Wednesday, September 19, 2018
After the Southern Greyhound Raceway conducts its final Strathalbyn Cup over 536 metres at Strathalbyn on Sunday, October 21 the gates will close and equipment and infrastructure will be transported to Murray Bridge in readiness for the opening of the new track.
And this will mark the end of an era in SA greyhound racing.
It seems like just yesterday on a cold Monday winter’s night in 1971 that licensed greyhound racing was conducted for the first time at Strathalbyn over 535 metres on a track that had been built inside the harness racing circuit.
It had been a long time coming, many participants previously racing greyhounds behind pilot dogs on makeshift tracks at Waterloo Corner, Campbelltown, Elizabeth, Murray Bridge and for a short time even on Thebarton Oval.
There were no licensed bookmakers back then, nor a TAB, just an illegal bookie operating out of the boot of his car and generally offering even money about every dog in the race.
Later, when the mechanical hare was legalised, non-betting meetings were conducted at Bolivar – Glen Schurgott winning the 1970 Adelaide Cup with Roman Holiday and later that year Ray Fewings’s Michelle Quick and Helen and Don Wenham’s Chari Sparu dead-heating in the SA Sprint Championship. Both events were run over 555 yards.
In the same year Strathalbyn ran two 585 yard “classics” – the St Leger which was won by Tiara Dellee while Miss McGrew won the Champion Puppy.
Whyalla was actually the first club to conduct licensed greyhound racing meetings in SA in 1971 prior to Strathalbyn, race meetings at Gawler and Angle Park soon following.
A large crowd attended Strathalbyn’s opening night, eager to see what this new sport of greyhound racing was all about, unfazed, it seemed, at having to queue up for a pie dished out from an old caravan that acted as the club’s cafeteria.
The greyhound fields were appearing in The Advertiser which also had its own greyhound writer, 5DN was broadcasting the races and six bookmakers were offering better than even money the field and had even come up with a new form of wagering called “concession”.
Greyhounds were now racing for a few dollars – few being the operative word, although no one seemed to really care – instead of a bag of kibble.
And there was a real buzz at the track on Friday nights when countless qualifying trials, called on-course by Peter McMonagle, were conducted by the Strathalbyn club.
Boom times followed for SA greyhound racing. Further race tracks sprung up at Port Pirie, Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Kulpara, Barmera and Mount Gambier. Trial tracks at Morphett Vale, Echunga, Murray Bridge, Virginia and Two Wells. Many have since closed.
It’s a fair bet they won’t be dishing out pies from an old caravan at Murray Bridge’s new two-track complex, likely to commence racing in early 2019.
But those who remember Strathalbyn’s opening night, along with standing room only when Gawler kicked off and the traffic jams that came with Angle Park’s first night, will probably still tell you that the 70s was a great time to have a greyhound.