Reliving the Woolley Wilson – Para Main match race 43 years on

IT was arguably one of the strangest match races ever organised in Australia. On June 15, 1973 Australia’s highest prize money winning sprinter and perennial crowd favourite, Woolley Wilson, took on the new Richmond track record holder, Para Main, in a 537m test at the Londonderry raceway.

Woolley Wilson was one of the most loved sprinting greyhounds of any era. By the time of the match race he had contested 62 races and notched 34 wins, 13 seconds and two thirds. His prize money had reached $36,000, second only to the great Zoom Top, and the best for a sprinting greyhound.

In 1972 Woolley Wilson first hit the headlines in narrowly winning the Winter Stake at Harold Park before running a strong second in the National Derby. He then won the Sid Graham Memorial over 537m at Richmond, equalled the Wentworth Park 530m track record and made the final of the National Sprint Championship, that year held at Sandown Park, although he tailed the field behind fellow NSW sprinter Lord Galaxy.

After running second in the Maitland Gold Collar, Woolley Wilson won the Vic Peters Memorial Classic at Harold Park, finished fourth in the NSW St Leger (now the Paws of Thunder) and fifth in the Christmas Gift.

Having won 22 of 44 starts in 1972 Woolley Wilson was one of the four finalists for NSW Greyhound of the Year, but missed out to Ragsie.

He had continued is good form into 1973 and coming into the match race Woolley Wilson was on the best winning streak of his career, having scored at his previous seven starts.

By contrast, Para Main was hardly a well-known competitor, and wasn’t even a specialist at the Richmond track. He had made the final of the Haig Scotch Whisky Trophy at Richmond in March, but was beaten six and a half lengths into third place by the smart Reena’s Raider.

In May, Para Main made the final of the Bulli All-Age Classic over 457m, finishing third behind Ellem’s Court.

After running second in his heat of the Air New Zealand USA Tour Trophy at Richmond on June 1, Para Main rocketed around the Londonderry course a week later in the final, scoring a scintillating three-length victory and running 31.75 to set a new track record. This time clipped 5/100ths off the previous mark set by the smart Petite Panther in 1971.

As expected, Woolley Wilson jumped straight to the front in the match race and led on settling down. What might not have been expected was just how close Para Main kept to the champion. In fact, although Woolley Wilson held sway for the entire journey he only scored by one length and ran 31.74, a time which clipped 1/100th from Para Main’s track mark but would not be recognised because the race had consisted of less than four runners.

Sadly, Woolley Wilson would go on to win only one more race, a Free For All at Wentworth Park just four days after his match race success. Woolley Wilson defeated Queensland champion Top Simbi, running a best time of the night 31.17.

Earlier that same night, Para Main was beaten into second place in slow time in a lower grade event.

After nine wins in a row, Woolley Wilson ran six consecutive placings, including a third in the National Derby, before contesting the National Sprint Championship series, held at both Harold and Wentworth Park’s in early September that year.

In those days the best of the Victorians and other states came to the host state for a round-robin series of quarter-finals and semi-finals to decide the final best eight for the final.

Para Main was also among the NSW nominations for the Championships.

Woolley Wilson and Para Main clashed for the first time in an actual race when they contested a quarter-final of the championship over 457m at Harold Park on September 1. The brilliant Quick Sweep gave nothing else a chance in the race and bolted away to score by five lengths from Woolley Wilson. Para Main was completely outclassed and finished seventh.

Both Woolley Wilson and Para Main clashed again a week later in the second series of quarter-finals of the championship, this time run over 530m at Wentworth Park.

This time Woolley Wilson could only finish sixth, while Para Main took fifth place.

After the event it was found Woolley Wilson had injured his right front foot. Two days later owner Gary Wilson and trainer Geoff Watt announced Woolley Wilson’s retirement.

Para Main was made a reserve for the Championship semi-finals but did not gain a start. He was then tried, with some success, over the middle distance, winning races over 617m at Bulli but never rose to anywhere near the heights of his match race vanquisher.