It was the early 1940s, a very different time in Australia, and young Warren Slade was spending the school holidays at his uncle’s place on Ash Island, just over the bridge at Hexham and not too far from Newcastle.
For eight-year-old Warren, his life was about to change.
His uncle was greyhound trainer Stan Maher, an iconic figure in the industry, who bred champion stayer Bright Pleasure, the Harold Park 800-yards record holder throughout the 1950s and also trained Cola Minda to win the 1953 Harold Park Annual Classic, an event now known as the Vic Peters Classic. It was at Uncle Stan’s place where Warren’s love affair with the greyhound began.
Today, 75 years later, it is as strong as ever, and on Saturday night, Warren has a shot at a potential career highlight, when his dog Eye Rock looks to book a berth in the Ladbrokes Golden Easter Egg final.
Eye Rock scored an upset win in his heat last Saturday, and now needs to only finish first or second in the semi-final to advance to the $250,000 to the winner final on April 20.
“It was a bit of a surprise that he won,” Warren conceded. “The other dog, the odds-on favorite (Orson Allen), we didn’t think we could beat him, but we thought Eye Rock might run a place, but everything went wrong for the favourite, and worked out well for us, and here we are.”
But, back to Uncle Stan.
“Yeah I got into the greyhounds through my uncle Stan Maher. As I child went up there on holidays when I was eight, and I was there until I got married,” he explained, “I told my parents I wanted to stay with uncle Stan and help him with his dogs and my parents eventually gave in and let me move in with him and his family. I attended a little primary school on Ash Island.
“Those school holidays with uncle Stan changed my life forever.”
Jobs on a dairy farm and the abattoirs in Newcastle and Maitland, were Warren’s path when he left school, but when they closed down, he started training greyhounds full-time, and this year celebrates his 63rd year in the sport.
While Warren chose the hounds, his older brother Johnny chose the Eels. Johnny Slade played 77 first grade games with Parramatta in the 1950s, and in 1955, at the age of 23, became the youngest ever captain/coach.
Warren has trained plenty of winners - the first being a dog called Pleasure Cruise - and had numerous very handy dogs in his kennels over the past six decades, including a stayer called Sarraweena who won 30 races, Alert Profit, a Harold Park Summer Cup finalist, Gosford sprint record holder All Mercury, and Naturally Best, who won 26 races, but, the best he says was a dog called Gallant Seagull.
“The best dog we have had was Gallant Seagull,” Warren said. “He won the (1998) Summer Cup and (1998) Sydney Cup at Wentworth Park. He was a very good stayer, but this bloke is the best sprinter we ever have had.
“He had a terrific record until he had a couple of unplaced runs at Wentworth Park leading into the Easter Egg heats. He hadn’t been out of a place for 20 starts (9 wins, 8 seconds and 3 thirds), and he was now won four and had four seconds from 10 starts at Wenty.”
These days Warren has just two dogs in his Beresfield kennels, Eye Rock and Bumpo, who has had 10 wins and 21 placings from 69 starts.
“Yeah I still walk them. I take them down a lonely road out the back (neighbouring suburb) Woodberry, and walk them. I still love it. I must, if I’m still doing it at my age.”
And Warren - along with his son Glen - will head with Eye Rock to Sydney and Wentworth Park on Saturday night, hoping for a one-two finish from Eye Rock, which would, after 63 years in the game, see him have a runner in the biggest race of his life.