UK Sports Presenter Julie Collier was a VIP guest of the Sandown Greyhound Racing Club for last month’s $600,000 Group 1 TAB Melbourne Cup.
Julie’s presence gave the world’s richest greyhound race increased global presence, and below she has written a blog detailing her visit.
Well that was one of the best weeks of my life! My time in Melbourne learning about greyhound racing in Victoria has been fantastic and eye-opening. The industry here is far more profitable for all involved and run so much better than in the UK AND you have sunshine! I really don’t want to go home!
My week kicked off with an interview on The Catching Pen. Thank goodness I had watched the heats of the Melbourne Cup online the night before when I had landed in Australia as I was immediately put on the spot and asked for a tip. Box 8 I chose, Dyna Villa who had a great draw to work from, improvement in him being so young and some great stats at the track already. I also managed to pronounce Beth Dapiran’s name wrong in the interview, a mistake I am totally blaming on Greg Miller thanks to a mis-spelling on an earlier email he had sent me. Sorry Beth! That night in Melbourne I had dinner with Darren McDonald and some of his kennel staff, all of who were Irish! Darren was at the opposite end of the table to me and was very softly spoken! Luckily I had a translator, as his kennel hand Chris Connolly is a friend of mine from home, previously working for Pat Buckley in Ireland. He paraded the English Derby favourite Mind The Net back in May and now his Australian boss was about to send two finalists into the Melbourne Cup. What a year he has had!
Tuesday I had a full day trip out which was brilliant. Sean Stanton from GRV took me to meet Beth Dapiran at her kennels in Seymour first. She was lovely, young, attractive and well spoken – she would be a huge hit in the UK! It was so refreshing for me to hear how much she enjoyed handling the dogs and working in the sport. As part of my job I often visit trainers in the UK who are constantly moaning (and I don’t blame them) because they can’t make ends meet.
Next we went onto meet the retired greyhounds at the Greyhound Adoption Program. I am hugely passionate about greyhounds as pets and have done a lot of fund-raising for our Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT) at home. GAP do a great job and are at a stage where they can’t get the greyhounds through their system quick enough for the number of people who want to adopt them! It’s great that the Australian public’s image of greyhounds as pets is improving so quickly. I left my heart with Paddy, a gorgeous, affectionate, black and white boy who I really wouldn’t have been able to sneak onto the plane home…can someone please give that dog a home!?
Thursday morning I was up at 6.30am for a radio interview on SEN and then Mick Floyd took me into RSN for two more radio interviews before the Melbourne Cup Press Lunch. There were about 60 people at the lunch and I knew about 3 people (who I had met very briefly in the days before)! There were VIP’s, CEO’s and media from all over Australia and I was the guest of honor and to be interviewed by the host, Michael Christian. I was nervous which surprises people, but I am used to talking to a camera, not a room full of very important looking strangers! I was introduced by a montage on the big screens of me interviewing various people – that was embarrassing enough but worse was to come! After a nice chat with Michael he announced to every one that they were about to see ‘just how far she will go to raise money for the retired greyhounds.’ At one track in England called Crayford, the girls who wave the flag to start the races do so with a little wiggle that has become known as the ‘Crayford Wiggle’. Viewers of Racing Post TV, which I regularly present, had offered hundreds of pounds for the RGT if I would do the wiggle – so I did, obviously never knowing it would be shown in Australia! As the screens went to black and I lifted the microphone to begin to defend myself another clip popped up! About 6 years ago, myself and 11 other girls from the UK greyhound racing industry got together to produce a calendar. It was classy, I just happened to be wearing no clothes…and so the whole room found out! I literally died on the spot, very red-faced. I also met Jaimee Rogers at the lunch, the ‘face’ of TAB. We went for dinner that night, she is a lovely girl and I hope we stay friends. In fact, I met a lot of lovely people around my age, which is something I don’t have in the UK as most of the people who work for the tracks and boards are much older. I don’t have a social group through work or even a Christmas party! It’s been great to share something I am passionate about with people of my own age and to have a common sense of wanting to both improve and promote the sport we love and raise awareness about greyhounds as pets.
And so to race night…I was totally wowed by Sandown Park – the size, the facilities, the food, the crowd, all the extra entertainment on the night and of course, the racing. There was so much going on off the track and kids having a great time too which is so important – they are the future of our sport! I met some famous Australian Sports Stars; Bianca Chatfield, Jack Riewoldt and James Pattinson who all love their greyhound racing. In the UK we have had sports stars involved at times, including Vinny Jones, but thanks to all the politics in the UK they have all left the sport. It was great for the kids at the track that they could have their photos taken with their heroes.
The food was good and the lolli-bar was a hit. As were the Oysters on our table – yum!!! I love my oysters and they are pretty good here in Australia! The night seemed to go so quick and before I knew it, they greyhounds were lining up for the Bold Trease. Sweet It Is won in her usual style of coming from well off the pace and leaving it very late to do so! I didn’t think she’d get there after 4 bends but it’s the best race I have seen in a long time and she looked an absolute picture on the podium hardly blowing at all. That is exactly the sort of bitch it would be my dream to own.
As the greyhounds came onto the track for the Melbourne Cup the tension really rose in the stadium. $600,000 dollars at stake and a first prize of a whoping $420,000, no wonder the nerves were palpable. Greg Miller had given me a $1,000 bet on my selection, and I couldn’t change my mind from Dyna Villa – the first rule of punting, never change your mind! The boxes opened and as Keybow slightly missed the kick and Dyna Villa got a lovely run around the outside I cheered my selection home and won a whooping $3,500 for the greyhounds at GAP – hopefully they will get a few extra treats for that! Dyna Villa was a great winner and I’ll be following his career with interest – an October 2012 dog is sure to have more improvement in him. Maybe he can come back and win it again next year!? We will see… I had been warned it would be tricky to get an interview with all the connections and the dog after the race but I’m really pleased I managed it. Breeder, trainer and handler were all delighted, grinning from ear to ear. I can’t wait for everyone back home to see the footage on Sky Sports. I’ve also been writing features for our main racing newspaper at home and I really hope me being here not only raises awareness about the Melbourne Cup but can also have a positive affect on our industry in the UK.
It’s been an amazing week. I’ve met wonderful people and hopefully made some new friends for life. Most of all I’ve enjoyed the dogs – the retired’s as always were adorable and it was such a pleasure to witness superstars of the track. Right now, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. Do I have to go home?
Images of Julie at the TAB Melbourne Cup: