Pete Vernon 2
Cinders n Shale to Grass n Sand (2)
The demise of the track, which was sited in the wonderfully and aptly named, Vernon St,….. honest! left a dilemma. The ‘Sperry’s’ had got my bitch (Derby Claire) going again, but had decided to call it a day. I didn’t drive at the time so, unless I could sort out transport to the nearest option of Nottingham, the only choice seemed an early retirement…….. or reluctant sale. Fortunately, the free Derby bus simply changed it’s destination. So, along with Derby’s racing manager Peter Robinson, trainers of the like of Munslow, Babe and Walters, the Leicester faithful switched Trentside.
It was a shock to all. The ‘old ’Nottingham track was a glorious sweeping gallop of sand. It boasted the longest run-in in the country and took some getting; races often turning somersault in those final, but vital seconds. However, the biggest shock came to the dogs that also made the switch. By the third bend it became obvious that many were desperately in need of a lift from our free bus…….. They didn’t stay a yard.
I needed a trainer, and after putting the feelers out, I put my bitch with Tommy Smith. She stayed the trip OK. Won a couple………then let us down …….again.
Those of you who remember the ‘old’ stand, may visualise that you could place a bet, turn around, and, even if it was a dead railer, stroke your charge, as it blistered past your nose and after the ’flapping’ yellow Sumner hare. A quiet Monday night. Trap 3. A6. ‘I think she’ll win tonight’ Tommy enthused. Tommy never gave much away. Never said they’d win. Therefore, she was a certainty…….5 to 1. She came off the last bend 8 lengths clear of the odds on favourite who was making his customary late move. But, Derby Claire was nervy….The ‘oi…oi..’ cheers went up for the ‘jolly’. Punters leaning over the wall. She flew past me 5 in front……..and stopped dead. Waited for the pack. 2nd a short head……… My brother was already in the queue to be paid out! It was sofa time for Claire…..with the odd bit of independent exercise.
Nottingham became an important, and integral, part of my life. The 5.30 meet up opposite Sainsbury’s. The journey ‘forum’. ‘Such and such know’s someone who’s brother’s mate owns the 4 dog in the fifth’ or ‘this one ran a blinder last week but ‘THEY’ won with their other one’ ……All rubbish, but fascinating at the time. The meeting…. and then the, often alcohol distorted, inquests on the bus back down the A46.
My house became overrun with tapes of the week’s meetings, each one chronologically logged, and stored in their white boxes with ‘Dan Hyndman Video’ in purple on the front. Hours and hours of graded giants. Many fondly remembered. Many more, unintentionally forgotten. Each and every one were a part of my life. But something was missing. I needed another dog.
I kept my ears and eyes open but nothing came up. Then, out of the blue, I found what I was looking for.
Like many dog fans at the time, I saw the advent of SIS as canine ecstasy. At last, instead of attempting to visually piece together the jigsaw puzzle of an EXTEL commentary , we could actually see how those Saturday Morning Superstars ran. Hackney was Mecca! …Ladbrokes and Corals the Odeon Saturday Morning Pictures for an older generation. The track ‘topdog’ Tracton Charm….Hello Blackie with his blistering early……and the ultra consistent Dodadae.. Names I’ll never forget..
Hackney was a stiff gallop, with 2 trips over 4 bends of 484 and 523 metres. I also knew it as a stiff task for any visiting speedway team. Waterden Rd was home of the black and white checks of the Hackney Hawks and The Lions had many fruitless Friday night forays there. However, one Saturday Morning it was the’ black and white’ of a Sandman dog winning an M3 (523) which caught my eye. He looked perfect for Nottingham. Racing Post ads on the following Thursday. DOG FOR SALE. Bk w. d. Sandman-Kissin Cousins £350. ……SOLD!
I travelled down to Hackney to pick up my latest acquisition from his trainer Lionel Maxen at the old Stadium kennels, behind the back straight, after a Saturday meeting. It was strange to see these familiar names for real. Hackney ‘form’… ‘stood up’. The place itself was ramshackle, and falling down……but I, along with many others, loved it. My new fella was on his way to Tommy’s,…..via a London cab and a ride alongside me….in the guard’s van of a British Rail train. He slept all the way…….I had bought City Desk.
He trialled in and went straight into A1. The grader finally relented and he found his level in A3/4 where he was for the most part of his career. He was a good grader. Just what I thought he would be. No ‘star’ but, give him a chance and he’d take it……..and ‘Mickey’ won his fair share. However, it was the pleasure that he and Claire gave me that gave me an idea. I decided to help set up a Home Finding Scheme for Nottingham.
My plan was to embark upon a ‘Sponsored Track Crawl’, whereby I had to be present, for at least part of a meeting, at each of the 35 tracks in Britain,….. in 3 weeks. Three tracks on some days! Where was Powderhall? …Wisbech?……Norton Canes?….Could it be done?….It looked hard……..It looked even harder when I had to rely on……..British Rail.
Most tracks were helpful - providing tickets, putting on special ‘trophy’ races etc…and a young J.Hobbs met me at Catford to cover the trek for the Post. Remarkably, the trains never let me down, though it did get hairy due to a station ‘jobsworth’ regarding my pass with a, Rule 39,Section 4, Paragraph 5 Union Handbook ‘I’ve never seen one of these before-hang on’s … as my connection from Rye House was about to depart, with my presence required,…. in Romford, to present a trophy to the winning connections of a hound called Hairy Head a couple of hours later.! Made it…..just.
A total in the region of £800 wasn’t bad, and, apart from being fortunate to witness the likes of Ravage Again at Shawfield and Slippy Blue take the ‘ultimate crown’ of the ‘Derby’, I was pleased to be able to hand over a cheque of that denomination to someone, whose name escapes me, but, am sure, used the funds wisely!
However, progression up the ladder at the place where ‘Good Food Costs Less’ resulted in being posted in various cities around the country, all usually with either a cathedral, a racecourse, or both…….but no greyhound track.
I was away from greyhound racing for a long time and the route personally taken back into the game was not the most conventional for a fellow approaching his forties. But there is a saying, ‘the road less travelled’…..