In a career spanning just 14 months, from March 1957 until May 1958, the brilliant sprinter Top Linen (Fine Linen x Brenda Gay) carved his name into the annals of Australian greyhound racing’s all-time greats.
A white and brindle dog, whelped in May 1955, he was bred and owned by Doug Hobden and trained throughout his short career by Ray Cann.
Top Linen commenced racing in a 320-yards (292 metres) maiden event up the straight at Richmond on 30 March 1957. Drawn in box two in the 10-dog field, Top Linen raced away to score by five lengths in 16.5, the equal best time of the day.
Top Linen won only two of his next six outings, finishing second in three, including his first start over 500 yards (457 metres) at Harold Park. He burst into prominence on 1 June, scoring a brilliant six lengths victory in the Richmond Championship up the 410-yards (375 metres) straight. His time of 21.0 was easily the best of the day and just 1/10th outside the track record.
Two weeks later, he defeated Jimmy Jewel by three-quarters of a length in 20.9, equalling the track record. The classy Fine Earl was three lengths away third.
On 29 June, Top Linen returned to Harold Park in a Progressive Stake. At this time most races at Harold Park contained 10 starters, and from box six Top Linen was last away. Only ninth at the first turn, he moved up to sixth turning for home. Although hampered in the long run home, he finished fast out wide but was beaten three lengths into fourth place by Logan River. This was his second unplaced run in 10 starts. It was also his last.
Two weeks later, Top Linen was beaten into third place at Muswellbrook, going down by six and a half lengths. He would be defeated just twice more in his remaining 15 career outings. Returning to Harold Park on 20 July, he exited box nine and was well placed in fourth position going into the first turn. Taking command in the straight he careered away to score by eight lengths in a fast 26.65, the best time of the night.
On 3 August, Top Linen contested his first Invitation Stake. From box five he was last away but advanced to fifth at the first turn. Sweeping off the bend he moved into second position before taking the lead half way down the home straight and going away to defeat Red Namoi by three and a half lengths. Top Linen’s time of 26.50 equalled the track and world record for 457 metres.
The standard had been set in October 1948 by China Lady and equalled in September 1953 by the great Macareena and twice in April 1954 by Plunkett’s Pride.
Top Linen scored again at Harold Park on 29 August, once more relegating Red Namoi to runner-up. Heavy rain had made the track a bog, but Top Linen’s time of 26.76 was easily the best of the night.
Given a short spell, Top Linen resumed at Harold Park on 6 October, but in a surprise was beaten a head by the classy Magic Babe in a fast 26.61. The white and brindle dog did not race again for over four months.
Top Linen started 15 times in 1957 for eight wins, four seconds and one third, winning the Richmond Straight Track Championship and equalling the 457 metres track record at Harold Park and the 375 metres record at Richmond. He returned to racing on 22 February 1958 in an Invitation Stake at Harold Park. In what some people considered a poor performance, Top Linen was defeated by a length and a half, finishing third behind Magic Babe and the smart Montana Jet. He was never beaten again.
On 18 March, he scored up the 400-yards (366 metres) straight at Wyong in 21.3 and then won over 440-yards (402 metres) at Maitland four days later.
He proved himself the best drag lure dog in the country by taking out the 400 yards Straight Track Championship at Wyong by an easy three lengths, equalling the track record with 21.1. Returning to Maitland on 26 March, he rocketed over the 440 yards course in a record equalling 23.4, winning by eight lengths. After again scoring up the straight, this time at Richmond, Top Linen made his long-awaited return to Harold Park. From box one the champion raced away in pouring rain to win by six lengths in 26.73, the best of the night.
Contesting his first Harold Park Stake (top grade only) on 30 April, Top Linen made it seven successive wins in scoring by two and a half lengths. His time of 26.40 smashed the nine and a half year old track and world record. It would stand unbroken until 1965, and was only equalled once, by Top Linen’s greatest son, Black Top.
On 2 May, he won by three lengths win over 440 yards at Maitland, equalling the new track record of 23.3.
Top Linen then contested his longest race, over 530-yards (480 metres) at Cessnock on 12 May. The brilliant sprinter won by eight lengths and clocked 27.9, a new track record. With nine wins in succession, five in record or equal record time, Top Linen was considered the best greyhound racing in New South Wales. The Victorians believed Rookie Rebel was easily their best performer and so a match race was arranged.
The connections of the pair agreed to hold two matches: the first over 500 yards at Harold Park, the second over 675 yards (617 metres) at North Melbourne.
The two great greyhounds met in battle on 31 May at Harold Park. From box two, Top Linen went straight to the front and in a devastating display of speed never gave Rookie Rebel a chance. He careered away to score by six lengths in the one-sided contest and ran 26.40, thus equalling his own track and world record. That meant he had set or equalled four track records in four consecutive races, a feat only once before achieved, by the great Chief Havoc, in 1946. A year later, the brilliant NSW hurdler Smith’s Elect would also set or equal four track marks in four successive races.
Just over a week later, hopes of a return match were dashed when Rookie Rebel broke two toes in a race at North Melbourne and was retired.
With nothing left to achieve, it was decided to retire Top Linen to stud. From just 11 starts in 1958, Top Linen had recorded 10 wins (all in succession) and one third. Overall, he raced 26 times for 18 wins, four seconds and two thirds, setting or equalling seven tracks records on five courses. His average winning margin was 4.6 lengths.
He became a great success at stud, siring the mighty Black Top as well as Blue Autumn, the inaugural NSW Greyhound of the Year (1965) and Goldent, 1964’s most devastating stayer.