“Oh my God, I don’t know!” – What will we do without him?

Restructuring at Trackside TV will see Greyhound’s “Voice of the North”, Peter Earley sign off on a legendary calling career at the Manukau meeting on Sunday 21 June.

It is somewhat ironic that the curtain should come down on such a long career, on the shortest day of the year, but it does emphasize the show-must-go-on determination that has seen him get the job done thru rain, hail or shine right around the country.

GRNZ CEO Glenda Hughes worked with Earley, “in an earlier life”, but before you jump to the conclusion that former policewoman Hughes put Earley away for a stretch of 8 to 10 at Paremoremo, it was at a time when Hughes herself was a broadcaster.

“Back in the late 80’s Peter, the late Geoff Sinclair and I provided sports comment on Radio Pacific.  Obviously Peter lasted a little longer than me!  Peter’s voice is now synonymous with Greyhound Racing in New Zealand, especially the Collar, and all of the team at GRNZ wish Peter all the best in his next chapter”, said Hughes

The Collar is indeed a race that is linked to Earley, with all but two editions of NZ’s greatest staying race being called by him.  On the occasion of Peter’s 40th Collar call in 2012, Peter Fenemor penned this tribute which is fitting to reprint now:

The Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar is an energy-sapping event, demanding the utmost stamina by the participants in this 779m endurance test. The same attributes are required by the race caller, as the great race can throw up fascinating scenarios.  For Peter Earley, it is the race he eagerly looks forward to calling each year.

After this year's (2012) series, Peter Earley will have called all but two of the 42 enthralling editions of the Plasterboard Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar. That in itself is a true reflection of professional stamina based race commentaries.

As he says, "The Silver Collar is the biggie, always exciting - you're always on edge waiting for things to happen at the finish. It always changes dramatically over the final few metres."

For Peter Earley, it all started after he visited the Kumeu Raceway, home of the Auckland club during the early 1970s. "I listened to the guy commentating and thought to myself ‘I can do better than that'. It turned it out the guy was only filling in that day, so I went back the next week.

"I was introduced to Brian Hunt, who was the club's caller back then. Brian straight away looked after me, training me up by allowing me to call the dogs onto the track and then he would call the race.  One day, after calling the dogs onto the track, Brian, who was a great mate by then, was nowhere to be seen. It turned out he had decided that I was ready to call a race and he was hiding down the back. I called it and it all started from there," recalled Earley.

"The Duke of Edinburgh had donated the solid silver collar to the club by that point. After watching the inaugural two Silver Collars, I was to call my first after Brian had decided to move on. That was in 1973 - I'll never forget it as I was a nervous wreck. I still recall the race, won by Shanting Boy."

Since then Earley has called the Silver Collar at Mt Smart, Claudelands Raceway (Hamilton) and obviously at Manukau.

During those early years, he was operating an auctioneering business with his cousin Hilton. It was during the 1980s that a revolution was to occur for New Zealand race broadcasting and Earley was to become an integral part of that.

Race broadcasting in those days was the exclusive domain of the Radio New Zealand network (RNZ). A couple of forward-thinking personalities in Jim Smith and Paddy O'Donnell left the "comfort zone" of RNZ and headed down to what was at the time an ailing Radio Pacific with a vision to revitalise race broadcasting in New Zealand.

In order to prove that they could introduce a complete national racing package, Smith and O'Donnell introduced themselves to the Auckland Greyhound Club and offered to broadcast the club’s races live on Radio Pacific.

Peter Earley pioneered live greyhound calling on Radio Pacific.  Gradually the service was rolled out nationwide, with Earley being required to travel to Hutt Park, Manawatu Raceway, Solway Park, QE II Park, Forbury Park and the Invercargill Showgrounds.  In a remarkable twist, Earley’s career has outlasted four of those tracks.

It was a calculated plan by Smith and O'Donnell as they wanted to prove to the Thoroughbred and Harness codes that Radio Pacific could provide a credible national race broadcasting service. The rest, as they say, is history.

"The turnover for the dogs rocketed then, and ultimately the other codes couldn't ignore what was happening. Alby Gain started travelling right throughout the country and gradually, club by club the service expanded nationally" said Earley, adding "I had some hairy trips back in those days, like when snow meant I couldn't get to Invercargill and I had to take the bus from Christchurch, or the times when wind closed Wellington airport and again the trip was completed by bus."

However on one occasion, Earley could not get to Hutt Park, and Tony Lee was pulled in to call his first-ever greyhound meeting. Lee's commentary on the first race started with; "The dogs are boxed and here comes the victim - Earley, you owe me plenty!"

Around this time Earley was also training greyhounds and had moved down to Manaia (Taranaki) where he and then-wife, Lyn, formed a potent training relationship with the late Nancy Cobain. He still travelled the country for his broadcasting duties, while churning out numerous winners on the track.

Included was training Super Bet to win the 1987 Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar, in what Earley says was the most exciting Silver Collar finish he had called.

"That was a real classic, I remember calling Super Bet home, then hoping like hell I got it right - I did," he said, with both relief and pride about the nose decision.

Back at Radio Pacific, O’Donnell and Smith moved on leaving the racing section in the hands of Earley and Gain. "By then the other regional commentators were calling, so Alby and I were just calling locally."

Earley was also elected onto the Board of Greyhound Racing NZ, where he served a period as the Vice President during the 1990s.  He was also the inaugural winner of the NZ Personality of the Year at the GRNZ awards night in 2006.

Peter Earley has always been known as calling it as he sees it, either during a race commentary or when commenting on other issues.  One incident at the Manukau Stadium led to him being removed as the on-course commentator for a period.

"It was late during a Thursday night meeting and they had three cracks at getting a race through; the lure kept on stopping when going into the first turn. After the third time I said over the course speakers to Lyn, ‘pack up the dogs, we're going home'. They suspended me after that, but they couldn't stop me from commentating for Radio Pacific," he chuckled.

The sale of Radio Pacific, which had been propped up by a major shareholding taken by the NZ TAB, saw the emergence of Radio Trackside in 2005.  Peter Earley took up his renowned weekly radio talkback shifts, along with his Auckland and Waikato greyhound race calling roles.

Anyway, back to the "great race", the Plasterboard Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar, which by his own admission is the biggest greyhound race he annually calls.  Here are some recollections of Peter Earley's first 40-year involvement through his binoculars:

Most nervous call: "That has to my first - Shanting Boy" (1973)

Most emotional and exciting finish: "That has to be Super Bet - assisting with the training for her to win it, plus calling the nose margin involved." (1987)

Gutsiest winning effort: "I guess I have to say Capable Lass. That was also Nancy's (Cobain) fifth Silver Collar training win." (1993)

Memorial effort: "Calling Tivoli Tom to his second Silver Collar win - he is the only one to win it twice (1994 - his second win).

Humourous: "There was stayer not so long ago who was leading by 12 or so lengths down the back the last time. I was all set to call him home at that point, and then he went up and down like it was jumping on a pogo stick. That was what I called and I got roused up over that" (he finished unplaced).

Biggest shock: "Celio Cohete for Frank Van Lier (1980) and the Peter Lubbock trained Boogy Monster" (1986).

Strongest wins: "Those Aqua dogs of John Goode's - both of them were really strong wins - Aqua Rattle (2000) and Aqua Mouse (2001). Plus you also have to include Swift Fantasy (2010) - she has done more than anything else for staying races in this country.

"It has been proven over the years that any stayer can win the great race - it is a race that always has a lot buzz surrounding it - that's why the Silver Collar is always a great spectacle and that's why it is the race I always look forward to calling every year!" summarised Earley.

NOTE:  The headline for this story makes use of one of Earley’s most famous commentaries – naturally a Silver Collar.  In 2001 Aqua Mouse stormed through late in a blanket finish to take the prize narrowly as Earley called “Oh my God, I don’t know, Aqua Mouse! Of course, proving that he did know.

By Peter Fenemor

Posted on 19 June 2020

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