FOR 21 years, from 1972 until 1993, the Gabba was the premier greyhound racing circuit in Queensland. It was also the first in Queensland since the Second World War to conduct night racing.
Greyhound racing came to the Gabba on October 29 1927, when the first official meeting behind a mechanical lure took place. The track had been constructed by the Queensland Electric Coursing Association, and was a proprietary venture with races run over 550 and 825 yards (503 and 754 metres). Nine races were run on that opening night, just five months after greyhound racing behind a mechanical lure first came to Australia.
Gambling was not permitted, even though illegal betting did take place.
Unfortunately, opposition from the thoroughbred lobby as well as within the Queensland government, meant greyhound racing faced an uphill battle to stay solvent and when mechanical devices were outlawed by the government in 1930, the company could not afford to continue in business.
At some point the racing ceased, only for the NSW-based Greyhound Coursing Association (GCA) to fill the breach, using trained live hares. Known as speed coursing, the GCA held its opening meeting on March 25, 1930, running nine races over distances of around 300 yards.
The lack of legal betting opportunities soon saw this venture become insolvent and so greyhound racing in Brisbane ceased to exist for the next 40 or so years.
The revival came via Alderman Clem Jones, who would later serve as Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, and John Hicks, at the time the press secretary to Deputy Premier Sir Gordon Chalk.
They became involved with the Gabba Greyhound Racing Club, which had been formed in March 1971 and successfully lobbied to have a track laid down at the Brisbane Cricket Ground.
The first night meeting took place on 6 April 1972, with nine races conducted over distances of 558 and 704 metres. A crowd estimated at 11,500 attended the opening meeting and they had their pick of some 42 bookmakers, including NSW leviathans John Waterhouse (not Bill Waterhouse as some reports have had it in the past), John Harrigan and Ray Hopkins.
The first race was taken out by NSW sprinter Jaffrine, trained by the great Stan Cleverley. He scored a double on the night when Irish Korina annexed race eight.
The undoubted highlight was the Interstate Challenge which featured local hope High Stepper against NSW star Lord Galaxy, former Victorian all-distance champion Ragsie (trained in NSW by Paul Cauchi) and Gerard The Gent, the 1971 Melbourne Cup winner. In a thrilling finish the mighty Ragsie staged his customary barnstorming finish to defeat Gerard The Gent by half a head.
The Gabba circuit hosted the National Sprint Championship in 1977, 1982 and 1988 and the National Distance Championship in 1973, 1975, 1986 and 1991.
Although the lease on the Gabba track still had 20 years remaining, the Queensland government offered the club an incentive to relocate to the already-established Albion Park circuit. So, the last race meeting took place at the Gabba on February 4, 1993, in front of a crowd of around 4,500 people. The last race at the course was won by the Don Gammon-trained Pretty Boy Buddy.
The final track records stood, as follows:
420m 24.04 – Genuine Crown
558m 32.14 – Tickety Boo
704m 40.83 – Kirsty’s Charity (NSW)
895m 53.42 – Don’t Cry