Gary Ralph remembered as a great industry innovator

\"\"Caption: Gary Ralph is centre stage after Roanokee wins the 1997 Melbourne Cup

By Chase Editor Pat McLeod

THOSE close to Gary Ralph want the former greyhound industry heavyweight to be remembered for how he lived, not the circumstances around his death.

The 71-year-old became the centre of a media storm when he was forced into hotel quarantine in Queensland in October after undergoing an operation for aggressive brain cancer in Sydney. There was a lifting of the hotel quarantine restrictions, however Gary passed away while completing home quarantine.

What the majority who followed this story would have been unaware of, was that in another life Gary was no stranger to headlines.

As his son Steven summarises: “Dad was the Bart Cummings of greyhound racing.”

In fact Gary Ralph did win a Melbourne Cup – the greyhound version – at Sandown in 1997 with the amazing Roanokee, regarded as one of the sport’s greatest chasers of its era.

For more than 20 years, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s Ralph immersed himself in greyhound racing … his way. As a trainer, owner and breeder, he was never one to follow a well-worn path if he thought there was a better way.

And Ralph was ‘a thinker’, an innovator. A very smart man.

He entered greyhound racing on the back of his very successful Sydney-based concrete cutting business and struck ‘gold’ almost immediately with the very smart Gold Spring. A two-time winner of the then-prestigious Gold Bracelet at Sydney’s Harold Park.

As his interest and success in the sport deepened, Steven Ralph recalls his home changing, each time to fit more greyhound kennels.

“We started off with a normal house block in the Sydney suburb of Greenacre,” Steven said, who remembers being a five-year-old playing at the feet of legendary caller Paul Ambrosoli, as the master called races at Harold Park.

“We had kennels in the back yard. Then we moved to five acres at Rossmore in Sydney’s west, then further out to 50 acres at Bringelly.”

In 1989 Ralph moved his family to Queensland and initially operated out of a property at Yatala, just south if Brisbane, which was right beside Greyhound Hall of Famer Tony Zammit.

Then Ralph moved to his final greyhound HQ, and his most impressive – a 220 acre, custom-built facility at Tamborine, in the Gold Coast hinterland.

“That was an amazing property,” said Steven. “No expense was spared in providing the best possible infrastructure for the greyhounds.

“I read about the focus these days on animal welfare, which is great, but Dad must have been before his time because our dogs lived in conditions that were as good, or even better, than most people’s homes.

“Dad always aimed to source the best way of doing things. It didn’t have to be his idea, just the best idea. That certainly was the case when it came to the long drive we would undertake from Sydney to race in Brisbane – more than 12 hours each way.

“Dad decided to get his pilot’s licence and then bought a light plane and we would fly up and back – about two and a half hours each way, with me spending that time holding on to a couple of greyhounds.”

Ralph’s right-hand-man for about 40 years, Keith Hilzinger, enacted most of Gary Ralph’s ‘brain-storms’.

The Tamborine property a classic example: “When we were developing the property at Tamborine the Gabba track was being closed and a new one being built at Albion Park,” says Keith.

“We were able to get all the track rails from the Gabba  and then build a track at Tamborine that was the exact replica of the new one being built.

“Gary and I were real good mates, except for my son Allan, he was my best mate. We would call each other ‘Brother’. In recent times we would talk and laugh about all the things we did together over the past 40-odd years.

“He helped a lot of people and I don’t think he ever got the credit for just how much he did for others. I saw what he did. He was just a real good bloke.

“He would joke and call himself a ‘genius’, but there wasn’t much he couldn’t do.”

Keith also has a greyhound background. He had a trainer’s licence as far back as 1974 and these days has a small team, of dogs with his son, Allan.

Gary Ralph departed the greyhound industry in the early 2000s. Son Steven can’t recall why, but said when his father decided to step away it was a clean break.

“I think he just decided to put his mind to something else … as simple as that,” he says.

And since then Steven has also kept away from the sport that he grew up in – until recently.

“I am good mates with Keith’s son, Allan Hilzinger, and recently I bought a half share in a dog with him. The breeding of this dog traces back to Roanokee.”

Gary Ralph’s first wife Marcia, Steven’s mum, passed away in 1994 after a long battle with kidney disease. He is survived by his only son, four grandchildren – Jessica, 25, Joshua, 23, Levi, 7, and Hunter, 3, and his second wife Wendy.

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