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Industry pays tribute to Leonard Antonio

In recent years Leonard Antonio was often seen as the printed owner’s name in the race book that accompanied a seemingly endless production line of talented greyhounds. But the man behind the name and his indelible impact on the greyhound industry is far more pertinent than that, Isaac Murphy writes. 

A celebration of Leonard s life will be held at Centenary Gardens, 353 Wacol Station Road, Sumner on Wednesday 17th April 2019, commencing at 12 noon.‚Äč

Leonard Antonio was a husband, a dentist, a foundation member of the Ipswich Greyhound Racing Club, a larger than life character, a businessman, a role model but, most of all, ‘Lenny’ was a friend who was fiercely loyal to the people that got to see the man behind the name.

Those people this week had a chance to reflect on Leonard Antonio’s impact on their lives following his peaceful passing on Friday.

Tony Brett met Leonard Antonio twenty-seven years ago through his Dad Dave on a Saturday night at the Ipswich dogs.

Little did Brett know the role “the bloke everyone wanted to talk to” would play not just in his training career, but in his life twenty-odd years down the track.

“Back in those days it was all about Saturday night at Ipswich dogs, the place would be packed everyone having a beer, plunges coming off and Lenny was always at the centre of it all,” Brett said.

“I was in my early twenties and have so many memories of Lenny and dad going back and forth, he was always giving everyone cheek it was a good time.”

The friendship forged through greyhound racing grew stronger and as Len got more involved in owning dogs he always planned to share the ride with his mate Dave Brett, but never got the chance.

“He’d always said that he’d find a dog for Dad to train and sadly Dad passed away before they had the chance,” he said.

“It was about seven years ago he came and saw me and said I wasn’t able to give your Dad a dog to train but I want to give you some.

“They were the first dogs Regal Lauryn and Miss Lauryn, that I trained for Len and our partnership only grew from there.”

Brett said what developed from there was far more than a trainer-owner relationship as the two bonded over their mutual love of racing greyhounds.

“Lenny was an owner that wasn’t too hands on, but he loved to visit his dogs, I’d often be going about my work in the morning and his car would pull in unexpectedly just to say g’day and talk about the dogs,” Brett said.

“Once Len had retired from dentistry he was able to put more and more time into his dogs, which meant spending a lot of time with me, it got to the point where I consider him and his wife Gloria part of the family.”

As Brett and Antonio’s friendship blossomed so did their success on the track, the duo quickly establishing a production line of class dogs all of which Antonio handpicked.

“Our first bitch Regal Lauryn went on to win and Ipswich Cup and a Lismore Cup, before we went on to breed with her, she’s actually the mother of the litter who produced Regal Recall with me and Regal Topaz with Greg Stella, basically all the Regal dogs you see going around are out of Regal Lauryn,” Brett said.

“Thirty Talks gave us a great ride winning a Group One at home and multiple Group races throughout his career and to now have him at stud is at least one way we can carry on Lenny’s legacy of finding a great dog.

“I’ve had so many with him but one that was typical of Lenny was when he bought a dog called Whata Nice Size, who on paper and to the eye didn’t look like much but we managed to turn him into a Free For All Group race dog.”

Brett said he took great satisfaction in getting Antonio a winner, as the owner wasn’t one to shy away from the spotlight and was thankful he was able to give him a parting gift.

“He loved the limelight, he didn’t care how much the race was worth, he just wanted to be up there with the trophy getting photos taken with the dogs,” Brett laughed.

“Having stories about his dogs in The Chase Magazine, people talking about them across the country he loved it, but he also deserved it because he was the one with the eye to pick them out.

“Regal Recall won last Thursday night and he passed Friday morning, even though he wasn’t there physically I knew he’d be smiling inside.”

Antonio came into prominent breeder Ken Crawford’s life at a much more recent juncture but couldn’t have had a bigger hand in helping himself and the late Peter Ruetschi and developing Patrick’s Farm into a powerhouse kennel before Ruetschi’s passing.

“The owner Pete was renting from was in legal trouble and Pete was barred from training and myself from breeding any pups from the property we both lived on at the time,” Crawford said.

“When we hit a road block with the farm, he could have moved his dogs on and left us to fend for ourselves, but he loved stuck by us and bought the property himself.

“Pete needed a place to train from and it worked out perfectly when Lenny bought the farm, I used to look out for the pups, Pete used to train, and Len just loved coming out and seeing his dogs work.”

Crawford spoke of the unique bond Antonio and Ruetschi formed spending hours together each week.

“Pete used to pick Lenny up from the roundabout at Dinmore (Ipswich) every Thursday night, go to the track and do it again the next week,” Crawford said.

“I can only imagine some of the things they’d be talking about on those trips, they’re both big personalities with opinions on a lot of things, one day they couldn’t agree on anything and the next they’d be thick as thieves.

“When Pete died it took the wind out of Len a bit, all they accomplished together at the farm and that time bonding over the dogs it let a big hole.”

As an avid breeder Crawford went about attaining his dogs in a far different manner to Antonio, but the two always respected the way each other operated.

“Lenny wasn’t a breeder as such, he bought a lot of pups and that’s just the way he went about it, he’d prefer to go and see the dog’s trial and if he liked something normally the dog would come home with him,” Crawford laughed.

“His own saying was that I’m a buyer and I’m a seller, if he thought his dog was worth $20,000 and someone offered $30,000 the dog would move on, people may look at that on the surface as taking short cuts in the industry, but with the success he had it’s hard to question his approach.”

Although Antonio was a businessman greyhounds meant the world to him and Crawford had no doubt they had helped him through previous hard times.

“The dogs were the reason Len lived as long as he did, if he didn’t have the dogs I have no doubt whatsoever he wouldn’t have got through his first cancer scare, he just loved greyhound racing,” he said.

“Lenny always looked after his own and if you were involved in his life in any way he’d make sure you had every bit of support you needed, if you did right by him he did right by you and I was fortunate to have him in my life.”

Terry Blacker has worked at the Ipswich Greyhound Club for over thirty years, but Antonio still beat him to the punch as a proud foundation member of the club in 1982.

The Blacker family’s relationship with Antonio dates back even further than that, as unsurprisingly Antonio became good friends at The Ipswich Turf Club with Blacker’s father.

“Our family has known Len for over fifty-years, my father used to train race horses at Ipswich and they would spend a lot of time together at the track, Len even decided he was going to be a jockey one day but fortunately that didn’t last,” Blacker laughed.

“It was at the greyhounds I got to know him, I’ve been working there for more than thirty years currently serving as the judge, but he always made it a point to let everyone know he was the first official member of the club in 1982.”

Blacker recalled Antonio’s notoriety for a number of different reasons, which has made him a well-known figure at the club until this day.

“He had a big reputation, not only for liking a punt and knowing every local at the bar, but his standing in the community with his success as a dentist and in business, he was and still is held in high regard at the track,” Blacker said.

“It’s sad he’s gone but it’s rather fitting a couple of weeks ago the first progeny on Thirty Talks won at the track he has been involved with since day one, his impact will always be felt here.”