Caption: Desley Williams with her former great chaser Dashing Corsair, the only greyhound to win both the National Sprint and National Distance finals.
The National Championships are almost with us. And isn’t it good to have them back, not having been run since 2019 due to the Covid crisis.
From a racecalling point of view, due to the fact that the Championships rotate among the capital cities, most of the metropolitan callers only get to call the events around once every six years. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to call the Nationals on five occasions in Brisbane, spanning just on 30 years from 1988 to 2017.
I always thought calling the Nationals was a real buzz but, at the same time, some nerves set in. You would hate to make a major mistake in the call of what is a unique type of race. Or to put it another way, it isn’t only the owners, trainers and their greyhounds who are on the national stage. The caller is too.
My first National Sprint Championship call was at the Gabba in 1988 when the Pauline Fruend-trained local star Dancing Gamble led all the way from box two, beating fellow Queenslander Daring Coup, trained by Dennis O’Keefe, by three quarters of a length. Close up in third place was Sydney sprinter See Yah and there lies a story. That dog’s trainer handled him to the boxes. In the loading procedure he removed the lead but forgot to take the collar off the dog. There was conjecture whether See Yah had been inconvenienced to the extent that he was disadvantaged. But stewards declared the dog a definite runner. Realistically, if the collar of See Yah had been removed it’s very doubtful that the result would have been different.
My second National Sprint call was in 1996. The winner was Shayne’s Champ, representing Victoria. The dog’s trainer Peter Jovanovic was based in Victoria at the time, later moving to South Australia.
It was another Victorian win for my third National Sprint call. In the Frame, trained by Eric and Marlene Castle for Sandown Club director and sponsor David Gleeson was the winner in 2002. It was a comfortable two lengths win.
In 2011 the Ron Ball-trained Metz Magic won the National Sprint in clear-cut style. Ball’s long-time friend and client Bill Crooks was the owner.
My last National Sprint call was in 2017 with the Tony Brett-trained Jury quite an easy winner. Tony has won just about every feature race known to man but this was his first, and still only, National Sprint win.
My first National Distance call was in 1991 at the Gabba. Golfing tragic Dave Palmer landed the winner with Just A Charm, who was owned by the well known Ipswich sisters Betty and Doris Steinke.
In 1996 I had the pleasure to call the Ron Ball-trained Boronia Blossom to victory. The bitch had won the final the previous year at Melbourne’s Olympic Park and became the first dual winner of the National Distance. That feat has since been matched by Sweet It Is in 2014 and 2015.
Boomeroo for Victoria’s Michael Edwards was the next National Distance winner I called. It was in 2002. Boomeroo won by seven lengths. Queenslanders McDeeBee for Jeff Ahern and Dooley’s Mist for Barry Dull filled the placings. Boomeroo was a headline-maker wherever he went.
The 2011 National Distance is indelibly etched in my mind, thanks to the marvellous win by the Dwyer and Desley Lennon-trained Dashing Corsair. What a dog he was. He won 57 races, 38 of them at Albion Park. The only dog to win a National Sprint and Distance final. There aren’t enough superlatives to use when speaking of ‘Harry’ as he was known around the kennel at home.
My last National Distance call was also very memorable. The Robert Britton-trained Fanta Bale was the undisputed top stayer in the land and she showed us just how good she was. The winning margin was only one length over Burn One Down and the time of 41.71 wasn’t a record. But I couldn’t help but feel privileged to have called that win.
So from five National Sprint calls, I called three Queensland winners and two from Victoria. It was exactly the same with my National Distance calls.
Saturday night August 27 at Wentworth Park looms large as the night of the Nationals. Racecaller Matt Jackson will be calling his first Nationals. I wish him well. Even from high up in that Wentworth Park grandstand, I reckon Matt will sense the occasion.