In an article by my always-interesting colleague Bruce Teague entitled ‘A Fine and Ancient Sport’ one of the questions he asks is ‘what has been the role of coursing and straight track racing in developing the breed and the champion greyhounds we know today?’
I am not going to attempt to answer the first part of that question, that is, the role of coursing, but I will attempt to shed some light on the role of the straight track in shedding light on just some of the champions who have graced the recently closed Appin straight course.
Appin opened to great fanfare in October 1975, just over 37 years ago, arguably just around the time when greyhound racing’s popularity had peaked, is a sad day for the sport on many fronts.
With the closure of the Wyong straight track some years ago, and now Appin, New South Wales is without a straight course for the first time for more than six or more decades. (Incidentally, Wyong was the only club in the world to host greyhound, harness and thoroughbred racing).
No less than four NSW Greyhound’s of the Year as well as finalists for that prestigious award have competed, with mixed success, at Appin.
The sensational Ungwilla Lad, whose career stretched between 1975 and 1976 and resulted in 21 wins from 43 starts, raced just twice up the straight, running second at Appin but winning the National Straight Invitation Championship up the straight at Capalaba. He also won at Wentworth Park and Olympic Park (including the Australian Cup at just his fourth start).
The future 1977 NSW Greyhound of the Year Smooth Keith resumed from a seven-week spell with a hard-fought second up the 274-metres at Appin in 1976.
In his year of dashing brilliance, 1979, Acclaim Star, like Smooth Keith before him, resumed from a seven-week spell to score in the best of the day up the 274 metres at Appin. He would go on to become 1979 NSW Greyhound of the Year.
The 1980 Melbourne Cup and Hobart Thousand winner Black Aztec won his maiden at Appin by three lengths in the best of time of the day. He would go on to finish in the money at 31 of his 42 starts.
In the early stages of his career, another brilliant Harold Park sprinter and later NSW Greyhound of the Year finalist The Ringer recovered from a broken pelvis and the possibility of having to be put down by competing up the Appin straight. In a career that spanned 69 starts and 31 wins between 1983 and 1984, The Ringer won a record 19 457-metre races at Harold Park and competed at Appin eight times for three wins three placings.
The 1987 NSW Greyhound of the Year finalist Tutanekai Lad won at Appin and scored strong wins in the NSW Final of the National Sprint Championship (sixth in the National final in Hobart) and the Penrith Derby. He also scored victories at Wentworth Park.
Bobniak, the 1994 NSW Greyhound of the Year, won his first two starts up the Appin straight, eventually going on to score 16 wins from just 19 career runs, including eight at Wentworth Park.
Benny’s Alarm, the winner of 20 races at Wentworth Park, began his 93-start career up the Appin straight in 1997. His first four races were at Appin and resulted in two wins and one second.
The great Rapid Journey had his 15th and 16th starts at Appin in 1997, but could only run third and second respectively.
Around the same era Sally’s Title, who would win 20 races at Wentworth Park, nine of them over the 720 metres trip, began her career with a victory at Appin and then two more at Wyong.
1999 Brisbane Cup winner Bob’s One had his fourth start at Appin, winning in the best time of the day. He went on to 17 wins in 35 starts, including five at Wentworth Park.
The 2006 Golden Eater Egg finalist Pororoca had four starts at Appin, recording two wins (including the 2004 Appin Cup) and one second in his 89-start career. He also won two of four up the Wyong straight.
So, briefly accounted above are a dozen of the many Group-class racers who have competed at Appin. All of them were trained by some of the best in the business, and while the prize money might not have been attractive, clearly the opportunity of helping their charges either find their feet in the early stages of their career, or as a way to find some race fitness after injury or an extended layoff, the ‘straight’ was the way to go. Let’s hope we will once again see straight racing, and not allow it to be consigned to the archives of history like coursing and hurdling.