Keeping an injury-prone dog on the track can be an arduous task. With luck, it’s possible to keep them racing, maybe even win a few races. Nicole McRae’s dog, Walk Hard, is the exception that proves that rule.
Walk Hard, the son of Bit Chili and Miss Bling (Spiral Nakita – Skullring); is the new 460 metre track record holder at Warragul and is owned and trained by Nicole McRae at Clyde.
The laid back black dog has been Nicole’s since he was a pup and he was bred by Nicole’s mum, Carol Westerlo, who purchased Miss Bling from Len Jones.
“My Mum and Dad actually bred him and and I got one out of the litter, usually when I breed a litter I give them one. Mum and Dad bought Miss Bling, the mother, specifically to breed with.”
Miss Bling is the grand-dam of another finalist in the field, Awesome Grunt (Bombastic Shiraz – Runnin’ Jumpin’ [Where’s Pedro-Miss Bling]). Miss Bling is by Skullring, who is also Banjo Boy’s grand-dam.
Walk Hard has been a talented greyhound from the moment he started breaking in, showing a lot from an early age.
“Straight away, he was the special one in the litter. We break all the dogs in ourselves. He was always just something special, always did everything right. His only flaw is that he doesn’t box great.”
Walk Hard has had 33 starts, winning 15 and he has finished second in the Group 2 Great Chase Series and third in the Group 1 Hobart 1000. However, his career has been cruelled by injuries, the most serious being a chipped stopper bone.
“His main injury was when he chipped the stopper bone, that had him out for eight months. It was very 50/50 whether he would make it back. Early on, he dislocated his toe and had three months off, then got him back for the Great Chase Series and he went through that and then on to the Hobart 1000. He ran second in the Great Chase and third in the Hobart 1000.”
“He did his stopper bone at Cranbourne in preparation for the Cranbourne Cup. That was when he was out for eight months. He was going along good and I was getting him ready for the Adelaide Cup and he tore his triangle. I entered him for last year’s Hobart 1000. I put him up Healesville and then around Bendigo and he pulled up lame on a wrist as the track was really hard. I got him halfway home to empty him out and he was lame.”
“I was so upset as he loves it over there (Hobart). That set him back. He had a month off with that. My vet, Barry Haywood, said he probably activated a bit of scarring from the stopper injury. Since then, he’s had two runs up Healesville and he comes out at Warragul and does that (break the record).”
It’s only through Nicole’s careful care and patience that ‘Ronnie’ can still grace the racetrack with his presence.
“When you know what you’ve got, the best thing is to be patient. The dog himself, he is the most laid back, casual, easy, easy dog. Twice he was in plaster for both injuries, he was in cotton wool. He’s just so quiet; he doesn’t jump around and bark or run around stupid. He’s very laid back which helps with the injuries.”
Ronnie runs fast on the track, but in the training arena has a bit of a tendency to be lazy.
“He is actually quite lazy, which is frustrating in a way because when I’m trying to get him back, you can’t go hard on them. We’ve got big galloping yards and paddocks and I put him out there and I’m trying to get him to run and he won’t run. I squeeze toys to try and get him to run.”
“I’ve taken him up to Cranbourne up the slipping track and I’ll take some bitches up and I’d walk up the other end and tease him and slip him and he’ll take off at a hundred miles an hour and then just stop. He’s a lazy bugger.”
Returning to the track record breaking run on Sunday, Nicole recalls not even realising at first that he had broken the track record.
“He’d gone close to it a couple of times when he was in the Great Chase here a few months ago. He loves it there. I just didn’t expect him to get so far back and be able to run down Paw Licking, or break a track record.”
“I didn’t even realise he broke the track record. It was kind of emotional when you work so hard on them. I was so proud of him for running Paw Licking down, but when I looked up and realised he had broke the record as well, I was very proud.”
Unfortunately, Walk Hard hasn’t been given the best draw at Warragul for the final, drawing in box five. As mentioned earlier, his only flaw is the way he boxes.
“When he trials he goes quickly to the first mark. I remember when I put him around Sandown when he was a baby he went 5.04 and I thought, what have we got here. You don’t know until you put them in a field what they do in those first three strides. That makes the difference.”
“On Friday, he has box five which is a terrible draw, it’s not fair. You go from elated with what he did to a kick in the guts as you just can’t win from box five against those sort of dogs. He needs a miracle, the box is against him. At least if he had box one he would be on the rails and maybe get a clear run. It’s hard to get a clear run from box five. Everything’s got to go your way, there’s pace all around him.”
The Healesville Cup is next on McRae’s agenda, but she is careful not to plan too far ahead on account of the injuries that Walk Hard has previously had.
“The Healesville Cup is an aim. He unofficially equalled the track record and he loves it up there. He’s got such a long stride and hits his straps up there. Obviously I just take each run at a time. He pulled up beautiful from Warragul, but with those injuries you can’t plan too far ahead.”
“I just keep on top of his injuries. I’m lucky he didn’t have a lot of damage to the tendon and it was just the bone. Obviously he’s a bit stiffer in that wrist; he doesn’t have as much flexation in that side. It’s always going to be there. He’s been pulling up good and as long as I just manage it. I’ve been machining him every day underwater in the ultrasound. I must annoy the crap out of the poor dog!”
Ronnie has proved himself to be a bit of a clever dog around the kennels and knows the routine well for his daily treatment. “He goes into the room where I machine him, as I also do the triangle where he tore it, and he walks up to where the bench is where I do it. He turns around and knows where to go and what way to go.”
Personality wise, he is a dog that also travels well which always helps when heading off to the races as he loves being in the car.
“He travels well, goes straight in the car and sits straight down. He loves going in the car. When he was injured and off for a while I’d take him for a walk out the front and up the road and he would come back and want to get in the car, so I would put him in the car for a while and he’d go in and just sit straight down. I’d come back in ten minutes to get him out and he was happy to just sit in the car.”
As for the future, Ronnie has a couple of litters on the ground and McRae has one of his pups in her yard.
“He’s registered and had two litters. I had some straws drawn when he did the stopper bone, but it’s such a hard market. It was so hard to get straws drawn. It didn’t work the way I thought it would as it takes the prostrate a while to work, so I was only getting one straw each go and it’s expensive and everyone wants to go to the flashy dogs and they market them so well, so it’s hard to compete.”
“I pulled the pin on that. I gave one straw away to a friend of mine and I’ve got one pup at home and Kellie and Engin (Gemci) have an eight week old litter. He’s got a kid up the back. She’s a nice pup, a nice bitch. I’d like to eventually try and find a decent bitch for him. The sort of bitches we have are all out of the same line, so it’s a bit hard to use him on them.”
Ronnie is a very well looked after greyhound and spent the week indoors at the McRae household while the severe heat in Victoria last week took hold. It obviously agreed with him as he broke the record on Sunday.
“I had him in the house with the air conditioning. He did nothing all week. He came in the house and sat in the crate in the air con and just slept all day.”
As for Friday, Walk Hard has pulled up perfectly and is ready to go, with McRae acknowledging that they won’t do anything different with him this week in the lead up to the final. It would be great to see Walk Hard overcome the box and take out the final as both the trainer and the dog clearly deserve a Group race victory.