Celebrating The Greats: Black Top – Made For The Classics

Former Association (NCA) director Bill Bracht dedicated his 1972 publication Greyhounds and Mechanical Lure Racing to , a greyhound he suggested was (at that time) ‘the greatest living greyhound in Australia, possibly in the world…’ It was a bold claim, but whatever reservations there may be about his level of standing in the pantheon of greats of the racetrack, there is no doubt Black Top went on to have an indelible impact on the breeding scene in Australia.

Bred by Edna Hanson, Black Top was whelped in February 1961, the product of former champion racer and smart race bitch Classy Jane and was owned and trained by Newcastle butcher Frank Holmes. Although Holmes had been training for many years, Black Top was the first greyhound he owned.

Black Top commenced racing at the age of 17 months on 28 July 1962, contesting a Maiden Stake over 580 yards (530 metres) at , scoring by half a length in a fair 32.4.

Two weeks later, the black dog was skittled and beaten 10 lengths into second place in a Fourth Grade race at Wentworth Park. He did not race again for almost six weeks. Holmes brought Black Top back to racing over 440 yards (402 metres) at on 19 September where he scored by four lengths in 23.7, the best time of the night.

On 30 September, he made his debut over 500 yards (457 metres) at and won by six lengths in a reasonable 26.9. Ten days later he followed this up by scoring again at Harold Park by two lengths, once more running 26.9.

Although he was considered one of the best young sprinters in New South Wales, Holmes decided to by-pass the prestigious Youthful Stakes and instead ran Black Top in a graded race at Harold Park on 20 October. He won by five lengths in 26.7, the best of the night.

One of the richest and most prestigious races in Australia, the semi-finals of the Vic Peters Memorial Classic (formerly known simply as the Harold Park Classic, but now re-named to perpetuate the memory of Vic Peters, the late long-serving Secretary of the GBOTA) were run at Harold Park on 3 November. Black Top had no trouble advancing to the final, scoring by six lengths in 26.6, once again the best time of the night.

Installed as a 4/5 favourite for the final on 10 November, Black Top began brilliantly and cruised to a five lengths victory in an amazing 26.4, equalling the track and world record set by his sire Top Linen four years earlier. Holmes gave Black Top a brief let-up before setting him for the NSW St Leger (now the ). He contested a quarter-final over 550 yards (503 metres) at Maitland on 28 November and made it two track records in a row as he bolted home 15 lengths clear in 29.5. Amos Barker won his quarter-final in 30.4.

In his semi-final, at Wentworth Park on 8 December, Black Top scored by six lengths in 31.8, a time well outside the new track record run of 31.1 set by the Victorian sprinter Saskaview. Another Victorian, Take A Bow, ran 31.3 in winning his semi-final. When Black Top came up with the coveted rails draw for the final, the fact he was conceding Saskaview 7/10ths (over 10 lengths) on their semi-final times was almost ignored and he was supported into 5/2 equal second-favouritism with Take A Bow. Saskaview went out 6/4 favourite.

Black Top began brilliantly while Saskaview, Take A Bow, and Northern Vista were all involved in a serious mix-up that cost them any chance they had. Black Top established a break of almost 10 lengths on the field at the half-way mark and although weakening towards the end he went on to win by four lengths from Amos Barker with rank outsider Larinette a nose away third. His time of 31.3 established a new race record.

He thus became the first and only greyhound to win the Vic Peters Memorial Classic and NSW St Leger in the same year.

The Sporting Globe, on 2 January 1963, noted, ‘Brilliant NSW puppy, Black Top, was the outstanding greyhound in 1962, with 10 wins and a second in 11 races…’ Had there been a Greyhound of the Year award there is no doubt Black Top would have been the winner.

Given a decent break, 1963 began badly for Black Top when he was unplaced as an even-money favourite in his first Invitation Stake at Harold Park on 16 February behind Banco Baron, who ran a fast 26.5. It later transpired Black Top had hit his head on the starting lids by coming out too fast. He was out of action for nearly two months.

He resumed to contest the Bi-Annual Classic at Harold Park, which in those days consisted simply of a series of non-betting heats and then the final. Black Top won his heat easily enough, by nine lengths in 26.5, but was then severely checked in the final on 13 April and beaten a neck in 26.8 by his litter brother Keen Linen.

Black Top came back to his best on 29 April when he won an Invitation Stake by two lengths in 26.5. He then scored again in an Invitation Stake on 25 May, winning by a substantial 10 lengths, again in 26.5. He made it three in a row on 10 June in scoring by four lengths, and once more registered 26.5. On 15 June, Black Top contested his first NCA Stake (top grade) at Wentworth Park and did not let supporters down, passing the post three lengths clear in 31.2, just 1/10th outside Saskaview’s track record.

A week later he again equalled the Harold Park track record with a four lengths wins over Macdillon, Percy Pringle, Biscuit Muldoon, Johnny Cola, Ryedale, and Gold Packet.

Set for the inaugural NCA Derby at Wentworth Park, Black Top shocked his fans when he was eliminated in his non-betting heat. One source suggests he turned in the boxes while Bill Bracht claimed in his book the champion had his ‘hind foot caught in the back door of the starting box when the lids opened.’

On 27 July, Black Top recorded his second NCA Stake success, winning by a length and a half in 31.5, a slow time because ‘twice he almost caught the lure and eased’.

Black Top was running out of opposition and on 9 August he contested what proved to be his final race, the Interstate Challenge at Wentworth Park. A field of only four greyhounds was drawn, two from NSW: Black Top and Keen Linen, and two from : The Stripper and Mulga Bay.

Black Top once again used his great early speed and went on to defeat The Stripper by three lengths with Mulga Bay third. His time of 31.2 was again easily the best of the night.

So, at just two and a half years of age, Black Top was retired as the leading prize money winner in Australia with £5,200 ($10,400). From just 20 starts he had notched 17 wins, two seconds and one unplaced effort.

At stud he proved a sensation (his most famous daughter being the great ) and offers of up to £6,500 were made for him to go to USA, but Frank Holmes always said he would never sell his precious greyhound.

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