A wonderful constant theme, that keeps presenting itself amongst the Victorian greyhound racing community, is a sense of family involvement and opportunity for any age.
Most greyhound racing fans will be familiar with successive generations of people from many families actively engaged in the Victorian greyhound racing industry.
However, it is not often that three consecutive generations – passionately and successfully – train greyhounds to race, particularly women.
Greyhound trainers – Valda Rose, her daughter Sheree Hopkins and granddaughter Jessica Hopkins recently joined me in a heart-warming discussion at their Junction Village home.
The discussion included how the sport is a unifying foundation that transcends generational differences, and what greyhound racing means to them, all the while underpinned by their love for each other and their adored greyhounds.
25 years ago, the 1996 Topgun winner – Wylie Boy (Kareem x Fantasy’s Halo) trained by Valda & George Rose, raced his way into Australian sporting history by being only one of two greyhounds to date that has placed in the event on two occasions.
Wylie Boy took out the Topgun in 1996 after running third in the same hotly contested event the year before.
As the 1996 Victorian Greyhound of the Year, Wylie Boy’s resume is the stuff that racing dreams are made of, and his efforts combined with those of his trainers – Valda & George Rose – would inspire the couple’s daughter Sheree, and granddaughter Jessica, to pick up the collar and lead, and follow in their family matriarch’s footsteps.
Valda retold how she acquired her superstar greyhound.
“Wylie Boy was originally purchased from Tom and Judy Reid at 10 months of age. I bought him for just $900,” Valda recalled.
“I did not have another greyhound racing at the time, as my other racing dog, Just Gypsy (Yannick x Gypsy Wings) had hurt herself.”
“He (Wylie Boy) started to pull clothes that belonged to George out of the wardrobe and lay down on them.”
“When my husband George and I picked up Wylie Boy, we put him in the car and drove to Steve Elsum’s property in Diamond Creek to pick up another dog.”
“Steve said to us, ‘Put him on the track’ and we said no, as we have just picked him up off the farm, but Steve insisted and reassured us that he would not hurt, the young Wylie Boy.”
“Then, Steve ran the lure past him and Wylie Boy went – BANG!”
“Then, Steve put him on the lure a second time, and remarked to us, ‘I don’t know what you’ve got there, but you’ve sure got something!’ “And that was the start of Wylie Boy.”
Wylie Boy also won two Sale Cups (in the days it was a sprint race) and a Traralgon Cup, while he also obliterating track records at Wangaratta, Traralgon and Sale. In his first Sale Cup campaign, he won his heat by an extraordinary 16 and a quarter lengths at just 21 months of age.
After 34 races from 59 starts, retirement led to Wylie Boy seeing out his days at George and Valda’s Croydon property alongside their pug-fox terrier cross, and spending a lot of time with Valda’s adoring granddaughter, Jessica, before passing away just short of his 16th birthday.
Valda’s husband George did not grow up with greyhounds. He worked as a member of the Victoria Police Force, only getting involved with the sport once he retired from police life.
But George Rose grew to love the sport and the greyhound breed thanks to Valda.
And, not too many people can lay claim to carpeting their four-car garage, for the sake of their dogs! Perhaps, an unusual, but strong indicator, as to how much George was hooked.
George and Valda assisted each other with the training of their greyhounds.
George obtained his public trainer’s licence and Valda had held a greyhound owner/trainer’s licence in her own right since 1988, after she had several enjoyable years as greyhound owner.
It is interesting to note that Valda’s licence was granted, four years ahead of Gai Waterhouse being licensed to train thoroughbred horses in Sydney.
Granddaughter Jessica was just three years of age when Valda acquired Wylie Boy and Jessica stayed with her Nan and Pa (Valda and George) when Sheree separated for a while. And, although George loved having his granddaughter Jessica at home with him, according to Valda he did get fairly annoyed with Jessica.
“George used to do the dogs’ nails, and Jess, being quite the little miss that she is, used to check the greyhounds’ nails when George had finished them. She’d then tell George that he had missed one.”
According to Jess, her Pa also used to love giving his dog a bit of his cup of tea, and a biscuit.
“Not that you can do that today, but if it was good enough for George, it was good enough for his dogs,” Jess remembered laughing.
Sadly, when Wylie Boy was just four and a half years of age, George suffered a heart attack and passed away, devastating the family.
Daughter Sheree remembered vividly how Wylie Boy “ran straight to George’s side of mum and dad’s bed, and was squealing for dad.”
The four legged star “started to pull clothes that belonged to George out of the wardrobe and lay down on them.”
After George’s untimely death, Valda, Sheree and Jessica moved to Stanley Road in Devon Meadows in 2002, on a seven acre property previously owned by Tom and Judy Reid, the couple who originally had Wylie Boy.
And, not long after moving house, Sheree was granted her public trainers licence.
Sheree reflected how she had always had a love of dogs thanks to her mum.
“As kids we always had mixed breeds, a mongrel or any other kind of dog, and then to watch Wylie Boy as a 10 month old pup develop into a group winning dog, that was very special.”
“Knowing the nature of the dog too, particularly the bond that Wylie Boy shared with Jessica, dad used to say, he didn’t perform as well if Jess wasn’t at the races.”
“As soon as Wylie Boy spotted Jessica when he was being led around the parade ring, his whole demeanour changed.”
Once Jess turned 11, any greyhounds that she part-owned with her mum or her nan had to be worked before she went to school.
“I couldn’t live without Sheree and Jess, and if I wasn’t involved in greyhound racing I wouldn’t be here now” – VALDA ROSE, 85.
And, according to Sheree, all Jessica would say almost to the point of annoyance as a young teenager was, “I can’t wait until I am 18 years of age to get my trainers licence.”
However, Jessica reminded her mother that “We did ring (then GRV CEO) John Stephens when I was 13 to see if I could get my catchers licence early, but he said ‘I am sorry we don’t make exceptions’, so I had to wait until I was 14.”
Jessica’s first winner, as a fully-fledged trainer, occurred when she was 22.
Casboult (Collision x Happy) jumped from box 8 over 400m at Warragul in February 2013 under Jessica’s training carriage, formally kick-starting her long awaited career, as well as winning $500 for the McGrath Foundation as part of GRV’s Go The Pink Dog campaign.
Today, Valda, at nearly 86 years of age, Sheree and Jess all go to the track together, however Valda does opt out from attending some of the trials.
According to Jess, “We all probably spend too much time together because of greyhound racing, but is that a bad thing?”
Sheree went on to add, “greyhound racing is very much a family sport” and Valda, charged with much emotion confessed, “I couldn’t live without Sheree and Jess, but if I wasn’t involved with greyhound racing, I would not be here now. I just love it, and I love what Jess is doing, she loves her greyhounds and the dogs love her.”
At this point of our discussion, Valda starts to get very teary, and Sheree chimes in to point out that, “Mum and Jessica do clash a bit, because they are both very similar.”
Valda admitted “We do have our confrontations”, while Jessica, just sat and giggled at her much loved nan’s admission.
But what appears to be Valda’s biggest wish is for her granddaughter Jessica to train a group winner.
“I hope I am around, I’d love to see Jess train a big race winner, and she certainly deserves it.”
To Valda, Sheree and all the mums who continue to inspire and support us all with our own greyhound racing dreams, have a very happy Mother’s Day xxx
TOP OF PAGE: Sheree, Valda and Jessica with retired racer, Trubelle (top of page), who was bred by the ‘Like Mother Like Daughter Syndicate’ which comprises Sheree and Jessica.
BELOW: The trio are pictured with Eye Catcher, a greyhound trained by Jessica who boasts 21 wins from 52 starts.
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