Reading (Bennett Road) Greyhound Track
Just one year after Reading Stadium on the Oxford Road, north-west of the town was closed by the GRA a company called Allied Presentations opened a new track accessed from the Bennett Road much further to the south of the town. The stadium build was assisted by owner trainer Bill Dore who sat on the board of directors with Reg Fearman, F Higley and Len Silver.
The first meeting was held on 10 June 1975 the same year that the country had gone metric resulting in this tracks dimensions only ever been stated in metres instead of yards. The site for the new stadium was south of Island Road and the Foudry Brook running alongside the stadium to the east and sewage works and sludge beds ran alongside to the west.
The new Reading attracted a good class of trainer and one in particular would have ties with the track for many years. Terry Dartnall was his name and he soon started to claim silverware taking the Wembley Summer Cup in 1976. The Hunt Cup was brought back to life by the track ensuring the continuation of the old competition and the Berkshire Cup was also reintroduced. Facilities were basic but the stadium began to cement its place in greyhound racing with its all sand surface and ‘Outside Sumner’ hare. The circumference was 385 metres with main race distances consisting of 275, 465 & 660 metres.
Under racing Manager Martin Haigh the contracted trainers began to fly the flag for Reading, Bright Tiger (Len Stiles) won the Oxfordshire Stakes in 1981 and Jerry Fisher won two Blue Riband events in 1982 & 1983 as well as claiming the Cesarewitch title with Jos Gamble in 1983. Fisher was then fortunate to handle a greyhound called Game Ball who he bought with owner Brian Smith for the large sum of £8,000 at the end of 1982. Game Ball was put with Sean Bourke for the Derby and he nearly fulfilled his promise by reaching the final but could not take the crown despite being the hot favourite. After another failed attempt the following year Fisher finally trained the white and black dog himself and duly lifted the Pall Mall title. The greyhound became a prominent sire before Fisher claimed more silverware after Daleys Gold triumphed in the Scurry.
Reading was beginning to experience a purple patch with the next star being Mollifrend Lucky; Colin Packham’s white and blue dog lifted the Scurry and Laurels in 1986.
Martyn Dore (the son of director and General Manager Bill Dore) was Racing Manager by 1988 as the track became renowned for having a strong class of runner. The next few years was about to provide a remarkable sequence of winners. It started in 1990 when Maldwyn Thomas trained greyhounds with the prefix ‘Trans’ began to win many trophies. The trainers championship was hosted in 1991 and was won by Linda Mullins.
The following year (1992) was an incredible year with an announcement that a competition called the Reading Masters would take place. The race offered substantial prize money with only the English and Scottish Derby able to top the £15,000 winner’s prize. A second trainers championship was hosted which resulted in the champion John ‘Ginger’ McGee joining the training ranks. Poor Brian won the Oxfordshire Stakes for Ron Jeffrey (a former trainer at the old Reading track), Luxury Light claimed the Derby consolation for McGee, Bob Gilling’s Skelligs Smurf became Oaks champion and Bixby (Bill Black) was a Puppy Derby winner.
The question of how could the success 1992 ever be surpassed was answered the following year as the tracks trainers won the Trainer of the Year, the National Sprint, Laurels, Regency, Birmingham Cup, Golden Sprint, St Leger and Peterborough Derby. McGee landed another Trainer of the Year title in 1994. The Keith Howard ‘Hedsor’ prefix was next to provide the track with glory supported by Diane Stichcombe’s Scurry win in 1997. An outsider in the form of Walthamstow hound Palace Issue wowed the crowd by claiming a third consecutive Hunt Cup in 2001.
The track underwent a major change when in 2002 the BS Group bought the venue from Allied Presentations but rumours persisted for many years that following the construction of the busy A33 out of Reading towards the M4 that the track could not exist so close to this major road.
Terry Dartnall returned to the track as a trainer once again and won two Selects with Cleenas Lady before retiring and handing the licence to son Matt who lifted the Juvenile crown the following year in 2008 with Ballymac Under. It was the last moment of jubilation because the local council refused to extend the tracks lease citing redevelopment plans. The BS Group plans to build a new modern stadium came to nothing with the final meeting being held on 22nd October 2008.
Today the nearby sewage works are now a huge Thames Water facility but although the stadium was demolished it remains wasteland.