THERE was great sadness this week when it was announced that legendary greyhound trainer Christy O’Callaghan had passed away.
He was a huge figure in greyhounds, helped to increase the popularity of the sport in Cork and beyond over the years.
Christy was born in Macroom in 1945 and it was through his uncle Jimmy Masters that he got involved in the sport as a raw nine-year-old.
In 2003 during an interview with him, he explained to me: “Jimmy bred Dawn’s Dream to win the 1954 English Greyhound Derby and later sold it for 1,000 Irish pounds in which he used it to buy a farm.”
In 1964 he trained his first winner when a dog called Don’s Darling won at the Old Cork track on the Western Road. O’Callaghan’s talent was soon spotted and in 1966 he was chosen by Bord na gCon to go to Sweden to promote the Irish greyhound industry and he also did similar work in Spain for 12 months.
The Irish Laurels run at Cork is one of the major classics in the Irish greyhound calendar and Christy trained the winner of this race on four occasions that began in 1975 with Moonshine Bandit.
The other winners were Standard Image, Knockeen Master and The Stranger, with his last success in the famous event coming in 1992.
The all-round brilliance of The Stranger will never be forgotten as he also won the St Leger in Limerick. The supreme talent of The Stranger surfaced when he became the first greyhound in the history of the sport to break the 29-second barrier at the Western Road track for 525 yards.
The list of winners that Christy trained in his career goes on and on as outside of his six classic winners he also trained the winner of the Guinness 600 at Shelbourne Park on two occasions.
Over the county bounds, O’Callaghan’s training skills came to the fore when he trained Buckall to break 29 seconds at the Tralee track.
Cable King was born in June 1995 and through his great career, he raced 83 times and won on 44 occasions.
This greyhound also finished runner up 20 times and won the Murphy’s Irish Open three times at the Youghal Track.
My own late brother Paudie, who passed away in 2018, purchased Mountleader Peer in 1996 and got Christy to train this quality greyhound.
The current track at Curraheen has improved facilities and shortly after it opened, he commented on its benefits to greyhound racing.
“The facilities at the Cork track are second to none and I must say to be a successful as a trainer there you have got to have a class dog with plenty of pace," Christy said.
When looking back on his training career Christy was always philosophical when asked about the secret to his successes.
“Any trainer is only as good as his dog and I never forgot what English trainer said about it takes to win an English Derby? 85% luck, 10% dog and 5% trainer were how the Englishman dissected the percentages.”
It is fitting on the week when my bookis being launched, Christy stands alone as a greyhound trainer in the book rubbing shoulders with the elite of sporting legends.
Christy O’Callaghan always took the rough with the smooth, but he consistently believed that all upcoming trainers should heed his simple advice.
“If you are good to your dogs, your dogs will be good to you.”
Sound advice indeed from a greyhound racing icon.
May he rest in peace.