Greyhounds keep John racing

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By Gary Clark

A retired bookmaker on the New South Wales South Coast, who has a couple of greyhounds to keep him active, is still disappointed this declining industry forced him out in 2010.

Well known to all in the ‘Gong’, John Sepple, now 78 years of age, has lived in the same house in East Corrimal, just north of Wollongong for 55 years.

This is a special place for John as he met his wife there, set up his business and made close friends while also meeting his racing partner.

While working as a teenager at the age of 16, John met Heather, 15, who was working in a local retail shop.

“Heather lived in the next street to me, so it is really a small world. My family had the local bakery at the time,” John recalled.

So, after four years, John and Heather got married and John remained in his family’s bakery for three decades. In the 1980s he left the bakery and set up his own transport business, which he still has running today.

During this time as a kid he went to the local greyhound track, where he met leading trainer, Ray King.

“I was all around the racing people right from my school days, but at that stage I had no idea,” John explains.

So, John bought his first dog in 1963, Lika Holly, and gave her to Jim and Doug McMahon – a surname that was synonymous with the South Coast racing region over many decades.

John was off to a great start as an owner with Lika Holly winning at a Wollongong twilight meeting. But that was it. She had a limited career on the track.

The Sepples though had little idea what lay ahead for them as owners and eventually breeders.

Twelve years after their maiden win, John elected to take up bookmaking.

“I had a great teacher in Jim Holland, who I went to school with. I rated Jim in the top six bookmakers in the city during his time. He was very astute. A very smart operator.

“I learned every trick to the game. Jim taught me all the techniques, so I was ready to stand for the first time at a Wollongong meeting.”

John then took up a stand at Penrith, Dapto, Nowra and Moss Vale.

For John, he rated the country track of Moss Vale as his favourite and his best days as a knob twirler.

“If you could win $3000 – $4000 on a Saturday there. The money was always good and punters then were there for the morning and afternoon meetings. Eighteen races in all and you had to be switched on.

“You had trainers like, Evelyn Harris from the Central Coast and even Bev and Dennis Mahoney would race at Moss Vale. There were so many top trainers that made the trip to the Southern Highlands back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.”

Working next to Billy Briggs each week was never easy, John recalls with a smile.

He also enjoyed the nights at Penrith.

In 2010 John decided to close the bag, take down the prices board and call it a day. His last meeting was at Appin, just another track he worked at that is now part of history.

During this time the depth of talent both John and Heather had racing was remarkable.

Jim Holland’s son, Jeff, who also became a very successful, provincial/city bookmaker at a young age, teamed up with the Sepples, who lived just two streets away.

“I bought a bitch with Jeff and then we bred eight litters between us,” John recalled.

“About the only one Jeff owned by himself was Kedo’s Image, who was trained by Roy Heath.”

Their success started back in the ‘90s with top class chasers, Kedo’s Millie (Kedo’s Image x Make Me Rosy), who had 57 starts for 26-9-5 and $78,000 in prizemoney, which included 10 W.P. wins. She was trained by Ruth Matic.

Then there was Lucy Lawless (Golden Currency x Hythe), prepared by Christine Proctor, who won 32 races from 72 starts and $103,000 in prizemoney including 18 at W.P. and one at Sandown.

Also, Kedo’s April, who won 16 races, Kedo’s Pirate (Kedo’s Image x Make Me Fly) won 13 and Kedo’s Toby (Kedo’s Image x Fly Aloft) won four from just 21 starts.

The next litter to Make Me Fly (x Amerigo Man) produced Making Speed, who had 13 wins (two at W.P.) from 23 starts.

As Jeff retired as a bookmaker and breeder, John bought a pup from John and Cheryl Fleming for $2,000 in 2007 and after training him early on eventually gave it to friend, Jamie McFarlane, who was the person responsible for John getting started in the transport business.

Gold Slammer won on debut at W.P. and went on to be a Group stayer, winning the 2007 Sydney Cup and having 100 starts – 16 wins and 38 minor placings for $101,000 in stakes.

In 2010 John bought a pup at the Dapto puppy auction for $4000, who turned out to be Gold Claimer (Bombastic Shiraz x Outrageous Claim), winning 18 races, five at W.P. and a $54,000 return in prizemoney. Not a bad investment.

After that John raced both Gold Porche (Bombastic Shiraz x Exceptional Osti), who won four from 14 before breaking down at Dapto in late 2010, and Molly’s Gold who won two before breaking a foot.

Now in 2020, John and Heather race just two dogs, High Speed, a $3,000 buy from Shayne Fleming as a pup, and High Siam, who they bought from Michael Ivers.

High Siam has won five races to date, all at Dapto including one at 70/1.

“I backed every other dog in the race and not mine. I missed the boat that night,” John explained.

High Speed has won just two so far.

So over six decades John and Heather have gone from a working couple to successful owners and breeders.

John enjoys a night out each Saturday at his local Bulli track, just a few kilometres up the road. Heather remains on the punt at home – a pastime John’s says she has always been very good at.

As they both reach their ‘80s, there will always be a greyhound or two in the backyard.

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