By TERRY WILSON
IN his heyday John Catton banged heads with some of the old Brisbane rugby league’s hardest and best players.
Catton was a clever halfback or five-eighth who started with Valleys under-age sides before going on to play first grade with both Norths and Souths.
These days, aged 50, Catton has been one of the guiding lights in the resurrection of Queensland’s famous Capalaba Greyhound Racing Club, currently one of only three straight tracks in the nation.
From regular flooding, a severe fire and the occasional nude dash up the course by race-day party revellers, Catton has seen it all.
He has served as a committeeman, then president of the Brisbane bayside club and right now, with regular Sunday meetings supplemented by the granting of 26 Wednesday midday meetings, the once ugly duckling of greyhound racing is now a vibrant, buzzing operation.
And what lies ahead of Catton and the club is exciting. Wednesday and Sunday racing, the chance of floodlights being installed and a walk down the aisle are all in the pipeline as he continues to care for 17 dogs at his Greenbank headquarters.
Chase sat down with the former rugby league player for an insight into his passions.
Chase: John, you are a pretty busy man mixing business, training greyhounds and running the Capalaba club as president. Where did it all start?
JC: I used to jump our back fence and help out a neighbour Jim Chappell, the old barber from Banyo. That was before I was six.
Chase: So what is your background? It has covered plenty of ground hasn’t it.
JC: I was born in Hamilton in Brisbane and went to Our Lady of the Angels at Wavell Heights. That’s probably where I got all of my niceness from, going to a Catholic school.
Chase: Ha, ha, ha. So after school finished and you were out in the big bright world, what then?
JC: I played rugby league with Valleys in under-18s and colts then on to Norths and Souths. I was 19 when I had a knee reconstruction and I had another one later on. When I was with Valleys we went unbeaten through the year then I started first grade with Norths when I was 20.
Chase: When did you get back into dogs seriously – when your league career was over?
JC: A bloke named Cole Sherwood trained dogs and he had some good ones so I bought a pup from one of his litters and he trained it for me. I then bred with a bitch who produced a good dog called Mister Norris. His mother was Split Apart. Mister Norris sadly died on the operating table after a fight with another dog. I had the bug then and bred a couple of litters. I bought a couple of dogs and had a really handy litter. I bought a bitch named Raven Miss which had good bloodlines, had a litter from her by Elite And Classy. That litter included Upper Class Lad, which had the 366-metre track record at Capalaba (19.28s) before Leeroy Rogue broke it.
Chase: You were well and truly into the industry then and when was it that you became associated with Capalaba?
JC: I was on the committee for a year and I’ve been president going on six years. The place was going bad when I took over and Bob (former manager Bob Patching) came in. With a lot of hard work from everybody, the bank balance is healthy now. We almost folded without the help of local MP Don Brown.
Chase: That success has been hard-earned because Capalaba has been battered around a bit, hasn’t it? What is behind that success?
JC: We had the fire (in the kennel block) that knocked us around, and we rebuilt on the top of several floods. Then going to TAB coverage was the catalyst that has helped us with cash flow from wagering returns going back to the club.
Chase: It is fair to say everyone has done a wonderful job there. Are you enjoying the presidency right now?
JC: It has its moments because no matter what you do there is always someone not happy. But the committee members stand by each other on decisions we make. And we make decisions based on what the industry wants, so we have to be mindful of everything we do.
Chase: How long do you think you can go on as president?
JC: Until I’m worn out, so sooner or later I’ll be handing over the reins. Until then we’re looking at some innovative ways to bring more stability to the club and to further develop the club. We’ve come through some tough times and we’re well on track to deliver what we said to the members. When the time comes to step down the best person to take over would be Erin (Cameron). She’s very passionate about the place and is currently running the club as manager – her and Trish Fuller.
Chase: You’ve spoken about installing floodlights with a view to getting racing on Friday nights. Has the granting of 26 Wednesday midday meetings changed that idea?
JC: With the floodlights we’re just going to work up to that. We need a full replacement for the electrical system and that’ll cost a bit of money – we’re looking at around $600,000 to $800,000 for the lights and power. So we have to work things through.
Chase: What are you most proud of with the committee’s work, remembering all officials are honorary workers?
JC: Our success getting TAB coverage to start with and now, of course, the National Straight Track Championship next year. And we’re hoping for Group 3 status for the Capalaba Cup. We need to run it for another year and it’ll be listed as Group 3, which would be fantastic. It’s all looking good because the industry is really moving forward and we’re getting more and more race meetings which is great for the sustainability of dog racing.
Chase: Victoria’s straight track at Healesville uses a lure that runs along the rail. Any chance of doing the same at Capalaba?
JC: No, we want to keep the lure on the ground out in the middle of the track.
Chase: And what about those critics predicting the death of straight track dog racing?
JC: Some say straight track racing is dying a slow death. But no, personally I reckon it’ll be all straight track racing sooner or later.
Chase: We have to ask you what are your biggest moments regarding training and owning dogs?
JC: My biggest thrill was probably when Late Show Lee won a Gold Coast Cup at Albion Park after coming back from a broken hock. Neil Thompson trained him and I owned the dog in partnership with a couple of blokes. As a trainer I’ve won a couple of good races. I sent Mr Norris south and he won a Golden Muzzle at Lithgow. And I won a Capalaba Derby with Upper Class Lad.
Chase: You’ve seen plenty of things in your time. What is the funniest?
JC: I always remember when some blokes used to streak up the straight after race-day parties.
Chase: Away from training and Capalaba presidency what else takes your time, if there is any other time left?
JC: I’m a business and development manager of a construction company, Kingston Building.
Chase: And wedding bells are in the air, we hear?
JC: Yes, I plan to marry Anita in April next year.
Chase: All the best for that occasion and we wish you and Anita well