Sheffield (Owlerton) Greyhound Track
With Darnall opening in 1927 the Owlerton track lost the race to hold the first oval circuit greyhound racing in Sheffield. The actual construction of the new Owlerton stadium began in 1929 on a 20 acre freehold site but the public still had to wait until 12th January 1932 before an official opening took place in regards to greyhound racing. The venue was initially used for speedway only, with a first meeting held on 30th March 1929. The stands were subsequently altered to accommodate the impending greyhound racing.
The city famous for its steel of course was covered with steel works of various types and surrounding Owlerton was a steel forge directly on the north side, a cutlery forge directly on the west side. Within a stones-throw to the south was the Birley Meadow steel forge and Owlerton Bridge Rolling Mills steel works. In fact the only area without steel works was the east side where allotments and gardens were to be found. The Penistone Road ran alongside the east and where Lowther Road originated it could take you directly to the stadium although today the main car park is on Livesey Street on the south side.
The opening night attracted an eager crowd of 10,000 including many ladies who enjoyed the cosy seating in the newly built glass fronted grandstand. The press described the tote as a mechanical and electrical marvel as it registered bets within fractions of a second as they were placed. Seven races formed the racecard with many of the greyhounds already appearing in previously held trials. The first race over 525 yards the ‘Oxford Stakes’ was claimed by 3-1 shot Carbrook Ted trained by George Platts winning by two lengths in 33.63 secs. Adding variety to the meeting was a 700 yard race and a hurdle race.
It is very interesting to note how inconsistent racing must have been if compared to modern races. The five 525 yard flat race winning times spanned 32.40 to 35.78 secs.
A third track arrived to the city of Sheffield in the form of Hyde Park which would always remain independent leaving Darnall and Owlerton to licensed racing. The owners of Owlerton, Sheffield Sports Stadium Ltd began to nurture the business and it soon grew into the primary track in Sheffield.
The set-up of the track consisted of a 472 yards circumference with distances of 300, 500, 525 and 700 yards. The grandstand and club were situated on the home straight and there was a parade ring to be found behind these which allowed the public to view the greyhounds pre-race. The track had two hares, an ‘Inside Sumner’ and an ‘Outside MS cable’. The racing kennels were next to the parade ring and there were another 120 resident kennels that replaced the kennels formerly located at Wardsend Farm in a range of stone buildings.
Sam Vintner joined the track in the thirties as Racing Manager and owner/breeder Alf Morton supplied the track with some excellent greyhounds using Irish Derby winner Marching Through Georgia as the sire. Morton was responsible for breeding Victor Ben Hur a track champion and record holder over both 500 & 700 yards in 1940. Duffys Arrival was once trained at the track before he went on to bigger and better things with Coventry trainer George McKay and two of the early trainers at the track was Harry Bidwell who would have a thirty year association with Owlerton and Ted Brennan.
Trade during the war was exceptional but there was very little open racing due to travel issues and it was not until 1950 that Owlerton boasted its first major winner. Mad career trainer by Ted Brennan took the honours at the St Mungo Edinburgh competition. Brennan would soon establish himself as one of the leading Northern trainers and the track proved it had a strong kennel by claiming the 1951 News of the World Intertrack Championship, the greyhound racing equivalent to the F.A. Cup at the time. Brennan then became national news in 1954 after steering Matchlock to the Cesarewitch crown and St Leger runner-up spot.
Ronald James ‘Jim’ Hookway became a resident trainer in 1953 and joined Brennan in dominating the local scene. An Oaks final appearance soon followed for Hookway in 1954 before two classic final appearances in 1955 made the big London trainers realise there was a serious Northern challenge from Sheffield.
As the decade came to an end it was in 1959 that Ted Brennan’s brother Jim switched from the Darnall kennels to join Owlerton and a first Derby final appearance for the track arrived in the shape of Dancing Sheik trainer by Ted Brennan.
It was the sixties and there was sad news in 1964 when fellow track Darnall closed its doors whilst it would also prove a pivotal time for Owlerton when the Sheffield Corporation took over the track after a £185,000 offer had been accepted. The corporation converted the three private clubs into public bars which helped boost attendance figures and in 1969 they made £30,000 improvements to the Lowther Road grandstand.
Ted Brennan and Jim Hookway continued to dominate proceedings on the Northern open race circuit, so much so that Hookway was rewarded with the title of Trainer of the Year which he shared with John Bassett in 1965. The feat had been helped considerably by a greyhound called Clonmannon Flash who had won the Scottish Derby & Edinburgh Cup double. In February of the same year an Irish litter had been bred by Leo Stack, the Crazy Parachute – Supreme Witch bred litter included Tric-Trac, Spectre II, Forward King and Forward Flash. This litter made its way to Hookway and Brennan brothers kennels and would arguably become one of the greatest litters of all time.
At White City on June 24th 1967 Tric-Trac defeated his brother Spectre II by one length in the Greyhound Derby final. Owlerton, Jim Hookway and owner of the pair Nat Pinson had experienced the ultimate moment in greyhound racing. The remaining pair lit up the open race circuit culminating in an English St Leger & Scottish St Leger double for Forward King and a Juvenile crown for Forward Flash. Hookway received the Trainer of the year accolade for a second time.
By 1970 Owlerton introduced the Steel City Cup to give the locals a taste of top open race action. Jim Hookway scored his final classic success the same year with Cesarewitch winner Gleneagle Comedy. As the seventies progressed many of the old brigade retired starting with Sam Vintner the long serving Racing Manager in 1973 to be replaced by Terry Meynell. Ted Brennan finished the following year and his place was taken by Harry Crapper. Jim Brennan would join Leeds a few years later and Jim Hookway also retired after a very successful career.
Sheffield replaced the grass circuit with an all-sand surface in 1978, a year that brought the first major triumph for Crapper after he lifted the Cesarewitch trophy with Sportland Blue. The following year another win arrived after Jebb Rambler won the Derby Consolation; the greyhound also won the local Bass Cup event breaking the track record in the final.
With a long shadow cast over the Leeds track Joe Kelly had joined Sheffield and reached the final of the 1981 Greyhound Derby final during a short spell at the track. Following the closure in March 1982 Sheffield held the Ebor Stakes in 1982.
On Spec a fawn dog trained by Harry Crapper provided more glory for the track as he won the Scottish Derby in 1982 and finished runner-up in the Daily Mirror Greyhound Derby final behind Im Slippy.
Troubles surfaced in the mid-eighties when an ageing stadium would become a problem in the near future, Terry Corden who held the lease at Derby added Sheffield to his portfolio by attaining the lease at the track. There was an occasional major open race claim such as the 1988 Scottish Derby, an event won by Killouragh Chris from the Pete Beaumont kennels but the Hillsborough disaster in April 1989 resulted in ramifications for the track.
The Taylor report and subsequent government actions on stadium safety meant a substantial financial boost was required at many stadia and as a result Corden let go of Derby and the local council closed Sheffield until the improvements were completed. Corden, General Manager Jon Carter and Racing Manager Jimmy Nunn could do nothing to keep the stadium open as it was forced to close for the first time since it had opened in 1932.
The next few years would bring a few trials and tribulations, first the stadium re-opened following some investment and Corden took up the lease on Nottingham after selling Derby. David Gunson was brought in as Racing Manager but the track suffered a second closure in the spring of 1990 following a cock-up with the betting licence. Some respite arrived when the track secured pulled off a coup recruiting Tennents into major sponsorship deals.
Even with the extra sponsorship the track was still struggling until the moment in 1991 that A&S Leisure (owners of five casino restaurants) stepped in and purchased the track spending a staggering £3 million on refurbishment. The massive investment soon reaped rewards with crowds flooding back to watch the action. Dave Baldwin stepped in to take over from Dave Gunson.
Starved of open race success the track bounced back in 1996 claiming another Scottish Derby title, this time with the Dave Hopper trained Burnpark Lord. It served as a taster of things to come because He Knows trained by Barrie Draper finished runner-up to Some Picture in the 1997 Derby final and then Frisby Full emulated the feat finishing runner-up in 1999 behind Chart King for Harry Crapper. Sheffield could have had two Derby winners had they not come up against two freak greyhounds.
The good times were returning with 1999 a particularly good year, Stouke Tim won the Derby Consolation, Frisby Folly became St Leger champion, I’m Okay won the Juvenile and Ron Hough’s Spenwood Wizard lowered marathon track records around the country.
Sheffield’s reputation grew quickly once again; David Proctor became General Manager and David Perry Racing Manager, Dave Baldwin was brought in as Director of Racing. Trainer Elaine Parker won the inaugural William Hill Classic in 2007 with Mahers Boy and Barrie Draper was building a fine kennel of greyhounds including 2003 Derby finalist Farloe Pocket and 2008 Laurels champion Boherna Best.
Former GRA man John Gilburn soon stamped his mark on proceedings when he arrived as General Manager; he secured the prestigious trainers championship for the first time in the tracks history in 2009 and the again in 2014. Additionally the second home competition the ‘Three Steps to Victory’ is rising in stature since its inception in 2003. David Perry Sam Tweed.
More recently Barrie Draper has staked his claim as one of the best trainers in the country and has handled superb greyhounds such as the 2011 Puppy Derby, Juvenile and Laurels champion Eden Star, 2012 Laurels & Puppy Derby winner Farloe Warhawk and the incredible Scottish Derby and Juvenile triumphant Ballymac Eske. Elaine Parker also sent out Pay Freeze for the track when claiming the Select Stakes in 2014.
John Gilburn took the role of MD in 2013 with Perry switching to General Manager with Sam Tweed and Richard Munton becoming joint Racing Managers. It surely is just a matter of time before the track claims a second Derby crown adding to the 1967 success.