By DAVID BRASCH
(Each month Chase puts the spotlight on a person and/or their ‘best friend’ – a story that gives an insight into the true heart of greyhound racing. It showcases all that is good in this sport and is a monthly tribute to much-loved greyhound identity Daryl ‘Albert’ Gleeson)
NOEL Smith is 80, has been in dogs since he was 15 and has learnt a thing or two about training along the way.
But, back in the early 1990s he was buried in a mine at Lithgow when a roof fell in on top of him. This ended his working career. It gave him plenty of time to concentrate on training greyhounds.
These days he has just one dog in his kennel, the second coming of Just Classy.
The first Just Classy (Little Denver-Classy Brutess) won 18 races in a 70-start career and downed Dennis Reid’s champion Questions to win his way through to the 1998 Queensland Derby at Albion Park.
Today’s Just Classy is by Aston Dee Bee-Brightest Star and Noel admits he “got a good quid” when Just Classy (version 2) recently won at his second race start at Casino.
“Backed him from 10s to 3s,” said Noel.
Shades of Just Classy (version 1).
“When he beat Questions in the Derby heat I got 40-1, 33-1 in,” Noel said. “I had a pocketful after that. But Questions got us back in the final by knocking my dog down just after the start.”
Ipswich legend Syd Lewis’s Mighty McClurg won that Derby.
Noel and his wife Marlene moved to Alstonville on the Northern Rivers in the early 1990s.
“Marlene moved first to help set up a handicap school,” Noel said. “It was something she had done for so long while we lived in Lithgow.
“I was an engineer in the mine. I did my back and a knee in the accident and the mine bosses retired me.”
Noel was born into greyhound racing.
“I used to go along to Lithgow dogs when I was a kid, but we were never allowed into the track in those days,” he said.
“I used to stand on the big bank near the track and watch the races.
“I started training when I was 16, but actually got my licence a little earlier. I told a few stories and they gave it to me.”
His wife Marlene’s father, Mal Peacock, was a highly successful trainer.
“We had lots of good dogs in the early days,” Noel said. “James Chariot was a really fast dog and set a track record at Orange.
“Another of the kennel, Creame Gold, won a heat of the Dave Alexander at Harold Park beating superstar Acacia Park.
“Pretty Gentle was a fast dog and ran 31.40 around Richmond. Classy Brutess was top class and we bred with her to produce the first Just Classy.”
Noel generally trained only his own dogs, but had a few in the kennel for Parramatta and Australian rugby league centre Barry Rushworth.
Since the move north, Noel has kept his hand in with just one or two dogs in the kennel.
“Marlene and I have a motor home sitting in the garage but we haven’t had much chance to use it,” he said.
They bought the new Just Classy from Bill and Jan Warner.
Noel is particularly proud that his granddaughter Kirsten Flynn has a share in the dog and has already insisted “Duke” (as he is known in the kennels) will be a house pet for her when the time comes.
In the meantime, Noel is obviously planning yet another bet coup with the new Just Classy.
“It took him a while to show his best and it was probably only the last six weeks before he won that he came good,” Noel said.
“I thought he should have won at Ipswich on debut. He had not been on the track but he was unlucky.
“He’d been to Casino and I fancied his chances.”
Noel might have only one in his kennel, but he’s always down the road helping out Pat Lavis.
“Pat’s got 48 dogs in the kennel,” Noel said. “He needs a helping hand.”
Noel said that meant he could not get to bowls.
“I play bowls when the weather is right, but haven’t been for 12 months.”
He and Marlene, high on a hill at Alstonville, missed any flooding problems back in March/April.
“We had 430mls of rain one night,” he said. “The damage at Lismore was unbelievable. All that TV coverage of the problems at Lismore never really showed the extent of what happened.”
Just Classy (version 1) won at Casino, Tweed, Lismore, Grafton, Wentworth Park, Albion Park, the Gold Coast and Nowra in his 18 wins.
Just Classy (version 2) has much to live up to … but he’s started off just how Noel would like. And landed a 10s to 3s betting plunge.