By Chase Editor Pat McLeod
During the tough times of COVID-19 you don’t have to look too far for inspiration to go on.
Across our nation, at dog tracks illuminated in major cities or nestled amid country showgrounds, there is a face and a story that encapsulates what greyhound racing is, and why it so rightly was one of the few sports left standing when coronavirus attacked.
In Wagga Wagga, western NSW, that face is Danny Smith … and also the hundreds who know him and support him.
It is far from an understatement to say Danny is a legend in Wagga sporting circles. And greyhound racing is his pet love.
But don’t look for Danny in any list of champion owners, trainers or breeders. And his name is not etched as a prominent greyhound official.
Danny is a 45-year-old, who was born with Down Syndrome and almost broke a city’s heart when he tiptoed past death’s door recently when suffering from acute kidney failure.
“Yes, Danny was very sick,” reports his mother Cathie.
“It all started with an infection … and then he was in ICU. We were very worried. However, he has a great medical team who have cared for him and he is a lot better now. Not quite 100 per cent, but pretty close.
“The real story here is community. The support for Danny has been unbelievable. Most people with disability live secluded lives. But not Danny.
“How he is treated and welcomed is one of life’s greatest joys and of course his greatest joy is greyhound racing. He can’t wait to be back out on the track.”
And there are plenty who are ready to welcome him back. He has been a regular for almost 40 years.
“Danny appointed himself club manager, and I answer to him,” says actual Wagga And District Greyhound Racing Club manager John Patton, with a smile.
“He might have been off-track for a while now, but he rings and texts me several times a day with instructions – ‘Swab this dog’, ‘how much does he want for that dog’, etc, etc.
“The club has not quite been the same without him here.”
In fact Danny has a paid role at the club, which includes handing out kennel passes and collecting rugs. However, what has been missed is the ‘free’ advice he gives to most trainers and of course his playful antics.
Like during the lead-up to a Wagga Cup a few years ago when Patton was amazed and delighted that many of the nation’s top dogs had been nominated for the local event. Only to realise that ‘somebody’ had mischievously faxed the phantom entries in.
“Danny is a character and brings a lot to the club,” says Patton.
“He is a great student of form, knows all the dogs, past and present. He is incredibly loyal, but most of all he is so caring – for the dogs and his many friends.”
His closest friend – family even – is Sue Honey, a member of the that region’s renowned greyhound family.
Sue baby-sat Danny when he was just seven and an unbreakable bond weas formed. Not only that, through Sue and her parents Brian and Jean, Danny was introduced to greyhounds.
“Early on I took Danny out to Dad and Mum’s place and immediately he fell in love with the dogs,” Sue recalls.
“He was, and still is, a real live-wire. But around the greyhounds he is so gentle and caring. He has a real rapport with them. Often, back then we would find Danny curled up with the dogs.
“He loved greyhounds from the first time he laid eyes on them.”
Danny was also given tasks around the Honey kennels and would carry them out diligently.
He became a part of ‘Team Honey’ and has travelled the State, nation and globe with them. He is known at greyhound tracks across NSW.
He has been a part-owner of dogs. His favourite so far is Glorious Leader, who he owned with Sue. The black bitch had 37 starts for a very memorable three wins (plus a further 14 placings).
She is now retired and happily living with a farming family.
“Danny is part of our family,” says Sue.
“He shares our love of greyhounds and I know just how desperate he is to get back out to the track.
“When (ex-NSW Premier) Mike Baird tried to shut greyhound racing down it took a toll on us all, but none moreso than Danny.
“He understood the whole situation and I remember him in tears on the phone to me. It almost killed him.
“But greyhound racing, and Danny, are still here.”
Possibly the one thing Danny likes more than greyhound racing is to be in front of the media. That’s where he truly shines.
Former NSW regional newspaper and television senior journalist, and now Wagga Harness Racing Club CEO Graeme White said Danny was never backward in coming forward with the media.
“Countless times at major sporting events, grand finals etc, I would be interviewing the key people after the event and there in line ready to take the microphone would be Danny,” says White.
“And, of course, most times I would ‘interview’ him and he was extremely knowledgeable about whatever sport was in the spotlight. He knows his stuff.
“Harness and greyhounds used share the same facility in Wagga before we moved to our new track last year, so I used to see quite a bit of Danny. Probably the only thing he liked more than the dogs and a microphone was a Coke and a sausage roll.
“However, I believe Mum has put a stop to that for health reasons.”
So, although this story is about you Danny, just this once, we will let others do the talking.
Hurry back. We miss you.