SINCE its inception in 1993, the Topgun has produced a raft of exceptional winners, as would be expected from a race which has often been billed as the W.S. Cox Plate of greyhound racing.
There have been plenty of hard luck stories as well, but that is true of almost any race, major or minor.
There’s an old saying, ‘there’s no prizes for seconds’ and this applies just as much to the realm of greyhound racing as to any other sport or endeavour. Every now and again a race may take shape which is recalled as a titanic battle between two chasers, but they are a rarity.
A few which come to mind are the 1972 Wentworth Park Gold Cup between Ragsie and Lizrene, the 1974 Summer Cup between Dotie Wilson and Miss High Lo and, most recently, the 2016 Melbourne Cup between Dyna Double One and Fernando Bale.
The following are my (subjective) view of the three most significant second placegetters in the short history of the Topgun.
1995: It was only the third running of the Topgun and the last over the 511m trip at Sandown Park. The line-up consisted of only two interstate runners: Queensland superstar Flying Amy and former Queenslander, now NSW domiciled Tenthill Doll. The Victorians were well represented by Moonambel Prince, Rapid Hiker, Wylie Boy and future top stayer Northern Legend.
Rapid Hiker was arguably a bit lucky to be in the Topgun. He had raced 27 times for 12 wins, three seconds and one third, although he had run a fast 29.92 at the course and had won six of 12 starts at Sandown. He drew well in box one and in a fine display of speed and strength Rapid Hiker cruised home to defeat Tenthill Doll by four lengths, running 29.80 to set a new track record. Wylie Boy was a half length away third and would return in 1996 to take out the Topgun.
Tenthill Doll was on her way to the 1995 NSW Greyhound of the Year title having won 13 of her 28 career starts to date, with seven seconds and five thirds. The Topgun was her first look at Sandown Park and she had drawn poorly in box five. Her effort to finish second behind a greyhound breaking the track record was exceptional.
1997: The field was relatively weak with the inclusion of English greyhound Farloe Brook, American sprinter Pat C. Caste and Irish runner Welcome Treat but the other five starters were all top notch and included NSW bitch Kedo’s Millie, Queensland star Roanokee and locals Awesome Assassin, Chicago Blue and Shannen’s Storm.
Chicago Blue had won the Gold Collar at Olympic Park, second in the Maturity Classic and National Sprint Championship and fourth in the Brisbane Cup. He was in peak form and from box four gave a fine display on a wet track to defeat Awesome Assassin (box three) by two lengths.
Awesome Assassin came into the race having won 15 of his 32 races with six seconds and four thirds. He had set two track records and would go on to collect a swag more before he was finished.
Roanokee was three-quarters of a length away third.
1998: Just two weeks after winning the Melbourne Cup from box six, champion NSW greyhound Rapid Journey lined up in box one for the Topgun, run over 515m at Sandown Park.
The field was one of the best seen to that time for the Topgun and included local stars Poetic Reward, Fiery Sal and Cerin Bale as well as West Australian champion Reggemite. The weakest greyhound in the field was the English entrant, Remel’s Black.
Rapid Journey jumped well from the inside box and led into the first turn and the race looked to be all over. Down the back straight he cruised in the lead but coming to the home turn Rapid Journey had eased off the fence and allowed Fiery Sal to push up underneath him. Sweeping for home Rapid Journey was in trouble as both Reggemite and Poetic Reward began to finish solidly.
Nonetheless, Rapid Journey rose to the challenge and surged again to hold off a gallant Reggemite to score by a head in a race record 29.85. Poetic Reward was a half length away third.
They are my top three, but honourable mentions should be made of Kayda Shae who ran the great Fernando Bale to 0.38 of a length in the 2015 Topgun, with Dyna Double One well back in third place while Aston Bolero was a good second behind Dundee Osprey in 2016.