Remembering White City - 'the governor' of lost tracks
Darrell Williams looks back at the former home of the sport, west London's White City...
As the song goes, 'regrets I have a few', and in terms of greyhound racing one has to be never getting to visit White City before it closed in 1984. White City was 'the governor' in greyhound racing. Host venue for the Derby, the Oaks and the Grand National, it was the without doubt the number one venue in the sport.
White City Stadium itself was built for the London Olympics of 1908, and with a capacity of 150,000 was the biggest stadium in the world at the time. Greyhound racing first made an appearance on 20th June 1927 after the GRA took over the running of the track, building a restaurant in the process and over 10,000 people turned up to see a dog called Charlie Cranston win the very first race. Within weeks the track staged the first Greyhound Derby, with the £1000 prize won by long odds-on favourite Entry Badge, providing a local success for trainer Joe Harmon. Two years later and the most famous greyhound of them all, Mick The Miller, made his mark by winning the 1929 Derby, before going on to also secure the 1930 renewal. He also crossed the line first in the 1931 Derby, only for the race to be re-run after a rival was disqualified for fighting in the original race.
With club house accommodation for a thousand people, and a massive 500 yard track circumference producing wide sweeping turns and therefore fast times, White City was an immediate hit with the public, with even the Prince of Wales and Prince George, later King George VI amongst the early attendees. In its peak years soon after the Second World War, attendances reached as high as 30,000 per meeting with the 1946 Derby final watched by more than 58,000 spectators.
One of the great names of racing officialdom, Major Percy Brown, was installed as Racing Manager soon after the track opened and stayed for nearly 50 years until 1976, while probably the greatest trainer to grace the circuit was Leslie Reynolds in the 1930s before later moving to Wembley, from where he would send out a record five Derby winners.
The track also provided a royal Derby success in 1968 when the Duke of Edinburgh-owned Camira Flash won the Classic under the tutorship of trainer Randy Singleton providing the first locally trained winner of the Classic for more than thirty years.
White City was always at the forefront of developments and in 1945 became the first track to install a photo finish camera, while the stadium was also used for numerous films including the 1950 movie The Blue Lamp as well as the film Steptoe and Son Ride Again in 1973.
The Derby has always been the sport's main draw and in 1973 Patricia's Hope became only the second greyhound to win the race twice, the same year that dog food manufacturers Spillers first put their name to the event resulting in a substantial increase in prize money, which when Indian Joe won the Jubilee Derby in 1980 was worth £35,000 to the winner.
In 1983 the Derby sponsorship was taken over by the Daily Mirror, but sadly their backing of the race at White City would last only two seasons with Whisper Wishes entering the record books in 1984 as the last Derby winner at the 'Mecca' of greyhound racing.
The end was near and on 22nd September 1984 the Tommy Foster handled Hastings Girl became the very last winner at White City. Within day's demolition teams had arrived and greyhound racing's most historic stadium was no more.
Today the site of the former White City Stadium is now home to the BBC.
Click here to view a selection of posters from the London Underground archive featuring dog tracks
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