A December 2010 item on the GRV website sought to make a comparison between the champion sprinters El Grand Senor and Brett Lee. Partly, of course, this was because El Grand Senor is a black dog with a blistering turn of early speed while Brett Lee was the same: black and fast early.
A highly contentious issue, in my opinion, was the assertion by the respected former AFL footballer Tony Lockett that he rated Brett Lee “as the best race dog of all time.” Champion trainer Graeme Bate correctly said, “there is no way known that El Grand Senor would be able to give Brett Lee a start and beat him.” I have no issue with that statement, but based on Brett Lee's career record the reverse is also true. That is, there is no way Brett Lee could have given El Grand Senor a start and beat him.
I have no doubt Brett Lee is entitled to a place among the genuine superstars of the track in Australia. His record of 29 wins and five seconds in just 37 career starts, earning $405,106 in prize money, and annexing four Group 1 finals (Adelaide Cup, Australian Cup, Golden Easter Egg, and Maturity Classic, all in 2001) is phenomenal. He also scored wins in the Geelong Guineas, Warrnambool Classic, and South Australian Interstate Challenge and was second in the Hobart Thousand.
His early speed helped Brett Lee set seven track records on six courses: 450 metres, Warrnambool; 515 metres, Angle Park (twice); 518 metres at The Meadows, 440 metres at Shepparton; 457 metres, Geelong; and 450 metres, Ballarat.
I happen to believe true greatness in a greyhound can only be measured in defeat. That is, how does a greyhound react when faced with a situation whereby he or she is unable to adopt his or her normal role in a race.
Brett Lee scored 28 of his 29 wins by either leading all the way or reaching the front well before the first bend. His only victory coming from behind was in a heat of the Maturity Classic when he was second at the first turn from box seven and eventually railed through to hit the front in the back straight, clearing out to score by 11 lengths.
Brett Lee raced three times from box one for three wins, and eight times from boxes two and eight for six wins and one second. These are the kinds of numbers you would expect from a topliner in a
From alleys four, five and six he started 15 times for nine wins and four seconds. In one unplaced run he was injured when eighth at the Meadows. He did not race again for three months.
Of Brett Lee's eight defeats, there were five second placings, one fourth, one seventh, and that one last placing.
I think it's his second placings that give an indication of Brett Lee's real position in the pantheon of stars. At his second race start he was beaten seven and three-quarter lengths by Trip And Go in the final of the Vic Breeder's Maiden at Ballarat.
Six months later, in December 2000, he was beaten three-quarters of a length by Elle's Supremo in a heat of the Hobart Thousand, in a field of just six starters. After winning his semi-final by eight lengths he was unable to best Tasmanian champion Top Shiraz in the final, going under by one length.
Brett Lee won his next 12 on end but then was beaten six and a quarter lengths by Just Craig in a heat of the Warrnambool Classic. Again there were only six starters in the field, but Brett Lee did overcome early trouble to make it through to the next round and ultimately the final, which he won with ease.
His fifth and final second placing came when he chased Hail A Harley all the way in a Melbourne Cup heat, but went under by four lengths. His average margin of defeat in those five second placings is 3.95 lengths. Mind you, his overall winning margin is an incredible 7.91 lengths.
As a way of comparison let me use the example of another speed greyhound, the brilliant 1980s New South Wales sprinter Brother Fox.
The Steve Kavanagh-owned and trained flyer won 12 of his 19 race starts, with five placings. He took out the 1984 Vic Peters Memorial Classic, 1985 Bi-Annual Classic, Potential Stakes and Hobart Thousand. He sprung a toe at his last start but still finished second.
He was the fastest greyhound ever to race at Harold Park, averaging 25.96 in his four wins at the course, including the track record of 25.82. No greyhound came closer than four lengths to him in any of his 12 victories and his overall winning margin is 9.25 lengths.
It is not my wish to denigrate the deeds of Brett Lee, nor those of El Grand Senor. I just think the criteria for deciding the true greatness of a greyhound is not decided by speed, especially early pace, alone.
If track records are the measure then Chief Havoc (a grandson of Silver Chief) with 16 or his daughter Macareena with 18 track records or equal records on a wide variety of courses could be argued as superior.
For me, Brett Lee's greatest asset was his amazing early speed (much like El Grand Senor) but his Achilles heel when it comes to looking at over eight decades worth of racing behind the mechanical lure is a doubt about his true grit when faced with trying to come from behind.
For that reason I believe the hype suggesting Brett Lee is the greatest Australian racer of all time is far too overblown.