By TERRY WILSON
IT is this time of the year, around the rugby league State of Origin series, that will always be firmly in the thoughts of Brisbane greyhound trainer Brett Hazelgrove.
The 55-year-old loves his league but Origin time for him has extra special meaning – created by the deeds of his former champion race bitch Dam Slippery.
As a true Bananabender, Hazelgrove is so proud of what Dam Slippery did at Albion Park in June of 2019 when she upstaged a crackerjack field to win the Greyhound State Of Origin Sprint (520m), although Queensland eventually lost that series 2-1.
Dam Slippery (Dyna Double One-Go Mini Mouse) was subsequently named Queensland Racing Greyhound Of The Year for 2019 and ended a career that included 22 wins and 18 placings from 54 starts for prizemoney earnings of $200,983
Despite her stellar career, Dam Slippery’s last run was in a Mixed (4/5 Grade) race over 331 metres at Albion Park. She won.
Brett is a second-generation Hazelgrove dog man, basically a quiet and unassuming man who lets his greyhounds do the talking for him.
Hazelgrove doesn’t mind a bet or two and will have a decent dabble when he thinks he has a good chance of landing a winner with one of his runners.
His betting days started well before he was legally able to do so and at one stage as a pre-teen he used to get along to the Gabba night meetings with his family and wander about in his dressing gown.
Chase sat down with Hazelgrove to run through his rise to the upper echelon of the greyhound game as he competes against the bigger kennel operations with a small team.
Chase: Can we start off with State Of Origin, in particular greyhound Origin, and ask what you think of Dam Slippery.
BH: My best greyhound would have to be Dam Slippery. She was second to Circle Of Dreams in a National Futurity, won the Richmond Oaks, then won the Origin Sprint. In that race she beat New South Wales runners Mystic Riot and Good Odds Harada. They were both Million Dollar Chase winners. It was a gutsy effort – she just kept kicking.
She now is basically a pet and has had a litter of five pups by Kinloch Brae They’re still being reared but they look pretty good.
Chase: Understandably you rate Dam Slippery as the best greyhound you have had but what is the best greyhound you have seen?
BH: It goes back to Top Simbi. As a kid what that dog did has stuck in my mind. Bogie Leigh is another I’ve always admired.
Chase: Did you actually play rugby league as a youngster?
BH: I played rugby league up to under-18s with South Woodridge and in the competition we played against Queensland Police Academy and the coach of them was Wayne Bennett.
Chase: Tell us a little bit of your early days when you were sort of thrust into the greyhound scene by your father Reg and your mother Noela in suburban Brisbane.
BH: I was dragged into it as a kid and I started working with dogs when I was about seven. We were based at Annerley and we had some good dogs go through our kennels. I worked as a glazier from when I was 17 through to 50, I also worked for a while as a taxi driver. And in between I dabbled with the dogs.
Chase: One suggests that racing (as in dogs and horses) goes hand-in-hand with having a punt. When did your lure, for want of another word, to the punt start?
BH: No, I don’t mind a punt. It started when I was about three years old. My Godmother Clair Thompson and I would go to the TAB on Saturday mornings and put the bets on – there was no phone betting back then. I especially remember I used to have my 50 cents on a horse named Prunda, I used to always back that one and it won a few and actually raced on the sand track at Albion Park before the trots moved in there.
Clair was the one who started me off.
(PRUNDA was a racehorse of the 1960s that had 31 wins including several feature events in Brisbane and was ridden a couple of times by champion Englishman Lester Piggott. Prunda raced despite having impaired vision in its off-side eye).
Chase: What about mixing it with the big punters in the betting ring at the Gabba night dogs?
BH: I would have been seven and used to go there with Mum and Dad in my dressing gown. I’d stand in the ring and the bookies and punters would knock you over trying to get a bet on.
Chase: How far back does the Hazelgrove family involvement in greyhounds go?
BH: It first started in 1971 when we lived in Annerley up until 1975. Glen Northfield was a relation of my mother and he had to come to a hospital in Brisbane when he stayed at Mum’s. He said we need to get a greyhound and talked Mum and Dad into buying a bitch called Our Cousin. We got the bitch from Frank and Bill Reynolds at Casino. Our Cousin won five races including some at the Gabba.
Mum and Dad trained Pretty New for Bill Northfield. She is the mother of Pretty Short, which ended up a major contributor to the breeding industry.
My Mum, my Dad and a brother Craig are all trainers but another brother Shane is not.
Chase: You have had your personal issues off the track and we understand you still live with your Mum after two children and four grandchildren.
BH: Yes, so I guess that makes me a bit of a mummy’s boy (laugh). She breeds rarely now but still owns dogs that I train. Cool Change is one of them and has won 18 races.
Chase: You have only 10 or so runners at any one time at your Buccan kennels. How has life been and do you have any ideas of expanding in the future?
BH: I have a number of good, supportive owners now. They are Darren Delaney, Darryl McCoy, Ray Gretsch, Michael Phillips, David Blench and Mark Sultana.
I live quite well. We had our ups and downs last year which was not so great because of COVID, but the year before was sensational. I keep less than 10 dogs at all times. You ask why not 20 or more? I don’t like all the work, but I love every other thing about it.
I think my strike rate at the moment is 32 per cent.
Chase: What would you be doing if you weren’t into greyhounds?
BH: I’d probably be in politics (joke). The dogs keep giving me something to get up for every morning.
But right now we’re lacking tracks in Queensland and that has been annoying me ever since Parklands closed.
Grafton will be a good option looking ahead and I now love going to Townsville, so those places will be added to our travelling list. I’ve had success in Townsville and won the Cup there with Quara’s Flick when Dam Slippery ran third.
Chase: There has been a lot of talk about the new $4.6 million track at Grafton. You’ve seen it and what is your opinion?
BH: The track’s great, the kennel block is great and the lure system is great. It’s hard to fault anything there, really. I reckon it is a clean-racing track and I think the punters will love it.
Chase: You have flirted on the edge of training a Group 1 performer. Obviously that is your goal, yes?
BH: The Townsville Cup was Group 3, the Richmond Oaks was Group 2 and I’ve run second in a National Futurity. Yes, a Group 1 win is on top of my list but they’re very, very hard to win.
Dad won a Group 1 (Winter Cup) with Fabulous Storm at Albion Park.
Chase: Tell us about the best advice you have had and what you see ahead for the greyhound industry.
BH: I have mates all around Australia and all have basically told me that if your dogs are happy they’ll perform for you. Set up a good environment and they’ll do that. Bill Rodd and Rob Britton in Melbourne have always been very helpful.
I’m still learning today – you never know too much in this industry. You just have to keep trying. I get to talk with a lot of young people coming into the industry and I try to help them as much as I can.
Chase: What about the input from Mum and Dad?
BH: They probably have had equal input into my learning although Mum has always been better on a breeding side of things. I did a lot of travel with Dad and I sort of pushed him into that. He was more held-back while I reckoned you just have to have a go. I can hark back to the Lismore Cup and we had Carnage Maker and Dad was reluctant to have a go at it because he thought the dog was not up to it. But Tony Brett had a couple in the race and we beat him in the heat and again in the final.