Greyhounds have given Wally a whole new life

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By David Brasch

THE year 2008 wasn\’t much fun for Wally Harkins.

It had been just three years since his beloved wife Christine had died of cancer. Wally and Christine had just developed a thriving pet food business. Her death forced its closure and Wally took up other work.

By 2008 when working as a chef, he complained of aches and pains and headed off to seek medical advice.

\”I had an MRI and it found I had cut my spinal cord,\” said Wally. \”I urgently needed an operation.\”

It left Wally Harkins, now 62, with a two-year task of learning how to walk again.

\”By the time I got to 2010, I said to my son Ben that I needed a dog to force me to get out of bed every day and exercise,\” said Wally.

It had to be a greyhound.

\”Greyhounds have given me something to live for and I have to admit that in the 10 years since the operation I have done better training greyhounds than I ever did in all the years since I first started back when I was 15,\” he said.

Wally is top of the greyhound training tree in South Australia despite only ever having just a couple of dogs in his back yard kennels in the outer Adelaide suburb of Reynella.

His current kennel star is Sir Truculent the son of Worm Burner-Establish, a dog he bred himself, who recently landed the Bay Road Queen Stakes at Angle Park for his 13th victory since stepping up to 731m. It followed a luckless second in the South Australian Distance Championship.

He\’s earned $63,000 in stakes (to time of writing).

Wally was 15 when he first got involved in greyhound racing.

\”I was working at Knight\’s Furniture at the time,\” he said. \”The three Donnelly brothers were mates of mine, but they were car fanatics.

\”Every weekend I would head over to their place but all they did was work on cars. It never interested me. But their dad Frank had a small team of greyhounds and I really got interested in them.

\”Frank was an Irishman who had raced dogs back in the old country. He had only a small team of dogs, mostly giveaways or cheapies. I became fascinated with greyhounds.

\”I\’d go everywhere racing with Frank and remember a trip to Ballarat to race. Eventually I got my handler\’s license and Frank even taught me to punt … only $2 at a time mind you.

\”He was a knowledgeable old bloke, but he could get cranky too. He taught me as much as he could. Frank trained a number of dogs for me before I decided to train myself.\”

Wally says Frank taught him to take giveaways and cheap dogs something he regrets.

\”I took anything to race in those days,\” he said. \”I wasted 30 years of my life doing that.\”

In 1985 Wally had a licence and landed his first winner with a dog called Gannet Flyer. It was behind the drag coursing lure at Mintaeo.

\”He was a very fast dog up the straight.\”

From those early days, Wally would ‘pick the brains’ of South Australian locals like Peter Jovanovic, the legendary Doug Payne, Jay McNicol, Johnny Dale and even Darren Murray over in Victoria.

\”I\’d often catch dogs for Doug Payne and he gave me a lot of advice about training.\”

Dogs like Shakey Shadow and Cinnamon Rose all won plenty of races for him.

\”I got Phil\’s Green as a giveaway,\” said Wally. \”He is a litter brother to Fast Times. I won seven races with him and then sold him on. The people who bought him from me kept winning with him too.

\”I spent a lot of time getting his confidence back.\”

Cinnamon Rose, a daughter of US great EJ\’s Douglas, was bought by Wally on behalf of a syndicate and he won nine races with her.

\”She had great pace but needed to go to Victoria because she was better suited to the tracks over there,\” said Wally. \”She\’s had pups to Spring Gun I believe. She won a lot of races in Victoria.\”

Sir Truculent has been a revelation.

\”I bred him and sold him to a client,\” said Wally. \”But the owner decided he wanted to sell so I gave him $2000 for him and the dog has since won more than $30,000 for me.

\”He\’s giving me a lot of thrills especially as I bred him myself.\”

Wally has been in greyhound racing so long he can reel off the names of some of the legends of racing.

\”I saw Brett Lee win the Adelaide Cup final in 28.88 and no one has come even close to that ever since,\” he said.

\”Worm Burner is the best I\’ve seen since. He ran 29.18 around Angle Park to win the National Sprint.

\”I saw Fernando Bale win the Cup here and Big Daddy Cool was special as well.

\”But, my favourite dog has been Bold Trease, the great stayer who won four Sandown Cups. He could give superstar stayers a huge start and beat them.

\”Sir Truculent reminds me so much of him in the way he races dropping right out early but storming home.\”

While Wally has and still is devoted to greyhound racing, always having three race dogs and a potential broodbitch in the back yard at Reynella, he also has long been associated with thoroughbreds.

\”I was 17 when I started working with Phillip Stokes, a trainer over here in Adelaide,\” said Wally. \”I was strapper for that great race mare Goblet, who won a number of feature races.

\”Since my disability, I have not been able to be hands on with the horses, but I still go to the track all the time.\”

Wally Harkins has become a household name in greyhound racing in South Australia in the past decade.

It took a major operation and a greyhound or two to find his feet again. He has never looked back.

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