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Tenor's rise to the top is one El of a story.

ADECADE of relentless high achievement towards the end of the last century saw greyhounds with the 'El' prefix win countless major competitions. From El Boss to El Grand Senor, El Hombre to El Premier and El Ronan... the list goes on.

Under the ownership of Italian film producer Mario Lanfranchi, the 'El' dogs, most of whom were trained by Walthamstow-attached Linda Mullins, travelled the length and breadth of Britain in search of open-race success.

There was one who stood out from the crowd, though. One whose name will forever be in the greyhound annals as a history-maker. One who was so exceptional a book was written about him.

The inscription was 'To Richard Birch, first to spot El Tenor's talent, gratefully, Mario Lanfranchi.' An autographed copy of 'El Tenor, The Great Centurion', written by Kim Sanzone and Jim Austin, remains one of my most treasured pieces of greyhound memorabilia. It paid fitting tribute to the most natural, prolific and versatile hurdler I've seen.

El Tenor won 102 races - all opens - during the late 1990s and early part of 2000. He set track records at Belle Vue, Canterbury, Catford, Crayford, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Romford and Walthamstow over trips ranging from 500 to 647 metres, and rounded off an extraordinary career with a winning sequence of 11.

On the night he bade farewell in March 2000, even The Times, The Guardian and Italian paper, Corriere Della Sera, wanted a piece of him. He was that famous. He was that good.

El Tenor won the Essex Vase in 1996 prior to being disqualified the following year for aggressive interference at Crayford. It was at Wimbledon in December 1997 during the heats of the Britvic Christmas Vase that I witnessed the most astonishing debut from a hurdler I've ever seen.

Here was a raw novice - admittedly a very fast dog on the flat, already the winner of 39 opens - making his debut against high-class, seasoned campaigners. His performance in that qualifier was simply mind-blowing.

This is what I wrote in the Racing Post: 'A future hurdling star was born at Wimbledon last night. Having his first-ever competitive race over the sticks and diabolically drawn against experienced campaigners, Mario Lanfranchi's runner was a joy to watch.

'Tracking cleverly inside Dalcash Blaze at the first bend, El Tenor torpedoed down the back-straight in pursuit of Knockeevan Fox and seized command off the last.

'A minor error at the final flight should not take the gloss off a magnificent performance, El Tenor scoring by two lengths in 28.22sec. This is the 1998 Grand National winner.' Three months - and eight wins - later, El Tenor was 3-1 ante-post favourite for the Grand National at Hall Green. He had destroyed one of Wimbledon's finest, Greenacre Jet, in a trial stakes for the event, and was even more popular with punters at the time than Tony Blair, who had just become Prime Minister.

Remembering what I'd written before Christmas, I lumped on with pounds 500. It was probably the easiest pounds 1,500 I've ever made. El Tenor won his heat and semi in exemplary fashion, and was sent off 11-10 for the decider. I watched El Tenor walk to the traps with no nerves whatsoever. Never had any doubts he'd win. It was just meant to be. The brindle son of Ratify was crowded at the first bend. Cue a sharp intake of breath.

However, El Tenor's powers of recovery were legendary; his desire and appetite to win second to none. Quote That, trained by Mullins's son David, made a bold bid to make all. But somehow you always knew El Tenor would get there. He did. By half a length.

'Tenor wins one El of a National' screamed the Racing Post. Spot-on. Lanfranchi was the 'Sheikh Mohammed of greyhound racing' at the time. His love for the sport always shone through. I wish I could have joined him amid all the Romford razzmatazz on that momentous night when the five-year-old El Tenor became the first dog to notch 100 open-race wins. Sadly, I was losing money at Plough Lane!

A record-breaker who consistently hit the high notes over hurdles, I doubt I'll see one better than El Tenor.

CAPTION(S):

Mario Lanfranchi and Linda Mullins, with the greyhound racing superstar that was El Tenor
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 14, 2012
Words:716
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