Backed in to $2.80 favouritism, the Sandown Cup winner began well from box three to rail through to the lead at the first turn.
It’s A Blur ($9.90), the sole interstate trained greyhound in the race, then swept down the middle of the track to assume the lead on leaving the home straight. However that racing style would eventually prove her undoing.
It’s A Blur gifted Irma Bale an inside passage leaving the back straight and the 25kg dynamo powered through the gap, racing to the lead on straightening for home racing to a two length victory in a race record 33.99 seconds and handing master trainer Graeme Bate his first McKenna Memorial. Fastest heat winner Premier Boloney ($4.60) finished strongly to run third a further 1.5 lengths adrift.
“She’s a really good bitch,” said handler Joe Briffa (pictured with Irma Bale).
“She went super tonight. Graeme just wanted her to jump, and thought that if she did she’d win the race and that’s what happened.”
Irma Bale jumped only fairly in her heat, and the kennel feared a modest start could jeopardise her chances in the final. Despite the concerns, Bate didn’t change her preparations for the race.
“Graeme said she’d break 34 seconds tonight. Last week she got galloped on at the first turn and still ran 34.12 (seconds). This week, she got out perfectly and that was the difference.”
From the outstanding Bartrim Bale-Amelia Bale litter that features Sandown 515m track record holder Bekim Bale and Meadows 525m track record holder Heston Bale, tonight’s win was the 21st of Irma Bale’s 42 start career (with 10 placings) and the $40,000 first prize took her career earnings to $217,261.
Irma Bale has proven herself to be one of the country’s most versatile greyhounds, having not only won over each of Sandown Park’s three race distances in excellent time (515m – 29.44, 595m – 33.99, 715m – 41.79), but is the first greyhound to compete in a group final at each race distance at Sandown Park (won the McKenna Memorial over 595m, won the Sandown Cup over 715m, fourth in the Laurels over 515m).
The win completed a winning double for both trainer Graeme Bate and sire Bartrim Bale with David Bale winning the Free For All in a slick 29.30 seconds. Bate was the only trainer with multiple wins on the night, with 11 different trainers saluting across the 12 race card.