‘Big John’ leaves a big hole to fill

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By DAVID BRASCH (and see also story below by PAUL DOLAN)

JOHN Edwards could be an enigma.

‘Big John’ as he was known throughout the greyhound racing world, died during July. He\’d made it to 80, but never should have. He could be a ‘tough old bastard’ who saw a conspiracy theory in plenty of things.

But, there was also a gentle side to him his many grandchildren could attest to. Yes, he was an enigma.

A Victorian, he was born in Berwick and played footy with the best of them. He won three best and fairest at Berwick and has been named in that club\’s 100-year best side ever.

He played ruck and in the back line.

He moved to Doveton as captain coach and has been named as one of six legends at the club. He was three best and fairest there too. He moved to Rayville and proved just as good.

A builder all his life, he and wife Lil took some of the family to Queensland in 1985 when the building trade slowed in his home state.

He also took greyhounds with him.

John got crook with kidney disease and needed an operation while in Victoria. He ‘died’ on the operating table.

They got him back and gave him another 45 years of life. Greyhound racing will forever be in their debt for that.

It was after that kidney problem that John Edwards put on a lot of weight. No one in Queensland will ever remember him as anything but ‘Big John’.

His son, John Jnr, is the first to admit his father was ‘a tough old bastard’. He calls him a strong man but very affectionate. John coached kids footy for ages in Victoria.

At his funeral, many, many of those youngsters sent along video messages of just what John Edwards had done for them and what he meant to them.

As a long-time punter, it was only natural John would get into racing himself. His first dog was Crack A Tube which won a heat of the Horsham and Cranbourne Cups. From that success he bought Tem Tear and her litter brother.

The bother, Num\’s Noodle, would win 38 races, 20 of them at Sale.

Sale was the Edwards life. John Jnr remembers playing as kids with all the Britton family, Robbie, Jeff … you name them.

But it was Tem Tear\’s offspring that would have such a bearing on the Edwards family and many, many others.

Named Tears Laddie, she made the final of the Sandown Cup, and would become a broodbitch goldmine.

Tears Laddie got a super litter that included Markaboy (Qld Derby, Qld Constellation, 2nd G1 Coca-Cola Cup) and Tears Girl. The latter was sold to the Tony Zammit kennel and eventually mated to New Tears. Michael and Helen Ivers bought a couple of the pups and along came champion Trojan Tears.

Today\’s superstar stayers, Tornado Tears and Here\’s Tears, have Tears Laddie as their seventh dam.

Markaboy had the problem of racing at the same time as Gabba champ Dancing Gamble and chased him home in numerous feature races much to the lament of John and Lillian Edwards.

He would sire extra smart galloper Markaboy\’s Image, who in turn sired G1 finalist Zio Sam.

They moved on from those days and bred and raced star stayer Ellie\’s Diamond (G2 Ipswich Gold Cup, Winter Chase). She would produce G1 finalist Hawko\’s Mistake.

John and Lillian never seemed without a dog capable of winning city races.

Just before John Edwards died, he and Lillian were given a welcome ‘cheerio’ as the dog they bred, appropriately called John\’s Last, went to the boxes at Bundaberg. John was chuffed to say the least.

‘Big John’ will always be remembered as someone who always had an opinion on just about everything and was always willing to come forth with that opinion.

But, he will also always be remembered as a man who knew and loved greyhounds, and was a master of his craft.

John Jnr says his father was unique. He had a bond with his grandchildren and would answer ANY and EVERY question they put to him, on any subject.

John and Lil had one dog with them after they returned to Victoria, the Group 1 finalist Hawko\’s Mistake.

Over the years, Big John impacted many, many in both footy and greyhound racing. Kel Greenough and Ray Selkrig are both high achievers in greyhound racing in Victoria who benefitted from John\’s guidance in footy and greyhounds.

Few could argue with John if he thought he was right. John Jnr says he could never get his father to train a dog for him.

Lil will find comfort from her many grandchildren and her sons and daughters spread around Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

The memory of ‘Big John’ Edwards glowing after a winner, especially a big race win like Ellie\’s Diamond in the Ipswich Gold Cup, will be cherished by those who knew him.

Yes, he could be ‘an old bastard’, but you took John Edwards how you found him. He never held a grudge. He worked hard and expected exactly that from anyone working with him.

Greyhound racing is worse for his loss.

 

By Paul Dolan

David Brasch pays tribute to trainer John Edwards in this month’s Chase.

Edwards died in June, aged 80. I couldn’t let the chance go by without mention of the guy most of us knew as ‘Big John’.

Edwards always had an opinion and an idea. He called a spade a spade, that’s for sure. But as fearsome as some may have found him, realistically, his bark was worse than his bite.

I first met John and Lillian in the Gabba era. Oh Black Jack, a genuine big race performer, was one of their best at that time.

My fondest memory of John is when he won the 2006 City of Ipswich Gold Cup with Ellie’s Diamond. It was a crackerjack Cup field that year. Ellie’s Diamond had box five and she strolled home to a three lengths win over Gunnado Saint and Token Jet. Ellie’s Diamond was one of only two bitches in that race. She ran 30.44. The next year Super Hornet won in 30.71. So you can see that Ellie’s Diamond could run time.

What I remember most about that Ipswich Cup was when I came down from the broadcast box to host the presentation, John was in tears, which were tears of joy. He struggled with a speech, telling us that Ipswich was his home track and he had long wanted to win the Cup there. The fact that it was with Ellie’s Diamond, one of his all-time favourites, was icing on the cake.

Racecalling colleague Steve Hawkins raced numerous greyhounds, including some trained by Edwards. There was a time when Edwards said he had two male dogs at home which would make the grade and Steve was welcome to buy a share. He declined the offer.

Hawkins recalls that a while later, Edwards said to him that one of those male dogs would be racing shortly and would do well. Hawkins asked for the name of the dog.

“You will find that out when the fields are declared,’’ said John.

For an Albion Park Wednesday meeting, April 4, 2012, there was a first starter in a 331 metres maiden drawn box five, trained by John Edwards, and named Hawko’s Mistake. That began the start of much frivolity. Hawko’s Mistake won that maiden on debut, by a margin of nine lengths. The son of Buckingham Chuck and Ellie’s Diamond went on to win 19 races, all at Albion Park. Eight of those wins were on a Thursday night.

“I copped a ribbing from Big John on a regular basis, but there was never any animosity, quite the opposite. It was all good fun talking about the dog, and its name, on radio TAB and Sky Racing,’’ Hawkins said.

“Some people think the dog was so named because I picked another pup from that litter, which was not the case. I just wasn’t in the market for one when John made the offer.

“I actually loved it when I called that dog winning. I was always so happy for John and Lil, really decent people, to have another good one.”

John used to declare to anyone within listening range that his dogs didn’t draw box one as often as some other trainers. So when an Edwards-trained dog won from box one, I would rub it in, saying things in the race call such as – ‘There’s another box one winner for Big John’. He enjoyed the fun, as did I.

As for his box one theory, though, Ellie’s Diamond drew the ‘cherry’ in 18 of her 133 starts. For Hawko’s Mistake, it was 16 times in box one from his 109 starts. Which is about what the law of averages would say is normal.

Edwards declared that a fit and well dog or bitch should give you upwards of 100 starts. He did that more often than most trainers.

Ellie’s Diamond and Hawko’s Mistake were two cases in point.

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