Empire Entourage out to claim the WA Oaks for Victoria

JESS Hopkins will be aiming to land her first feature race on Saturday night when her promising greyhound Empire Entourage contests the Group 2 WA Oaks (520m) at Cannington.

A winner of three of her 12 starts in Victoria, Hopkins decided to send her greyhound over for the series after showing some potential throughout her short career, with leading conditioner Paul Stuart agreeing to take care of the 31 kilogram bitch for the race.

“She has always shown ability and we were originally going to target the Sapphire Crown with her, but then her form dropped off,” Hopkins told Australian Racing Greyhound.

“She had three or four runs where she was getting knocked around and she lost a bit of confidence so we decided to drop her back in class and take her to Ballarat over 545m.

“She found trouble again at her first run there and finished third but full credit to her she didn’t worry too much about it and she came back the following week and won.

“After that run we saw the Oaks was coming up so we thought we would have a crack at it. The owners know Paul Stuart really well so we rang him up and he said to send her over.”

Empire Entourage stepped from box one in her heat last Saturday night, missing the kick from the inside before mustering along the fence and charging home to finish one quarter of a length behind Milly Keeping in 30.34.

The daughter of El Grand Señor and New Moon Rising, $5 with Bet365, moves into box seven for this week’s $40,000 to the winner decider, a draw from which she has won two of her four starts.

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“In her 13 starts she has only been drawn inside box four twice so I don’t think she was used to being on the rails,” Hopkins said of the heat run.

“She completely mucked the start up but she pushed through well on the turn and finished the race off good.

“Hopefully she can benefit from having had two looks at the track heading into the final.

“We would have preferred to have drawn closer to the fence, but she has won well off box seven at Sandown Park and she can show early pace.

“If she can begin she should be up there with the leaders around the first turn.”

Hopkins, who trains in partnership with her mother Sheree and nan Val, said it would be a remarkable achievement to land the win with their bonny bitch, owned by Mark and Michelle Grima, who has only had a handful of starts since resuming from a career threatening injury.

“At the start of the year she got fought off the track at Sandown and the other dog took her right over to the outside fence.

“She broke her sesamoid and ripped her deltoid muscle in half when that happened.

“She had to have nearly three months off and we weren’t sure if she would ever race again so she has done a great job to come back from that and to get back up to racing in this grade again.

“If she were to win I would be happy for the dog more than anything after everything she has been through – to be racing in a group 2 final eight starts after getting fought off the track and breaking down – its a big achievement.”