Yes, Fernando Bale is indeed one of the greatest greyhounds to have appeared on a racetrack in this country. I have no dispute with that at all. Yet I believe he still has a little way to go before he can be classed as the greatest ever.
I believe there are two key hurdles Fernando Bale needs to jump before the tag of the greatest ever can truly be placed upon his already impressive head.
At its simplest, the criteria for assessing a true champion should be fairly simple and straightforward. I have a personal check-list of seven categories I use to gauge the true class level of a champion.
1. Can win from any box.
2. Can win at Group 1 level, or the past equivalent of Group 1.
3. Wins 50 percent or more of race starts.
4. Can run a track record or be within two lengths of a track record at more than one track.
5. Can win over a 150-metre or more range (eg, 400-550 metres), for sprinters.
6. Can come from behind to win. That is, be fourth or worse at the first turn and still go on to victory.
7. Can overcome interference to win.
For me, points six and seven above are the real tests of greatness. While a greyhound may possess, as Fernando Bale certainly does, sensational box manners and great early speed, I think the true test of a champion is the ability to overcome adversity. To miss the start and be outpaced to the first corner, but still come back and take the prize; or, more potently, to be subjected to interference not of your own making and show the heart and courage required to still overcome against good opposition.
It is why I could never personally rate the likes of Temlee, Brother Fox, Flying Amy, or Brett Lee above say Tenthill Doll and Rapid Journey.
Two of the most incredible victories I have ever witnessed, one live and the other via a racetrack monitor, were those of Tenthill Doll in the 1996 Golden Easter Egg final and Rapid Journey in the 1998 National Sprint Championship final.
Tenthill Doll overcame box four to run down a flyer in Proper Tears after giving away a big lead down the back straight. Rapid Journey defeated two Greyhounds of the Year (West Australian Reggemite and Queenslander Faithful Hawk) in coming from box six, being poleaxed at the start and last as the field swept into the back straight.
The video of that victory can still be seen, as can his sensational 1998 Melbourne Cup win, also out of box six. If you want to see greatness in action, then I recommend watching both those races.
You can watch Rapid Journey win the 1998 National Sprint Championship below:
There will be those who argue that if a greyhound like Fernando Bale, and indeed Brett Lee or Flying Amy, makes their own ‘luck’ by being such good beginners and are so fast in the early stages they are able to avoid the pitfalls of a race, why should I penalise them for possessing such wonderful traits?
Well, I’m not. They are all great greyhounds, no disputing that whatsoever. Indeed, Fernando Bale is almost a saviour: he has appeared at the right time in our history, given the dark days we are experiencing. I sincerely hope he continues to keep this amazing string going.
But there are some acclaiming him as the greatest ever, and I find this disrespectful to the likes of past greats such as Chief Havoc, Macareena, Rookie Rebel and Zoom Top, as well as others like Sandi’s Me Mum, Tenthill Doll and Rapid Journey.
Fernando Bale is a great greyhound, he is not yet entitled to wear the tag ‘the greatest ever’ just yet.
Watch Fernando Bale’s last win – the Group 2 Bendigo Cup from box three.