By Brennan Ryan
Robyn and husband Gary Johnson are no strangers to winning a Johnston Puppy Championship.
Robyn is president of Tasmania’s North West Greyhound Racing Club, which conducts the Johnston Puppy Championship in October honoring two coastal legends, George and Eileen Johnston.
George and Eileen are best known for their finely tuned chasers that carried the ‘Fenton’ prefix.
Originally named as the Devonport Juvenile Championship, Magna Desire for trainer Bill Redshaw was the inaugural winner back in 1968, beating home the likes of Switch Vista and Huon Thunder.
The Johnston’s prepared Fenton Elect (1970) and Fenton Gold (1974) to win the championship.
From 1975 the Devonport club had the Puppy Championship named in honor of the Johnstons.
“George and Eileen were the first people I ever met in greyhounds,” Robyn Johnson recalled.
“When Gary (Johnson) and I first got together, he would take me around to George and Eileen’s property. I remember their dogs having shiny coats and all of them looked so neat and immaculate.
“Gary had a lot of respect for George and Eileen and they were highly revered in the racing game.”
With success the Johnstons got from racing they were hugely devoted to help the industry in any way.
George Johnston grew up in the Meander farming community, both he and Eileen moved to Deloraine during their teens. The famed racing couple were married young on Thursday, December 10, 1925.
Greyhound racing came to George from an early age and he had a very smart hurdler called Tipsy Ben.
The famous ‘Fenton’-produced greyhounds originate from an association with Ray Bounds, owner of a marvelous bitch Good Miss, winner of a Sprint Championship of Tasmania. A mating to Rocket Jet saw two bitch pups that George and Eileen bought from Bounds.
Bred in the purple these two pups were litter sisters to 1960 Australian Cup winner Meadow Vale.
They raced as Hopeful Jet, a winner of 13 races, and Nimble Jet winner of 10 races during their careers. It was their offspring that put the Johnstons on the map.
After a move to a property at 96 Fenton Street in Deloraine the Johnston’s stars were raised and trained. The great Fenton Girl, a winner of 43 races, was one of the couple’s finest bred gallopers.
A repeat mating by Victorian dog Lucky Bingo out of Nimble Jet, star chaser Fenton Girl won races off severe handicaps. Amongst victories in the Thompson Cup and TCA Puppy Championship, she was runner up in an Easter Cup, Nelson Cup and third to Black Tuesday in the 1967 Devonport Cup.
Fenton Girl raced interstate on four occasions and was crowned 1967 Tassie Greyhound of the Year.
Other litter mates to Fenton Girl included star dogs Rambling Jet (27 wins) and Fiery Bob (27 wins).
The success of the Fenton line continued well into the late seventies producing winner after winner.
George and Eileen were well into their eighties when they eventually handed over the training to son Bevan.
NWGRC awarded life membership to George Johnston for his devotion to his home club. George passed in 1996 and Eileen in 1997.
Robyn and Gary Johnson have a racing/breeding establishment at Leith, on the outside of Devonport. They have trained two puppy championship winners in Buckle Up Tina and Capra Ross.
Local trainers place the prestigious open bred puppy trophy high on their wish list.
Last year Fabulous Baroque added to honor roll of the event giving champion trainer Ted Medhurst his sixth victory in the race having won his first title with Rusticus (x Droopys Sandy) in 1999.
Robyn Johnson says a shift in some of the club’s feature race events has shown positive results.
“Moving the Group 3 Devonport Chase to a November timeslot has started to pay off,” she said.
“Having a Breeders Classic into the Johnston Puppy Championship does provide our best local young dogs a great build-up towards the Devonport Chase. From there you will see those dogs compete into the Hobart Thousand and later head towards the Launceston Cup.
“So it’s always an exciting time.”
Caption: Devonport racing icons Eileen and George Johnston