LEGENDARY Hunter Valley trainer Ken Cheetham returned to the winners list after a nearly three year-long battle with cancer last Thursday at Maitland, landing his first victory back with talented youngster Defy Emotion.
Jumping from box eight, the daughter of Fabregas and Macey showed sensational pace to find the lead around the first turn and bolted clear to score by thirteen-and-three-quarter-lengths in a handy 22.73 over the 400-metres.
It was the first time “Cheeto” had brought a greyhound to the track on race day in nearly three years and he said that it was a terrific way to come back into the dog game after such a long time on the sidelines.
“I had cancer in my bowel and my liver and I didn’t think I would be back and able to do anything like this again, so it was a great thrill to win first up the other day,” Cheetham, who turned 79 on Tuesday, said.
“I laid in bed for nearly two years, it was a very tough time, I didn’t think I was going to be here a few times.
“I have a great family who stuck by me and I think that’s what got me through.”
Cheetham is one of the most well-known and regarded conditioners in NSW, having trained countless city grade chasers throughout his decorated career, including How’s The Fort and Take The Kitty – both of which took out a NSW Greyhound of the Year title for their efforts on the track.
However, just a couple of years after Take The Kitty took Cheetham on a whirlwind ride, he was diagnosed with bowel cancer, which later spread to his liver, resulting in one third of his liver being removed.
Shortly after that surgery Cheetham was dealt with another tough blow when he contracted an infection, meaning that he had to go under the knife once again.
Cheetham’s wife Marie said that at one stage the doctors didn’t know whether he would pull through.
“They didn’t think he was going to make it – I think they pretty much sent him home to die, we didn’t tell him that at the time… it wasn’t very good,” she said.
“After he got home he was pretty crook for a while, but he just started to improve and get better each week and now he is back to doing the things that he used to do.”
Cheetham said he missed having greyhounds during his illness which made it an easy decision to get back into the sport he loves.
“I missed just doing things with the dogs – when you are used to doing things for 60 years, to then be tied down and riddled with sickness – I couldn’t even get up and leave my room, I couldn’t leave my bed and I couldn’t do anything.
“It was boredom more than anything, I wasn’t used to being like that – I was used to always doing something.
“I got my trainer’s license and my car license back – now I can get around and see people and do the things I haven’t been able to do in years.”
Cheetham, who used to break in 30 greyhounds a month, now has just the three dogs in work at his Harpers Hill property.
The small team gives him something to focus on as he makes the most of his second chance at life. He now has a clean bill of health, making him extremely thankful for all the medical care he was given throughout his illness.
“I had my final check up a fortnight ago and I have got no cancer in my liver and my bowel is right, they gave me a really good result.
“They said that I was a surprise, they didn’t think it was possible for me to be able to come back and do the things that I am doing now.”
Defy Emotion will race again this Thursday at Maitland, aiming to make it two wins from as many starts. She has drawn box four in race five which will hum at 1:54pm AEST.
Check out Defy Emotion’s maiden victory below from box eight.