After a month of exciting nationwide competition, the AGRA National Sprint and Distance Championships will be run and won tomorrow night, with group one glory and $75,000 going to two deserving chasers and their connections.
Form experts are tipping that the National Distance final will be a race between two states; NSW and Victoria. NSW is well represented with the sizzling Smart Valentino while the ‘Big V’ has Mimicking, Set Sail South and Destini Fireball lining up to claim the cash for the home state.
Quietly watching the buzz and speculation is Tasmanian trainer Allan Anderson, who is hoping that his brilliant bitch, Lashing Jill, can cause an upset in the feature and take the trophy home to the Apple Isle.
The daughter of Lilli Pilli Lad and Illusion caused a shock for punters when taking out the Tasmanian Distance final just under two weeks ago, defeating $1.10 favourite, Bell Haven. Drawn in box one, the striking black and white bitch began safely from the cherry and sat comfortably in third position behind Hollyheath in the run to the line on the first occasion, with Bell Haven well positioned on her outside. In the run down the back, Lashing Jill slipped through along the rails and proved too strong for Ted Medhurst’s group winning stayer, claiming the event by one and three quarter lengths in 43.01 seconds.
Anderson admits that he was as shocked as anyone by her performance, which earned her a ticket to compete in the group one final on the mainland.
“I wasn’t expecting it but I was pleasantly surprised”, Anderson said.
“She (Bell Haven) has been such a good bitch, running all around Australia, winning and being competitive”.
While he may not have gone into the race exuding confidence, Anderson knew he was in with a pretty good chance when Lashing Jill was placed so prominently in the race and got a good run through underneath the leader.
“Off the 600 boxes I knew that if she (Lashing Jill) was in front or close to her (Bell Haven) she would be very competitive”, Anderson explained.
“I was watching the replay and I could tell by the race callers voice at that point that Bell Haven was in trouble”.
It was the 8th career win for Lashing Jill from 36 starts, with the 30 kilogram bitch improving her form immensely since stepping up in distance. While she was competitive over the sprint trip, she has transformed into a terrific stayer winning four of her six starts over the ‘700’ at both Hobart and Launceston.
“She has always shown ability from the time she was broken in. She broke in city class” Anderson said.
“Tasmania is not really a state for staying races but she was getting knocked around in sprint races”.
“She is not overly blessed with pace and I think that’s why she has improved in the 700 races because she is jumping 2nd or 3rd which has helped. If she can do that in the final you never know”.
“She has learned a lot about how to race and how to sit behind them and wait. Some dogs can’t do that and just want to push to the front to get to the bunny”.
The win was a huge thrill for Anderson, who after 40 years in the greyhound racing industry, had not trained a winner in a final and has now been overwhelmed by the whole experience.
“When she won the state final that was the first final I had ever won. I didn’t realise how big it was until people kept telling me”.
“It’s a huge honour to represent your state but then to go into a group 1 final- it doesn’t happen every day and it took a while for me to get my head around it”.
Lashing Jill made her way to Victoria last week where she has been in the care of Darren McDonald. With a look at the track, Anderson will arrive in town today (Friday) as he prepares his peppy powerhouse to perform in her biggest test to date
“She went over last Friday on the Spirit of Tasmania and got there early Saturday morning”, Anderson said.
“Darren McDonald has been taking care of her and she trialled on Saturday at The Meadows”.
“She went 34.96(seconds- 600m) and he (McDonald) said considering the travelling over there that it would be a good run”
“People say that it is a very tricky and tight track and it was mentioned that she was 2 or 3 off the fence which is not her racing style so fingers crossed she improves”.
Drawn in box four tomorrow night, Lashing Jill will face a tough but not impossible challenge. Mimicking well and truly proved last week what an outsider can do, saluting in the Victorian state final at $32.
“There is nothing certain in greyhound racing”, Anderson said.
“Box four is not any great benefit but hopefully it will be a nice clean race for all the runners and the best dog will win it”.
Anderson rates the biggest threat to be five time group winner Destini Fireball. However, the white and black speedster has not been his normal self at his past few runs, only gaining a start in the feature as the AGRA Wild card competitor.
“If Destini Fireball is right, he wins, it’s as simple as that but he hasn’t been racing as well”.
“The NSW representative (Smart Valentino) ran a fast time in his final but I heard them say on The Catching Pen that it was a fast track”.
Despite the tough competition, it is still an exhilarating thrill for the Mangalore mentor, although he is trying to remain cool, calm and collected. As for what he would do if she were to win.
“I was speaking to someone who said they will be interviewing me on the ground if she gets up”, Anderson chuckled.
“I am trying not to let my expectations get too big…I am trying to keep the lid on it”.
“It was overwhelming just to win the state final but there is no comparison between the two”.
With the biggest night of their racing lives just over 24 hours away, Allan, his wife Judy and their talented type Lashing Jill are in for an evening they will never forget.
Despite being an outsider, it is an exceptional achievement to qualify for a National final against Australia’s best and, for the small trainers who pour their heart and soul into their beloved chasers, it goes to show that nothing is impossible in the wonderful sport of greyhound racing and that nice guys don’t always finish last.