A BLACK and white male greyhound, his physically disabled owner, and a young racecaller were among the key ingredients that made up the 22nd running of the Vic Peters Memorial Classic, contested over 457 metres on the grass at Harold Park.
The black and white greyhound was Woolley Wilson (Benjamin John x Top Sapphire), named after his 21-year-old physically disabled and nearly blind owner Gary Wilson.
The night of November 4 1972 saw Sydney subjected to inclement weather, with heavy rain falling throughout the 10-event Harold Park program. Nevertheless, a large crowd was on hand to witness one of the best fields ever assembled for the Classic run for a record first prize of $7,000.
The previous week bookmakers at the course had taken a hammering when, for the first time in its history, all six semi-finals of the Classic had been taken out by firm favourites.
Woolley Wilson had drawn poorly in box six for what was the last semi-final on what was also a wet night. Despite the fact five favourites had already saluted, punters rallied to the Winter Stake winner and National Derby runner-up, and he went to the boxes at a short 1/3 ($1.30) quote. Trained by Geoff Watt (son of Hec Watt, the owner-trainer of the legendary Zoom Top), Woolley Wilson missed the start but accelerated to be third coming to the home turn and then proved too strong in the long run home, powering away to score by three lengths in 26.7 (timing in those days was to the nearest 10th of a second instead of the nearest 100th) over Free Reign. The latter qualified for the final by being one of the two fastest runner-ups.
Benny McGrath (winner of the Daphne Smith Memorial at Singleton and the Dapto Silver Collar) had set the time standard by recording 26.6 in taking out the second semi-final at the prohibitive odds of 2/7 ($1.28). The brindle dog was also trained by Geoff Watt.
The first semi-final fell to the Bob Doak-owned and trained William Todd, who just lasted to defeat the Victorian Cosmic Gem by half a head. William Todd was the first of three finalists sired by the Irish import Tivoli Dreamer. The others were Free Reign and Grand Metal, the winner of the fourth semi-final.
Grand Metal was trained by Pat Ward, and won his semi-final by eight lengths in 26.9 after the field packed behind him. The dog became Pat Ward’s second finalist as Free Reign was also in his kennels.
Spotted Seven took out the third semi-final in a slow 27.0, defeating the Victorian Strato Jet.
Shirley Opal became the only Victorian to win a semi-final, scoring by an easy six lengths after exiting box one, and running 26.7. Shirley Opal, along with Cosmic Gem, was trained by Barry Lawry. Thus three trainers had six of the runners in the prestigious final.
In the Vic Peters Memorial Classic final, Woolley Wilson was sent out a 6/4 ($2.50) favourite after drawing well in box two, the same alley he had occupied to narrowly win the Winter Stake.
Being almost blind, Gary Wilson usually relied on someone else to tell him what was happening to his greyhounds in their races, and on final night the task fell to Graham McNeice, at the time a young racecaller and protege of the feisty Frank Kennedy. McNeice later went on to become one of the lynchpins of Sky Channel.
The news McNeice was conveying to Gary Wilson through much of the race was not particularly good. The black and white sprinter had begun only fairly and although running well he was only third as the field swept for home, chasing the high-flying pair of Free Reign and Grand Metal.
Yet, as in his semi-final, Woolley Wilson dug deep and over the final 30 metres or so, he overwhelmed the leading pair to go on and score by two lengths from Free Reign with Grand Metal third and Benny McGrath flashing home along the fence to take fourth.
The win took Woolley Wilson’s earnings towards $25,000 after only eight months of racing. He later went on to be a beaten finalist, by Ragsie and then He’s Some Boy, for the NSW Greyhound of the Year title in 1972 and 1973 respectively.
All told, Woolley Wilson raced 73 times for 36 wins, 16 seconds and six thirds and $40,906 in prize money, the third-highest at the time behind Zoom Top and Lizrene.