'It's like winning the Derby again' declares trainer of kidnapped champion greyhound

"I think everybody thought, like we did, that we'd never see the dog again, a bit like Shergar."

'It's like winning the Derby again' declares trainer of kidnapped champion greyhound

By David Raleigh, in Golden, Co Tipperary

The trainer of champion greyhound Clares Rocket - who was dramatically found alive and well after been kidnapped and held for a ransom - broke down in tears of joy after he was reunited with the dog, and declared: "It's like winning the Derby again."

Limerick drugs boss Christy Keane was one of four men arrested in connection with the greyhound's kidnapping. A well-known dissident republican is also being questioned by detectives.

Trainer Graham Holland, who previously guided "Rocket" to an Irish Derby win, choked up with emotion as he described receiving a call from gardaí telling him his beloved racing dog was "alive and well".

"We brought Rocket home, gave him a good feed, and pampered him. There was lots of tears. I know they broke into the kennels, but it's like they broke into our privacy.," he said.

"You work with these dogs seven days a week and they become members of the family, and it feels like somebody has been taken from you."

The father of three, originally from Dorset, England, said he was "over the moon" when he walked into Tipperary Town garda station just after midnight to collect the four-legged friend he thought he'd lost forever.

"I'm delighted. Obviously, I feel a bit drained. We've had a tough 48 hours and it's just fantastic to get him back," he said at his home in Golden.

"To be really honest about it, we didn't think we were honestly going to see him again. The feeling was, once it hit national news, that the people who took him would panic and probably destroy the dog and disappear - that was my feeling.

"Luckily enough the gardaí did a fantastic job, and we are very lucky to have the dog back."

Mr Holland said reports Rocket's potential stud value could reach €1m were in his openinon exaggerated.

"Greyhound racing stud values have gone down a lot. It's not as popular as it once was. Although (Clare's Rocket) is a very good dog, we've got a lot of bridges to cross. We haven't tried him at stud...is he fertile, is he this or that, you don't know until you try."

"I'm a great believer that you don't introduce dogs to their stud career until they're finished their racing career, as they could become more interested in chasing the bitches instead of chasing the hare," he joked.

He praised Tipperary gardaí for bringing the ordeal to a "fairytale ending".

"I would like to thank our local garda Eddie Nugent, and Detective Martin Steed in Tipperary Town. They've been very good. Martin understands greyhounds quiet a lot, because he has his own dogs, so he could understand what we were going through. We were very lucky to have two great men on the job."

'A bit like Shergar'

Timmy Holland (18) had been left in charge of Rocket when thieves struck his father's last Sunday night, Monday morning.

Timmy said he was "heartbroken" when he checked on Rocket on Monday morning: "I tried not to panic too much in the hope that he may have got out and that he wasn't stolen. You wouldn't expect someone to come and steal a dog."

"I'm delighted he's back as I felt responsible that he was taken. I'm just delighted he's back and he's happy," he added.

Gardaí intercepted a car traveling from Waterford to Limerick late on Tuesday night and arrested two men and recovered the dog. Two more males were arrested in a separate operation. All four were being held at garda stations in Tipperary Town and Clonmel.

The gang behind the kidnapping had demanded a ransom but no money was handed over, Mr Holland said.

"I think everybody thought, like we did, that we'd never see the dog again, a bit like Shergar. To have a fairlytale ending to a sad thing is unusual. For once there's a good ending."

"He will race again. He's in good enough condition - they didn't badly treat him. They obviously fed him and let him have water, he wasn't dehydrated."

Joe Cahill, who heads up the Fullhouse syndicate which owns the greyhound, also travelled from his home in Limerick to Tipperary garda station, Tuesday night, to be reunited with dog. He could not be reached for comment.

Mr Holland agreed the nightmare ordeal reminded him of the infamous 1983 kidnapping of champion Irish race horse Shergar, who was never been seen again.

"If the gardaí never found the dog you'd always wonder was he still out there. It would be a similar type of thing to Shergar."

Mr Holland said he would be increasing security at his home and kennels in Golden.

He added that he hoped Clares Rocket would compete in next year's English Derby. The race has commanded up to £250,000 sterling for first place in recent years

"It has been worth as much as £250,000 sterling so it is a big prize. It takes a lot of winning and there are a lot of ifs and buts, but (Rocket) is a dog that's good enough to win it, if he's lucky enough."

"He's lucky enough, he must be, to have come back home safe."

More in this section

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence