In the pantheon of greyhound racing’s superstars there is just one name, almost Bradman-like if one is seeking sporting comparisons, standing practically head and shoulders above the rest. That greyhound is Zoom Top.
A cold and calculated look at Zoom Top’s overall racing record might leave some with an impression of greatness, but not of supremacy, of dominance, of might, and power. In some ways perhaps, this is true.
Zoom Top was not the greatest sprinter ever seen, nor even the best sprinter of her time. She was a great stayer, although not the fastest of her time. Nonetheless, Zoom Top’s longevity and dominance over a long period against the best opposition in the country proved beyond doubt she was a truly magnificent champion and worthy of the adulation and accolades bestowed upon her by an adoring public. Her contribution to the growth in the popularity of greyhound racing in the late 1960s that led to the halcyon days of the 1970s cannot be underestimated.
Zoom Top, despite the passage of time, remains one of the yardsticks by which true greatness is measured.
Zoom Top had the longest career, in terms of race starts, of any greyhound elevated to the status of champion in Australia. That she remained incredibly consistent and dominant for such a long period contributed much to her exalted status.
Zoom Top was one of three greyhounds (Chief Havoc and Highly Blessedbeing the other pair) to be granted honorary Australian Group Hall of Fame status by the Australian Greyhound Racing Association in a ceremony conducted in late 2000.
By Black Top out of Busy Beaver, Zoom Top was whelped on 24 August 1966. The litter, bred by Hec and Leah Watt, consisted of two dogs and three bitches.
Peter Newman, the greyhound writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, would dub Zoom Top ‘the Fawn Flash’ and many would suggest she was some kind of ‘freak’. Although this was meant as a compliment, Leah Watt did not appreciate this tag, saying Zoom Top was “just a very intelligent dog with a heart like an ox.”
Hec Watt considered Zoom Top to be so far advanced for her age that he entered her for a maiden race at Goulburn when she was just 14 months old. She won. In fact, she won her first three starts.
It was around this time Zoom Top became affected by a toe problem which veterinarians said would never completely heal. By using ray treatment between races Watt was able to keep the problem manageable and Sweetie, as she was known, generally only suffered in sprint events when she was forced to barge through tight fields and risk jarring the toe.
Zoom Top finished 1967 having raced 10 times on seven tracks for four wins, one second, and one third, and equalling the 457-metre track record at Temora.
Zoom Top won her first start for 1968 over 617 metres at Bulli. Hec Watt believed both Zoom Top and litter sister Busy’s Charm had the hallmarks of stayers, so he began mapping out what many veteran trainers considered was a far too ambitious program for such young, developing greyhounds.
Watt believed greyhounds in full race fitness could easily compete two and three times a week. It was a regime which both Zoom Top and Busy’s Charm would experience throughout their long careers as Hec Watt took what he believed was full advantage of their abilities while they were approaching and then in the prime of their racing lives. The final results for both his superstars would arguably justify his different and controversial approach.
Zoom Top proved Watt right, leading all the way to score by seven lengths in 36.5, the best time of the night.
Despite her obvious talents as a stayer, Watt would continue to race Zoom Top over all sorts of distances throughout her long career.
By the time she was just 18 months old, Zoom Top had won over the gruelling 732 metres trip at Harold Park and first-up over 722 metres at Wentworth Park, and reached top grade.
She finished fifth at her first top grade Harold Park appearance, but this would be her last unplaced performance in a race of 617 metres or further for 18 months.
Her first crack at a major race came when she was 20 months old, contesting the Wentworth Park Gold Cup. Zoom Top scored a memorable victory in the final, propelling her earnings to almost $7,000 at what was her 34th start (12 wins).
At her next start Zoom Top won at Harold Park in 43.3, a mere 1/10th outside Bright Pleasure’s hand-timed track and world record, set in 1954.
The next major target was the Association Cup at Harold Park, and Zoom Top annexed the final by six lengths.
After running second in the 457-metre Winter Stake final in July, just two days later Zoom Top won the 795-metre Queensland Distance Championship at Beenleigh by eight lengths in track record time.
On the way back to Sydney, Zoom Top was entered in the 402-metre Grafton Cup and, in a remarkable example of her growing maturity and amazing versatility, registered a two-length victory.
Hec Watt made another surprising move, entering her in the Richmond Oaks series, run up the straight over just 292 metres. She won her heat and the final, the manner of her successes stamping her as one of the most versatile greyhounds ever.
Zoom Top, now two years old and a seasoned campaigner, had become a crowd pulling attraction wherever she raced.
At her first start on sand, over 732 metres at Olympic Park in Melbourne in the Anniversary Cup, Zoom Top was beaten six lengths by the brilliant Miram Miss, but was found to have sprung a toe. She would not race again for just over six weeks.
She resumed to win heat and final of the Silver Collar over 507 metres at Dapto, equalling the track record before going on to win heat and final of the Sydney Cup at Wentworth Park, downing Miram Miss in both races, and running a new track record of 43.2. The Sydney Cup prize money propelled her earnings to a new Australian record of $17,798.
She followed with an extremely unlucky fifth in the final of Vic Peters Memorial Classic before later equalling the 617-metre track record at Bulli.
Next up was the Summer Cup at Harold Park, where she faced the new track record holder Bunyip Bint in the final. A crowd estimated at 13,000 trekked to Harold Park for the final, and watched as Bunyip Bint failed to hit the front and instead Zoom Top raced away to thunderous applause to defeat Busy’s Charm by three lengths.
After the race the ovation continued for Zoom Top and pressmen who had covered all forms of racing rated it the greatest any of them had ever heard.
With this victory, Zoom Top became the first and only greyhound to ever annex the four major Sydney distance cups in the same year.
Next up was the NSW St Leger (now the Paws of Thunder) series over 530 metres at Wentworth Park. After winning her semi-final, Zoom Top drew badly in box six for final, but a crowd of more than 14,000 flocked to watch their idol attempt a victory against a seasoned group of sprinters.
When she was presented to the crowd before the final the crowd gave her a mighty roar even before her name was announced. Zoom Top did not let them down, leading all the way to win in 31.0, a new race record. The prize money took her earnings to $29,043 from 69 starts.
Five days later, Zoom Top won the Boxing Day Trophy up the 375-metre Richmond straight by four lengths. The largest crowd ever seen at Richmond turned up to see Zoom Top run and after her victory she had to be given a police escort to take her through the many people who rushed down to pat her or just get a glimpse of the queen of greyhound racing.
Zoom Top closed out 1968 by winning a heat of the Christmas Gift over 732 metres at Harold Park to notch her eighth consecutive win.
During 1968 Zoom Top contested 61 races for 31 wins, 13 seconds, and six thirds, and setting or equalling five track records and, not surprisingly, was named NSW Greyhound of the Year.
After three defeats Zoom Top contested the Hobart Thousand series, but tore a front stopper in a trial and also in winning her heat. Patched up, she won her semi-final but was beaten by Benjamin John in the final.
She missed out in the Australian Cup and National Futurity series before making the final of the inaugural National Distance Championship, at Wentworth Park. Zoom Top finished third to Amerigo Lady after almost being knocked down at the first turn.
A week later, Zoom Top lined up against Amerigo Lady and Miram Miss in a special match race at Harold Park, scoring by three and a half lengths from the former.
Returning to the sprint arena, Zoom Top lined up in a special four-dog match race over 457 metres at Harold Park, the Fawn Flash thrilling a crowd of almost 13,000 to score by a long neck.
Zoom Top received the biggest ovation ever heard on a greyhound track. It was learned later the roar of the crowd during the race could be heard more than a kilometre away.
After successfully defending her Wentworth Park Gold Cup title, Zoom Top won a top grade sprint at Harold Park and then broke the 689-metre track record at Gosford. Zoom Top later won a heat of the Olympic Park Distance Championship by 15 lengths before winning the final by six lengths.
A track record over 498 metres at Moss Vale was followed by a 14-length victory in a semi-final of the Association Cup before Zoom Top overcame severe early interference to defend her title and win the final from Busy’s Charm.
It was her second Association Cup victory, a feat never before, or since, achieved. It was also her 50th race victory (from 96 starts) and her seventh win in a row at Harold Park. Her prize money now stood at $46,433.
A track record run over 686 metres at Newcastle was soon followed by her 100th race,
a four-dog Invitation Stake over 676 metres at Maitland which she won by 10 lengths, equalling the track record.
A little later Zoom Top defended her Queensland Distance Championship crown, over 795 metres at Beenleigh, defeating Miram Miss by eight lengths and breaking her own track record. A record crowd of about 1,500 people witnessed the victory and after the race she was mobbed by women and children who wanted to kiss, pat or just admire her.
At her previous 22 starts, Zoom Top had recorded 17 wins, one second, two thirds, and two fourths, setting or equalling four track records.
Zoom Top was beaten at seven of her next eight outings, on seven tracks, including seconds in equal track record time at Bathurst and Grafton.
The three-year-old seemed to be racing with less than her usual relish and when she finished last at Harold Park one night her failure sparked off one of the noisiest demonstrations ever seen. A steward’s inquiry was immediately convened, but the reason for Zoom Top’s failure became immediately clear. The inside toe on her left front foot was swollen to twice its normal size and she was in obvious pain. Soon after, the course veterinarian Reg Hoskins operated on the toe and Hec Watt promised he would not race her again until she was fully fit.
Zoom Top did not race again for six weeks. The respite proved a blessing in disguise.
She resumed racing with an emphatic win in a 457-metre Invitation Stake at Harold Park, broke the 658-metre track record at Taree by 9/10ths, and a Sydney Cup heat by 12 lengths, running 42.9 to break her own track record by 3/10ths.
Unfortunately, Zoom Top was involved in a mass collision between five dogs at the first bend in the final which caused Busy’s Charm to fall, and led to Zoom Top being forced to hurdle her stricken sister. Further bother followed but Zoom Top ran on strongly to be beaten only four and a half lengths into fourth place, the first time she had been unplaced in 15 distance starts at Wentworth Park.
She quickly bounced back, winning in front of 12,000 cheering fans at Harold Park before winning a heat and final of the NCA Cup over 718 metres at Sandown Park.
She then faced Bunyip Bint in an Invitation Stake at Harold Park but was a well beaten second as Bunyip Bint ran an incredible 42.7, smashing her own mark by 3/10ths. That night no greyhound in Australia could have beaten Bunyip Bint.
On 15 November, Bunyip Bint and Zoom Top clashed again, this time over 695 metres at Goulburn. The day was overcast and wet and the field went to the boxes wearing protective orange plastic raincoats. In an amazing blunder, Hec Watt placed Zoom Top into the boxes still wearing the raincoat. Hampered by the raincoat, Zoom Top came home in last place while Bunyip Bint equalled the track record.
After the race Hec Watt was fined $100 for negligence. Later, when Hec admitted suffering from nerves when racing the champion, he was barred from placing Zoom Top or any of his other charges in the starting boxes.
Zoom Top was also found to have pulled a muscle in her back leg and was out for seven weeks.
During 1969 Zoom Top raced 51 times for 28 wins, eight seconds, and six thirds (as well as five fourths), setting or equalling seven track records. Once more she was named NSW Greyhound of the Year.
Into 1970 and Zoom Top set a new track record over 457 metres at Temora, won an Invitation Stake at Olympic Park by nine lengths, and broke the 622-metre track record at Wangaratta, the 15th, and last, of her career.
She ran within 1/10th of the 494-metre record at Orange and later clashed for the fifth and final time with Bunyip Bint in the 640-metre Singleton Gold Cup, downing that erratic stayer by a length and a quarter to record her 68th victory, an Australian record (131 starts). Sadly, it was also her last.
Zoom Top raced just five more times, being injured at Dapto, running second twice at Harold Park and then, tragically, breaking down in a heat of the Sir Joseph Bank’s Cup at Wentworth Park.
Following the race Zoom Top was found to have once more pulled a muscle in her back leg. At this point Hec Watt declared Zoom Top would be retired immediately.
She finished with 136 starts for 68 wins, 25 seconds, and 14 thirds. She earned what was then a whopping $59,032, easily the highest amount ever accumulated to that time. She raced on 27 tracks and won on 24. Her average winning margin in races of longer than 617 metres was an incredible 6.5 lengths.
Zoom Top made the final of 17 out of 21 major races and won 11, with two seconds, two thirds, one fourth and one fifth. She won seven of the 10 major distance finals she contested and suffered severe interference in two of the three she lost.
Zoom Top raced 64 times in races between 617 and 795 metres for 39 wins, 13 seconds, and five thirds. Of her seven unplaced efforts, two were fourths and three due to injury.
There has never been a greyhound with the versatility of Zoom Top. We will almost certainly never see the likes of her again.