Vale Keith Sternberg
Keith Sternberg will will be remembered as one of the giants of the greyhound community, following his sad passing last week, aged 92.
From humble beginnings as an owner, Keith became a man of the people as he caught winners and captained the Ipswich kennels well past his 91st birthday.
While Keith has been the permanent fixture at the races over the past two decades, it was his son Greg (Sternberg) who first got his Dad involved.
“He actually followed me into the greyhounds, I was interested way back in the 1970s and we ended up buying a few dogs and he was a part of the syndicate,” Greg said.
“We laugh about it all these years on, but we weren’t a good ownership duo.
“My Grandad trained but as owners we were as stubborn as each other but through that experience we’ve both ended up in close proximity to the industry - myself as a vet and Dad as a jack of all trades.”
Those early days of scoring winners at the Gabba stuck with Keith, who always kept a passing interest in the sport until he teamed up with Tony Brett in the early 2000s.
“I think the dogs have stayed in our blood since those early days, I had a break while I was studying but when I bought a dog again Dad was the first to get involved in the syndicate and has stayed on ever since,” he said.
“Ronnie Ball trained those dogs and whenever he was doing construction on his property, Dad used to go around to his place help him out and they’d just talk about the dogs non-stop.
“From there he started going to the dogs on a regular basis and if you know Keith, he was always up for a chat and he formed a great rapport with Tony Brett.”
Keith had a keen eye for those going places and became an integral part of the all-conquering Brett kennel, who he remained loyal to.
“He started out just holding the dogs when Tony was kennelling them; he never had a handler’s license or anything at that stage, he just did it because he loved it,” Sternberg said.
“Tony started talking him into fixing a few muzzles and by that point he was retired and spending pretty much all of his time there, so he eventually went and got his catcher’s license.
“It was such a blessing for him' he was meticulous in his preparation, always knew who was racing when, and I firmly believe that involvement kept him going all the way to 92.”
Keith was more than an industry icon, he was a father as well, and his son has been overwhelmed with the support since his passing.
“I’ve been inundated with messages and phone calls from people I knew were close to him and then others I didn’t even know he knew - it’s that support which had probably surprised me the most,” he said.
“It’s hard because I’m always thinking about him, it’s great he had an influence on so many people but to me he was just Dad and that’s something I’m going to have to come to terms with.
“I know in time I’ll appreciate it but it’s still all so fresh and every time someone tells a story about him, I get a bit choked up.”
Keith spent the last 18 years of his life devoting much of his time to helping the Brett kennel, and the trainer is feeling the effects of not having his great mate beside him.
“We had a pretty special understanding of each other Keith and I, we both love a conversation but spending so much time together he always knew the right time to pipe up and say something, but we were just as comfortable being in each other’s company,” Brett said.
“We’ve driven to the races together for the best part of 18 years and always being busy Keith knew that was my thinking time, so we’d had some chit chat when he hopped in and then just look forward to racing.
“The last few months have shown me just how reliant I was on him; I’ve had to catch more dogs in that period than I have in 20 years which I’m happy to do but Keith was such a constant - it’s been strange without him.”
Brett looks back on that time fondly; the two never fought but Keith always kept Tony on his toes.
“It just reaffirmed to me how lucky we were to cross paths and help each other, I’d like to think he got plenty out of everything he did for me because I couldn’t have done it without him,” he said.
“We never had a blue - not one - but at the same time he was my toughest critic; if we hadn’t had a winner for the week, he was the first to let me know.
“I remember we had a dog who’d won six in a row and I got back in the car happy as Larry and Keith said something to the effect of 'the more wins you have the closer you are to a loss' - he was always keeping me honest.”
Keith was well into retirement by the time he teamed up with the Brett kennel but never missed a beat when it came to the dogs.
“The old adage 'whoever Keith was catching you should be on' has plenty of credence, the first bitch he caught for me was the great Bogie Leigh," Brett laughed.
"He’s always done his form and knows who he wants to be catching.
“He was a man for stats; he’d be taking down margins, times and just about everything you could think of, he was an encyclopedia of knowledge.
“I was talking to Greg and he said he found a book at home with all the muzzles he’d fixed for different trainers including Darren Russell, Mary Burman, Tricky Stephenson - his mind was sharp as ever.”
Brett echoed the sentiments of all that knew Keith in summing up his personality, and was glad the industry got a chance to celebrate his contribution before his passing.
“It’s been really nice to see so many people respond to his passing and the word I see associated with him most which I think is perfect is gentlemen,” he said.
“He was never in it for the recognition but what great foresight from Warren and Tracey Nicholls to organise his tribute night at Ipswich last year.
"He’s pretty stoic Keith but he felt the love that night and I’m so glad he got to experience that.”
Those wanting to pay their respects to Keith are invited to attend his funeral this Thursday, May 20 at the Centenary Memorial Gardens from 10.30am in the Federation Chapel.