After drawing box one in the invitation-only feature, the New South Wales superstar was being prepared in Victoria by Darren McDonald for both that event and for the upcoming Australian Cup series.
But, after just one week in McDonald’s care, her quest for Group 1 glory was halted as she became one of the many chasers suspended across the state when her new trainer was stood down for alleged live-baiting practices on Friday, February 13.
Zipping Willow’s owner and breeder Martin Hallinan found out on Saturday that McDonald was in trouble with the authorities.
“I only found out through word of mouth, nothing official,” Hallinan said.
“On Saturday morning I got a call to say that Darren was in trouble and that his licence was suspended, but nothing from Greyhound Racing Victoria to say that owners must move their dogs, no email at all.
“I got a hold of Darren and we put her in Joanne’s (Gane, McDonald’s wife) name and we thought everything was cruising along good until the Four Corners program came out.
“Then I heard they were going to scratch us all if they stayed in Joanne’s name, so I rang Glenn Rounds (prominent Victorian trainer) on Tuesday and said, ‘Please, Glenn, can you go and get my dogs? I don’t want to be scratched’.”
Rounds quickly collected Zipping Willow and transferred the daughter of Goodesy and Sirocco Lass into his name while Hallinan made plans to travel down to Victoria.
“I was going to drive down and check her over because she went extremely well in a trial at The Meadows on Monday night and I was going to stay down there until Friday and then head home,” Hallinan explained.
“I left at 2.30(pm), it’s a 10-hour drive, and it was probably 5.30(pm) when Brad Canty (owner of Awesome Project, also trained by McDonald) rang me to say that we were going to be scratched from the Temlee.”
“About 7 o’clock Glenn Fish (GRV chief steward) rang me and said that there had been a board meeting and it was decided that all dogs that had gone into Joanne’s name were going to be suspended.”
“I said, ‘That’s all right but that there was no notification for me to move that dog out, you could have given me 48 hours and I could have done it officially’. He said the board had spoken.”
After his solicitors sent letters on Tuesday night requesting that Zipping Willow be allowed to start, Hallinan received an email on Wednesday morning to advise that his star performer would not be starting in the Temlee.
“We were sent a slip that was sent to everyone saying that Darren McDonald was suspended on Friday the 13th at 12 o’clock at night. I rang back and said, ‘Glenn, I don’t want that, I want you to tell me Zipping Willow will not start on Saturday night’.
“He then sent me another email that said ‘Zipping Willow is suspended’. I called him back and said, ‘Glenn, just tell me in your terms that she is scratched, because when I go I am not coming back with her’. That’s why she was down there, she doesn’t travel good.
“He told me, ‘Martin, head for home, you will not start’.”
Hallinan then started the long and arduous trip back home to NSW with Zipping Willow.
“I was driving for home on Wednesday and I was back at Albury when the solicitor rang and told me that all the letters had been sent in and that there was a big possibility that she may get a run,” Hallinan said.
“But I was headed for home, I had already driven five hours.
“Yesterday (Thursday) Glenn Fish rang me and told me that he thought I was going to be back in because they had lots of complaints.
“I told him to scratch Willow, because she went to my house on Wednesday night and then to Jason’s house on Thursday to get her back in training ahead of the Easter Egg.
“We all got notified last night (that Zipping Willow was back in the race), but we have to file an affidavit to allow her to start again.”
Hallinan is adamant Zipping Willow will not be taking her place on Saturday night.
“We cannot drive back down there in Group 1 racing taking on Free For All dogs to make her look ordinary – you’d kick yourself all the way back home on Sunday for being so stupid.
“It would be different if she was a great traveller, I wouldn’t hesitate to drive back down there today, but I weighed her when I got home and she was 0.6kg down.
“She hasn’t had the normal week that she needed in the lead-up to a Group 1.”
Despite his disappointment, Hallinan has remained understanding in what has been an extremely difficult time in the greyhound racing industry.
“Realistically, what’s happened has happened and I just want to move on. Everyone is saying to sue or do this, do that, but it has been a traumatic week and I just want to move on and live with it and go from there,” he said.
“Everything has gone wrong but sometimes you have just got to turn the other cheek and that is my attitude with it all.
“I would love for Willow to be in it, I have never had a Temlee starter and I don’t think I have had a bitch as good as her for many years. It has all been a bad dream, but I just want to move on.”
GRV released a statement on Friday afternoon explaining that the suspension had been lifted on all involved greyhounds, meaning that technically Zipping Willow and Awesome Project could rightfully contest the race.
Awesome Project will still jump from box four in the Temlee on Saturday night for Joanne Gane.
“The Board of GRV yesterday received a report from the Chief Steward in relation to the progress of that inquiry,” their release said.
“Following receipt of that information, the Board has resolved to lift the suspensions provided that it receives a statutory declaration from the owner stating that, having made reasonable inquiries, they are not aware of the relevant greyhound having been trained using live baiting.
“Needless to say, the suspension may be reinstated if subsequent evidence has been received that the greyhound has been trained in such a manner.
“Suspensions under this Board resolution will be lifted in relation to greyhounds only. The 15 alleged offenders suspended by GRV in relation to live-baiting offences remain suspended.”