazy Dynamite had scored 10 wins in 25 starts, and five of these had been at Appin. Onyx Zephyr made it six wins at the course in downing Lazy Dynamite by two lengths in a fast 16.16.
As for Healesville, I’m not aware of any match races having taken place at the course, but would be happy to be proved wrong.