MAKING a group 1 final is the dream for every greyhound trainer – it’s the reason we get out of bed at the crack of dawn every morning and it gives a lucky few a glimpse of what it’s like to achieve success at the highest level.
Ten years ago my family was taken on this incredible ride when our beloved greyhound ‘Bobby’ made the final of the Group 1 Paws of Thunder.
A decade on it seems fitting to reflect on what the experience was like.
In one word, unforgettable.
Known on the track as Orphan Point, Bobby was trained by my uncle, Gary Ernst, and was owned by the Point Syndicate.
He ran fifth in his heat of the Paws of Thunder in 2008 – behind some of the best sprinters at the time; Cindeen Shelby, Mantra Lad, Fedex and Nimbastic. Back in those days the Paws of Thunder was a three-week series, so he was lucky enough to scrape through to the semi-finals as a reserve.
I was only 15 years old and I remember each week I’d beg my parents to let me go to Wenty with my uncle Gaz and Bobby. For whatever reason I must have lost the battle the weekend of the semis, because I can still remember sitting on the lounge room floor beside my Grandma’s rocking chair – anxiously awaiting the race.
When Bobby was racing, Grandma used to record every race on her old VCR. For an hour before his race each week I was never allowed to touch the TV – not even the volume – just in case I bumped a button which might affect her recording. I wasn’t even allowed to scream the house down – for some reason she thought the VCR might pick up my cheers!
Anyway, semi-final night had arrived and Grandma and I had our eyes glued on the TV. For most of the race he stuck with Lorna Moira – which was trained by Ron Bell – and he was eventually beaten by four lengths on the line.
Gran’s face filled with disappointment, but I quickly realised our boy had done enough to make the final. We stayed up waiting for the box draw. It turns out the owners were the second last to pick a box – the choices were the one (Bobby’s favourite) and the six. I bet you can guess what he got.
The draw didn’t matter – we were in the final and so excited just to be there. Bobby had previously qualified for the Group 2 Gosford Cup, the Group 3 Richmond Derby and the Group 3 Christmas Gift – but neither compared to the excitement of making the Paws of Thunder final.
That week I went out and bought a green top with my ‘sling’ of Bobby’s second place money. There was no way I was going to be staying home for the final! He was rated a 50/1 shot but it didn’t matter to us.
Gary and I set off at 3pm – those who know Gary would know he likes to leave with almost double the required driving time, just in case. Naturally, we got to the track with plenty of time to spare and once Bobby was kennelled we joined his owners in the event marquee trackside.
We sat at the same table as John Mooney and the connections of Others Quoted which was taking on some super stayers in the final of the Sydney Cup. When race six arrived we cheered on as their white and blue racer scored a boilover – defeating Varvatos, Fallen Zorro and Chinatown Lad. That was the first time I got to hold a trophy and a winning race rug.
Two races later they cheered our boy on as we all crossed our fingers for another upset. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – but Bobby was far from disgraced when finishing fourth behind One Tree Hill, Mantra Lad and El Galo (not a bad trio to be up there with).
I remember running into the pen to catch him that night and I was a blubbering mess – in my eyes he was a winner and I was so proud of him for running fourth as the outsider of the field.
Bobby went on to race for more than another year, retiring at close to five years of age. He retired with 107 starts for 25 wins, 22 seconds and 17 thirds and over $96,000 in prize money.
Bobby quickly transitioned into the life of luxury as a much loved pet. When he retired the owners and my family even had a BBQ to celebrate his career where he was the guest of honour complete with a red party hat and bowtie.
He even went on to become a sire. His one and only litter resulted in five winners from six pups – as luck would have it the only one which didn’t win a race was Orphan’s Rose, which I owned with Gary and my Grandma.
She had 36 starts for 16 placings and is currently living out her days as a pet – which dispels the myth that us trainers ‘get rid of’ the slow ones.
I owe Bobby a lot. He was the first ‘good dog’ I can remember my family having. As it turns out, he was, and still is, the best. Even though I didn’t own him, he got me hooked on greyhound racing. Some of my fondest memories growing up were accompanying Gary to the track with him – he was even the first winner I caught when I got my catcher’s licence.
Now I have my own dogs with my partner – mostly old dogs which have had injuries for other trainers – but last year we still managed to get some city winners and win the Tamworth Cup. Even my career as a greyhound writer can be traced back to Bobby – if he didn’t come along who knows whether I would have taken such an interest in the sport?
My family will never forget the joy that Bobby brought us on the track. You’ll never see his name in the record books and he won’t go down as an all-time great, but even if I live to be 100 years old I will never forget the thrills he gave us throughout his career – and his friendship over the years.