I've had such a wonderful life' Legendary trainer George Curtis looks back at a lifetime in greyhound racing with Phil Donaldson.
THEY say you should never meet your heroes for fear of disappointment. Sometimes, fortunately, they get it wrong. George Curtis, approaching 87 and legendary trainer of canine greats such as Ballyregan Bob and Yankee Express during a career spanning over seven decades, happily proves an exception to the rule.
Age may have slowed those long limbs down a tad, and many years of accumulating colleagues, acquaintances and friends mean the odd name occasionally fails to surface through over-crowded memory banks. But by and large George Curtis is doing bloody well.
The legend has finally retired - but only just. It wasn't that long ago that the man who rose from humble beginnings to become a household name by steering Ballyegan Bob to a record 32 straight wins in 1985-86, was still to be found at the kennels of Hove trainer Derek Knight.
Curtis who proudly declares that "I paid my stamp 'til I was 73," explains: "I was helping at Derek's on and off for seven years. Believe it or not, I probably had the most fun I've ever had in that time. It gave me a new lease of life, I loved singing and laughing with the girls, and I had no pressure on me."
Typical of a man who comes from a long list of grafters, Curtis originally offered his help to Knight for three days a week. Then after a knee replacement two-and-a half years ago, he cut back to three hours a day before a dodgy hip saw him hang up his lead and grooming brush once and for all: "I had to call it a day then. Now I'm here helping Lil [his wife, a sprightly 89], she needs me more than the dogs these days."
Curtis has been looking forward to our chat. He has gone out to get copies made of some of the photos reproduced opposite and there is also a list of names on an A4 pad of people he would like to mention. In the kitchen a freshly bought cream cake awaits our attention. A gentleman, it seems, is always prepared.
"Where do you want to start?" he asks. We settle for a mug of tea and the beginning. Curtis, eyes alive with the joy of recollection, transports us back to the south coast in the 1920s, where he could regularly be found as a slip of a lad, out 'totting' with his dad. Even a bout of life-threatening tuberculosis as a five-year-old failed to dampen his joie-de-vivre.
"My dad was a worker. A real grafter. There was nine of us kids, so money was always tight. But for me, he was like a hero. He was called Frederick, and I was named after him - Frederick George. Eventually I became just George.
"I'd be out with him in all weathers, helping him pull the cart as he looked to earn a few shillings. He used to get me a cup of tea, sometimes even a doughnut and I'd feel like a lord. But we were so poor that dad lied about me and my brother Charlie's age to the school - adding a couple of years on to get us out to work quicker."
Work back then, just as it would be now if the weather would allow him to get out the back garden with a paintbrush, was something Curtis thrived on. The dedication shown in many years at the top of the training tree, recognised by the industry with a lifetime achievement award in 2003, was evident when he left school at 12 years old, and went to work in a local woodyard.
Work was five days a week, 7.30 to 5pm, plus Saturday mornings, for seven shillings. For an extra sixpence, Curtis used to stay back on Saturday afternoons and fill up the sawdust bags. It was hard, but honest, toil. And for a poor kid who couldn't read or write, manual work came naturally as a means to an end - money and the gratification of a job well done.
However, things changed for ever when he started going greyhound racing at the flourishing Portsmouth track: "Soon I was a tote runner, earning five bob a week, but I had my eye on a kennelhand job. I'd heard they were on 30 bob a week, and that sounded like a fortune to me."
Successful in his request, Curtis found himself placed in the hands of trainer Bill Peters, a man who helped cast the mold that would set his 14-year-old charge on the path to unbelievable success.
Article from the Racing Post February 2010.I've had such a wonderful life' Legendary trainer George Curtis looks back at a lifetime in greyhound racing with Phil Donaldson.THEY say you should never meet your heroes for fear of disappointment. Sometim
another great loss although at 97 another fantastic age.....in 1927 when he was only 5 he was stricken with TB and was in hospital for two years before surving that killer disease at the time...in 1938 when he was 15 he was taken on by Bill Peters as a kennel lad at Portsmouth....became his own man when he was 22 in 1945.....the post war period was a boom time for greyhound racing so although George was in the right sport at the right time it was not easy to make a living so he relied on getting winners and gratuities from happy owners but when his brother returned from the war and joined George they became a force to be reckoned with....joining Brighton in 1967....his brother remained at Portsmouth and became his own man only to tragically die in a car crash on the way home from Crayford following an open race in 1969...........George went on to be champion trainer in 1983...1984 and 1986...…..i still have a copy of his book, training greyhounds......in which he has the simple advice....keep your dogs warm in the winter...cool in the summer......feed the best and they will run for you......he was also aware that if you have a kennel full of moderate dogs you will be a moderate trainer no matter how hard you work but he still treated all greyhounds equally knowing his duty was to get the best out of every dog no matter the standard.....great man...great trainer...the end of a legend....
another great loss although at 97 another fantastic age.....in 1927 when he was only 5 he was stricken with TB and was in hospital for two years before surving that killer disease at the time...in 1938 when he was 15 he was taken on by Bill Peters as