By David Brasch
AFTER 55 years living on the same small acreage at Riverstone on the outskirts of Sydney, legend dog man Richie Dean and his family are about to move.
What will be hardest for Richie, 79 in November, to cope with when the departure comes will be the fact it is the final resting place of his cherished National Lass, or Gypsy as she was known around the kennels.
National Lass (Chief Dingaan-Waroo Lass) was twice a NSW Greyhound Of The Year and is in the Australian Hall of Fame.
Yes, she was that good.
Richie Dean is just as good, a leviathan as a trainer and judge of a greyhound who looked upon his involvement in the industry with a common sense approach and became hugely successful.
His thoughts on the industry and how to become a success within it are worth recounting. His protégée Anthony Azzopardi is making a name for himself as one of the greats of the industry.
Richie taught him everything he knows.
These days Richie is still an avid watcher of greyhound racing, still likes a punt, but as a long-time sufferer from arthritis he is restricted now to tough times even contemplating getting about.
\”I always watch the dogs, all three codes actually, and never miss a replay of Bonanza or Laramie,\” he said. \”Yes, I\’m still losing money punting on dogs.\”
His fondest memories are of National Lass.
\”Richard Zammit bought her for $2000 at seven months old,\” said Richie. \”That bitch National Lee from the mother\’s first litter was a top stayer. She was by Temlee and the mother had a litter by Temlee\’s son Chief Dingaan.
\”The bitch was not going to be for sale but the breeder needed some money for extensions on her house. That\’s how come we got her.\”
When Gypsy first arrived at Riverstone from Tassie where she was bred, Richie tossed her into a paddock with others her own age.
\”They ran rings around her at first, but not for long,\” he said.
She was a very good sprinter who made the Young Star Classic final at Wentworth Park then went to Queensland to sit outside Melbourne Cup winner and greyhound of the year Rustic Venture to win the Coca-Cola Cup.
\”The bloke who trained Rustic Venture (Peter Denaro) could not believe his bitch could be beaten,\” said Richie.
Richie stepped Gypsy up in distance almost immediately and she became a legend breaking seven track records, winning numerous feature races and twice becoming greyhound of the year. In all, she raced 63 times for 40 wins and 15 placings. As a stayer she had 34 starts for 28 wins and four placings.
At stud she excelled.
\”I was told because he had so many starts and because she was a stayer she would not throw,\” said Richie. “That\’s all bullshit. There are so many old wives tales in greyhound racing … it\’s amazing. I know of so many great broodbitches who had over 100 starts.\”
Allan Wheeler always told Richie he best liked as potential broodbitches a front running staying bitch and that was exactly National Lass. Richie mated her eight times. Towards the end of her breeding career the numbers of pups she produced were few.
But, she produced such greats as Little Denver, National Leader, National Digger, Denver, Little National and many, many more prolific winners.
Her daughters kept producing and still the lines flourishes today. Champion Betty\’s Angel boasts the National Lass direct damline, so does Oaks Road and Magic Sprite.
All three came via National Dingaan a litter sister to Little Denver.
\”She was actually better than Little Denver but she fought in the catching pen one night and was terrified from that moment on,\” said Richie. National Dingaan has established one of the strongest direct damlines this country has seen.
Those 55 years in greyhound racing have taught Richie Dean much and he is always willing to give advice to anyone who will seek him out.
\”There are plenty of things you should and should not do in this game,\” he said.
\”Like, going back to the same sire. I know Johnsey (former legend NSW dog man Kevin Johns) did it with good success, but it never worked enough for me to do it.\”
He is adamant the best natured pups in a litter will generally become the best on the racetrack.
\”When you rear a litter and get some good ones in it, get rid of the rest, sell them off,\” he said. \”You will spend more time trying to get those slower ones to win that you will neglect the good ones. You should never do that.\”
He is adamant that breeders should only use proven stud dogs and the very best at that.
\”Always sit on the fence when a good young dog goes to stud,\” was Richie\’s advice. \”Wait for the mugs to prove that young dog and then it is time to jump on the wagon.
\”Stud dogs like Fernando Bale and Barcia Bale are proven to produce champions. They are the ones you should use.\”
He says the right rearing can never be emphasised enough.
\”We fed them right, had them lead trained at two months of age and used to chain them up to feed them.
\”We had them ready to win a maiden by 17 months old and generally raced them right up to four years of age,\” he said. \”And, don\’t overdo anything. I find most trainers over-train their dogs. They trial the guts out of them.\”
Richie said for the first seven years he was in greyhound racing as a trainer he would walk his dogs every morning and afternoon.
\”It is the greatest waste of time ever invented in greyhound racing,\” he said. \”You walk these valuable dogs among cars, over broken glass, have to fend off mongrel dogs …
\”And, it does absolutely nothing for them. Also, I never had a walking machine in my life.
\”My dogs were let out into a paddock every day and then slipped up my straight track. We did OK.\”
And, Richie also learned from very early in his training career never to over-do it when it came to feeding.
\”The late, great Billy Fletcher used to produce a tonic that was fabulous for dogs,\” said Richie. \”He gave me a bottle of that tonic one day and said \’give the dog a teaspoon each day, but I bet you go home and give it half a bottle full\”.
Richie might be biased but he says National Lass is still the best greyhound he has seen race.
\”I\’ve seen some great dogs over the years, like Worth Doing,\” he said. \”And Warren\’s Flyer was a better dog than he was given credit for. He went past Little Denver in a race at Wentworth Park one night like our bloke was standing still.\”
He admits he never thought he would see the day greyhounds would race for $1 million first prize.
Richie has a wonderful anecdote about National Lass and her famous daughter National Dingaan.
\”Paul Bartolo wanted to buy pups from National Dingaan,\” said Richie. \”He came all the way up from Victoria to have a look at the litter by Shining Chariot. We had four for sale.
\”One of them was a runt with prick ears and she was undershot. Paul said he didn\’t want her. But, eventually he took her.\”
She would become Leprechaun Miss. Her daughter Leprehcuan Yap was a Group finalist and then dam of champion Betty\’s Angel.
Richie was always going to let Leprechaun Miss be sold.
\”I have always hated dogs with prick ears,\” he said. \”They look like a fox. I\’ve never had a good one, but I didn\’t have many because I didn\’t like them.\”
Richie had only seven kennels for race dogs at his Riverstone property so he had to be very selective.
\”When you breed your own line, you get to know the line best and that\’s how you pick out the best of them,\” he said.
It helps when you are Richie Dean training them, and they are out of champion National Lass.