By TERRY WILSON
POPULAR Queensland trainer and breeder Tony Apap proudly calls himself a ‘Malteser’, one of a number of people who have headed a charge by those with the Mediterranean Sea Republic of Malta heritage in their blood.
Based at Gatton, west of Ipswich, for 32 years, Apap has forged a name for himself both as a trainer, a breeder and in the rearing of young greyhounds.
Which is a far cry from his early years when he was born on the island of Gozo, part of the Maltese Republic before the family landed in Melbourne where his dad, the late Sam Apap, had set up headquarters.
Apap has been through good and bad times, including a move from Victoria to a complex in the Logan area, then another move to Gatton following a drawn-out legal stoush when residents of the Park Ridge area went to court over greyhound properties in that area.
The veteran continues his love of the greyhound industry even though these days his operation is a scaled-down version of what it used to be.
Chase caught up with Apap to discuss his journey so far.
Chase: Tell us about where it all began for you and your Maltese heritage.
TA: I was born on a little island named Gozo, next door to Malta. And I came to Australia with my parents Sam and Adalina as a four-year-old. I’m 62 years old now.
I had two older sisters who were born here (in Australia) before my parents went back to Gozo and I was born there. I am one of five kids – three sisters and two brothers.
Chase: Can you remember when you first arrived in Melbourne?
TA: Dad already had greyhounds when I came over. We lived around the Sunshine area in west Melbourne and the place was full of Maltesers. I was schooled in Melbourne and I even played Aussie rules in the Footscray League with a team called Braybrook, where Doug Hawkins came from. I guess Maltese men playing rules would have been a bit rare back then.
Chase: So with your dad training greyhounds we guess it was inevitable that young Tony would get involved?
TA: Dad had some very good ones when I was growing up and helping him with the dogs. I grew up with them and have never been out of them. I got my first licence when I was 16. And, actually, Mum still lives there in Melbourne and she’s 86.
Chase: So you joined an illustrious group of people with Maltese heritage who have caught the greyhound bug. Throw a few names up to us regarding this.
TA: Well up here in Queensland there is Tommy Tzouvalis, Greg Stella, Paul Cauchi and Mick and Tony Zammit. They’re all part-Maltese.
Chase: Looking back to when you moved to Queensland with your father we understand this led to a major dispute over what you wanted to do with the property at Park Ridge.
TA: We moved here in 1979 after 18 years in Melbourne and we had 16 acres there at Park Ridge. But we sort of got pushed out. The old man had applied for licences when all hell broke out.
Chase: We understand that the bunfight was over resistance from neighbouring property owners not wanting to be near a greyhound complex even though the complexes were there before the new residences moved in.
TA: It was bedlam and we had to go to court. We had two barristers on the case (along with one of the neighbours) and we eventually won the fight but lost the battle, so to speak. The residents didn’t want to live beside kennels.
The authorities allowed us to have greyhounds, but the way they wanted us to build a kennel block it would have cost us an arm and a leg. We stood up for our rights and that’s how we ended up in Gatton.
Chase: So a new chapter in the life of Tony Apap and family began in the foothills of the Darling Downs in an area where dog complexes are thriving.
TA: We’ve been here 32-odd years now. My (two) daughters Kirsty and Christina were born and raised here in Gatton and Christina works here with my wife Jane and myself on the property. We’ve always got 80 dogs on the property and always had five or six litters a year, but we’ve cut down on the breeding side of it. Actually, the daughter breeds French bulldogs here and we still rear a few greyhounds for people we know.
Chase: Anything interesting coming along for you?
TA: We have 10 in work at the moment, including Manfred which ran second in the Vince Curry Maiden at Ipswich. That has been a good race for us because we’ve had nine finalists in the event. And we’ve won two with Brook Lee and Rose Honey and we’ve had a second and a third.
Chase: But there is still an item on your bucket list that needs ticking-off, isn’t there? A Group 1 success as a trainer?
TA: We’ve reared some Group 1 winners and bred some as well. Destini Fireball won five of them in Victoria and we reared him up here. Queen Lorian is another one. But I haven’t had a Group 1 winner myself – probably four or five finalists – so we’ve had a lot of say in Group 1s, but haven’t actually won one yet. We’ve won Derbys and Futurities, the Ipswich Cup. It’s just the Group 1 that eludes us. We’re still hoping. That’s our aim. That’s always your dream, your goal, I suppose.
Chase: What is the best greyhound(s) you have had?
TA: There was Harris Tweed and Outside Pass, a very fast bitch and I travelled a lot with her.
Years ago they had time trials at Sandown and you had to be in the fastest 10 for the year to get into this event. I took her down and trialled her and as I was walking around to the boxes a feller who worked there asked me what time I thought she would run. I said between 29.30 and 29.40 (seconds). He gave me a look like ‘where did this bloke come from? A two-headed Queenslander?’
Anyway she went around in 29.10 and, gee, he changed his tune after that and was like a long-lost friend. She was very fast and ran second overall for the trials and made the Melbourne Cup.
Chase: You are one of many affected by the closures of so many tracks in southern Queensland. What did you think of losing Parklands, Toowoomba, Lawnton, Beenleigh and Border Park?
TA: Losing Toowoomba was a tragedy, so was Parklands. They took away the tracks (one-turns) for our young dogs to get confidence on. I used to have a lot of success at Toowoomba and Parklands because those tracks gave all dogs a chance.
Chase: So what lies ahead of you and the industry?
TA: That’s an interesting question. Personally we’ll keep plodding along, we’ll keep on training and if I can get a good brood bitch I’ll breed again. But not on a big scale like it used to be. For the industry if we get the new track (at Purga), we can go ahead. We get a lot of people wanting to come into the game and a lot of young people interested in getting into the greyhounds. And old people of course.
The prizemoney is still good, but I think we just need that one-turn track for the younger dogs.