This Thursday evening sees the beginning of a frenzy of qualifying races Australia-wide for the National Distance and Sprint titles in each state.
Greyhounds will attempt to win through to their own state finals before then earning a crack at qualifying for the big national finals in Western Australia on August 23.
There is likely to be few series anywhere in the country that rival the Victorian stayers event, which takes place at Sandown Park this Thursday night.
Four heats overflowing with Group One performers will form a terrific night of racing which is sure to please the most fastidious of half-mile aficionados.
Despite Victoria being well regarded as the premier state when it comes to depth in the staying ranks, the last winner of the National Distance Championship to come through the series in the Garden State was Jarvis Bale back in 2009.
Here is a look at the main chances in each of the four heats;
AGRA National Distance Championships Victoria Heat 1 – 7:44pm
Last weekend’s Victorian Distance Championship winner Mepunga Tiara (8) headlines the first heat. The Jeff Britton trained daughter of Premier Fantasy and Mepunga Opal (Hallucinate – Mepunga Spark) now boasts a Group Two win as well as multiple Group One final appearances in her 34-start career. She has a personal best of 42.46 at Sandown and is yet to miss a place in three outings there. She is the one to beat.
Coral (1) has earned a crack at top-line racing with some sensational efforts of late. The Amanda Scott trained daughter of Bombastic Shiraz and Daintree Lady (Light Of Fire – Honchytonk Girl) has won her last five races including an all-the-way 42.12 effort at Sandown. She has won two of three at the track and also won two races out of box one from five attempts. She will give them something to catch.
Born Ali (3) is a Group One winner who has been a little below her best in recent times. She has not won since late March and comes into this on the back of a three-week spell. If she can recapture her best she will be right in it, but it’s a big “if”.
Arejay Smokey (4) made the Victorian Distance Championship final last week where he finished seventh to Mepunga Tiara. He is yet to win here in four attempts and will need to improve to win this heat.
AGRA National Distance Championships Victoria Heat 2 – 8:08pm
A cracker second heat features triple Group winning bitch Dyna Willow (8). The Steve Collins trained daughter of Collision and Horizon Bale (Stately Bird – Vodeena Bale) stormed home to run second in the Victorian Distance Championships last Saturday night at The Meadows. That was just her second run back from a three-month layoff and she should be ready to fire here. If she goes anywhere near her best of 41.99, she is going to take some beating.
Zipping Joe (3) is a consistent type who also made the final of the Victorian Distance Championships last Saturday night. He has a best of 42.14 and is in the hands of the astute trainer Darren McDonald. If he is prominent early he could pose a huge threat.
Zipping Rory (4) may only be 30-months old but he is already stamping his name in the elite staying ranks. He ran a credible third to Mepunga Tiara in the final of the Victorian Distance Championships last Saturday night at The Meadows where he loomed large on the home turn. He has produced a very quick run of 41.89 here in his only win over this trip and if he finds the front, he could make things interesting.
Tarks Nemesis (1) could be the knockout dog in the race. The Angela Langton trained blue bitch finished second in the Sandown Cup here in May and has won three from seven over this journey. It would be no surprise to see her right in the race throughout.
AGRA National Distance Championships Victoria Heat 3 – 8:28pm
The third heat features the much-awaited return of the exciting dual Group One winning bitch Sweet It Is. The daughter of Mogambo and Off Springer (Flying Penske – Skullring) captured the imagination of greyhound fans with her eye-catching last-to-first wins in both the Association Cup at Wentworth Park and the Sandown Cup. The Darren McDonald trained black bitch only needs to find a passage through this field to be winning this heat.
Lethal Three (3) led the Victorian Distance Championship final for a long way last Saturday at The Meadows. She has a best of 42.25 and if she can find the front again this Thursday, she may be there for a long way.
Infinite Wish (7) is a Group placed bitch that has also made multiple feature finals. If there is a query over her, it is the fact that she has only won one race over this trip in 12 attempts. She has not missed a place in her last six outings and should be thereabouts.
AGRA National Distance Championships Victoria Heat 4 – 8:52pm
Champion sprinter/stayer Xylia Allen (1) headlines the fourth-and-final heat. Her run of nine straight wins came to an end last Saturday night in the Group Two Victorian Distance Championship final. The Jenny Hunt trained daughter of Turanza Bale and Tayah Bale (Droopys Vieri – Francesca Bale) has made a career out of winning Group races and won the National Sprint Final in 2013. She is the one to beat in this race.
Luby Lu (2) may not have the experience of some of her rivals in this race but she has proven she can carve out time at the track with a best of 41.90. She is yet to prove herself at the top level but gets her chance to lead from box two here.
Zipping Maggie (5) is a youngster who looks to have a big future. She reached the final of the Victorian Distance Championships after a quality second placing behind Mepunga Tiara in the heats. She is an improver.
Gold Affair Two (3) is a four-year-old veteran who has won 20 races in her 95-start career. She has a best of 41.91 at the track but has only won one race in 2014.