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Herbie’s ‘love bug’

Greyhound racing historians would have ‘dusted off’ their record books after spritely 91-year-old James “Herbie” Kirk won with Aston Laurent at The Meadows on Wednesday afternoon.

Kirk, who turns 92 on July 3, is believed to be the oldest trainer in the sport to have led in a city winner.

Owned by leviathan SA breeder Ray Borda, Aston Laurent ($3.50) notched her third win from 13 starts, scoring by 6.3L in 30.32sec.

Late last year, nonagenarian Kirk asked MGRA chairman Eddie Caruana if he could find a greyhound for him to train.

And through the big-heartedness of Borda and Avalon trainer Jason Sharp, Aston Laurent (Dec ’19 Aston Kimetto x Aston Jadore) found her way to his Pascoe Vale kennel.

“She gets me up every morning and keeps me fit. That’s the enjoyment I get from her, it’s an interest for me.

“I haven’t tried her yet, but I think she may get a bit further in her races.

“However, I’m restricted in where I can take her as I mainly race during the day. I don’t race at night if I can avoid it.”

Kirk added Aston Laurent (affectionately known as “Zena”) had a beautiful nature but is a “bit of a barker, particularly at feed time”.

“Greyhounds have kept me going in life… It’s like having a herd of cows, you’ve got to get up to them.”

And he says she has another idiosyncrasy: “She’s a very fast eater.”

Still as ‘sharp as a tack’, Kirk and his late wife, Marion, had 10 children (8 boys, 2 girls).

“I’ve been a widower for 31 years. Marion and I had been married for 42 years when she passed away, aged 60,” Kirk said.

“Greyhounds have kept me going in life… It’s like having a herd of cows, you’ve got to get up to them.”

Kirk, who has resided in Pascoe Vale for around 70 years, became involved in greyhound racing during his late teens.

“My wife’s uncle – sorry, I can’t recall his name – got me into the sport. But I remember he was a coursing fanatic.

“In my younger days, I raced greyhounds at Napier Park, Gracedale Park, Maribyrnong Park and White City. I even hark back to the ‘pacemaker’ days.

“I think in those days, the greyhounds were physically tougher. But training techniques have changed dramatically.

“I mostly walked my greyhounds when I started off, but now I use The Meadows straight track combined with a bit of walking around Fawkner Cemetery.”

Aston Laurent clocks a 30.32sec win, scoring by 6.3L, at The Meadows yesterday.

Kirk paid homage to veteran greyhound breeder Tom Boorn, who he says is “largely instrumental in any success I’ve had in the sport”.

“I’ve had a terrific life in greyhounds, and I’ve met a lot of the people in the industry that I consider close friends.

“I played a bit of cricket and football in my younger days, but greyhounds have been my life. “You lose a bit of social life, but then again you join a circle that love greyhound racing.

“I’ll keep going in the sport until I drop. I’ll probably go out with a lead and collar in my hand.”

Kirk rates the best greyhounds he’s trained as Bronze Wing (a Bendigo Cup winner), Reckless Brother and Golden Patch.

And he says some of the best greyhounds he’s seen are (in alphabetical order) Bold Trease, Brett Lee, Cheltenham Lass, Fernando Bale, Kantarn Bale, Lizrene  and Temlee.

Kirk also has a simple message to the greyhound racing’s younger participants: “You’ve got to have patience with your greyhounds.”

And he suggests people contemplating involvement in the sport “should get a dog with a few friends and they’ll have a lot of enjoyment”.

So, how did the “Herbie” nickname originate?

WATCH: ASTON LAURENT (8) creates a piece of history, winning for her 91-year-old trainer at MGRA headquarters.

“I had a few uncles named Jim and we’d all respond if someone called out “Jim” at family gatherings. My middle name is Herbert, so “Herbie” was the obvious choice.”

Daisy Hill greyhound racing stalwart Alan Bayliss, 78 – who initiated this heart-warming story – says his father used to have a regular ale with “Herbie” on a Friday night at the Essendon Rowing Club.

“There were quite a few ‘watering holes’ in those days, including the Royal Hotel,” Kirk quipped.

“I worked for Essendon (now Moonee Valley) City Council for 33 years as a driver (street-sweepers and garbage trucks) and I’d often catch up for a beer or two with my workmates.”

Bayliss says, “we have a talk every time I see him” and “he still goes upstairs at The Meadows on a Saturday night”.

He added: “You might get The Meadows to shout him a free feed.”

Well, according to Eddie Caruana, that offer stands for Kirk, who is an MGRA member and still attends most meetings at The Meadows on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

“We had “Herbie” up here for dinner only a couple of weeks ago,” Caruana said.

Pawnote: Caruana also mentioned Drouin South’s William “Alan” Fairlie, who trained 1977 Australian Cup winner Listowel Sue, recently applied for renewal of his trainer’s licence.
Fairlie turns 93 on May 9.

The content on this page was accurate at the time of publishing. If you notice any inaccurate content on this page or anywhere on the website, please report it here

About Peter Quilty - Peter Quilty has more than three decades of experience as assistant editor of Victorian Greyhound Weekly. He was editor of GRV monthly magazine The Adviser (2001-09) and owner/publisher of Australian Greyhound Monthly. He also served on the selection panel for the inaugural GRV ‘Hall of Fame’ inductees and for several years was an adjudicator on the Victorian GOTY. He’s also published greyhound racing yearbooks and wrote the ‘Bold Trease’ video script.
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