Certainly one of the most exciting times of the year for Greyhound Racing in Australia is in August September. It’s Nationals time and for many different reasons they represent a very unique series of racing.
It not only brings together a number of class performers over both the Sprint and Distance courses in the National Finals. It is also a time when many yearly friendships are re-kindled as the greyhound fraternity from each state assembly for almost a week of conferences’, socialising and of course outstanding greyhound racing.
The National Championships have been conducted in many forms with the National Sprint first being staged at Harold Park in 1965 when won by Best Sun (NSW). They alternated around the four city tracks in Melbourne and Sydney until 1977 when the sprint final was staged for the first time in another state at the Gabba in Queensland.
The Distance Championship for some reason followed a different path and it was first run in 1969 when won by Victorian Amerigo Lady at Wentworth Park, the race then went to Sandown the following year. Then in 1971 was staged in Hobart and alternated around the states from that time on.
The two championships were staged differently and at different times of the year until costs probably governed the change in 1994 and we saw both championships run concurrently in the same state decided on two nights of racing. Since the establishment of the Australian Greyhound Racing Association in 1990, the national body made up of member clubs from each state now oversee the Championships, group racing and a number of national issues including the Australian Greyhound Racing Association Hall of Fame.
The championships in both Sprint and Distance has always been a most sought after title and the nature of representing ones state is most important with followers very precocial about flying the flag for the part of Australia were they happening to live. In the Sprint all states have produced a winner, while over the Distance only Tasmania is yet to strike a blow.
The states have had a few different ways of finding their representative over the years but of the most recent 15 years or so they have conducted heats then a state final to determine who will be their rep. In the sprint and distance the home state has two finalists and the reserves, while over the Distance both Victoria and New South Wales alternate having two finalists due to the fact that the Northern Territory have little or no distance racing.
In 2002 for the first time in many years the Northern Territory have decided the competition is a bit too tough and will not have a sprinter in the National final. This decision could change in the future but for the time being Victoria and New South Wales will alternate having two runners in the final as they do in the distance decider.
Going back to the inaugural National Sprint in 65 as mentioned above the winner Best Sun clocked 26.6/10ths for the 500 yards at Harold Park. He was owned and trained by Ed Batiste and he defeated Satyr Rocket and Chariot Charm with the other finalists Black Tess, He’s Lighting, Billy Vee, Triple Speed and Lady Sonice.
At Olympic Park in 66 Victorian Kinta’s Son beat Sydney pair Trapper Joe and Mickey Joe in 30.9/16ths. The Bob Bowman trained sprinter had previously won the Melbourne Cup in 1965.
In 1967 for the first time at Wentworth Park the host state provided the winner by way of Meteor Paso (box one) and runner up in Swan Opal with Victorian Munich Boy third in 31.8/16ths for the 580 yards. Back in Victoria in 1968 for the first time at Sandown Park brilliant Warrnambool sprinter Princess Kerry begun quickly from box eight and lead all the way to beat Victorian Palatinus and New South Wales’ Second Stage in 31 2/16ths over the 555 yards.
1969 saw the first staging of the Distance title at Wentworth Park it was won by very smart Victorian Amerigo Lady. Raced by industry icon the late Buck Buchanan and trained in New South Wales by Neville Ballinger she beat a crack field with Holding second and all time distance superstar Zoom Top third in 43 7/10ths over the 790 yards.
The sprint was held at Harold Park over the 500 yards and was won by the home states Red Zero at 4/7 winning by eight lengths he beat Zoom Top’s sister Busy’s Charm and the brilliant Queenslander Pied Rebel third in 26 7/10ths.
The Sprint Championship during the seventies produced some of the great winners commencing at Olympic Park in 1970 the Victorian Regal Hermes (box 4) won for master trainer Ned Bryant, he defeated Pied Rebel. At the same venue in 1974 a greyhound that was to become a phenomenon at stud the mighty Temlee won on his favourite track in 29.71 for the 511 metres. The previous year Melbourne Cup winner New Mariner journeyed to Harold Park and beat arch rival Half Your Luck in 26.28 for the 457m. New South Wales claimed back to back winners in 71 and 72, firstly King Miller won at Wentworth Park defeating Milo’s Charm and Top Saba in 31 1/16ths. While Lord Galaxy repeated the dose at Sandown in 30 9/16ths when he beat Saucy Princess (Vic) and Sharp Tak (NSW).
The first Queenslander to win the title was in 1975 when Cooparoo Flyer (box five) won at Wentworth Park he was to finished third the following year at Sandown Park behind Clover Duke (NSW) who recorded 30.65 and beat the brilliant Odious.
Over the distance in 1970 legendry owner-trainer-breeder Rod Deakin’s Sargood won the event at Sandown recording 44.00. The title went to Hobart in 71 and Victoria’s Saki Dasher won over the 737 yards for former Australian Rules legend Bob Pratt. In 72 at Harold Park Bubbles Luck kept the Victorian bandwagon going when she saluted for astute Melbourne bayside trainer Joe Hull. Off to the Gabba in Brisbane for the first time in 73 and the brilliant Victorian He’s Some Boy won the title over the 704m in 43.09. The same venue staged the sprint title in 1977 and for the first time the event was run in another state other than Victoria or New South Wales. Victorian Bowetzel was too good for Camden Glider and Just Biddy recording 32.70.
Angle Park in South Australia hosted the event in 78 and it was to be the first West Australian winner by way of Mr.Toewhyte the black and white sprinter recorded 30.69. While over the distance at Angle Park in 74 Victorian Corcoran became Rod Deakin’s second winner clocking 44.56 over the 731m. Breaking the Vic’s strangle hold in 75 at the Gabba was outstanding NSW stayer Dotie Wilson she beat Alan Wheeler’s Tintawin from box one in 41.66. Victoria was back again at Angle Park in 76 when Billy Van Polen’s Bolta’s Gift was too smart for Swedish Mink in 44.66.
New South Wales scored back to back wins in 77 and 78 when Wooley Wong won at Harold Park Coven Vista was runner up and Mia Wella third in 43.58. Then Dusty Jenny won the championship in Hobart defeating Mandaquita and Butch Again in 43.30 a track record.
The 70’s finished with the Sprint final at Cannington WA in 79 and super sprinter Acclaim Star won for Billy Fletcher; the black and white dog smashed the track record running 30.95. He won the Melbourne Cup the same year, while over the distance in 1979 at Olympic Park yet another Victorian got the money in Mary Marella. In an easy eight-length victory she was too classy for Queenslander Katie’s Disco and W.A.’s Lively Red. Owned and trained by Terry McDonald and starting 5/1 she recorded a winning time of 44.09.
The Sprint title in 1980 was held at Harold Park and it was won by a specialist on that circuit Fast Sapphire, he beat fellow New South Wales powerhouse General Jeff in a quick 26.72. At Olympic Park in 81 South Australia’s Kate’s A Scandal created an Australian record for consecutive wins, it was her 15 victory in a row. Using box one to full advantage she beat star all distance performer Picture This, raced by former North Melbourne Kangaroo’s boss Greg Miller.
Up at the Gabba in 82 and track specialist, the brilliant Madonna Lee brought up a home town win defeating Victorian’s Tempix Image and Kid Campbell in 32.73.
Over the same years the Distance title was run at Sandown Park in 1980 and the in form All Promise won for Sandown club director Ray Bryon scoring in a slick 43.92. In 1981 the title was staged at Launceston for the first time and Shamrock Jewel purchased for $3000 from a Sporting Globe add by John Stephens and Jeff Davies brought home a memorable victory for the boys when starting 2/1 favourite she beat Calruin in 44.87.
Finally after 13 years of domination between Victoria and New South Wales in 82 a winner came from another state. In her home town at Angle Park Bay Road Queen broke the sequence with a well-dissevered win by a neck in 44.03 for Merv Pedler she beat Rawpack and was later to become an outstanding brood bitch.
But back in Hobart in 1983 and the Vic’s hit back with a win to Ten Guitars in 43.91 starting favourite at 5/4 he beat local star Lygon Leader and Tony Zammit’s Pewter Frost.
In an unusual turn of events for the distance title the South Australian’s produced back to back winners in 84 and 85. Princess Baden saluted at Cannington defeating Supreme Carmen and Tashla in 44.32. While Melmade Gazza won at Launceston, trained by leading mentor Colin Wachtel he proved too good for Supreme Carmen, runner up again and Level Charm in 44.06 .
In the sprint during the middle 80’s we witness the mighty Winifred Bale at Harold Park in 83 beat Queenslander Lord Tegimi in 26.13. It was only one of many feature race wins that saw her retire as the first greyhound to win $100,000 in stakes. 84 again at Harold Park and Busy Vintage became the first and only Tasmanian to win the title. Trained by David Crosswell he gave his charge ever chance arriving in Sydney early and preparing the black speedster for a memorable win. Eaglehawk Star was runner up in 26.38.
As mentioned earlier South Australian’s won the next two at Sandown and at home at Angle Park. Both trained by Petar Jovanoic Scenic Spa from box six beat Storm Glade in 30.70 and Stetson recorded a brilliant 29.98 to hold out two fantastic sprinters in Shining Chariot and Camden’s Ghost. In 87 it was another first this time for the West Aussies at Hobart over the 457m. Fremantle Echo caused a boilover by defeating local superstar True Vintage probably the best sprinter to ever race on the Apple Isle. The local champ lead, but was hauled in by the Sandgroper recording 26.39 in a sensational victory.
In 88 at the Gabba it was again home track advantage when track specialist Dancing Gamble beat fellow Queenslander Daring Coup and See Yah in 32.89.
89 rounded out the 80’s and produced one of the great champions of all time. West Australian Sandi’s Me Mum inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, not only did she win the Title on her home track at Cannington. But is the only greyhound in history to win it twice following up the next year at Sandown. At home she beat her sister Sand Pebble and Victorian Davey 31.78. While in 1990 she clashed with an equally brilliant bitch of the time Victorian and fellow Hall of Famer Highly Blessed. At Sandown “Sandi’s” flew the boxes from seven and was never in danger, defeating Pharspan with Highly Blessed third in 30.70.
The distance title’s of the late 80’s again found some smart winners, in 86 on her home track at the tricky Gabba Kirsty’s First became the first Queenslander to win the event. From box two the 8/11 fav won easily by five lengths from superstar National Lass and Cool Linen. It was a star studded field as both Truly Lightning and the mighty Bold Trease finished unplaced. Back at Olympic Park in 87 and Len Ketelaar’s Mystic Hope a superbly bred stayer that was born for the caper, always raced handy to the lead. She won the prize as a 4/6 fav from box four in 44.29. At Wentworth Park in 88 Joe Hili the former pigeon fancier come top greyhound trainer won the title with the brilliant front runner High Intensity. Later that year the dog was lucky to be alive after a fight with talented kennel mate Rich Return. However on Distance final night he was as fit as a trout and at 4/1 beat the favourite Dennis Reid’s wonderful stayer Whip Tip in 42.93.
In 89 back at Angle Park it was a home town victory for Julep the tiny stayer who went into the final under a cloud, gave nothing else a chance recording 43.79 just 0.2 outside Truly Lightning’s record. It was justice for trainer Brian Arthur as she missed the previous year’s final suffering an injury after brilliantly winning to qualify.
The 1990 distance final at Olympic Park saw a win to locally trained Clean Machine, the greyhound’s first start over 700 was in the state heat. Finishing second he then won the final and proved too good in the National decider a week later. He beat the outstanding NSW star Kirsty’s Charity by a neck, with Toinette third in 44.00. Even more surprizing was the fact that Clean Machine only ever won one more staying race in his career over 716 at Sandown Park.
At the Gabba in 91 and again that track’s home ground advantage was to the fore when Just A Charm beat Gem Supreme and Travelling Short in 41.45. Surprisingly the first prize was a whopping $50,000 as it had been in 1990.
92 at Wentworth Park and brilliant front running Victorian Pace Galore proved too good for the favourite Tony Zammitt’s Elusive Odie and Fire Cape. Charlie Mallia’s stayer was later crowned Victorian Greyhound of the Year. Prizemoney for the race took a dive to $20,000 to the winner and remained that until the 2001 titles when it went back to a respectable $40,000 and group one status.
93 and the championship was conducted in Perth, it resulted in a win to New South Wales stayer Billy’s Blondie. Raced by leviathan owner Ray Richards and trained by Greg Wynn, Richards was later to race the mighty Hall of Famer Tenthill Doll. “Billy’s” started even money favourite and beat local Shady Nitro in 44.89.
Again at Wentworth Park in 94 and NSW made it back to back when the favourite Miss Cruise staged one of the biggest runs ever seen on a dog track, she got up to win in the shadows of the post after being last for almost a lap. Winning by a half-length she beat Tilka Lass and Nikemos at 8/11 in 43.59.
Sprint finals went the way of some more brilliant greyhounds in 91 at Wentworth Park one of the darlings of Sydney’s sprinters was Jessica Casey she proved too good for Racing Hawk and Just Brilliant in 30.66. Starting 6/4 favourite it was one of many big race wins for the pin up girl raced by the Finns. At Olympic Park in 92 and central Victorian middle distance performer Mr Slick was too strong in the run home for Sea Mission and Major Fleet in a fast 30.02. Starting at 7/1 it was a night owner-trainer John Gould will never forget.
Over to Angle Park in 93 and a home town win by way of the very talented Casino Tom. “Tom” was South Australia’s fourth winner when the Peter McAvaney trained speedster, started 14/10 favourite, beat Victorian Amy’s Doll with Ben’s Image (NSW) third in 29.98.
Wentworth Park was again the scene for the 1994 Sprint title and it resulted in an easy win to the Victorian owned New South Wales trained Gallant Ruler. Exploding from the boxes he was never in danger winning by 12 lengths in 30.38. Starting favourite at 13/8 from box four he beat Victorian Kyasha and South Australia’s Fear None.
The Nationals in 1996 moved to Queensland and were staged by the Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club at Albion Park. Victorian Shayne’s Champ won the sprint in 30.23. Trained by Petar Jovanovic it was his third title, he also won in 1985 and 1986 with Scenic Spa and Stetson and holds the most number of wins record. Shayne’s Champ defeating Queenslander Ultra Dreams and South Australian Monsieur Zac. Over the distance it was a home town win for leading trainer Ron Ball with Boronia Blossom proving to good Glider Line (NSW) and Victorian Northern Legend third in 42.43.
Ball’s champion stayer created distance championship history becoming the first greyhound to win the series twice after winning the previous year at Olympic Park. 1995 was certainly a unique year for Ball; he became the first trainer to prepare both National winners when his other superstar Flying Amy won the sprint at Sandown Park.
“Amy” jumping from box five was awesome in defeating Tap Dance (NSW) and Ginger Magee (VIC) in 30.08. At Olympic Park Boronia Blossom 7/1 accounted for Wide Receiver (NSW) and odds on favourite Keon Star (VIC) in 43.72.
1997 the championships moving to Angle Park, terrible weather marred both nights of racing, but in the sprint a young champion emerged in the form of Prince of Tigers. Trained in West Australian by Jim Robinson the big black sprinter beat Chicago Blue the Victorian who later won the Top Gun and local star Larrikin McLaren, he ran a sizzling 29.68. Many at the track felt the Victorian was desperately unlucky in the run. Unfortunately injury cost Prince of Tigers a long career but he has been a successful sire. In the Distance final rank outsider Ibrox Park starting at 14/1 found the bunny in the wet and held off challenges from Queenslander Shape Shifter and local sprinter/stayer Tribute To Dad too win in 43.17 for New South Wales owner-trainer Billy Dance.
Off to the West in 1998 and the big crowd in attendance was treated to a mighty performance from all time super star Rapid Journey. Standing the field a hugh margin, when at one stage he was back last he stormed home to win the title running down the bolter Bula Boy 33/1 and Queenslander Faithful Hawk who later won an Easter Egg, the time was 31.22. Cannington’s distance final went the way of local star Paradise Street, trained by leading mentor Linda Britton, the favourite at 6/4 proved to strong for Cape Drina and Shar Den in 41.75.
With Sydney hosting the 2000 Olympic Games, New South Wales swapped with Tasmania and Wentworth Park was the venue for the 1999 series finals. On an excellent night of racing both finals were held on the same night for the first time. Sydney sprinter Harry Hand begun well to hold the lead and made the race his own when he beat fellow Sydneysider Woy Woy Boy and WA’s Billy The Duck in 30.31. Raced by Richie and Pat Dean it was yet another big race triumph for the successful kennel. A few notable unplaced finalists were Top Shiraz, Legs Ahoy and Faithful Hawk. The Distance final went to front running Queensland stayer Kobble Creek, a brilliant effort of sustained pace saw the brindle bitch trained by Helen Ivers defeat the 99 winner Paradise Street and Sydney star Dalalla in a fast 42.55.
The New Millenium
In the year of Australia’s Olympic Games it was Launceston’s turn to host the Nationals and I must say the series was no doubt the most enjoyable I have been too. The history and charm of the Tasmanian City, that hasn’t seemed to have changed at all since I first went there in the early 70’s. The track and stands were also testimony to how long the sport has been held with importance on the Apple Isle. The Distance final held on the Thursday night recorded a win for one of Australia’s most popular stayers Osti’s Joker.
Starting all the rage at 9/10 favourite, the result was never in doubt as the champion raced away to beat Classic Xena and Blue Emmalisa in 45.05. In the sprint on the Saturday again the odds on favourite New South Wales Placard proved way too good for Kialdu D’or and Coulta Bandit, his time was 30.76 for 522m. Raced by popular Rugby League star Terry Hill and trained by Ray and Ruth King. Hill sent his friend, veteran top trainer Jim Coleman to Tasmania with Placard earlier than normal to acclimatise and the move paid dividends.
It was back in Melbourne in 2001 with the distance being staged at Sandown Park and a quinella to Moe trainer Peter Giles. His in form stayer Tip Top Tears blitzed her run on kennel mate Gate Way in a flying display of 42.46. At the Meadows for the sprint and it was another heart breaking feature second for Carlisle Jack when he lead every where except the post and was run down for the third week in a row by the Graham Bate trained Henerik Bale. It was a disserved win in the title to Australia’s leading trainer, his first after having many finalists and a few placings over the years. Consistent South Australian Silver Saul was third in a brilliant 29.82.
2002 and the Nationals were staged in beautiful Brisbane with both finals at Albion Park on the Thursday night. It was a night to remember for the Victorians when they won both finals. The Sprint went to the talented In The Frame starting 8/1 she got to the front early from box two and was never headed recording 30.26 she beat local Edward’s Affair and fellow Victorian the odds on favourite at 8/11 Modern Assassin. Raced by Sandown director David Gleeson it was his biggest thrill after almost a 40 year involvement in the sport. In the Distance final star stayer of his year Boomeroo was awesome when he gave his rivals a galloping lesson bolting in by seven lengths and posting a new track record of 41.61. The record has stood until broken by Queenslander Lucy’s Light in July 2006. Starting short at 6/4 he beat two local stars McDeebee the 5/4 fav and Dooley’s Mist.
Off to Adelaide for the Championships in 2003 and the sprint was taken out by brilliant Queenslander Elite State starting $2.25 favourite he showed his absolute class coming from mid field to take the lead at the home turn and win by five lengths in a brilliant 29.33 from local pair Lion Hearted and Fitzroy Jim. Trained by Reg Kay he was retired early to stand at stud in New South Wales. The Distance final was a one act affair for Victorian Champion Arvo’s Junior he stormed home to beat New South Wales star Irinka Barbie and West Australian Bella’s Angel. Bred and raced by George Arvanitis the National Distance Championship was one of many major wins for the superstar stayer who won over $300,000 in stakemoney.
In 2004 the Championships returned to one of the country’s most popular venues Perth and at Cannington it was a night for New South Wales when that state produced the winner of both finals. In For Life trained by Jodie Gilbert hung on by a neck in 30.78 to defeat South Australian Give Me Dosh and Victorian Sun Hero who later returned to win the Perth Cup. In a shorten career we never saw much of In For Life after his win in sprint final. Jason Mackay’s very smart stayer Classy Customer was very impressive in winning the Distance final in a fast 42.31 defeating Toss O’Reilly and Away Out Blue. Raced by veteran Melbourne trainer Bob Douglas he had been given to Douglas as a pup in return for a good will gesture from New South Wales friend and trainer Glen Withers, the “Customer” went on to win over $200,000.
2005 the Championships were back to their original home of Sydney and Wentworth Park, premier Victorian sprinter Pure Octane was an outstanding winner in the sprint final he recorded a fast 29.91 defeating fellow Victorian Junior’s Gipsy and local Buddy Rich. In a stellar year he won three group ones and was later judged Victorian and Australian Greyhound Of The Year. The Distance final went to the in form New South Wales stayer Texas Gold trained by Jason MacKay he made it back to back titles for the trainer. “Texas” was in a race of his own winning by 10 lengths from fellow New South Wales stayer Resigned and Victorian Mixed Up Mary the time was 42.07. Bred and raced by Queenslander Helen Ivers Texas Gold was another quality performer Ivers had bred from her brilliant dam line.
2006 The Nationals were staged at Launceston in Tasmania on the new track at Tasman Park for the first time. The new venue provided up to date facilities as it was a shared complex with the other codes. New South Wales Trainer Jason Mackay continued his amazing Nationals success producing the Sprint winner Immortal Love. The talented galloper recorded a new track record of 29.52 winning by five and a half lengths from Queenslander Buckingham Chuck and Victorian Fenceline. In the distance final it was another track record of 42.49 for South Australian Bothing and the first success for a croweater since Melmade Gazza won also at Launceston in 1985 on the old track. She proved too good in an upset from Victorian Itza Bee and WA’s Ronray Dancer.
2007 back in Victoria the Nationals took on an International feel with the staging of the World Greyhound Racing Federation conference in conjunction with the local event. Hosted by WGRF President and GRV Chairman the late Jan Wilson it was an outstanding success with plenty of credit from delegates from all parts of globe singing the praises of Australia Greyhound Racing and the organisation of the host club Sandown.
The sprint final staged at Sandown saw the fast finishing New South Wales sprinter Bit Chilli storm home over the last 100 metres to run down South Australian Scull Murphy and WA’s Back Tonight in 29.88. The winner had benefited from extensive racing in Victoria under the care of master trainer Kel Greenough before returning home for the championships and his NSW mentor Ruth Matic. In the distance final superstar Victorian Flashing Floods held off brilliant Queenslander Miss Brook and fellow Victorian Kippy Kya to win the title in 42.95 at the Meadows. Flashing Floods was later crowned Victorian and Australia Greyhound of the Year in 2008.
2008 and it was back to Wentworth Park with the NSW GBOTA as host club. In the distance final the well supported Mantra Lad hung on in the shadows of the post to beat fellow Victorian Rebel Angel and brilliant Tasmanian Fallen Zorro to win by a neck in 42.30. The versatile all distance performer was to go on and carve out a magnific career for New South Wales owner-breeder Martin Hallinan and Victorian trainer Graeme Jose. He contested 56 races for 26 wins and 17 placings amassing $455,985 in prizemoney. The National Distance final was only his 17th race start and 7th over 700 metres. In the sprint final outstanding Queenslander Knocka Norris made the race a one affair when he scored by seven and a half lengths in a fast 29.83. He defeated Mountain Of Love and Victorian All Caution, tragically the brilliant sprinter was to only race on two more occasions retiring due to serious injury which saw his short career cut to only 32 starts for 21 wins and two placings.
That brings us to last year and back in the West the championships took an interesting twist when at the 2008 Annual meeting the clubs pasted a motion put forward by the Brisbane Club to introduce a wild card entry to each final. AGRA had been posting rankings each month since 2005. Greyhounds earnt points in Group races only on a sliding scale first to eighth and were ranked accordingly. Since the Darwin club had not participated in the championships the final spot use to fall to a Victorian or New South Wales runner-up in each State final on an alternate basis. The final spot now falls to the highest ranked greyhound that competes in a State final without winning. The concept has proving to be a winner with added promotion and speculation as to which dog might win the wild card. It could not have been given a better start after Victorian wild card entry Jarvis Bale easily won the Distance final by five and half lengths for veteran race team owner Paul wheeler and trainer Graeme Bate. He beat local star Red Shilling and fellow Victorian Vintage Octane in 41.93.
In the sprint final short priced favourite Victorian star Dyna Lachlan had to be content with second place behind Queenslander Dashing Corsair who boldly lead most of the way in 30.29. Raced by Paddy Fitch and trained by Dwyer Lennon he will attempt to create history next week when he takes his place from box one in the 2010 National Distance final at Angle Park. No greyhound has ever won both titles and he will certainly start a sentimental favourite to complete the task.
Having seen my first National final at Sandown Park in 1968 when Princess Kerry jumped brilliantly from box eight to lead all the way, I have been fascinated with the history and the many champions that have won the events over the years.