THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the Association Cup, the race inaugurated in 1965 and run over the-then 800 yards on the testing grass stretches of Harold Park and which still ranks as one of the premier staying events on the Australian racing calendar.
Sweet It Is, who won the 2014 Association Cup, has managed to make it through to the final. While undoubtedly still a top-flight competitor, she faces not only a brace of truly magnificent half-milers against her, but the task of overcoming history in her bid to make it back-to-back Association Cups.
Consider this. In the history of the race only one greyhound has ever been able to win the race twice, and that was the great Zoom Top, in 1968 and 1969. And it’s not as if there haven’t been plenty of greyhounds who have either won it once and then made a second final, only to fail in that second bite of the distance cherry.
One of the great stayers of the 1960s was Rose Moss, who was named joint NSW Greyhound of the Year in 1966 (alongside Roman Earl). Rose Moss won the 1966 Association Cup and returned in 1967. In those days the race consisted of a series of non-betting qualifying heats, generally run on the Monday prior to the semi-finals, which were held the next Saturday night. So, a stayer had to win the heat on the Monday, run either first or second in the semi-final five days later and then run in the final. Three tough 800 yards (732-metres) races in 12 days.
Rose Moss was beaten two-and-a-half lengths into second place in that 1967 final by the smart stayer Gloavon.
Then, in 1968 and 1969, arguably the greatest greyhound to have ever raced in Australia, Zoom Top, annexed the Association Cup, winning by six lengths the first time and then just beating her litter sister and kennelmate Busy’s Charm by just over a length the second time around.
In 1976 the smart all-distance bitch Woolley Wong took the Cup, but despite the advantage of drawing box one for the 1977 final she was unplaced behind the Victorian stayer Te Ropa Lee.
Lease Of Life won the 1984 running by four and a half lengths and in race record time, but despite making it through to the 1985 final was unplaced to Queen’s Cross on a heavy track.
Since 1988 the race has been held over 720-metres at Wentworth Park and in that time only three greyhounds have won the race and returned the following year to make the final.
The first of these was Equability who won the race in 1992 by eight lengths in a race record 42.40. Sadly for her, the track was converted from grass to loam and, while Equability remained a good greyhound, she was far better suited to a grass surface. Nonetheless, she made the first loam final of the Association Cup, in 1993, but had to be content with third place, behind Call Me Casey and True Temptation.
The second winner to return for a defence was Many Tricks, who won the 2000 final by the barest possible margin, a nose, downing the Victorian stayer Poetic Reward in a race record 42.55 for trainer Martin Hallinan. Her dam, Miss Cruise, was one of the best stayers ever seen around Wentworth Park and ironically finished third in the 1995 Cup, beaten a nose and a half-head. So, Many Tricks at least turned a tight margin in her favour. Many Tricks made the 2001 final but could only finish fourth behind the versatile Flash Joan.
The third greyhound to win the Cup at Wentworth Park and come back the following year to attempt its defence was Classy Customer, who won the 2005 running for trainer Jason Mackay. Classy Customer failed to beat a runner home in the 2006 final, which was taken out by the outsider Endless Pit.
So, Sweet It Is becomes the eighth greyhound to win the Association Cup and then make a second final and the 27th to make two successive finals overall.