Now It Continues

26 Jul

So  the  greyhound  trainer  who  walked  into  the  pub  was   Les  Slattery   ,  he had taken early retirement    from   Vic  Rail  and  was  training  greyhounds  on  his  60  acre  property  on  the  Rochester  Road  just  outside  of  Heathcote ,  Victoria .  His  front  gate  was  an  old  railway  gate  , the big  old  wooden  type  , like  the  one’s  that  used  to  be  on  the  Upfield  railway  line.  His driveway  snaked  up  past  the house  and  around  the  back  to  the Kennels.  I  had  never  been  to  a  greyhound  farm  before  and  i  didn’t  know  what  to  expect .

As  i  stepped  from  the  car  i  was  met with  a  cacophony  of  barking  dogs ,  there  seemed  to  be  dogs  everywhere  , long  runs  ,  short  runs a  kennel  block  that held  9  dogs  ,  there  were  3  Jack  Russells  yapping  at  my  feet ,  then  from  around  the  corner  came  two  greyhounds  running  loose  ,  i  thought  here  we  go  again  ,  more   escapees  ,  but  Les  said  they  were  the  brood  bitches and and  he  was  giving  them  a  break  from  their  pups.  After  a  short  look  around  ,  it   was  a  compact  set  up  ,  a little  rough  around  the  edges ,  but    manageable.  There  were  just  over  30  dogs  in total  of  various  ages   and  all  were  out  of  the  2  broodies that  were  running  loose .  Those  bitches  were  Dollar Style and  Missy.  There  was  another  greyhound  on  the  property  and  her  name  was  Lady  Pandie  , she was  in  another  set  of  4  kennels set  aside  from  the  racing  kennels  for  brood bitches  on  season  or  a  quarantine  area .  Pandie  was  in there  as  she  had  just  been  returned  from  another  trainer  who  leased  her  to  race  and  Les was  going  to  breed  with  her  as  she  was   on  season. * see pawnote  for more on Lady Pandie

Les  had  a  few  dogs  that  he  leased  out  to  other  trainers  and  he  had  also  leased  a  brood  bitch  to  another  breeder  on  a  pup share  basis ,  but  the  bitch  had  had  only  1  pup  so  under  the  lease  agreement  the  whelper  keeps  the  pup.  After  that  had  happened  Les  had  decided  that  he  wouldn’t  lease  or  sell  another  dog  to anyone .

Les  offered  me  room  and  board  in  return  for  help  with  the  dogs  and  driving  him  to  the  track   on  race night  ,   he  also  said  i  could  also  pick  up  some  other  work  if  i  wanted  too  ,   which  i  did  a few  weeks  later   as  a laborer  for  a  local  contractor.   Over  the  next  few  weeks  i  learned  the  basics  of  greyhound  handling ,  feeding  , breaking  puppies  into  the  lead .  Every  morning  we  would  head  out  onto  either  the  Northern Highway or  the  Rochester Road  ,  me  with  4  greyhounds  , 2  in  each  hand  ,  Les  had  5  the  3  Jack  Russells  joined  us  on  the  walks  as  well ,  they  would  scout  ahead  of  the  pack  flushing  up  small  birds  ,  and  some   rabbits . as  the  greyhounds  had  grown  up  with  the  Jack Russells  there  was  never  a  problem  if  the  little  dogs  came  too  close  to  the  race dogs.  The  little  dogs  were  also  handy  as  they   scared  off   any  kangaroos  that  were  around  before  the  greyhounds  had  a  chance  to  see  them  ,   if  you  think  that  hanging  onto  1  dog  when  it  sees  a cat  is  challenging  ,  wait  until  you  have  4  of  them,  and  huge  bouncing  rabbit  like  beast  comes  hopping  along  ,   talk  about  feeling   inspector gadget  !  They  just  go  right  off  !

After  racing  for  the  first  few  times  at  Bendigo  and  Shepparton  and  with  placings  being  the  best  results we  headed  off  to  Cranbourne  one  Saturday night  and  those  were  the  days  when that  was  over  a  3  hour  drive  from  Heathcote  as  you  had  to  contend  with  traffic  from  the  football  at  the  M.C.G  and  also  from  Waverley  Park .  The  South  Eastern  freeway  also  stopped   at  Warrigul  road and  continued  through  the  intersection  and  became  the  Mulgrave  Freeway.  Traffic  was  banked  up  nearly  all  the  way  back  to  the  city  trying  to  get  through  there .  Les  had  a  bit  of  reasoning   in  taking   the  dogs  to  Cranbourne ,  as  the  track  was  inside  both  the  harness  and  thoroughbred  race tracks  it  was  a  long  way  from  the  crowds  and  this  would  help  them  with  their  shyness  of  strangers .   Yes  there were  crowds  back  then.  This  particular  night  Orthodox  was racing  and  as  he  was  the  shyest  but   also  the  strongest  and    we  thought  he  had  a  good  chance .  Orthodox  was  named  after  a  horse  that  Les  strapped  in  a  Melbourne  Cup  sometime  in  the  1950’s .  I  was  going  to  have  $20  each  way  on  him  but   changed  my  bet  and  had  a  box  trifecta  with  Orthodox  to  win and  the  field  for  2nd  & 3rd .  He  jumped  slowly  at  the  start  and  heading  into  the  1st  bend  was  last  but  on  the  rails .  As  can  happen  over  the  520  metres  at  Cranbourne  there  can be  big  interference on  the  1st  bend.  This  time there  was  and  Orthodox  was  in front  going  through  the  catching  pen  and  the  favorite  was  checked  badly.  He  was  15/1  but  the  trifecta   paid  $1200  a  lot  more   than  having  an  e/w  bet .

I used  $500  to  purchase  a  Shinning  Chariot  pup  as  my  first  investment  in  the  industry and  as  anybody in  any  of  the racing  industries   knows ,  the  drive  home  after  a  winning  time  at  the  track  is  always  the  best  and it  was  no  different  that  night  as  my  mind  was  racing  as i  needed     to  be  more  involved  in  this  sport ,  but  i  had  so  much  to  learn .  By  the  end  of  the  year  i  had  moved  back  to  Melbourne  where  i  stayed  until  October 1990.  That  was  when  i  started  working  for  Graeme  Bate  as  a  full-time kennel assistant , but  that’s  for  another  time .

*Pawnote  Lady Pandie ,  was  mated  with  City Skopos  that  first  time  ,  but  it  was  her   litter to  Queensland  sire  New  Tears  that  produced Les’s  best  greyhound ,  Our  Girl  Olivia  , won  about  16 races  with feature  and  metro wins  among  them .  The  whole  litter  was  very  successful  and  Olivia  was  mated  to  Head  Honcho  and  Les  was  inundated  with  offers  to  buy  the  resultant   pups  but  for  so  long  he  had  stuck  to  that  rule  he  knocked  backed  all  offers. For  whatever   reason  Les  eventually  sold some  pups  and  1  of  the  pups  sold  was  an  outright  Champion .  The  dog   was  Carlisle Jack  and  he  won  the  2002 Golden  Easter  Egg  in  Sydney  and  collected  $120,000  first prize .  From  such  humble  beginnings  !


Moonee Valley

26 Jul

Moonee Valley

Moonee Valley  has  been  a  large  part  of  my  life .  Everyday  when  i  walked  to  school  i  would  take  a  short  cut  through  the  members car park  and  exit  through  a little  gateway in  Thomas  street .  I  even   played  school  sports  in  the  lower  car park  while  attending  Moonee  Ponds  Central  School  , in  years  7  and  8 ,  i  could  also  watch  the  mid  week  races  from  the  science  room  which  was  the  only  classroom  on  the  2nd  level that  didn’t   have  its  windows  blocked .

The  Cox  Plate  is  Moonee  Valley’s  big  race  and  i  started  watching  the  race  on  the  south  side  of  the  track , while  standing  on my   bicycle  handlebars ,  I  can  recall  Strawberry  Roads  win  ,  Kingston  Towns  3wins   but  obviously  his  3rd  as  i  can  still  picture  him  going  backwards  up  past  what  is  now  the  tabaret ,  then  i  heard  an   almighty  roar  and  next  time  i  laid  eyes  on  him  he  was  a  3 time  Cox  Plate  Winner.

The  first  Cox  Plate  i  attended  was  Our  Poetic  Prince’s  win  in  1988  ,  Bonecrusher  ran  3rd  and  the grand  mare  Horlicks  split  them .  Cox  Plate  day  or   any  Moonee  Valley  race  day  always  created  parking   problems  in  the  Moonee  Ponds  area  ,  before  the  introduction  of  parking  permits  when  the  night  trots  first started ,  most  families  in  the  street  would  place  wooden  palings  on  bricks  in  front  of  their  houses to  reserve  a  car  space.

Crowd for the last night of Harness Racing at Moonee Valley

The  future  plans  of  Moonee  Valley  will  mean  a  lot  of  history  will  be  lost  and  new  Legends  will  have  to  be  found  as  the   track will  be  realigned  and  Wilson street  will  have   the  new  grandstand  and  finishing  line.   I  just  hope  they  can recreate  the  cauldron  like  atmosphere  the  the  Old  Moonee  Valley  was  famous  for .

How It Started

18 Jul

It started like any other day , i was 14 and walking to school through Moonee Valley horse float car park .

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until i heard a voice yell ” stop that horse ” , i turned to see a horse running straight at me , i could still hear someone yelling ” wave your arms ” so i did . The horse slowed and then stopped. He let me walk up to him and i grabbed the lead that was hanging from his headstall / halter. The trainer came over and thanked me for stopping the horse escaping.

Moonee Valley Racetrack

Can you guess what happens next ? No ! Well it’s a blog so i may as well tell you ! I went back the next day at the same time to see if that horse had escaped again , he hadn’t but the trainer was all too happy for me to help him. By the end of the week i was washing that horse and by the end of the month i was driving him in a sulky at Melbourne’s Metropolitan Harness Racing Track.

In fact within a short time i was driving a couple of horses in the morning , before i would arrive at school. I started arriving late for my first class every day , which was Maths , i was reading the form guide and not doing Maths, so the teacher came up with a deal , if i didn’t disturb the rest of the class he would let me do the form , he figured some math was better than none. I passed Math with a borderline pass.

My school work was really suffering and as we resumed the new year i really wanted nothing but to be working in a stable , so at 15 i left school and started working for Jim Doolan an elderly trainer who was very successful at the old Showgrounds track. I would work mornings for $60 a week and then i hooked up with another trainer John Wade who also operated a stud farm. John had suffered from polio as a child and walked with a severe limp , he would often joke about needing a new farrier/blacksmith because of the way he swung his leg when walking . John needed help handling his stallion so for a few extra dollars a week plus lunch , i became a stallion handler . The stallion , named Waratah Valley was a lovely looking horse but was a complete dud at stud , there was no way he could have been successful as the mares he served , like him , were very ordinarily bred and had performed poorly on the racetrack .

To earn some extra money i would also sell form guides at the weekly night trotting meet at Moonee Valley . If i sold out of guides i would earn $10 , i never sold out and the most i earned was $8. After finishing selling one night , a regular strapper Darryl ‘ birdy’ Crapper asked if i could look after a particular horse on an overnight raid from interstate. I said yes and he put $20 into my hand and i watched the horse while the connections had dinner. On their return i was asked how the horse had behaved , i said he was quiet , the trainer said thank you , gave me another $20 and told me to back him. I did so but i put only $10 on him. The horse was driven out of the mobile barrier aggressively , he cut some other horses legs off , causing them to gallop , when crossing to the lead. He led all the way and paid $2.40 for $1 on the on course tote. On arriving back at his race night stall the trainer / driver was called into the stewards/ judges room and dealt a 6 week suspension for causing that interference at the start. While the trainer was in the stewards room , i tended to un-gearing and washing the horse . On his return the trainer gave me another $20 , wow i had earned $74 with the horse work and $8 selling form guides . Now i was really hooked on this sport and i never sold another form guide .

Every race night i was there walking sulkies and horse’s into the course . I strapped and un-geared and washed some real champions of the time including the best in Popular Alm for the Knight family and their foreman at the time Paul Mallia. I also would assist Graeme Lang and his staff in tending to their large race night team. Eddie Mahar was also a leading trainer of the time and a friend of mine Michael Doltoff was also starting to get get interested in this horse business. So interested were we that Eddie invited Michael and myself up to his stables in Miner’s Rest , just outside of Ballarat , near the thoroughbred race course and he would drive us home to Melbourne the next day. Over the next few months we had a ball strapping horses and driving them in the mornings at Moonee Valley . My highlight was strapping in the 1986 inter-dominion a horse from New Zealand called Zebec , he ran unplaced but it was a huge thrill to be involved in a race of that stature. Michael was offered a job with Vin + Bob Knight during his school holidays while i wanted to be a farrier , so i started working with a farrier who was also a trainer , i was learning a lot about horses feet but not getting any money for it . I then accepted a full time job in Kilmore about a 45 minute drive from Melbourne , i was placed in a caravan , my first time living away from home , the job only lasted 2 weeks as the trainer must of failed Math , he went broke and couldn’t pay his staff or for his stables.

Michael went on to work full time with Ted Demmler , a world champion driver title winner , and a legend within this sport. He got his driver’s licence and was successful aboard Big General in his first race drive at Yarra Glen.

I on the other hand was working in a small country pub , pulling beers and building a nightclub with my father , The Tooleen Hotel and its infamous Tin-Shed , but there was an itch i couldn’t scratch and it was cured in an instant when a local Greyhound trainer asked if i wanted to help him with his Greyhounds.

So there it is ! How i got started in the Australian racing scene.

I am intending to try and Blog weekly and i would enjoy your feedback , questions , and ideas for future articles , i am armed with a camera which i intend to use to capture a horses Day at The Races or any special milestone in your horses life. Connection’s that are interested can contact me through this blog.