Lithgow trainer, Mark Swift, experienced the biggest thrill of his 15 year training career on Saturday night when his dazzling staying dynamo, Smart Valentino, landed the cash in the group 1 National Distance Championship at The Meadows.
Swift, who only has one greyhound in work, was quietly confident going into the event and said that he knew his chances had improved when Smart Valentino was given the prized cherry draw
“I knew he wasn’t the fastest dog in the race but he was the strongest. When he got box one that made us a bit more confident”, Swift said.
There was a slight concern before the race that the dog would not handle the travelling, after a previous trip to Melbourne where he did not perform to his full potential. Luckily, that was not the case on this occasion.
“We stopped two or three times and he was fine. The last trip for the Sandown Cup probably helped to settle him down a little bit”.
It was Smart Valentino’s first run at The Meadows and when he stepped onto the track for the $75,000 to the winner final, he was all business.
Beginning only fairly from box one, Smart Valentino was beaten for speed and settled into fourth position in the run into the home straight on the first occasion. The race leader, Magpie Bob, gave the field something to chase as he stretched out wonderfully in front with multiple group winner, Destini Fireball, parked ominously behind him. As the field dashed past the 600 metre boxes on the second occasion, it was still the Western Australian out in front however, by that point, Smart Valentino had moved to third and was closing rapidly.
When he was racing so close, Swift realised his tenacious half-miler was in with a genuine shot.
“When he was sitting fourth of fifth I knew he would be flying home”, Swift said
“He was reeling them in so I knew he would go close. He runs over the 720 (metres) at Wentworth Park and it was 725 (metres) at The Meadows. I think it was the last five metres that he probably got to them”.
As they approached the home turn, it became obvious that Destini Fireball was not going to threaten for the title and, as Magpie Bob started to search for the elusive winning post, the NSW campaigner burst through the centre and found the lead. Within the blink of an eye the dashing dog had put half a length on his gallant competitor and stopped the clock in a handy 42.83 seconds. Magpie Bob held on for second position with outsider, Lashing Jill, filling the placings.
Swift reveals that he was not initially aware that Smart Valentino had taken out the feature after the race.
“When they turned to go into the home straight there was the big banner with the different states on it so I couldn’t see the dogs”
“I lost sight of him and I didn’t see him until they passed the post”.
“I was trying to listen. I could hear them saying Smart Valentino but I didn’t know what they were saying. It wasn’t until they came up to interview me and said let’s start the victory walk that it clicked in”.
Swift describes the unbelievable moment when he realised he had won the race; his first group race as a trainer.
“I just lost it and I started cheering. After everything we have done with him and after everything we had planned we got the result”.
The win on Saturday was Smart Valentino’s 10th from 23 appearances. The striking black chaser was purchased as a break-in and is currently owned by Swift, his workmate, Colin Bishop, and his next door neighbour, Frank Capomolla. Smart Valentino was born to be speedy as a son of champion sire Where’s Pedro out of the brilliant race bitch, Smart Betsy. Smart Betsy was a winner of 20 races throughout her career and is out of Awesome Berger, a daughter of prolific producer Chili Berger who has thrown some terrific racers, most notably her sons Bit Chili and Did I Entertain.
Smart Valentino has always shown potential however; it was not until he stepped up past ‘500’ that his star quality emerged. The 33 kilogram speedster won five of his six starts over the ‘600’ at Richmond, Bathurst and Lithgow before stepping up the 720 metres at racing headquarters, Wentworth Park. At his first run over the trip, Smart Valentino proved too classy for his opposition in 42.63 seconds. However, easily his most impressive performance at Wentworth Park came in the state final of the NSW Distance Championship where he demonstrated a tenacious chasing performance to come from behind and score in a blistering 41.96 seconds.
Now with a group 1 title to his name, Smart Valentino will be bouncing back on the racetrack in the next few weeks after pulling up well after his run
“We had to wait and be swabbed and we were nearly the last ones so I didn’t get him out until about 11(pm) but he thought he was going back out to the track again. It was amazing, you wouldn’t have thought he had run a 700 metre race”, Swift marvelled.
“He has pulled up well but I will get him checked properly to make sure there are no tears. He will have this week off and then go towards the Chairman’s Cup at Wentworth Park”.
At just under two and a half years of age, Smart Valentino has proved that he is the best young stayer racing in Australia at present. As for Swift, he remains perfectly humble about his recent success and what it feels like to be a group 1 trainer.
“I don’t even consider it. I’m just a trainer, that’s all I am. We are all the same, everyone puts just as much work in and it’s just that some get rewarded”.
“I just put the polish on him; it is the dog that has done it all”.