English ‘God’ Is Worth Listening To

29th April 2020

 

Nick Savva with Toms The Best (left) and Larkhill Jo following the 1998 Scottish Derby Final – photo Steve Nash

By DAVID BRASCH  

NICK Savva is god-like in greyhound racing in England and Ireland. 

He’s that good. 

Champions like Westmead Hawk (twice an English Derby winner), Toms The Best, Larkhill Jo, Staplers Jo, Westmead Chick, Phantom Flash, Sonic Flight, Flashy Sir, etc all household names back in England and Ireland and now found regularly within Aussie pedigrees everywhere. 

Nick bred, reared and trained them all. 

While rummaging through my library recently, I came across the book on his wonderful greyhound racing career, written by Floyd Amphlett. 

The book goes through Nick’s start in greyhound racing, his great champions, great friends and kennel clients, his training, rearing, feeding methods etc, etc. 

But what is most fascinating is his insight into greyhound breeding after 40-plus years and what he has to say is enlightening. 

He has never bred more than five litters a year, and generally the number is more like three or four. 

He says the winning formula is an understanding of breeding and bloodlines, combined with a system for producing and rearing pups to the highest possible standard. 

Savva says: “Looking back, the biggest mistake I made over the years was in my choice of stud dogs. 

“I used many inferior sires in the early days. 

“Of course, I didn’t deliberately choose bad sires. It came about because when we first started out we couldn’t make the kennel pay on its own. I decided to stand a few stud dogs to help pay the bills and felt morally obliged to use them on my own bitches. 

“Although they all produced open race winners, with the benefit of hindsight they could not be considered great successes at stud.” 

Nick says unproven sires must be judged on a number of criteria, but he says pure sprinters and out and out marathon dogs don’t generally make it at stud. 

He says from his own experience, dogs that stayed at least 550 yards (500m), have become the better stud dogs. 

“I have also noticed that dogs who seem to be specialists on just one track seldom seem to make it,” he said in his book. “I think the same rule applies to potential broodbitches. 

“If you think about it, how can a greyhound that refuses to give his or her best on all tracks be completely honest?” 

He also gave two instances of what he feels has helped his own great racers become stud dog successes. 

“My dogs are not given any substance to help enhance their performance. (And) I’m not interested in training any dog that needs ‘incentives’ to keep it chasing. 

“I believe there are many dogs who failed at stud, not because they didn’t throw speed. They failed because their offspring weren’t genuine enough to utilize that speed to the best of their ability.” 

The debate over the importance of a stud dog compared to the dam is one of the oldest in breeding. 

Nick says: “Some people try to suggest that breeding is all about the broodbitch. If that were true, how do the legendary sires emerge? 

“I have seen great variation in litters, both in temperament and speed to which the only variable factor was the sire. 

“Even my very best broodbitches have failed if the sire was bad enough. Physically they appeared fine, they were just slow. A good sire is vital. It is a lesson I wish I had learned years ago.” 

Nick says he never uses an unproven sire. Another lesson he wishes he had learned years ago. 

Savva, however, will use his own unproven dogs when they go to stud because he is fully aware of their temperament. 

Of broodbitches, he says: “I wouldn’t consider using a broodbitch if I didn’t like her temperament. 

“In most cases, I tend to stick to those who have shown the most ability on the track.” 

He says in the early days he bred with bitches he had not trained, even though they were good race bitches. It was often a disaster. 

He admits though he did not pick the right sires for them. 

“I am horrified that I continued to persevere with a second or third litter with the same broodbitch when the first litter was clearly nowhere near good enough.” 

He admits failure noticeably with his English Oaks winner Westmead Chick, saying the sire choice was probably behind it. 

“The only other theory that I have heard is that she might have been too big to make a brood (32kgs). Apparently big bitches don’t have great records as broods, though since there aren’t so many of them, it’s a difficult one to prove.” 

He emphasised the importance of honesty in his bitches through the example of Westmead Flight (dam of the famous half brothers Sonic Flight and Larkhill Jo).  

“Although Flight did not have top class pace, she was 100% genuine, absolutely fanatical.” 

Westmead Flight is an important broodbitch in many pedigrees the world over as the dam of Larkhill Jo (damsire of Fabregas) and Sonic Flight (damsire of Bekim Bale). 

He says a broodbitch being mated for the first time should go to a proven sire. 

“I know young stud dogs have to start somewhere, but use them on proven bitches so you can determine if they are worth persevering with.” 

Nick says a minor indiscretion is not something that would concern him about a stud dog. 

He tried to buy Lively Band, sensationally barred from an English Derby final after such an indiscretion. 

He says his champion broodbitch Mega Delight (dam of champion Westmead Hawk) put pace into her offspring, but clearly the sires must have dominated in terms of racing distance. 

He says he has no problems with repeat matings. 

“With the benefit of hindsight, what single piece of advice would have been most beneficial to me when I started out as a breeder? 

“Probably not to use unproven stud dogs. I got away with it a few times, but I ruined many more litters along the way.” 

He says his best broodbitches either stayed six bends (a distance) or would have done if they had not been hampered by injury.