Lithgow conditioner, Mark Swift has rated his emerging star, Smart Valentino, as the best greyhound he has put a collar and lead on in his fifteen year training career and remarkably, he has predicted that the son of Where’s Pedro is the best that he will ever train.
The revelation comes just days after Smart Valentino’s stunning victory in the NSW Distance Championship, which has earned the powerhouse a start in the $75,000 to the winner, group one National Distance final next Saturday (August 24th) at The Meadows.
The coal miner brought the promising pup as a break-in from Kevin Gordon but could never have known just how much talent he possessed and how strong he would become.
The 33 kilogram chaser started in the state qualifier at a lucrative $7.60, surprising given his dominant performance in his heat the week prior where he stormed home over the top of his competitors to score in a nippy 42.43 seconds.
Renowned for his moderate early speed, it came as a shock to many to see him land in a prominent position in the run towards the first turn. Going past the winning post on the first occasion, Smart Valentino was poised to pounce in fourth and even with a circuit to go, looked the one to beat.
On the home turn, Smart Valentino was looming ominously and quickly dashed past the leader, Proven Stellar, to steal the prize by one and three quarter lengths in a scintillating 41.96 seconds- just .15 outside of the mighty Miata’s track record.
Swift was only quietly confident going into the race, knowing that his dynamic canine would have to position himself well against the best stayers NSW has to offer. When he did, it was obvious that he would give them a run for their money.
“I wasn’t overly confident before the race. I knew the box draw wouldn’t worry him because he is slow early but once he came out of the boxes and was sitting fourth I was very confident”, Swift said.
“I knew how strong he was but he had to be near them to have a chance. If he came out at the back or like last week he wouldn’t have picked her (Proven Stellar) up if she ran 42.06 seconds”.
Swift attributes the change in his racing style to the dog maturing as he gains experience. At just under two and a half years of age, Smart Valentino is still a youngster by racing standards, especially over the staying trip. Despite giving away a year of racing to some of his more seasoned competitors, he is starting to prove that he has a very bright future.
“He is only two and was the youngest dog in the race by about 12 months”, Swift explained.
“He shouldn’t be where he is at his age, people normally wait until they are three but he was racing over 500 and was getting into too much trouble. I stepped him up and at his first 600 he blitzed them”.
Smart Valentino has been racing over the ‘700’ since April this year. The striking black greyhound is bred to run the distance as a son of the sensational stayer, Smart Betsy. This was indicated in his blistering trials before stepping out in a race over the longer journey.
“His very first 700 trial he only went half a length off the track record (at Wentworth Park)”, Swift said.
Although he has only been lightly raced since embarking on a staying career, Smart Valentino has already made a group final. At just his second start over the Glebe half mile, the tenacious speed machine contested the group three Betfair Cup, finishing down the track behind the likes of Irma Bale and race victor, Bell Haven.
Although it was not a fairytale transition, his efforts were solid enough for Swift to head down to Melbourne for a crack at the group one Sandown Cup. Unfortunately, Smart Valentino returned home without tasting success.
“When I went to Melbourne for the Sandown Cup heats he didn’t handle the travelling, it was a 10 hour drive. He didn’t settle into his kennel…we stayed the week and he lost nearly a kilo in weight and we were close to scratching him”, Swift recalled.
Back in NSW, Smart Valentino was given a two month break. At his first start back he ran a handy third behind Miami Thunder at headquarters. Returning one week later for his heat, a new and improved Smart Valentino stepped out.
“Since he has come back from his spell he is starting to learn and is using his head”, Swift said.
With his biggest assignment to date fast approaching, Swift realises the one and only greyhound in his kennels will have it all stacked against him however, he feels that they are both ready for the challenge.
“He is a true stayer. He comes from behind to win his races”, Swift said.
“They are very good dogs but I think he is stronger than them. With that being said they have the home track advantage so I don’t expect to beat them. It’s a different track, with different boxes and we will be driving down which will work against him”.
Despite having a definite challenge in front of him, Smart Valentino is emerging as one of the most exciting young stayers on their way through the ranks. With Irma Bale retiring after the Nationals series, Smart Valentino may be the greyhound to take her spot as one of Australia’s best stayers.
Being so young, even if he does not salute in the group one series, he does appear to have the racing world at his feet. Swift is quick to acknowledge that his career is only just starting and is hopeful for a prosperous few years on the track.
“He is by far and away the best dog I have had. I have had some handy ones but nothing like him and I will never get another one like him”.
“I don’t think you could get a better dog than him”.