Greyhound racing farewells The Master, Ray Adcock

Ray Adcock pictured with champion stayer, Ring the Bell. Photo Credit: Jenny Bartlett.

Records will be broken. Raymond Harold Adcock set a few. They’ve since been shattered. 

Now, many in the greyhound racing community are shattered at the passing of a man whose name was synonymous with the sport.

Ray turned 87 last month. He hadn’t been in good health recently, yet the loss of such an iconic figure in an industry of this nature creates a seismic shock, never mind the flood of memories.

Adcock understood animals. He had experience with standardbred horses as a trainer and driver long before lobbing a lead on a greyhound. He learned from Jack Shaw, a pioneering dual-coded horse-trainer, who took a talented trotter named Vodka to America in 1956.

Adcock played a major role in the preparation of Vodka during the New Zealand stage of his career.

The meticulous attention to detail that Shaw was known for sure shone through in the way Adcock ran his greyhound operation decades later.

Something else Adcock also intrinsically understood was his own ability, and when it came to harness racing, he deduced that the peak of his accomplishments in that sport would probably be as a glorified stablehand.

“I didn’t have the ability,” was his frank assessment, despite being successful in the sulky in what we now call junior drivers’ races.

That realisation was the spur to establish a painting business and when he had found two capable foremen to oversee two teams, he was able to travel away to show and judge dogs as his early childhood fascination with canines really started to bite.

Adcock bought a German Shepherd which cued 12 years as a canine obedience instructor. He didn’t do things by halves. Whippets and greyhounds entered his consciousness when he was involved in real estate. If he was in the Marshland or Prebbleton areas of Christchurch on a Sunday, he would drop in to watch them race. One afternoon, he was asked to be a stipendiary steward. As a man with a knowledge of dogs dressed in a sharp suit in the middle of a domain, he was a logical choice.

When Adcock became gripped by greyhounds, he was in the process of taking over a property named Bunny Lodge at Weedons on the southern outskirts of Christchurch. He had been instrumental in the design of the establishment which included a boarding kennel and cattery, a pet cemetery and a vet clinic.

He began breaking in greyhounds for others there and added a full trial track. Any reluctance he may have had to enter the training ranks was perhaps offset by a comment of, “What would you know about training a greyhound,” during the course of his stipendiary steward officiating.

A visit from the legendary Sydney greyhound race commentator Paul Ambrosoli provided another push. Ambrosoli insisted that the Bunny Lodge environment was perfect for the training of racing greyhounds.

Preparing a couple for himself initially, his immediate success led to him training one for a mate then another for another mate.

Here’s where the records kick in. The numbers have been made pale by the passage of time and the explosion of race licences but Adcock transcended what had been before him and bridged the transformation of the sport from amateur to professional.

His first trainers’ premiership was secured in the 1983/84 season. He was runner-up the following year, and then kicked off a run of 10 consecutive premierships in the 1985/86 term.

“It just happened,” Adcock once said. “I trained the most dogs and I travelled a lot,” was the way he typically understated his achievements.

In fact, he never had a large team, especially by today’s standards, but his greyhounds were finely tuned and injury free. His strike-rate was consequently high.

A one season partnership with John McInerney in 1995/96 cemented a shared premiership before he eased back his schedule and created a more boutique-style team at Dunsandel, not far from where the extraordinary story began.

Meanwhile, McInerney embarked on his own premiership-winning streak at Homebush Hounds. He had earlier part-owned the brilliant bitch Profit Galore in the late 1980s, which Adcock always placed in the upper echelon of the best chasers he wrapped a rug around. His opinion was based on her sheer speed and the ability to campaign competitively in Australia.

Ray Adcock, pictured with daughter Vanessa. Photo Credit: Dave Robbie.

Another in that pantheon was Mega Legend which appropriately presented Adcock with his 1000th TAB winner on 31 August, 1994. In that era, the milestone was miraculous, whereas now it might be possible for a kennel to crack that barrier in a single season.

Mega Legend, the 1994/95 NZ Greyhound of the Year, was part-owned by greyhound journalist Peter Fenemor, who has written a tribute to the master mentor in the Australian Greyhound Recorder.

“Ray had a profound knowledge but he was very humble,” Fenemor recalled. “He was always obliging and was prepared to listen and help. There was usually a touch of humour too.”

When Adcock became the first to achieve 100 winners in a season, there were only 90 race meetings in the entire country and just one third of them in the South Island where he was domiciled. That meant travelling his team, something he still took on well into his eighties, as he ticked off the few remaining feature races that had curiously eluded his clutches, like the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar.

That blue ribbon event he tied up neatly in 2018 when the former Australian stayer Ring the Bell won his second Collar. The first had been under the tutelage of Victorian trainer Gerry O’Keeffe.

Ring the Bell was recently inducted into the New Zealand Greyhound Hall of Fame. Adcock was notably the first human inductee in 2010. It was an accolade he accepted in his typical witty, humble, self-effacing fashion with a reference to what he would be scooping up as a part of his job the next day.

He maintained an enviable strike-rate and continued to be a key contender in Group races until he hung up the collar and lead at the end of the 2019/20 season. In that term, 12 dogs produced 52 wins and 68 placings for him. He had mentored well over 100 winners in each of the seasons leading up to what was to be his last.

The team was handed over to Daniel Lane, a young man who has acknowledged that Adcock has provided him with the opportunity of a lifetime. It is one he grasped immediately, being the leading strike-rate trainer with 99 winners at 0.5313 in his first full term.

He backed that up with 141 winners at 0.3878 in 2020/21. Daniel is living in the fast lane using the lessons learned.

To witness Adcock in action was a privilege. His dogs simply adored him.

“If you want to win a dog over, groom him behind his ears,” he grinned while running his hypnotic hands over his hounds during a television interview.

His canine subjects stood happily on a wooden block while he worked his magic. Much like the best magic, it’s all surprisingly simple, a word he used often about their exercise, feed and nutrition.

Adcock’s dogs were “allowed to run as much or as little as they like.”

They weren’t walked because “they don’t have walking races.”

A trip to Australia to see why the Wheeler family was so successful convinced him that large runs were the way to exercise his team daily. All the while, he would “watch them like a hawk.”

“I just asked the right people the right questions,” was how Adcock described his approach to learning about the game and his advice to others to do the same.

Sadly, we can’t do that of him now, but over the last 40 years, he has influenced many which will ensure that much of his mantra is woven into how we treat and train our greyhounds.

“I’d be quite happy to be carried out in a coffin by a team of dogs,” Adcock quipped.

There’d be a queue of very fast ones putting their paws up for that honour.


By Mark Rosanowski

Posted on 15 September 2021

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