By GARY KEEP
ANYONE from any background can end up with a champion greyhound.
Take for example Zoom Top, the greatest all-distance star I have seen in my 65-year involvement in the sport.
I was there from day one when my aunt Leah Watt arrived in a VW Combi van to visit our family at Casino in northern New South Wales.
She was moving to Sydney with husband Hec and their young family to seek a better lifestyle.
Money was tight for both families, but my mother Mary generously slipped Leah twenty quid ($40) to help with petrol money.
At the time the Watts had no greyhounds.
By contrast, the Keeps did.
My older brother David trained a small team on the acreage property our parents purchased which was opposite the Casino greyhound track, probably in line with the existing 411m starting boxes.
One of his best sprinters was the bitch Busy Beaver, who amongst her eight or so wins included the Easter Maiden at the old Tweed Heads track, which then was located over the hill from the now closed Border Park complex.
The day Leah arrived at our house David was working in Casino so his teenage schoolboy brother was quick to take her down the backyard to show off all the dogs including the wonderfully conformed Busy Beaver.
The rest is history. Busy Beaver ended up racing on southern NSW country tracks for the Watts and when retired she was mated with Black Top.
The mating produced an outstanding litter which included Busy’s Charm and Top Bomber.
There goes the theory about breed from a proven city winner because Busy Beaver never won in town and her bloodlines were riddled with country sprinters.
Although Hec was credited as Zoom Top’s trainer, Leah was recognised as part-owner and she did all the behind the scenes work.
I fondly remember she taught me at their Rossmore kennel how to use an ultrasound – and it was a young greyhound kennel-named Sweety (Zoom Top) on the receiving end.
Leah and her twin sister, Ruth Parsons, were workaholics with greyhounds and underlines how successful women can be with them.
They had their own unusual methods, like when it came to washing a dog they preferred to soak it in a wheelbarrow.
While Zoom Top was trained on acreage, Ruth Parsons had a tiny backyard at Rockdale (Sydney suburb) where she trained one of the state’s best sprinters Lord Beresford.
Then she brought another star to Brisbane to race. I remember arriving home at my parent’s Kalinga home in 1972 to find a greyhound bedded down on a mattress in a bedroom. Although in strange surroundings this chaser was asleep like a child under the bedcovers. But on command from its trainer, Ruth, the greyhound woke up and ambled outside for a toilet break.
I thought to myself: ‘This is one spoilt animal’. The next night that greyhound Bomber’s Gal came out at the Gabba and won the Lord Mayor’s Cup by panels of fencing. She was eventually transferred to Brisbane vet Graham Beh and became the first greyhound he trained.
Another woman trainer I admired was ‘Simmo’ (Mrs Lila Simpson) who was our neighbour at Casino and the best of friends with my mother.
I recall at about five years of age going to the Simpson’s house and when I knocked on the door, a greyhound came running out.
Alarmed to see a greyhound in the actual house I said to Mrs Simpson: “Mug has been in the house sitting on the lounge.”
Mug was the Northern Rivers champ Happy Cappy, a lovely white dog with a big black marking over his eye.
She replied: “Mug can go anywhere he likes in this house because he has bought every piece of furniture in it.”
My oldest brother John reckons Happy Cappy was the smartest race dog he ever saw.
The Simpsons and Keeps became the best of friends and to this day I still call their youngest daughter by her nick-name Tammy (Faye is her proper name, she is Casino trainer Robert Cooke’s partner), while I remember her brother Peter Simpson as the snotty-nose toddler we called ‘Sweet Pete’.
Current Grafton trainer Stephen Keep (my second cousin) gets his greyhound background from his grandparents – Mrs Simpson and her late husband Les.
My greyhound background traces back to my late dad Dave who trained one or two as a hobby.
As a Casino youth I vividly remember one well-known Queensland trainer Ray Miller riding on a pushbike down our street with about six greyhounds jogging along.
From an early age I learnt greyhounds could reward you if you put in the time and effort.
Many trainers relied on gambling because prizemoney was so poor.
Most greyhounds were trained with lead exercise although often I had to help David with call-up sprints on the nearby football fields.
I also relished taking a day off school to bring Spotaway to the Tuesday day meetings at Lawnton (Brisbane) because on the way home my two brothers would stop and play ten-pin bowling at Greenslopes, which for a country kid was a big deal.
Oldest brother John would often set one up for a plunge particularly around Christmas time. If the dog won, we had plenty of presents.
Many years later John pulled off a major plunge at Wentworth Park and the collect was so big a security van had to be called in to get the money off the track. One trainer, Gary Holmes, helped put the commission on and he told me he personally collected $250,000 from the Sydney bookies. Of course brother John left me out – but that was his business.
I was also pulling in good pocket-money as a kid by going to the Casino track on Sunday morning and picking up a lot of loose change that would fall under the bar. I made one mistake. I told some other neighbour’s kids about my lucky windfall. They went to early Sunday Mass which meant they got to the track before I did.
So my various experiences have helped develop my fondness for greyhound racing, recognising the satisfaction also provides pitfalls.
So, if you want to buy a greyhound, remember you have to be a good sport, because you lose more than you win. Each week you may put in 14 hours on an individual greyhound for a 30 second result in a race. Don’t become jealous of the success others achieve.
Remember good dogs make good trainers.