AGRA - Australian Greyhound Racing Association

Rookie Rebel

By Neil Brown


One of the great champions of the late 50's was the mighty Rookie Rebel, the story behind this classical race dog is in itself a true reflection of a bygone era when the punt was of paramount importance and dogs seemed to change hands for all sorts of reasons. Here's the tale behind a true Hall of Famer remembered for his uncanny field sense and sheer ability by all lucky enough to see him race.

 

Rookie Rebel was bred by legendary New South Wales 's owner-trainer-breeder the late Les Brett at his Roccabright Kennels in Kellyville. The property was later to become the home of super sire Black Top when Frank Holmes purchased the property. Rookie Rebel's dam was a superbly bred brindle bitch named Lady Janellen by Chief Havoc from Clever Vixen, she was owned by Sonny Gram and was on loan to Brett. He chose to her put her to the leading sire of the time, the legendary Dream's Image. The litter was whelped in December 1954 and consisted of three dogs and three bitches, Rookie Rebel's litter brothers and sisters were named Plenty Sparkle, Starlike Lass, Sunmaker and two brilliant greyhounds raced by Les Brett, the 1956 Harold Park Classic winner Smooth Event and the outstanding race dog and leading sire Sunview. Sunview later sired the 1962 and 63 Melbourne Cup winners, litter brothers Saskagay and Saskaview.

 

Brett reared the pups at his Kellyville property and at 13 months of age he sold Rookie Rebel to the astute Stan Cleverley for a reported 500 pound. A tidy sum for an unbroken pup when you consider you could buy a brand new family car for only a 1000 pound.

Cleverley brought the white dog back to his Cheltenham Park complex in Victoria , broke him in then transferred him on a short-term lease to Eddie Roberts. It's unknown what role Roberts had to play in the “Rookie Rebel” story other than, he was a Cleverley confidant and trained the greyhound in his early race career, producing him for his first start.

Veteran Victorian journeyman Les Merry had trained several dogs for Cleverley and remembers the champion's debut at about 17 months of age, the start was at Wagga in late 1956. These days Merry and Victorian Steve McKee are probably the longest serving registered trainers in Australia . At 78 years of age, Merry has been licenced since he was 16, when the late Roy Maidment granted him his trainers brief in 1942.

Merry takes up the story.

 

“ Eddie and I went up to Wagga together, Rookie Rebel had showed above average ability right from the time he was broken in. The dog had been going alright and I had another one of Stan's, a bitch named Jet Amber, which I entered for the two day Wagga Cup Carnival. You could get on for anything at those meetings, there were a heap of big bookies fielding up there. Stan was short of funds which wasn't uncommon in those days and he asked me to catch the train down to Cheltenham Park and drive his brand new Pontiac to Reg Hunt's in Point Nepean Road. He sold it for 200 pound more than it was worth because you just couldn't get new cars in those days.”

“Stan hired a light aircraft and backed both dogs off the map. Rookie Rebel won his maiden over the 503 yards but didn't handle the track all that well, he wasn't suited to a place like Wagga, the other bitch Jet Amber was very smart and bolted in. I'll tell you how much money he won, on the following Monday he paid 5000 pound for a new deluxe Packard, it was a beautiful American car, absolute top of the range.”

“Over the next couple of months the dog went off a bit, and a very big punter who was new to everyone at that time turned up at Stan's to buy a dog, his name was Peter Herman. Stan had no idea “Rookie” would turn out the dog he did or he would never have sold him.

Stan offered Herman Rookie Rebel for 1500 pound which he couldn't afford but Cleverley did a deal with him and sold him for 750 pound and got Herman to sign an agreement to pay Stan 250 pound from each of his first three wins. Herman asked Cleverley to recommend a trainer and Rookie Rebel came to me at Abbotsford.”

“I got him going pretty good and entered him and Montana Jet for Hobart on a Saturday near the end of ‘56. Only trouble was when I fronted Herman to let him know what was happening on the Thursday night at Sandown, he had no money. So Stan gave him his 40-pound plane fare and 200 pound to put on “Rookie” all up the other dog. Stan and I get to Hobart and Herman doesn't front, both dogs won comfortably and we come home with plenty.”

“Now I've always trained on half the prizemoney and I took Herman's half to North Melbourne on the Monday night to give to him, but again no sign of him. At 2 am the next morning I was a woken by a knock at the door and there's an Snr Police Officer with a young lady, who turns out to be Herman's wife and they want to take Rookie Rebel. Herman's out the front, not game to come in. I explain the situation to the copper and bring him inside, we call Cleverley and Herman has to hand over the balance of the 250-pound before he can repossess the dog. He put “Rookie” in the back of his tiny little car and I‘m told had to keep him there for two days.”

“Next thing Herman drives into the Five Way Garage in Carlton, which at the time was run by dog and horse bookies Wally and Joe Scomazzon, he asks them if they know a trainer he can give the dog too that he's got in the car. At that very moment the late Wally Hooper drives in to get petrol and ends up with the dog.”

“Not only did he get the dog, but on a 10-year lease receiving 100% of the prizemoney so Herman never got another cracker out of him. Stan later sued Herman for the 500 pound and won but he never saw the 200 he gave him to go to Hobart with.”

 

As you can see Les Merry's memory is as sharp as a tack!

 

In February 1957, Hooper tackled the cream of Australian sprinters in the Hobart Thousand, which at the time was the most prestigious race on the Australian greyhound calendar. At only 26 months old the brilliant white and fawn dog was most unlucky to be beaten by the smallest of margins, a nose it what was an outstanding performance. The winner was locally trained by Nip Smith, a dog named Rising Ace which won from box one at 20/1 in 30 and 3/10ths for the 540 yards. “Rookie” started 7/4 favourite from box 10 was slow out and came home after weaving his way through the field.

After racing well throughout the year winning 16 races, Rookie won a heat of the Melbourne Gold Cup over the 565 yards at Sandown, he recorded the fastest time of the heats winning in 30 and 11/16ths. Rookie Rebel defeating the well-performed Cantee after being backed from 3/1 to 5/4 he came from behind, racing away to win by four lengths.

In those early years the race was run as a handicap and Rookie started from 17 yards, they also had 14 heats that year, which were run over two nights.

In the final Rookie Rebel was backed from 4/1 into 9/4 favourite, he did everything right and won brilliantly. Beginning faster than usual he cut off backmarkers Montana Jet (16) Style Bird (15) and Red Namoi (16) crossing to the rails and just led to the first turn where he bumped with co-leaders Amulet (18) and Grancop (18). Once he found the lead the champ cleared right away to win by six lengths in 30 and 14/16ths from Montana Jet owned by Cleverley and trained by Merry. Grancop who finished third was trained by Ray Webb who later stood Rookie Rebel at stud. Hooper had trained greyhounds for many years and the Cup was by far his biggest success.

Come February 1958 “Rookie” was back in Hobart for another tilt at the Thousand, due to his performances on the mainland he started off the 1/10 th of a second handicap, this meant the boxes opened at different times considering what a dog's time handicap was. “ Rookie” made the final for the second year in a row and again started favourite at the short quote of 4/6. Despite jumping from the extreme outside in box 10, he survived a buffeting in the early stages, then got to the rail and raced away to win brilliantly by eight lengths, setting the race record time of 29 and 8/10ths for the 540 yards. Runner up was Double Jade with Guyza third. It's notable that in those days Hobart had an outside lure as in England and Ireland , and the handicaps went from one to ten.

 

 

Back in Melbourne for the Australian Cup in March, the burning question was could the champion create history by winning the treble. His handicap of eight yards saw him concede up to six yards to some runners in the series.

Rookie Rebel, started 10/9 on favorite, and brilliantly took out the final of the 2700-pound Australian Cup at North Melbourne .

There was no element of fluke or favour in his success, it was achieved by sheer brilliance.

At the Judge with a full lap to go. Ivoria Boy (50/1,14) was leading from The Deaner (100/1, 13), Magic Babe (2/1, 11) and Rookie Rebel.

Ivoria Boy led by five lengths at the tower, where Rookie Rebel moved up to join The Deaner, with Magic Babe fourth.

There was a roar of consternation when The Deaner, boring out, bumped Rookie Rebel off balance temporarily and Ivoria Boy gained a six lengths break.

However the champion would not acknowledge defeat, and with a powerful drive he caught the runaway leader at the home turn.

The applause was deafening as Rookie Rebel raced away to beat Magic Babe by four lengths in 36 and 2/16ths for the 675 yards equalling the record time he had set in his heat, with Idle Mate (25/1, 12) finishing on to take third placing from Ivoria Boy.

Rookie, having won the Melbourne Cup, the Hobart Thousand and the Australian Cup, had become the highest stake-winning greyhound ever to race in Australia and was acknowledged as being at least equal to the best dog anyone had ever seen.

The Minister for Lands. Mr. Turnbull in presenting the 800-pound cheque and trophy to Rookie 's lessee-trainer, W ally Hooper, gave full credit to t he champion's performance and also congratulated the MGRA directors on the conduct of the meeting.

The champ ran the fastest times in each of the three stages of the Cup and his 36 and 2/16ths seconds recorded in his heat and final were both track record runs for the distance.

Moomba Queen, Miss Norma Jones, added a nice touch of glamour when after decorating Rookie Rebel with a sash, paraded with him and Wally around the perimeter of the track.

I estimate Rookie Rebel had only another 20 or so starts before being retired to stud in September of 1958. During that latter part of his career he equalled Farrago's 1951, 580 yard track record at Wentworth Park recording a win in 31.5/10ths. He also set a new record at Sandown over the 555 yards in running 30 and 14/16ths when he defeated Lucky Bingo raced by Stan Cleverley in an Invitation.

The 64-pound white and fawn dog's race record stood at 67 starts for 36 wins, 17 seconds and six thirds. Rookie Rebel stood at stud for Ray Webb at Mont Albert, in suburban Victoria at a fee of 50 Guineas plus freight. His first pups were whelped in November 1958 with three litters to Blonde Dawn, Crown Signal and Tiny Jet. In a stud career that spanned the next four years he severed some 72 bitches and it's fair to say he had limited success. However he did produce some handy pups, the best being Bybrae the 1961 Melbourne Cup winner. Bybrae came from a very good litter from a bitch called Byasta, the litter also contained top-notch galloper Rookon.

However at stud he did live in the shadow of his litter brother Sunview who produced many outstanding greyhounds and as mentioned earlier he sired duel Melbourne Cup winners Saskagay and Saskaview and the immortal stud super sire Shan's View.

 

To finish the Rookie Rebel story and get a handle on just how good he was, in those days there was a limit to how many features races you could win, they numbered only six and “Rookie” was able to win three of them.

Perhaps as a gauge to his of status, I'll quote three highly respected judges of the code, firstly the late Jack Woodward who reported on greyhound racing for almost 40 years, he wrote in 1958.

“I doubt whether we have seen one better, if he is not the best he is certainly equal to any I have ever seen race.”

Secondly 86-year-old George Schofield a legendary muscleman (who checked the champ), former bookmaker, feared punter, studmaster and administrator said.

” Rookie Rebel is the best dog in a field I've ever seen, it was as if he looked up over them to plan a run, an amazing dog.” Schofield should know; he trained his first double in 1936.

Finally the late Bill Pearson founder of the Gold Form Guide 40 years ago and follower of the sport since the early 30's told me.

“As far as the best stayers I've seen race, I could never split Zoom Top, Bunyip Bint and Rookie Rebel.” Not bad company to be mentioned with.

There's one thing for sure and certain, Rookie Rebel is a worthy member of the AGRA Australian Greyhound Hall Of Fame

To return to the AGRA Hall of Fame click here