If you were asked to name some of the great prefixes in breeding, you’d probably come up with the ‘Droopys’, the ‘Swifts’, the ‘Farloes’, the ‘Westmeads’. If ‘Ballymac’ doesn’t feature among the first half dozen, your opinion probably isn’t worth repeating.
The Kingdom of Kerry has produced some of the greatest stars of the leash for both track and field, but no name has a greater longevity for producing champions than ‘Dowling’.
Check out the pedigree of a ‘Ballymac’ champion and the Dowling roots probably trace upwards of ten generations. That knowledge, wisdom, and appreciation of a great hound, like the bloodlines, has passed from generation to generation. In a rare interview, Liam gives an insight into this hugely successful Kerry dynasty.
Liam your Ballymac prefix is famous the world over in greyhounds, I’m led to believe there was previously another prefix by which your greyhounds were once known, Kileacle, what’s the history behind this ?
That’s true my father and grandfather had greyhounds with my father being known as John ‘Kileacle’ Dowling. The Kileacle prefix coming from the town land upon which I grew up as a youngster which was just a mile outside the picturesque and historic village of Ardfert in County Kerry. My parents were also farmers and including myself there were seven children, three of whom are still heavily involved in greyhounds to this day. My father had a very keen interest in greyhounds and over the years he bred, reared and raced many a good one, that’s where my interest in the long tails began. The Ballymac prefix became mine when I finally settled in Ballymacelligot a townland outside the town of Tralee.
What do you take into consideration when pricing your pups ?
The price of a Ballymac pup would hugely be dependent upon the credentials of the sire and dam but also on a few others things also. I would take into account the size of the litter for instance and you’d also have to take into account the economics at the time. We would sell the majority of our offspring between the ages of 14-16 months, inviting prospective buyers to come along and see them trial. We’d usually have something around to suit every need and budget.
There is a lot of time and effort put into the process of taking a pup from birth through to racing age, it’s important to get the selection of the parents correct, what qualities do you look for in prospective broods and sires ?
Going back to when my father was breeding greyhounds he and his fellow greyhound enthusiasts would always place paramount importance upon a prospective sire or dam coming from a good dam line. This philosophy always remains at the forefront of my thinking however I do place importance on the ability of the dam herself. A strong will to win is very important and also I do like a dam with early toe.
Most people would rate Blonde Returns as your best brood bitch Liam, maybe not as many remembering that she was initially sold to England before returning to you for breeding ?
There’s no doubting that Blonde Returns was a fabulous brood for us but I like to take it back further to her mother Blonde Slippy. For me as a young man she really whet my appetite for open racing. Slippy won the prestigious Champion Bitch Stake in Thurles many years ago having been kindly given to me by my parents. Slippy’s dam was Killeacle Blonde. You see I’m only carrying the family torch here, the history of our breed goes back many years and as talked about earlier, began a long time prior to the Ballymac prefix coming into existence. Blonde Returns was sold out of Clonmel to a fine English man by the name of Mick Cowley and returned to us after a successful career in the UK. That dam line, along with many others, is still at the forefront of my business.
Liam would there be much difference in the feeding and nutrition give to track bred dogs compared to their coursing counterparts ?
Yes, in some ways nutrition in coursing offspring would vary from track bred dogs, this starts from very early on, actually starting before the pups are even born with the way in which the brood is cared for. You really can’t afford to take your eye off the ball from the very second a brood is mated all the way up until the dogs are qualifying at the track. In greyhounds I’m very much a big believer that you only get out what you’re prepared to put in, if you want success then you really must be prepared to give your greyhounds the very best and everything which they need. A coursing dog due to their sheer size and also the level of stamina and endurance required, obviously they need special attention to see that their needs are catered for.
You’ve enjoyed a fantastic career and enjoyed many highs, if you could pick a highlight though what would it be and also what would go down as the lowest point of your time in the sport ?
One can go a lifetime without much success but I believe if you give your dogs the best you will give yourself every chance of being successful. (Ballymac) Matt winning the Irish Derby for us in 2015 is an obvious unforgettable high, but there have been so many other greyhounds who have provided so many memorable moments, maybe too many to mention but a few who immediately spring to mind would be Vic, Vulturi, Floss, Bonnie, Bulger, Cooper, Anton, Tas and of course Arminta. They along with others have provided some very memorable moments. As for lows, anybody involved in the sport would tell you there are many, I prefer to think of them as challenges though, hurdles to get over and learn from.
Liam times are tough for people around the world in the current climate. How do you see your business model changing if at all moving forward and is there anything you will be doing personally to see that you remain successful and is there anything the sport as a whole should be doing ?
Welfare is a huge area that we need to work hard at. We need to work as hard as possible at fundraising and in raising awareness of the suitability of greyhounds as pets. They’re such wonderful loving animals and we need to spread this message far and wide. These are thoroughbred dogs and they need and deserve that recognition the world over. Covid is presenting many businesses with a huge challenge but personally and as a community we must remain professional in our approach to the challenges presented, adapt to change and if doing so we will flourish.
As a group we must comply with all health and safety measures put in place, ie hand washing, cough etiquette, sanitizing and social distancing. Let us all be sensible during this time, work hard and I’m sure we will all get back up and running if doing so.
There are other challenges that we face though, areas such as prize money, sponsorship, marketing. We need to create and maintain good working partnerships with online providers, welfare initiatives etc. And these things need to be approached with a willingness to sustain the sport long into the future, not just with a view to making a short term profit.
We need all stakeholders to work together, to show a willingness to do so and to find a fair playing field for all, not just one or two. We need an injection of new ideas and passionate people working on the boards and committees that can make a difference.