Rookie Rebel: a stellar career in three states

HE IS rated as one of the greatest chasers of all time, yet, unlike Chief Havoc and Zoom Top, his complete racing record is not known. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, and a year later a Group 3 race was inaugurated in his honour and run, fittingly, over the 600 metres trip at the Meadows.

Rookie Rebel, a white and fawn dog, was whelped in December 1954, sired by Dream’s Image out of Lady Janellan. His litter included such outstanding greyhounds as Sunview (a top class racer and later a leading sire), Smooth Event (who won the Vic Peters Memorial Classic at Harold Park) and Sunmarker (later to be exported to the United States as a sire).

Rookie Rebel raced between 1956 and 1958 and in many races gave away starts to opponents. The state of Victoria was Rookie Rebel’s main hunting ground and handicap racing was a central part of the overall format.

Rookie Rebel began his career in October 1956 by winning a maiden event at Wagga. I don’t know much about what happened between then and early 1957 but he next popped up in the Hobart Thousand series, winning his way through to the final (held in February), only to be checked in running and beaten a nose by Rising Ace.

On 6 April 1957 he had his first start at Wentworth Park and scored a brilliant 10 lengths win over 580 yards (530 metres), running 31.50, just 1/10th outside the track record. He then went to Victoria where he won three of his next four starts before disappointing and being sold.

In June 1957 he was back at Wentworth Park but ran only fourth behind his litter brother Sunview. He again finished fourth at the track on 6 August. Apparently he was sold yet again and reappeared in Victoria.

Following a series of wins and placings in handicap events at Ballarat and Sandown Park over 496 and 565 yards respectively, Rookie Rebel won at the new North Melbourne track on opening night, 7 October, scoring by five lengths over 675 yards (617 metres).

On 8 November he defeated the very smart Cantee by four lengths in a heat of the Melbourne Cup over 565 yards at Sandown Park. Three days later he scored by seven lengths at North Melbourne before going under by three-quarters of a length to the classy Style Bird in his Melbourne Cup semi-final. Nonetheless he made it through to the final, scoring a brilliant victory on 29 November.

Wins and placings at North Melbourne followed before Rookie Rebel came back to Sydney and contested his first race at Harold Park on 11 January 1958. The 500 yards was not really to his liking but, after being forced wide he finished fast to be beaten only a neck into fourth place behind Fine Earl and Magic Babe in a quick 26.78.

Six days later he blitzed a field at Sandown by seven lengths and then won narrowly over 425 yards at North Melbourne. Returning to Harold Park on 25 January he finished a one and a half lengths second to Red Namoi.

He had a second crack at the Hobart Thousand and went through the series undefeated, winning the final on 15 February by an emphatic eight lengths in a speedy 29.80.

His next major assignment was the inaugural running of the Australian Cup, a handicap event conducted over 675 yards at North Melbourne. Rookie Rebel, off the backmark, won his heat on 17 March. Four days later he downed Lucky Bingo (who had won 16 of his previous 18 starts) by a length over 565 yards at Sandown Park in 30.14/16, a new track record. Magic Babe was third.

Three days after this he won his Australian Cup semi-final by eight lengths.

In the final of the Australian Cup on 31 March, Rookie Rebel was checked at the driving tower yet still managed to career away from Magic Babe and Idle Mate to win by four lengths in a track record time of 36.2/16. The win earned him the princely sum of £800 ($1,600).

He won his next start at the track by seven lengths before suffering interference when beaten into second place twice at North Melbourne. Following a third at Bendigo over the shortcourse, Rookie Rebel bounced back to his best with a five lengths win at Sandown Park on 23 May.

Then it was off to Sydney for a highly-publicised match race with the great sprinter Top Linen. The match race was scheduled to be the first of two between the champions. The 31 May event was over 500 yards at Harold Park (where Top Linen had swept all before him and held the track and world record) while the return match was to take place over 675 yards at North Melbourne.

The match race proved a no-contest as Top Linen made every post a winner, downing Rookie Rebel by six lengths. Victorians firmly believed the tables would be turned when Top Linen came to North Melbourne.

That return match never took place as on 9 June 1958 Rookie Rebel broke two toes in valiantly finishing second in a 675 yards race at North Melbourne and was forced into retirement at the age of three and a half.

He remains the only greyhound to have won the Australian, Melbourne Cup and Hobart Thousand and run second in another Hobart Thousand.

GRV publicity officer Neil Brown believes the dog raced 67 times for 36 wins, 17 seconds, and six thirds. The Greyhound Recorder believed he had notched 35 wins. No matter, Rookie Rebel’s three major race wins are collectively worth $745,000, based on 2014 figures.