The 50th anniversary of the Sydney Cup (720 metres), the oldest of the four main Sydney-based distance races, proved to be an historic event in more ways than might have been expected.
Obviously, being the 50th anniversary of a race first run in 1963 was significant enough, but the presence of Tasmanian star stayer Bell Haven added to the sense of occasion. The 2012 victor was attempting to become only the second greyhound in the long history of the race to win it twice. Finally, the presence of the American-bred stayer Lucy Wires perhaps gives a glimpse of the gradual globalization of our sport.
The records show that only the great Miss High Lo has been successful in defending a Sydney Cup title. Miss High Lo won the 1973 Sydney Cup by five lengths over the-then 722 metres on grass, running a race record 42.88. She returned in 1974 and was even more devastating, scoring by nine lengths in 42.85, obviously breaking her own race record. That record stood until the track was closed for remodeling in 1986.
Bell Haven faced a daunting task in trying to retain the title as no less than five other previous winners have made it into back-to-back finals and failed to lift the cup for that second time.
The first of these was the greyhound considered by many to be the greatest to ever grace an Australian racetrack: Zoom Top. In 1968 the Fawn Flash had defeated the champion Victorian stayer Miram Miss by four lengths in 43.2, breaking the existing track record.
A year later, Zoom Top won her heat of the Sydney Cup in a new track record time of 42.9 and looked to have a mortgage on the final. Yet she struck severe interference at the first turn in the final, her sister Busy’s Charm falling and Zoom Top was forced to hurdle her to avoid the same fate. Zoom Top made up a huge amount of ground but had to be content with fourth behind Our Vent.
In 1980 Henry’s Girl took the final but in 1981 she was unplaced behind Supreme Hiwai.
These were the only three to win and attempt to defend their title on the ‘old’ Wentworth Park track.
In 1998 Gallant Seagull scored on the loam circuit but could only run fourth in 1999 behind the brilliant Queensland stayer Kobble Creek.
Resigned scored in the 2004 final, defeating the more fancied Classy Customer. The next year Resigned was third, beaten almost eight lengths, behind Royal Riddle and Texas Gold, the winner equaling the track record.
Royal Riddle in turn made the 2006 final but could only run fifth to the Queenslander Quidame.
So, Bell Haven is in exalted company when it comes to trying to defend a Sydney Cup title.
As an aside, there have been 11 other greyhounds who have made a Sydney Cup final twice, but only two of these have managed to win the event at this second attempt. The first was Pleasure O’Hope who was unplaced behind Supreme Hiwai in 1981 but came back for a strong win in 1982 and the South Australian star Raven Kelly, second to Trojan Tears in 1993, deservedly won the 1994 version.
Lucy Wires’ victory this year is (and I stand to be corrected on this) the first major race to fall to an American-bred greyhound in Australian history. Of course, very few greyhounds born and bred in the United States have ever made it to these shores, unlike a period in the 1960s and 1970s when quite a few Irish racers were imported and some acquitted themselves in great style (Which Chariot and Smooth Approach are two that spring readily to mind).
Lucy Wires, of course, has done all her racing in Australia, but she still deserves to be recognized as the pathfinder for the US breeding and racing industry.