It was a decade of mixed fortunes for greyhound but the eighties will be remembered more than anything else for the amazing world record winning sequence of 32 that Ballyregan Bob achieved through 1985-86.
He was truly the greyhound who had each and every attribute of the finest of his breed. In a total of 48 races, Ballyregan Bob tasted defeat on just six occasions and produced a winning run of 32 consecutive races before connections announced his retirement from the track at the beginning of 1986.
Trainer George Curtis described Ballyregan Bob as ‘the perfect racing machine’ and, from his early trials at home track Hove, Curtis knew he had a very special greyhound on his hands. However, his early races were far from spectacular, being soundly beaten the first four times of asking.
The penny finally dropped on 25 October 1984 when he came from off the pace to win his first race in Britain. He rattled off another seven straight wins to finish the year off, including record breaking runs in the heats and final of the William Hill Lead at the now much missed Hackney Stadium.
He had arrived in no uncertain style and his comeback the following year was eagerly awaited. Connections wisely laid him off for the worst of the winter months and, to many, he had lost the old sparkle when he returned to the track in March of that year. After taking a bump at the first bend in a race at Harringay, he failed to make any real impression on the leaders and was, by his standards, well beaten in fifth.
That defeat was little more than a hiccup, though, and, a month later, Ballyregan Bob was to firmly establish himself as a true superstar. Representing Curtis in the Trainers’ Championship meeting at Walthamstow, he produced what many say was the performance of his life. Meeting local champion Ballintubber One in the top division of the 475 metres races, Ballyregan Bob was tested to the maximum
Ballintubber One took a couple of lengths out of the great Hove runner by the second bend but the speed Ballyregan Bob produced along the back stretch was nothing short of miraculous. On terms by the third bend, he was forced to work hard to get past the long time leader but superior stamina won the day and the Walthamstow faithful knew they had seen a champion in action.
Ballintubber One went on to win countless races himself, which was a handsome compliment to Ballyregan Bob in itself.
The last time Ballyregan Bob was to ever see the rear of another greyhound at the finish line came on 15 April 1985 when a battering at the traps saw his chance gone in a race at Wembley.
Any plans to go for the Greyhound Derby were scrapped there and then and, instead, Ballyregan Bob took in the Olympic on home soil and sailed through the event unbeaten. It was the last time he was ever to race over four bends.
Stepping up to six bends and Ballyregan Bob was in his element. It was the same wherever he roamed; huge crowds treated to stunning displays which, invariably, ended with wide margin wins for the ever blossoming star. The record breaking run was nearly brought to a halt on two occasions – the first at Romford where a tardy start and first bend bother saw Ballyregan Bob in a hopeless position after a couple of bends.
He caused a sensation on that heady summer night in July, though, producing a stunning run which saw him get up in the very last stride to keep his growing tally of wins intact. But, perhaps, his most remarkable win came in the semi-finals of the St Leger at Wembley where severe first bend trouble saw the champion in all sorts of bother.
Two of the field more or less hit the deck and Ballyregan Bob literally had to hurdle one of them or he too would have been nose diving into the sand. His litter-brother, Evening Light, had set sail for home with his illustrious brother hopelessly lengths adrift and facing almost certain defeat.
The crowd was unusually hushed, a huge band of travellers followed Ballyregan Bob wherever he went and they too were starring at defeat.
Murmurs of hope began to rise as Ballyregan Bob began to close the gap but he still had an awful lot to do with only two bends left to go. The murmurs became cheers as he inched ever closer, the dog seemed to sense the urgency of his task.
He produced that now famous burst of speed on the run for home and was lifted over the line just in front with the roars of sheer delight ringing out from the packed grandstands.
The run became all the more remarkable when, next morning, he was found badly lame and was forced out of the St Leger Final. The injury was to plague him throughout the rest of his career.
It said much about the skill and dedication of George Curtis that Ballyregan Bob was to go on to beat the world record. Not only did he beat the best greyhounds in training during his career, he toppled track records where ever he went.
He set three speed records at Hackney, two at Wimbledon and set new figures at another eight tracks during an incredible racing life.
His crowning glory came at Hove on 9 December 1986 when he raced for the last time and for the new world record. The race, which was screened live throughout the country, soon became a formality and, come the line, Ballyregan Bob had over nine lengths to spare over his nearest rival.
The national newspapers headlined with his remarkable achievement the next morning and the sport owes Ballyregan Bob much. He helped to put greyhound racing back on the map when it was so badly needed. There has never been a greyhound like him since and there may never be another. He was simply the best.