GERRY O’Keeffe was the happiest man in Australia on Thursday night after his underrated stayer Bells Are Ringin’ took out the world’s richest staying race, the Group 1 Sandown Cup, at Sandown Park.
Jumping from box five as the rank outsider of the field, the brindle bitch pushed up to take the early lead and was able to make every post a winner, scoring by just under two lengths ahead of Who Dey and Zipping Kane in 42.02.
Speaking to Australian Racing Greyhound on Friday, O’Keeffe said it was a career highlight to win the $175,000 to the winner event, but concedes luck played a big part in the fairytale result.
“I was absolutely so excited this morning because I woke up at 6:30am and that’s when I realised that it wasn’t a dream,” O’Keeffe said.
“We had hopes of running third, but we had no expectations of winning going into the race as the extreme outsider of the field.
“With that being said we thought she had some chance because she is a front runner and the weather conditions on the night were poor which made it hard for dogs coming from behind.
“Luck certainly fell her way because she began at her very best and there was some interference in the race which allowed her to roll along in front.
“She ran about five lengths faster that she had ever run before which was both exciting and surprising.
“She chose the perfect night to do everything right and for luck to be on her side.”
O’Keeffe said it was hard to contain his excitement during the race, but says crossing the line in front was a feeling he will never forget.
“Nobody said a word before the race, nobody said a word during the race, I internalised everything during the run.
“I was just wishing that she would be strong enough to hang on and when it got to the last seven seconds or so that’s when I knew she was going to win.
“I’m 63 and they were the seven most enjoyable seconds of my life so far…it was exhilaration, mixed with disbelief.”
The victory made it 16 wins and 10 minor placings from 39 starts for the daughter of Kinloch Brae and Absolute Stunna, with the win made extra special as the litter was bred and reared by O’Keefe’s son-in-law, Glen Pask.
“He is absolutely over the moon – he has been in greyhounds a long time and has ridden the wave of success and disappointments.
“He owned the mother and chose Kinloch Brae to sire the litter and she had 10 pups – he reared most of them including Bells Are Ringin’.
“It has been an exceptional litter which also includes Blazin’ Bomber who is arguably the fastest dog racing in Australia at the moment.
“He has been the favourite in a couple of group 1 races but hasn’t had much luck, but it is only a matter of time until he does.
“It is very rewarding for [Glen] to get his first group 1 winner, although we never thought it would be Bells Are Ringin’ who would deliver it.”
And Bells Are Ringin’ had a cheer squad on course, led by O’Keeffe’s cousin, Brian Cosgriff, who plays a big role in assisting with the greyhounds.
“Brian has an brain injury which he received at birth and he stays with us about one week in four.
“He is very well known at the greyhound tracks and he took a very forward position in the post-race celebrations.
“He is an outstanding young man and he has only been involved in the dogs for the past two years.”
Bells Are Ringin’ will now target the upcoming Group 1 Gold Cup (710m) at Albion Park, with O’Keeffe and Brian set to fly out on Sunday ahead of the heats next Thursday night.
And as for what he is going to do with his share of the $175,000 winner’s cheque, O’Keeffe said he is ‘too old to change’ and will instead focus on ensuring his family enjoy it, although he says it wasn’t the best part of winning.
“The money is great, but the prestige and the memory of winning the Sandown Cup far outweigh it.
“The best part of it all for me was winning the pinnacle of staying races with my family.
“We didn’t have the fastest dog in the race but we had the strongest and the luckiest on the night.
“Part of the joy will be sharing the money with my family – all of my children – and making sure they can enjoy it because I am too old to enjoy it all to myself.”