On Thursday night Angle Park hosts the semi-finals of the Group 3 Brian Johnstone Memorial, which will again place South Australia’s pin-up dog Ernie Bung Arrow at the forefront. While the patrons at the Chasers Restaurant will be cheering home their local star, we decided to learn a bit more about the trainer, Ken Gill, who has been placed firmly in the Australian Greyhound Racing spotlight since the meteoric rise of Ernie Bung Arrow.
“I have trained hundreds of dogs since taking out my licence in 1971. The first twenty odd years I trained in South Australia before making a move to Queensland in 1992 to try my luck up there”, Ken explained.
“I had good success in Queensland and finished fifth in the Albion Park trainer’s premiership in my first year up there. I had a really nice bitch called Belle DeJour and she was the first dog to win over the 500, 600 and 700 at Albion Park. I didn’t win enough to shout the bar Johnny Singleton style, but she did do a great job for me. I guess I just really didn’t like the travel up there though, the road from the Gold Coast to Brisbane was a nightmare, and I just wanted to come home.”
Belle DeJour wasn’t the only dog that Ken had success with during the early nineties, with Fire True making consecutive Sandown Cup finals and a national sprint final in a career consisting of twenty seven victories. He also put a lead on the highly talented performer Gold Raider, who won twenty five races.
“Prior to Ernie coming along we also had some recent successes. One of the highlights of my career was the win of White Admiral in the 2008 Gawler Cup, which is my local cup. Then Sunny Boy Love came along and he was a really good dog for me and Helen. She does a really great job with the dogs. I have to go to hospital tomorrow, so Helen will feed the dogs and empty them, I’m really lucky to have her support. It’s a team effort.”
The response to my question of who was the best dog that Ken had trained was swift and definite. “Ernie is the best by a long way, it’s not even close. I’ve never had a dog like him. When I rang Barry Jones to buy the dog there was only two left, so I got him to pick out the one he liked the best. Ernie was definitely no oil painting; I can’t imagine what the other one looked like, but the rest is history”, laughed Ken.
Ernie isn’t the only dog representing the Gill kennel in the heats on Thursday night, with the talented Farmeroo taking a well deserved place in the semi finals. “He has got box 6 which isn’t ideal. He has won his last four starts from inside boxes and is one of only three dogs in the series that has broken thirty seconds. He isn’t in the same class as Ernie, but it would be great for the dog to make the final and hopefully I can quinella the race.”
“As for Ernie, I think he should win easily. If there was to be a danger, I would have to say it’s his brother Woodnear, but it’s never broken thirty. It’s a great series and a fantastic incentive for South Australian breeders, I’m really happy to be a part of it and to have two semi finalists is a bonus. Woodnear has won about eight thousand working his way through the preludes, so for $150 its super value.”
The Brian Johnstone Memorial will act as another platform on the rise to super-stardom for Ken’s roman nosed flying machine.
“Ernie only turned two on Sunday and is heading to Kel Greenough’s on the 7th of December so he can compete in the age restricted Silver Chief. The dog is still a baby, which is why I didn’t push him to the Melbourne Cup after throwing him into the deep end at the Top Gun. We aim to keep him in Victoria as long as he is competitive in the group races over there. “
“The problem is that I can’t drive anymore with my eyesight deteriorating, so we thought we would fly Ernie over to Kel, who we know will do a great job with the dog. The scary thing is that we might not see the best of this dog until he gets onto a one bend track, he is such a big strider and it should be awesome to watch. “