Veteran greyhound trainer Ron Wilkinson has been around long enough to have seen it all, but how often do any of us see a greyhound with more than 100 starts winning a race against high quality opposition? Not often.
Ron, 79, has been lucky enough to have had one such greyhound in his kennel, his homebred marvel of consistency – Hodge’s Lane.
A son of Irish sire Windy Millar out of Black Japika, Hodge’s Lane recently contested his 102nd and final race start, and went out on a winning note, with an all the way victory at Bendigo – a club Ron serves on the committee – defeating the well fancied Daniel Avocado ($1.20 Fav).
The well-seasoned Hodge’s Lane had the wood on the favourite from box rise, opening up a big lead before hanging on to score at a very tidy $22 for the win.
What made this win and culmination of a celebrated 102-start career even more special is that Hodge’s Lane hadn’t had a start in nine weeks! With impressive race career statistics – 23 wins, 24 seconds and 13 thirds – Hodge’s Lane was in the money in 59 per cent of his races, and amassing more than $47,000 in prize money.
His impressive competitiveness aside, there is much more to this enduring relationship than merely a working association between man and dog.
Ron trained his first winner way back in October 1974 with a greyhound named Kerry Worth, named after his daughter Kerry. While Kerry Worth would prove to be a handy racetrack performer for the then young family man and kick start Ron’s greyhound training career, it would be 26 years before he could step away from his full time role as Senior Supervisor with the Bell Street Bus Company in Preston and set up his dream property to train greyhounds on five acres in Pyalong with his wife, Faye.
Ron and Faye had also bred Hodge’s Lane’s brood matron, Black Japika, and although she only contested 11 races, Ron recognised her great temperament and the union with sire Windy Millar produced some very forward and consistent greyhounds, including Hodge’s Lane. Right from the starting point Hodge’s Lane was a “bossy young pup who always wanted to be the boss of everything.”
Hodge’s Lane commenced his racing career for Ron in September 2017, running 2nd before recording the first of 23 wins at his next race engagement at Shepparton over 450m. Life was very exciting for Ron and Faye with a star on the rise in their kennel towards the end of 2017, but suddenly they were dealt an almighty set back.
Ron attended a routine health care appointment and never made it home. Medical staff took swift and decisive action as Ron required an immediate lifesaving heart operation. Quickly, Bendigo GRA President and great mate, Bob Douglas, stepped in to assist Ron and Faye with their kennel for three months while Ron was in hospital and during his recuperation from what was a life-threatening ordeal.
Large medical expenses can be both overwhelming and difficult to plan for, but thanks to the racetrack success of Hodge’s Lane the enormous costs associated with heart surgery were largely taken care of.
When asking Ron what do you believe is the key to Hodge’s Lane’s amazing racing attitude and desire to chase, he simply replied “our greyhounds are very well looked after and very well loved. Love is a big part of it and they know they are loved.”
Bob Douglas, an experienced trainer, again stepped in again to assist Ron by leading Hodge’s Lane to the boxes in his final start, as he was pulling too hard on the lead for Faye to handle. The excitement and alacrity never diminished for Hodge’s Lane throughout his career. Once the loading process was over and the lure was sent on its way, the bossy, well-loved greyhound took over from the outset and for the last time on the racetrack, Hodge’s Lane claimed his 23rd win.
Yesterday, Ron Wilkinson celebrated his 79th birthday and, incredibly, Hodge’s Lane turned five on the same day. A wonderful coincidence or perhaps the relationship between greyhound and trainer runs far deeper than that. The pair are inextricably linked both on and off the racetrack, and as Hodge’s Lane now embarks on retirement as Ron and Faye’s pet, one thing is certain, the greyhound will always have a very special place in Ron’s heart.
Pawnote: Congratulations to Ron and Faye Wilkinson who also trained a double with Blueberry Hill winning on the same program as Hodge’s Lane’s last run at Bendigo on 23 October 2020.
WATCH: Hodge’s Lane ends his 102-start career in style, with a victory at his home track.