It appears the great Irma Bale has run her last race.
The daughter of Bartrim Bale and Amelia Bale lined up in the final of the Victorian Distance Championship on Saturday night, with the series set to be her last campaign on the racetrack. Connections were hoping their bonny bitch would do enough to qualify for this week’s Group 1 National Final, so that she could attempt to go out in winning style. However, the fairytale ending was not to be, as she weakened to finish in fourth position after leading the race.
Irma Bale did enough, however, to qualify as the second reserve for the final, but a start in the feature is doubtful with her trainer, Graeme Bate, confirming that she is retired unless she gains a start in the $75,000 to the winner event.
“She is retired as of last night (Saturday)”, Bate said.
“I would be happy to see her to get a start in the final and will prepare her for it this week just in case she does, but it is unlikely”.
Irma Bale began brilliantly in what could be her racetrack swansong, spearing directly to the front of the field in the run to the turn. The pint-sized speedster was still a clear leader through the back on the second occasion, however, as she turned for home, she started to get weary and was swamped by the backmarkers who dashed straight passed her. The race was taken out by the Robert Britton trained Mimicking in 42.76 seconds.
For Bate, the run was not disappointing as his plucky little bitch showed plenty of courage and was gallant in defeat.
“She did a great job”, Bate said, “She tried her little heart out up in front”.
“She is not a true stayer but she still battled away. They only got her half way up the straight and then they swamped her on the line, but she still didn’t get beaten by much in fourth”.
The Paul Wheeler owned and bred bitch has been a marvel on the racetrack, facing the starter on 90 occasions from which she has amassed the impressive record of 37 wins and 31 placings. Included in those wins were four Group victories; the 2012 Group 2 McKenna Memorial at Sandown, the 2013 Group 2 Summer Distance Plate at Wentworth Park, and consecutive victories in the 2012 and 2013 Group 1 Sandown Cup.
While she may not have been classified as a ‘true stayer’, there is no doubt that she had the class and capability to match motors with Australia’s best throughout her time on the track. For the majority of her staying career, the black bitch was a regular rival against Miata and although she was probably not held in the same class as the Western Australian sensation, Irma Bale did what Miata could never do when completing a Sandown Cup double. In fact, Irma Bale became the first greyhound to collect consecutive Sandown Cups since the legendary Bold Trease took out the race over four years from 1986 to 1989, and just the fourth greyhound in the history of the event to do so.
Bate has trained the classy performer since the start of her career. The speedy bitch was very competitive over the sprint trip however Bate felt her calling would be over the middle distances. What he did not initially realise was that Irma Bale would go on to prove herself extremely versatile by competing and winning over the staying distance.
“I thought she would be a good bitch for the 600 metres”, Bate said.
“There are not a lot of 600 metre races available once you reach the top grade so we stepped her up in distance and she just kept finding”.
Of all her wins, Bate rates her stunning triumph in the 2012 Group1 Sandown Cup as her most memorable.
“She looked beaten when the Sydney dog (He’s My Future) rushed up beside her but she just kept going. They were all over the top of her but she got there. It was one of her most memorable wins”.
With his staying star now retired, Bate does not have any youngsters ready to take over from where she left off, although he hopes that dual Group 1 winner, Xylia Allen, will have a future over the longer trip.
“I haven’t got anyone looking to take her spot. I am hoping one day Xylia Allen will but that remains to be seen”, Bate said.
Xylia Allen has already had a brief stint as a stayer. At her first start over the 725 metres at The Meadows, she did a great job to lead for the majority of the race but was out of her depth against Miata. Returning the following week for her second and last staying assignment to date, Xylia Allen finished down the track behind Destini Fireball in the Group 1 Superstayers.
Now that Irma Bale’s racing days appear to be over, the rising four year old will embark on a new career – motherhood. The 25.8 kilogram pocket rocket will soon make the trip back to NSW where she is sure to make an excellent broodbitch. While he is sad to see her go, Bate is fortunate to have been a part of such a stellar career and is happy that she has made the transition voluntarily, rather than being forced into retirement.
“I will be very sad to see her go, she has been a great little bitch”, Bate said.
“It is satisfying to see what she has done and the prize money she has earned ($579,466) when in reality she is a 600 metre bitch”.
“She has had a great career and I would much rather see her go out on a note like she went out on rather than through injury”.
Although it would be an amazing twist if Irma Bale did get a start in this week’s Group 1 AGRA National Distance final, even more so if she were able to go out on a winning note, Irma Bale has lost no admirers. It takes a sensational dog to race so competitively at the top level, let alone over the staying trip, for an extended amount of time and Irma Bale did just that.
When you team up her dazzling record, her superb breeding, her tenacious heart, attitude and genuine will to win, Irma Bale stands out as one of the best of her era and will be remembered for years to come as the champion bitch she truly is.