Greyhound icon is now hunting a coursing crown

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By TERRY WILSON

STEVE Kavanagh has been caught up in the greyhound scene for a long, long time and the veteran has achieved many industry honours in his time.

But the now 75-year-old trainer/breeder has a very different item he wants ticked off his bucket list, and it is something that goes back to the original old days of greyhound competition, that of coursing.

Now based on the Tweed Coast area of northern New South Wales at Pottsville, Kavanagh has been associated with some of the greatest greyhounds in Australian history as a trainer, breeder and owner.

Yet it is worth noting that his interest in greyhounds started way back in time, in his early years at Dubbo, in central-west NSW.

His journey has continued to the present day and he still has some training magic, as evidenced by the win of Rumble Ranger in the rich Group 3 Vince Curry Memorial Maiden at Ipswich last month.

Chase caught up with the veteran to chat about his time in the greyhound industry and what makes him tick.

Chase: You caught the greyhound bug in a roundabout way in your younger days in country New South Wales. What was the catalyst to that?

SK: I grew up in Dubbo and there was no family involvement in greyhounds. I used to go out and hunt with some mates and found out that a few of the dogs had greyhounds in their bloodlines.

Chase: Did they make good hunting dogs?

SK: It depended on what you crossed them with, I suppose. You got a bulkier dog with a bit of speed as well, so that as the main idea. That was basically the foundation of it.

Chase: Then it was on to greyhound racing. Can you remember the name of the first greyhound you had?

SK: The first greyhound I raced properly was a dog I bought as a pup from Athol Hodges at Mudgee, a well-known breeding family. The dog’s name was Rainbow Tiger. I think at one stage he won nine in a row at Mudgee and I think he won a Cannonball at Richmond. That was a good introduction, the one to light the fire.

Chase: So Steve Kavanagh was up and running. What was it like as a rookie trainer?

SK: You do a lot of trial and error things no matter what you’re doing and a few of them started falling into place. But one thing is that you remember the up times more favourably because there are less of them.

Chase: Given that you once applied the polish to a handy hound named Brother Fox, what is the best greyhound you have had?

SK: I’ve had a lot, but it depends on what you call really good. The first one to hit the big stage in terms of recognition was probably Smooth Rumble. It won an Australian Cup in Melbourne in 1997.

As for Brother Fox, he was the best of his time, in my opinion, I had him all through his breeding and racing. My biggest win was probably the Australian Cup when it was held at Sandown while The Meadows was being constructed. I say that because he was also in the Lord Mayor’s Cup in Brisbane at the same time as he was in the Cup qualifiers in Melbourne. He had to go back and forward between Brisbane and Melbourne several times in a few weeks which made it even more special and showed just how tough a dog he was.

Chase: There was a special time for you and a couple of your greyhounds at Harold Park wasn’t there.

SK: Brother Fox won the Vic Peters Memorial there and broke the world record for 457 metres (500 yards). That was top of the tree I suppose. Then a week or two later Shy Julie broke the world record for 732 metres at Harold Park. So I held two world records at the same time.

Chase: What led to you selling up at Dubbo and moving to the far north of New South Wales?

SK: I’d been coming up here for nearly 26 years. I liked it and I used to come for the (Border Park) Galaxy, so I’ve always liked it here. It’s God’s country. I spent 18 months looking for a suitable place and I eventually purchased a property at Dungay, near Murwillumbah. I eventually sold the farm to good friend Mick Lalicz. But I still have stock out there and I train out of there even though I live at Pottsville. I have eight pups there and three others racing.

Chase: Things are looking good for you living in that area, especially with the new Grafton track ready to go and with the Tweed Heads club heading towards a brand new Border Park near Kingscliff. That will be handy for you?

SK: Yeah, the position they’re talking about now is ideal. But with all the too-ing and fro-ing that has been going on it will be one of those ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ things. But there has been a certain amount of progress made.

Chase: Speaking of Border Park and the old Galaxy classic, did you have much success at the old Tweed track?

SK: I actually won the Galaxy with Sobbing Sal in 1997. She was Brett Lee’s mother. I went there with Brother Fox one year and he trialled sensationally, but got injured in a heat.

Chase: Steve, you’re now 75 years old, a very spritely 75 we may add. What do you think lies ahead, is the desire still there and what is on your bucket list?

SK: I haven’t had many runners for the last 18 months or so and I’m very pleased to get back into it again and enjoying it – and sharing the experience with young Mick (Lalicz). What’s on my bucket list? I want to get back to Ireland and win the coursing championship. That’s my hobby, coursing. I’ve been going to Ireland for years now and I had stud dogs there – Smooth Rumble finished at stud over there – and I have an interest in a few pups there.

Chase: You would have seen plenty of characters in the dog industry over the years. Is there anyone in particular who stands out in your memories?

SK: One of the real characters was my old mate Ronnie Brown. He trained out of a housing commission house at Riverstone, out the back of Sydney. He loved life, loved a drink and had heaps of stories to tell. Ronnie had a great old saying: “Listen boy, no matter how big a trainer’s mouth is it won’t make his dog go any quicker.”  I’ve fallen back on that line plenty of times over the years – or I think of it, anyway. I have photos of his back yard with champion jockey Peter Cook patting Brother Fox. Peter used to call around there after track work. So did Ron Dufficy.

Chase: We’ll ask you a tough one. Which one was better? Brother Fox or Brett Lee?

SK: Probably Brother Fox in a photo finish. But the best professional all-round race dog is probably Johnny Carruthers’ Rapid Journey. Fernando Bale can’t be ignored and then there are the bitches like Highly Blessed, Flying Amy and Promises Free.

PAWNOTE: Ronnie Brown also won a Border Park Galaxy, with Mister Biggles in 1983.

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