By Jason Adams
Comeback kid McCooly’s Lad produced a devastating win at Sandown Park on Thursday making him one of the top contenders for the world’s greatest greyhound race.
Romance surrounded the win given it was his third start back and first at city level since an injury that kept him away from racing for the bulk of this year.
It’s been a monumental training achievement to not only get him back racing but winning so impressively on the big stage of city class racing.
“Incredible mate, incredible. He’s a champion,” said an emotional Anthony Azzopardi.
The Azzopardi family plus owners and breeders Darren and Michael Puleio have gone to great lengths to get ‘Ralph’ back to full health. The continuation of his racing career has been nothing but a bonus.
“It’s special. A lot of work and time has gone into this dog by our whole team – it’s very emotional.”
Back winning at Sandown Park is one thing but his time of 29.11 is the fifth fastest of the year and half a length better than his previous best set in November last year.
He was a baby coming through the ranks leading into last year’s TAB Melbourne Cup series but now has maturity on his side to tackle the world’s greatest greyhound race.
“The Melbourne Cup is the main aim but I’m still going to take my time. We’ve got a plan for him, we’ll probably come back in a fortnight but he’ll be racing sparingly. When we get to the Melbourne Cup it’s obviously full bore from there.”
The road to the TAB Melbourne Cup hits full throttle on Thursday October 7 with the ‘50 Day Countdown’ special event – the winner will be exempt into Cup heats on Friday November 19.
Earlier in the night gun stayer Five Star produced one of the more complete staying performances to win in a romp.
He was expected to win comfortably but stunned fans with his time of 41.32 – the quickest time of the year over 715m and the seventh fastest ever.
“It surprised me a little. He went 41.50 when he won at Speed Star but these are better conditions for it with the warmer weather,” said trainer Paul Abela.
Abela has eyes on the Topgun Stayers at The Meadows in early November then the Bold Trease at Sandown Park later that month.
“We’re hoping to get a start in the Topgun. We’re bypassing Sydney with the border restrictions. I’ll pick and choose when he races leading up to the features.”
Not only have border restrictions halted ambition to race interstate but also past experience which didn’t go to plan. Five Star travelled to Brisbane in June and didn’t handle the experience.
“It was a disaster and it knocked him around. To be honest we’re pretty lucky to have got his confidence back. Peter (Lagogiane) did a great job but the dog just didn’t handle being away from home.”
“I’m not doing it again. He’s not going anywhere now.”
The bond Abela has with Five Star, or ‘Jarman’ as he’s known to those closest to him, is strong and obvious when seeing them together at the track.
“I let him out for a gallop the other day and he didn’t take off, he just stood there and preferred to be by my side so I had to get moving myself. I’ll be kicking the missus out soon,” he joked.
“He’s a funny dog, he loves the attention and gets plenty of it.”