While it is no longer the richest race in the nation, the Hobart Thousand holds a special place in the annals of Australian racing. The Tasmanian open classic this year celebrates an incredible 75 years of existence, albeit that it started life with the name Hobart Cup and was suspended in 1944 and 1945 because of the Second World War.
From its inception in 1935 it gradually became better known as the Hobart Thousand, because it was the first race in Australia to offer a total prize money package of £1,000, a huge sum for a greyhound race in the depths of the Great Depression.
Until the late 1970s the Hobart Thousand was one of a handful of open events coveted by every professional and amateur owner or trainer with a half-decent racer in his or her kennels. It quickly became known as the hardest race in Australia to win, similar to horse racing’s Caulfield Cup.
With such a rich and lengthy history it is perhaps no surprise to look back at the number of genuine stars of the track who have failed to achieve victory in the Hobart Thousand.
In recent years the most famous of these would be the great Brett Lee. The Victorian superstar was having only his 15th race start when contesting the 2000 final. The champion had recorded 11 wins in his short career, carrying almost all before him. Yet he had found Hobart to be a tough track, being beaten three-quarters of a length in his heat when a 1/10 favourite. Brett Lee then bounced back with an emphatic eight lengths victory in his semi-final, running a near record 25.58.
In the 2000 final, Brett Lee went to the boxes a pronounced 4/9 favourite but was slowly away from box four and only fourth on settling down. His main opponent was the star Tasmanian sprinter Top Shiraz. The red brindle dog was in the twilight of a brilliant career and was contesting his second successive Hobart Thousand final, a rare feat. Top Shiraz bounced out of box three and held the rails and the lead for the entire race, defying Brett Lee in the run home to score by a length.
Top Shiraz would finish his career with victory in the Launceston Cup, and end with 45 wins in just 60 starts while Brett Lee would go on to win his next 12 races in succession and establish himself as one of the greatest chasers of all time.
In 1985 the sensational New South Wales puppy Brother Fox scored a brilliant victory in the last Thousand run over 497 metres. The Steve Kavanagh-trained flyer had won his semi final by 11 lengths but faced the Tasmanian champion, Hobart track record holder and 1984 National Sprint Champion Busy Vintage in the final.
Despite Busy Vintage’s brilliant record he was unable to match it with Brother Fox and had to be content with a gallant second place. Busy Vintage would race 25 times in 1985 and register 17 wins and six seconds. He broke a leg at his last start for the year and was retired.
Acknowledged as one of the greatest greyhounds ever to race in Australia, one of the few major events Zoom Top failed to win was the Hobart Thousand. In a career spanning 136 starts and 68 victories, Zoom Top was rarely run down, yet this is precisely what happened in the 1969 final of the Hobart Thousand.
The New South Wales bitch, who had been patched up by trainer Hec Watt after repeatedly tearing a stopper, exited box two with her main rival Benjamin John (also from New South Wales and trained by the mercurial Stan Cleverley) sitting nicely in box one. Benjamin John actually began best but was headed by Zoom Top in the run to the first turn. She led until the back corner when Benjamin John went around her and raced away in front of a record crowd to win by three lengths in 29.0, equaling the old track record which he had broken in the heats and smashing the race record by three-tenths of a second. Zoom Top comfortably held second place, the first time she had ever been run down in a sprint event.
In 1957 the up-and-coming sprinter Rookie Rebel was competing in his first major event when he made the final of the Hobart Thousand. In those days the race was still run with a field of 10 starters and Rookie Rebel exited box 10. A generally slow beginner Rookie Rebel was a 7/4 favourite for the final but was checked in running and although he stormed home in the straight over the 540 yards (494 metres) of the final he failed by a nose to haul in Rising Ace.
Rookie Rebel would return in 1958 and win the Hobart Thousand by eight lengths in race record time. He remains the only greyhound to have been beaten in one final and returned to take out the event.
Among other stars to have failed in the great race have been Sharid, an unlucky eighth of 10 runners in 1951, later going on to win the first Harold Park Classic (Vic Peter’s Memorial Classic) in the same year and Tumble Bug, a long odds-on favourite narrowly beaten a neck by the classy Young Sign in 1947.
Many champions have won the event and, as recounted above, many other greats have been unable to add the Hobart Thousand scalp to their long list of successes. This keeps the race alive and relevant in the modern era.