Racing mourns giant of greyhound world

\"\"Caption: Paul Wheeler – had a genuine love of his greyhounds (Photo: BlueStream Pictures)

By David Brasch

IN the middle of October, legend greyhound trainer Graeme Bate was all excited.

His mate Paul Wheeler was coming to Victoria to visit. They would have a few drinks together, go fishing and, as usual, reminisce about the glory days they shared together.

Paul had managed to get hold of a mower Graeme needed and was using it as an excuse to visit.

Paul had already applied to get across the border.

So, when Paul\’s son Brendan rang Graeme to tell him his dad had died suddenly of a heart attack, Batesy was staggered.

\”We were best mates,\” said Graeme. \”I cannot explain the loss. I feel very hollow.\”

The entire racing community, like Bate, felt hollow when the impact of the loss of the world\’s most dominant breeder, owner and influence, became world news.

Paul\’s influence, and success, has been on show for decade after decade.

Yes, he inherited the family business from his father Allen who had started it way back in the 1960s through the giveaway broodbitch, Gail\’s Beauty. From Eastern Creek to The Oaks and then on to Murringo (near Young), the Wheeler dynasty grew and grew and grew.

It was to Bate that Paul tossed an idea he had, a dream, of expanding the empire to greater heights than anyone had ever thought or hoped for.

\”He was going to borrow more than a million dollars,\” said Graeme. \”I warned him against it. I told him \’don\’t do it, the pressure will kill you\’. But he went ahead anyway and look who was right.\”

Batesy remembers the first time he and Paul Wheeler joined forces.

\”He had a dog called Lansley Bale who wasn\’t really handling Wentworth Park,\” said Graeme. \”He asked if I would give it a try. The first time I took him to Sandown he absolutely flew. We put him in, backed him and he bolted in.

\”Should have won the Melbourne Cup but got stopped on the home turn when a dog in front of him broke down. He ended up being beaten narrowly by Roanokee.\”

It was the late 1990s and the start of a partnership that dominated greyhound racing.

Superstars like Kantarn Bale, Xylia Allen, Radley Bale, Barcia Bale came and went.

\”At one time we had 12 of Paul\’s dogs in the kennels that were Group stars, the best in Melbourne, and then there were all the dogs that raced on the city tracks week-to-week, let alone all the others,\” said Bate.

The first person Graeme rang after Brendan had told him of his dad\’s tragic death was Paul\’s wife Jan.

\”She said to me, \’I\’ve got everything in life, but now I\’ve got nothing\’,\” said Graeme.

Paul\’s death has been felt everywhere.

\”He was a pioneer of his sport,\” said Paul Westerveld, studmaster to his champion sires Barcia Bale and Fernando Bale. \”Paul took the greyhound world to another level. My wife Michelle was in tears all day when we heard of his death.

\”Michelle and I are so grateful to him. He set our family up forever.\”

Westerveld, then a rising star in the industry and newcomer studmaster, wanted to use Wheeler\’s champion race dog Dyna Lachlan with one of his own bitches.

Wheeler gave him the dog to stand at stud.

\”He said, \’I\’ll send the dog to you, and take Turanza Bale as well\’,\” said Westy. \”It all started from there.\”

Westy pointed to the fact Wheeler was so approachable for anyone and everyone.

\”He loved being on the phone to anyone who rang. He was so professional in everything he did. You only had to go up to the property at Murringo to see that. He was also so easy to get along with. In all the years since we got Dyna Lachlan, we never once had a problem.

\”And he was so loyal to all his trainers.\”

Geoff Collins and Wheeler redefined breeding in Australia.

\”I remember meeting him for the first time in the mid-1990s, he was in the Tabaret at Sandown,\” said Geoff. \”We were both looking to get semen for the top US stud dogs into Australia.

\”We\’d got some, but needed the best. So, Paul and I and our wives headed to the US, hired a car for almost five weeks and went to all the major farms in the country. We talked dogs the whole time and never once had an argument.

\”He was always positive about everything he did and we cemented contacts over there to bring in the best semen we could get. And it worked.\”

Legend Fernando Bale, by US stud dog Kelsos Fusileer is proof of just that.

\”We ended up getting semen for breed shapers,\” said Collins.

\”In the first 10 years frozen semen was allowed in Australia, 81 vials were used on Aussie bitches and Paul used 37 of them.

\”The winners to runners ratio in those matings were through the roof.\”

Getting so close to Wheeler like that, Geoff Collins saw another side to the man.

\”Despite his outward persona, Paul was actually a very sensitive man,\” said Geoff. \”His stint on the board in NSW saw him leave. He told me he could not cope with it.

\”But the one thing about Paul Wheeler that is obvious … like him or not, everyone in the world of greyhound racing respected him.

\”You only had to see the public outpouring over his death to know that.

\”He was an icon of the industry. No, he was THE icon of greyhound racing.\”

If any racing establishment \”felt\” the loss of Paul Wheeler it is the Dailly camp, Andria, Tom and George.

\”It was the biggest thing that ever happened to us when Paul rang in 2000 to ask if we would train a few dogs for him,\” said George.

Those ‘few dogs’ would of course include champions Fernando Bale and Dyna Double One.

And those ‘few dogs’ would increase to 80 at times.

\”We are going to miss him so very much,\” said George. \”He was a very genuine man and a friend. In the past six or more years, we spent time with him on overseas trips.

\”He liked nothing more than a chat on the phone about the dogs.

\”He always said the three stages of greyhound racing are rearing, education and training and if you get any one of those wrong, you will fail.

\”He never did fail.

\”Paul was a person who did not mince words. If anyone rang him, anyone at all, he would always give them his time. If they asked his opinion, he would give it even if it wasn\’t what those people wanted to hear.\”

George remembers superstar brothers Bekim Bale and Heston Bale arriving at the kennels.

\”They had the ability to break a track record the moment we first started work on them,\” said George. \”But Fernando Bale needed to work it out first. He did pretty quickly.\”

George rang Jan and Brendan to offer his condolences.

\”Naturally they were both devastated,\” said George. \”He was their rock. He had everything at his fingertips.\”

But Paul had a darker side that haunted him.

In 2018 he was given a 12-month disqualification and $22,000 fine by GRNSW over the sale of greyhounds to China.

\”It devastated him,\” said Graeme Bate. \”He never got over what they did to him. He mentioned it almost daily to his family. He was so upset, completely and totally. He signed everything he had over to Jan and Brendan.\”

The success of Wheeler Kennels, initially through Paul\’s dad Allen with the deeds of greats like Winifred Bale, led on to the recent greats like Fanta Bale, Fernando, Barcia, Dyna Double One, Xylia Allen, Dyna Villa, Dyna Tron, Dyna Patty, Orson Allen, Irma Bale, Radley Bale, Dyna Lachlan etc.

It is a list that is endless.

It is a tribute to Paul Wheeler and the greatness he aspired to … and achieved.

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