By Chase Editor PAT McLEOD
WHILE all of us have experienced a bizarre couple of months, veteran Brisbane dog man John Warrell has had a rockier rollercoaster ride than most.
On March 22 he celebrated every trainer’s dream – first dog, first race, first place.
Soon after, on April 6, he celebrated his 72nd birthday. The next day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
So, for now, he has hung up the collar and lead to concentrate on the fight of his life.
“It (the cancer diagnosis) came as a big blow,” he said from his Pinkenba home. “I have been really enjoying training.
“If I pull through from this, then I will definitely be getting another dog.”
John’s win up the straight at Capalaba in March, was his first as a trainer … this time around. You see, he had been out of the game for many years, but was convinced to come back to the sport he once loved by now good mate and Sunshine Coast trainer Rob Ayres. But more about Ayres later.
John began training in the early 1970s and stayed in the sport for about 30 years.
“I only ever had a small team, just a couple of dogs at any time,” he reflects. “I never had any real champions, but a few good dogs.
“One of the better ones was Sirrahnelle (his wife Ellen Harris spelt backwards), which won two from two starts before suffering a career-ending injury.”
John takes pride in the number of giveaways and injury-affected dogs he was able to train back to success. However, he says his ‘niche’ was as a muscle man.
“That is what I was really interested in,” he says.
“Early on in my training career I realised that was my niche and so I started to watch closely how the good muscle men operated. I watched and I learnt.
“One of the best was Dennis Robinson. I learnt a lot from him.
“Eventually I became pretty good at it myself. It got to a stage when there would be a procession of trainers bringing their dogs to my place for me to have a look at.
“On many an occasion a desperate trainer would come to me with their injured dog and tell me ‘everyone has had a look, but no-one can solve the problem’. Fortunately, most of the time I was able to find the solution.”
John said that about 20 years ago he became frustrated and unhappy with the direction greyhound racing was going, so he took up bowls. He became a member of the Hamilton Bowls Club and was more than happy to leave sleeping dogs lie.
That was until last year. Fate played its hand when he ventured to another Brisbane bowls club, Windsor, for a fours tournament involving players from a variety of clubs. He put his name down as a ‘spare’ and was picked up by a team that included Ayres.
“We were having a good time, not playing very well, but enjoying the day,” John recalls with a laugh.
“Rob mentioned that he was involved in greyhounds and I pricked up my ears and told him that I also had been, but a while ago.
“Well, one thing led to another, including me telling Rob that I used to do some muscle work. The next thing I know he had convinced me to have a look at one of his dogs.
“Of course I told him that I hadn’t looked at a greyhound in 20 years … but he brought the dog over anyway. Well, I was able to diagnose the problem and then Rob wanted me to have a look at all of his dogs.
“Rob and I struck up a good friendship and he was the one who convinced me to get back into the game, which included getting a trainer’s licence again.”
John assisted Ayres with the training regimes of a number of dogs and gradually built his confidence back up to a stage where he was happy to take on one of Ayres’ dogs, Boscono, a My Bro Fabio-Beauty Bale bitch that had achieved plenty of success at Capalaba.
“Boscono was coming back from a broken toe and I was more than happy to take her on,” says John.
“Rob’s a very good trainer, but of course every trainer has their own methods and Rob was happy for me to take the dog to my place, where I had built kennels in the back yard, and to train her my way.”
After five weeks under John’s care Boscono was back on the track at Capalaba.
“She jumped out first from box 1,” recalls John, still with more than a hint of excitement. “She led all the way until near the winning post, when I think she may have been headed, but fought back to win.
“That was a great feeling. To come back and have a winner with my first dog. I was very happy.”
John said he had been set to keep training until his health issue came along.
Now, with the support of his wife, three children – Jeanne, Troy and Tracy – and seven grandchildren he is ready to beat cancer.
“The aim is to be back leading in another winner in 12 months,” says John.