In his seminal book The Greyhound in Australia (published in 1969) author Mike Agostini writes of Sentinel, ‘…a splendid dog who in fifteen months from August 24, 1935, had 28 starts for 21 wins and 5 placings…’ Sentinel (Observation x Sylvia Andy) was arguably the first real racetrack star to appear in New South Wales in the first decade after the 1927 introduction of mechanical hare racing in Australia.
A white and red brindle dog Sentinel was whelped in August 1933 and was owned by G. McEachem and trained throughout his career by J. Deller.
I first wrote at length about Sentinel in 2006 for the old DeFax website but have since gleaned further information about his career, and it certainly extends beyond the 15 months Agostini wrote about in his book. To be fair to Agostini, he didn’t actually write that those 28 starts constituted Sentinel’s entire career.
What follows is the information I have managed to piece together from available sources. Sentinel began his career on 24 August 1935 in a Trial Stake over 440 yards (402 metres) at Harold Park. At this time races were conducted on a cinders surface on the trotting track and usually featured 10 starters. Events were also run over 600 yards (548 metres) and 880 yards (812 metres). The hare started from a standing position in front of the starting boxes.
Sentinel had won a qualifying race three days earlier in fine style and went out as favourite for his first official race start, but was beaten into second place. His next few races took place on country circuits and appear to consist of a couple of victories and a pair of third placings.
Following wins at Maitland and Muswellbrook he returned to Harold Park on 26 October in an NCA Stake (in those days, before the construction of Wentworth Park, this was a Second Grade event). Starting a 5/4 favourite over 440 yards, Sentinel won by four lengths in a field of nine runners.
On 6 November, Sentinel took out the 660 yards (603 metres) Championship at Maitland, defeating the smart Gay Toby by eight lengths in 37.2, a track record, the first of 10 he would either equal or break in his career.
At his first start in a Harold Park Stake, the top grade, on 9 November, Sentinel finished a four-lengths second to Fairlaw after getting away slowly and finishing strongly.
Returning to Maitland on 20 November, Sentinel ran over 440 yards and won by 10 lengths, equalling the track record of 22.8.
He then won a Harold Park Stake on 14 December, by two lengths in 23.9, 3/10ths outside the track record. Among the unplaced runners were the highly regarded Mountain Gold and 1935 Spring Stake winner Dirafia. First place was ₤80.
Sentinel ended the year with a two-lengths victory over 480 yards (439 metres) at Wollongong in a top grade WGRC Stake.
Sentinel’s first appearance in 1936 was on 29 January when he scored by four lengths over 440 yards at Harold Park in 24.1. Among the unplaced greyhounds was Fairlaw.
Six days later he contested the first of five events in his career that were either organised match races or so-called Championships. This was over 700 yards (640 metres) at Maitland for his second clash on the same course with the Hunter Valley champion Gay Toby. He began very slowly against Sentinel, but despite the fact this was the latter’s first run at 700 yards, he scored easily, winning by six lengths in 38.6, smashing Gay Toby’s track record mark by 6/10ths. Sentinel now held all three distance records at Maitland.
After scoring by a neck win Sister Sally at Wollongong over 660 yards on 16 February, Sentinel did not race again for over a month. The Wollongong win was described as ‘lucky’ and given the way greyhounds at the time would race two or three times in a week, the month break leads me to think he may have been injured in that victory.
Sentinel resumed at Harold Park on 21 March in a 440 yards Harold Park Stake and won easily, prompting the sporting newspaper The Referee to note, ‘He has all the earmarks of a great stayer…the Peter Pan of the greyhounds…’ Peter Pan was then Australia’s champion racehorse and winner of two Melbourne Cups.
A week later he ran 36.6 in an exhibition over 600 yards at Narrandera to break Mountain Gold’s track record before meeting Mountain Gold in a ₤125 match race over 480 yards at Griffith. Sentinel led all the way to win by four lengths in a track record 27.0.
At only his third race at Harold Park in 1936, Sentinel won by eight lengths over 600 yards in 32.9, equalling the track record held by All Coin, collecting ₤73 for his effort.
After defeating Amaneggs by one length in the Maitland Championship on 22 April, Sentinel was given a break and resumed in late May on the coursing circuit, competing for the Dewar Cup at Rooty Hill. He did well but failed to make the final.
His owner and trainer then became embroiled in a controversy when they scratched Sentinel from a race at Harold Park on 13 June, claiming he was injured. Stewards and the public knew this was untrue as Sentinel was heading north to compete in a match race on 20 June over 575 yards (525 metres) at Murwillumbah against the Northern Rivers champion Owataboy (Golden Beauty x Maid Of Fashion) who had won his previous five races and 19 from 26 starts overall.
Billed as the ‘mechanical coursing championship of Australia’ the match race proved a thriller with Owataboy leading Sentinel for the first 220 yards. The pair then raced neck and neck for another 50 yards before Owataboy went ahead yet again. Approximately 120 yards from home Sentinel surged past his rival and cleared out to win by three lengths in 32.0, smashing Owataboy’s track record by an incredible one second.
Eight days later the pair met for second time in a match race, this time over 520 yards (475 metres) at Casino. Sentinel prevailed again, by three lengths in 28.7, yet another track record.
On 10 August, Sentinel scored his 13th consecutive victory, an Australian record, when successful by two lengths over Sister Sally in a WGRC Stakes over 480 yards at Wollongong.
Exiting box one over 600 yards at Harold Park on 15 August he led by one length at the leger from Gay Toby, but tired in the run home and was beaten two and a half lengths by his rival in a fast 33.1.
Four days later Gay Toby proved the win was no fluke by winning the Winter Championship over 440 yards at Maitland in 22.8, equalling Sentinel’s track record. Both Sentinel and Gay Toby were slowly away but the former gained a run to join the leaders at the top turn. At this juncture Sentinel found trouble and Gay Toby shot through to score by three lengths. Sentinel finished fourth, the first time in his 25 starts he had been unplaced.
On 5 September the new Harold Park track was opened, constructed on the inside of the trotting course. Greyhounds raced on a sandy loam surface and a crowd of 12,500 people was on hand to watch as Sentinel, starting a 5/4 favourite, ran in the first Harold Park Stake, over 440 yards, at the new course. The champion missed the start but was fourth at the Leger and second behind Diraffia on the home turn. In the straight Sentinel finished too strongly and ran away to score by three lengths in 24.6. This would prove to be Sentinel’s last start at Harold Park and he finished with six wins and three seconds from nine starts.
A claim was made in the Greyhound Recorder in 1959 that Roccabright was the winner of the first Harold Park Stake, on 23 September 1939, but this must be for the first conducted on grass.
On 14 September, Sentinel won over 480 yards at Wollongong and then met Gay Toby, Amaneggs and four others in Newcastle on 26 September in the NSW Championship over 475 yards (434 metres) in what was his last race before going to stud. In an upset result, 18-month-old King Cinbon defeated Gay Toby by one length, Sentinel missed the start and finished fourth.
Despite the failure, Sentinel finished 1936 having raced 15 times for 12 wins, one second, and two fourths, making him easily the best greyhound in the country.
Eight months later, his connections brought Sentinel back to the track, with mixed success.
He won first-up over 500 yards (457 metres) at Gosford on 1 June 1937 in 30.3, equalling the track record. Defeats followed at his next three outings: a third at Newcastle to The Swank, and two unplaced runs at Dapto and Wollongong.
Sentinel returned to the winning list with a track record 29.9 at Gosford on 22 June but then ran unplaced behind The Swank at Maitland eight days later.
His last career victory came on 6 July when he took out the Gosford 500 yards Championship from The Swank in 29.6, breaking his own track record.
Two days later he again ran unplaced at Dapto and was retired for a second time, having competed eight times in 1937 for three wins and one third.
Strangely, in 1938 Sentinel was again brought out of retirement, competing at Gosford on 2 August. The five-year-old finished behind Ribbie, at the tail of the seven-dog field. He was mercifully retired for good.
Sentinel raced 37 times for 23 wins, three seconds, and two thirds on about 10 tracks. He set or equalled 10 track records between 440 and 700 yards and was undefeated in five match, or two-dog, races. He notched a-then record 13 successive victories, although arguably it is diminished by the fact all five of his match races feature in the sequence. Nonetheless, Sentinel deserves his place among the true greats of Australian greyhound racing.