Silver Collar History
The Silver Collar race is the greyhound competition where the winner earns the right to momentarily wear the solid silver collar donated by Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh in 1970. The value of the collar is such that it’s stored in Auckland club’s bank vault for the other 364 days each year.
The race winner, along with their proud connections, fleetingly receives the opportunity to be photographed wearing the collar – a moment they will cherish forever. They walk away with a miniature version of the Silver Collar presented to them by the Auckland GRC.
The road to glory for the 47th running of the annual royal battle will commence at the Manukau Stadium on Sunday June 3 when the outstanding canine stayers will line up in the demanding 779m qualifying races – all vying for one of the eight much sought after final field positions for the following Sunday’s (June 10) $88,000 final at Group 1 level.
The Silver Collar race is a stamina-sapping affair contested over that grueling, extreme 779 metre distance. For the finalists, it’s the equivalent of a human running back-to-back marathons on consecutive weekends.
The Silver Collar was donated to the Auckland GRC after the Duke of Edinburgh commissioned the royal engravers, Bravingtons in London to craft the solid silver collar after he was gifted a greyhound by the Auckland GRC during the 1970 New Zealand royal visit.
Prince Phillip was an active participant in greyhound racing having owned an English Derby winner. That greyhound gifted to him raced under the appropriate name of Royal Commission and she was taken onboard the royal yacht Britannia to meet the Duke.
She contested the inaugural running of the Silver Collar at the then Auckland GRC venue at Kumeu, where she ran a creditable second to Sandy Shane when raced over 711m. The race was attended by the then Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Arthur Porritt, who wrote to Prince Phillip advising him about his greyhounds performance.
As was quoted in Sam Fletcher’s book From Drag hare Paddock to Bromich Lure, the reply came back, "Congratulations, give the dog a bone".
Royal Commission went onto win the 1972 edition of the Silver Collar herself. She also added a third placing in the great race the following year. Shortly after that she was retired to the breeding kennels with her best progeny being an Auckland Cup winner Our Commission.
Prince Phillip also directed that all prize money won by Royal Commission was to be forwarded to the New Zealand based Duke Of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Eventually it was a tidy amount that Royal Commission contributed as she went onto to win 33 races.
It became a tradition whenever a New Zealand royal tour was held, that the previous season’s winner of the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar was invited on board Britannia with connections for an audience with Prince Philip.
Commentator Peter Earley has witnessed every Silver Collar since the inaugural edition in 1971 and has been an intricate part of the collar, having called every edition since 1973. Without fail he injects so much excitement and enthusiasm into the race through his calls every year.
"You lift yourself for the big ones – the Silver Collar is the biggest. The collar race is always exciting – you’re always waiting for things to happen at the finish. It always changes dramatically over the final few metres," commented Earley.
He’s quite right, as each year the Silver Collar has been contested it has resulted in a more than memorable race.
The Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar has been contested at four different race venues. As mentioned the Kumeu Raceway was the first of the venues. In 1976 the race headed to the Mt Smart Stadium where it was raced for over the extreme 832m race distance.
In 1984 the Auckland GRC temporary raced at the Claudelands Showgrounds in Hamilton with the Silver Collar runners being required to complete a demanding 753 journey.
It was in 1990 when the Silver Collar was first contested for at the current Auckland headquarters, the Manukau Stadium over today’s 779m trip.
There has been only one greyhound who has won more than one Silver Collar race. That came when the late Pat Patterson prepared the grand stayer Tivoli Tom to victory in 1992 and 1994. Paterson was devastated about the 1993 edition when she had to withdraw her charge owing to a bout of kennel cough.
There is no question that the tile of being the "Queen" of the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar firmly belongs to Nancy Cobain.
In total she conditioned five Silver Collar winners, amazingly spanning over the last three venues where the great race has been contested. In a mark of respect to Nancy, the Auckland club allowed the Silver Collar to be taken down to Taranaki to attend her funeral service.
There wasn’t a dry eye amongst those attending when the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Collar was placed on top of her casket as Nancy was farewell.
Honourable mention has to be made for current Cambridge trainer Arch Lawrence who has bred, reared, trained and co-owned with wife Gloria three Silver Collar winners.
Gary Harding has also being compiling a tidy record as an owner of Silver Collar winners. He has enjoyed success in four Silver Collar finals, two of who he trained himself, while Karen Walsh mentored his other pair of winners.
The quality of the stayers lining up in this supreme staying event gets stronger and more competitive each year. For example the Manukau 779m track record has been lowered on eight occasions in Silver Collar finals (plus once in a heat) ever since Fairfield won the inaugural Manukau final.
It is already pleasing to see stayers throughout the country being prepared for next month’s edition as they complete their preparations in a number of staying events being contested nationwide.
Of all the races on the national racing calendar, this is the one owner’s and trainers want the most. The Silver Collar is most definitely the crowning jewel of New Zealand Greyhound Racing.
WRITTEN BY PETER FENEMOR