Sometimes for a greyhound to win a Group One race (or two), they need to be in exactly the right place at precisely the right time. They need to be afforded all the right opportunities to maximise their chances of landing a big race.
Many greyhounds may not get this opportunity or maybe fate or luck will work against them.
Cheetah Zorro won her second Group One event last Saturday night when she landed the $75,000 Zoom Top for astute Lara mentor Rob Britton, but there was another trainer sitting in Tasmania knowing that he had played a major role in her victory; his name is Brendan Pursell.
Pursell raced Cheetah Zorro in the Apple Isle before her move to Victoria. It was a two week hit-and-run mission at The Meadows with the daughter of Bombastic Shiraz and Fallen Zorro that made both he and the dogs owners aware of what she could achieve.
Cheetah Zorro won a heat and final over 600 metres in February of 2013, which was the catalyst for Pursell to make the selfless suggestion to owners that she may be better off racing in the care of a local Victorian trainer.
“We took her over to Victoria for a run and she won a heat and final at The Meadows. She wanted to race over 700 metres and it was very hard to get runs for her here consistently,” Pursell told ARG.
“We spoke about it and the owners asked if I wanted to keep taking her over for every race and I said it would be just too hard and that they’d be better off sending her over there.”
At the time, Pursell happily admits that he couldn’t have dreamed of Cheetah Zorro winning two of the biggest staying races on the greyhound calendar, but says he is very glad it all worked out well.
“She was a nice dog and she has had a lot of luck there, to win those two Group One races, you wouldn’t have thought that. But it has been very good for the connections, I’m very happy for them.”
Unfortunately, one good turn doesn’t always mean the favour will come back to you in spades. Pursell may well of fallen a victim of his own success recently when the owners of another of his kennel stars, Happy Tiger, also decided to move the dog to Victoria.
“I didn’t really want Happy Tiger to go because I was going to take him over a few times myself. The owners had seen how well Cheetah Zorro had gone and said they wanted to send him over there.”
“I took him over for the Sale Cup and he ran well in the heat, he ran third and was unlucky not to qualify for the final really. Then when I bought him back, I was on my way home from the airport and the owners rang and told me they’d decided to send him over there, so I lost him that way, but that’s the way it goes.”
“That is what can happen if you get them going good. As an owner why wouldn’t you want them to race over there for much better prize-money? It is just too hard to travel them all the time.”
Pursell still has plenty of talent in his Brighton kennel and looks to have a handy middle-distance conveyance in the form of Champagne Girl. The regally bred daughter of Collision and Skates has won eight of her 21 career starts and particularly impressed with two recent wins over 600 metres at Launceston.
“I’ll be right with Champagne Girl, my brother and I actually own her, so no one can take her off me,” Pursell said with a laugh.
He is full of praise for the young bitch, but also says she is her own worst enemy at times, which is something he is doing his level best to rectify.
“She can run a bit, she is a lot better than Cheetah Zorro at staying and everything, but Cheetah has much better manners, she jumps and gives herself every chance.”
“I’ve put her (Champagne Girl) out for four weeks, she was missing the start really bad. She has always been a slow beginner, I stepped her up to 600 and she won a couple but she just keeps getting into trouble on those corner starts.”
“She got knocked over a bit in a heat and then, in the final, I don’t think she wanted to be there, so she has had three weeks off now, she will have another week and hopefully she will forget about everything and come back nice and fresh. If she doesn’t come up this time in, we will probably think about sending her straight out for breeding.”
It is this attention to detail and extreme patience that is no doubt a key to Pursell getting the best out of his greyhounds and also a reason for his particular affinity with staying types.
“We keep them fit, we work them pretty hard, they do 700 metres every second day. I work them beside the car so I can sort of tell how fast they are going.”
“I don’t over-race them, I’m not doing it for a living, so it’s not a case of me having to go to the races, if something’s not quite right or they are not 100% well I just don’t race them. It doesn’t matter if I don’t race them for two weeks, the owners have been good and understand that. If you’re doing it for a living you have to keep sending them around to try and pick up money all the time. I’m not relying on the money, put it that way, I don’t have to go there tomorrow and win a race to keep feeding them.”
It may well be Pursell’s background that has also put him in good stead for training the long-tails. He was an accomplished trainer and driver of harness racing horses and says that he employs a few of the things that he also used on the standard-breds.
“I use the harness racing techniques more on the recovery side of the greyhounds, trying to get them ready for the next race and it is the same thing after they work, it’s all about getting them ready for the next time.”
“It’s no big secret what we do, we walk them after they run to try and get them to recover, to get all the lactic acid out of their system and get plenty of fluids into them and all that sort of thing. When you go to get them the next morning, they are bouncing and ready to go.”
“I think getting them fit helps that too. I’ve had a good run with injuries as well, touch wood.I don’t have many injuries at all with them. I give them time to get over their run. If they race today, they don’t do anything for two days after that.”
Pursell’s genuine suggestion in the best interests of Cheetah Zorro’s racing career has left her owners with results they only could have dreamed of. Who knows, if the racing Gods have anything to do with it, we may well see Pursell bob up in Victoria with a big winner himself sooner rather than later too.