WHAT a difference a week can make. Last week I made the statement that, in my opinion, Fernando Bale could not yet be classed as the greatest chaser ever seen in Australia. Among the greats? Absolutely. The greatest? Not yet.
I still stand by that assessment. Yet, Saturday night’s victory in a heat of the Maturity Classic removed one, and arguably both, of my previous objections to Fernando Bale being raised to such exalted status.
One of my personal criteria for assessing the true greatness of a greyhound is its ability to overcome adversity, specifically, to come from behind and win. Fernando Bale well and truly ticked that particular box in his Maturity heat.
For anyone who didn’t see the heat and just knows the result, Fernando Bale’s victory was one of genuine grit and determination. Starting from box four, Fernando Bale actually missed the start and when Cosmic Owl (box 6) moved to its left and Armed And Ready (box 3) kept a straight line towards the first bend, the champion was in serious danger of being squeezed out completely. He barrelled his way past that pair but then had Midnight Ride (box 7) and Yadi (box 8) sprinting fast enough to push him towards the fence, where Glitterbug (box 2) happened to be.
As the field went into the bend Fernando Bale cleared Glitterbug with a nice bump and pushed himself into what proved to be a winning position. From there he raced away to score well, although, to my untrained eyes, he does appear as if the constant racing is getting to him.
Nonetheless, by recording his 16th consecutive win Fernando Bale has now equalled the all-TAB successive wins record set by Miss Elly Mint in 2009.
He has drawn box 6 for his semi-final and will need to step smartly to avoid being caught up in a similar situation to the one he found himself in on Saturday night.
Having ticked my ‘come from behind to win’ box for me Fernando Bale is now entitled to rate above Brett Lee on the list of the all-time greats. I realize there are plenty who will point to Brett Lee’s brace of track records as proof positive of that champion’s superiority; but Brett Lee never came from behind to win a race.
I would argue, that if Brett Lee had been in a similar position to Fernando Bale last Saturday night, he would have been defeated. I make that claim based on Brett Lee’s own defeats in races such as the heat and final of the 2000 Hobart Thousand, a heat of the Warrnambool Classic in 2001 and his four-length second behind Hail A Harley in the 2001 Melbourne Cup heat.
Brett Lee won 30 races and in only two of those was he beaten for pace in the early stages, ironically one of those being his 2001 Maturity Classic heat. Even so, in both of those races he was no further back than second in the early stages.
Brett Lee was a superstar, no argument. I just happen to think Fernando Bale rates slightly ahead of him as things stand at this juncture.
Note: a reader ‘Todman’ commented on a previous article, ‘I rate Black Top right up with the best ever.’ I have written previously for this website about Black Top’s career, which, to bring it down to its basics consisted of just 20 starts for 17 wins and two seconds.
Todman is in good company. Former National Coursing Association (NCA) director Bill Bracht dedicated his 1972 publication Greyhounds and Mechanical Lure Racing to Black Top, suggesting he was (at that time) ‘the greatest living greyhound in Australia, possibly in the world…’ Black Top won the 1962 Vic Peters Memorial Classic in equal track record time at Harold Park, set a track record at Maitland and won the NSW St Leger (now the Paws of Thunder) and 1963 Interstate Challenge. He ran second in the Bi-Annual Classic, beaten a neck by his litter brother Keen Linen. Black Top had been checked early, hit the front on the home turn but was unable to hold off Keen Linen in the run to the post.
Yes, Black Top was a champion, and his reputation was enhanced by his incredible success at stud (similar to Brett Lee). Nonetheless, I would still rate Fernando Bale as better than both at this stage.