“The handlers can do more” – A Look Behind The Voice Of Cannington.

While he appears to have a fascination with gumtrees and white roses, regular W.A racecaller Peter O’Neill has become one of the most recognisable voices in our sport. His passion, dedication and enthusiasm to the longtails cannot be questioned, especially during the hugely popular Perth Cup and Galaxy carnivals, of which the 2013 version concluded last week.

The West Aussie native has been the regular voice of Cannington for over 5 years, replacing then frontline caller, Craig Evans. While he backed up Craig for almost a decade beforehand, the series of events leading up to that point can only be described as fascinating, and shows how life can make good out of a traumatic event.

Growing up on a wheat and sheep farm in Narrogin, the equine industry looked to be Peter’s first love after it was introduced to him through is father, who rode, trained and eventually even called in the local area. Once the prospects of becoming a jockey himself dissipated, he left Narrogin and the racing industry behind and joined the Commonwealth Bank at age 17.

Not completely forgetting his roots, Peter would entertain bank staff with phantom Melbourne Cup calls, before a colleagues’ Uncle decided there was a gift going to waste and organised an opportunity calling trotting trials.

Things took a turn for the worse however, when at the age of 20, Pete was involved in a hold-up while working at the bank. A horrific thing to have happen to anyone, let alone someone so young, this led him away from the city and out to Kalgoorlie where joined a local radio station while still doing bank work.

In what may be a blessing in disguise, the transferral meant that Peter’s racing love returned, and soon was calling gallops at three local tracks. Over the next 14 years, the Peter would become a well-used back-up caller across W.A before he was approached by Craig Evans to try his hand (or voice) at the dog caper. Finding the going far too tough, it took over three months for Peter to make the change to something that now seems so natural to those that have the pleasure of listening.

Once getting a foot into the greyhound door, his expertise and popularity have grown exponentially. Thanks to the former radio show, Greyhound Gossip, Pete entered the national arena when he convinced Paul Bartolo to come to Perth with his 2006 Melbourne Cup winner, Betty’s Angel. In an ironic twist, Betty’s Angel would become the winner of his first Perth Cup call in 2007 and the first chaser to take the Melbourne/Perth Cup double.

Having seen everything there is to see at Cannington over the past decade, Peter recalls one of the more unusual nights at the office involving and Irishman celebrating his bucks show;

“He jumped onto the track as the runners went down the back straight. Waving to the crowd with his shirt off getting closer to the rail I had flashes going through my head that this bloke was going to get hit by the lure and die.”

“Right on the finish line, the lure hit him, knocking his shoes off with the force. With the field going by into the catching pen, he lay motionless for 5 minutes before his mate put a can of Bundy under his nose and he got up. It was a miracle he walked away.”

With first-hand knowledge of Australia’s best chasers, Peter states he had a “special love” of Reggemite and recalls predicting Elektra’s 2008 Galaxy win three months in advance. However, one gets the feeling that Miata has taken a special place with Peter all of her own;

“Miata has rescued WA greyhound racing with people from outside of our industry. Last week all three free-to-air TV channels ran news stories of her historical win at Cannington, which is unheard of in Perth.”

“She is a freak in the kindest manner and was unwanted as a $7000 pup. Now people have just grown to love her.”

His opinion of Miata’s trainer, Paul Stuart is just as high;

“He is a great ambassador for greyhound racing. He is professional and handles himself really well and is always free for media interviews, which is great for the local sport.”

On a personal note, Peter has owned one dog called Reggie’s On Fire that himself and two mates won through a raffle to raise money for children with Cerebral Palsy.

“He won a Maiden in around 31.60 after running around the outside of the track.”

Peter lives with his wife of 21 years in his coastal home at Coogee. Interestingly, the racing bloodlines may have skipped a generation, as his two children, 19 year-old Samuel and 17-year old Jessica will be off to study at Notre Dame University. Whether they will be doing phantom calls to impress classmates like their Dad, is yet to be seen.

Peter can be found at the Racing Radio studios six days a week and look for him trackside at Mandurah each Tuesday and at Cannington on Wednesday and Saturday nights – a testament to his incredible work ethic and dedication to our great sport in particular. However he somehow finds the time for his other passion – AFL football. Peter currently sits as chairman of South Fremantle Warriors development squad for 14 to 16 years footballers, and the SFFC have won the last two premierships with seven of their boys in the past two years being drafted onto AFL lists.

When asked about any future ambitions or plans, Peter is content and almost philosophical;

“I love greyhound racing and would love to see more promotion of the sport in local papers and on local TV channels. I have been a major promoter of greyhound racing in Perth as it struggles to get any recognition and sometimes people on the East coast think I’m a bit biased, however I’m just trying to promote the local code.”

“I’m happy doing what I’m doing and that is my motto on life – enjoy what you do or move on -life is too short.”

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