The term ‘living legend’ is widely overused in society but in greyhound terms, it is the only appropriate description for a trainer with seven English Derby wins, four Trainers Championships and hundreds of major race victories (flaps included!). Charlie Lister OBE has stayed out of the limelight and seldom offers an opinion since relinquishing his license in September 2018 writes Floyd Amphlett.
The Master of Mudross has recently overcome Covid, wife Pat is currently battling it, and he now has minimal contact with his beloved greyhounds. The kennels are empty following the departure of Chris Akers and will not be used again. Charlie has a share in the John Mullins trained Gymstar Elusive but mainly keeps a watching brief.
He said: “I watched the dog run the other day and I look at your website most days but I don’t watch much racing any more. The game isn’t the same and I was never really interested in minor opens or graded racing anyway. I just loved the big events.”
Interestingly, despite the dozens and dozens of classic and Cat One wins, Charlie seems to place as much pleasure in recalling saving racing careers as he did in winning trophies.
He said: “The worst thing in the world was having to have badly injured dog put to sleep. I couldn’t face it, someone else would have to hold the lead. The next worst thing was having to tell an owner that his dog would never race again. I used to hate making those phone calls.
“It didn’t bother me too much telling them that the dog wasn’t good enough. The way I saw it, I didn’t want them running up kennel bills trying to win open races that they couldn’t win. There was always a career for them somewhere else, but telling someone their dog was finished was very different.”
Charlie was brought up around horses and coursing dogs and he believes that the same principles hold true for both animals.
He said: “I learned a lot from my father. He was a great man with horses. He could shoe a horse as well as any blacksmith and he understood that time is the healer. Patience is the key with all animals.
“I’d often had dogs being treated for months and the owners would sometimes say, ‘he’s been off a long time’. My reply was always the same ‘and he’ll be off until I’m satisfied he is right’. I used to take pride in then getting them to win first time back.”
So was animal husbandry better years ago?
Charlie said: “I wouldn’t want to say but there were a lot of old remedies for dogs that you could get back then that you can’t get now which is a shame.”
Charlie said: “The vets varied but Paddy Sweeney was by far the best in my opinion. I continued to use him even after he retired. I remember one black dog I had called Not Sleeping. He was the track record holder at Leicester and broke his hock. I didn’t hold out much hope but Paddy said, ‘don’t worry, he’ll come back’.
“I think he came back better than ever, I absolutely cleaned up with him on the flaps, he won the Preston and the Blackpool Derbys and many other races.”
Any other good veterinarians?
Charlie said: “I really liked Richard Torr. To begin with, I didn’t really rate him but he said to me one day and said ‘Listen Charlie, I fully accept that a good experienced dog man might be better at finding and treating injuries than I am’ But over time he got better and better until he was a damned good vet.
“I was pretty handy at checking dogs over myself but there were times when I would use (physio) Georgie Drake. He was as good as any vet. I’m out of the game now and wouldn’t know who the best vets are, but we definitely need that expertise with good people who are willing to learn.”
Returning to the subject of Paddy Sweeney, as industry stalwarts would be aware, Paddy was a fierce critic of licensed racing.
Was there a connection to his upbringing in Donegal so soon after Irish independence? It cannot have helped that the NGRC was stuffed with pompous ex-military senior officers who seemed to relish talking down to riff-raff.
Of course that antipathy could come in handy . . . .
Charlie said: “I’ve ever told this story before, but Paddy’s gone now, God bless him, and I’m not licensed anymore. So – years ago, I had a licence but was still running dogs on the flaps. When some of the other dog men found out that I had a runner in a big final, they’d often phone up the NGRC to report me and hope my dog would have to be withdrawn.
“One night I had a finalist in the Blackpool Derby and while I was out racing, the steward turned up and asked my wife Val where I was and they wanted to check the kennel. She told them that she didn’t know and they would have to come back the next morning.
“Anyway, the dog won and the next morning there was a knock on the door. It was the stewards. They said they’ve been told that I had won the Blackpool Derby the night before. I denied it of course but told them I wished I had. It would mean I could afford a nice few days holiday.
“So where was the dog? I told them he had been with Paddy Sweeney. I’d tipped Paddy off and sure enough they phoned him. Apparently he told them, ‘yes, a nice little brindle dog, was being treated yesterday. Charlie picked him up earlier. Good morning!'”
Listen carefully and you might hear the sound of a Donegal chuckle