Greyhound News
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

As is the typical saying goes when you get to the championship race of a major stakes, “anything can happen”. But even trainer Bill Nihan wasn’t quite expecting what occurred in the finals of the $120,000 Southland Derby the evening the calendar flipped into July. “I wasn’t giving him much of a shot to get the front with all that early speed to his inside”, exclaimed Bill. Mr. Nihan was speaking of the seemingly endless quick breaking ability of the #1 BARTS GIRL (Charter Kennel) and the #3 FLYING WOLF PACK (Lester Raines Kennel) who also happened to be tied for the qualifying points lead coming into the evening. Even #2 AKON (Plum Creek Kennel) had been known to “pop the lid” a time or two which the red male used to launch himself into the race scoring a win and two second place finishes when that happened.

All three of those greyhounds loved the inside part of the track too, which gave them a bit of post position advantages compared to a lot of the field that evening. And, if to the left of BAR GIN made his trainer nervous, he also couldn’t forget about his far right where AMF DIRTY TRIX (A Ray Kennel) laid in waiting. The black male had won three of four races in which he started in either the seven or eight post and since he was more than comfortable staying in the middle part of the track, it would appear that things were sitting just too good for the son of SH AVATAR to claim victory.

Many, if not all, trainers run the race in their minds plenty of times before the actual race runs. “What has to happen to give me the best chance of winning” often goes through their minds. The common factor in all races, not just stakes races, is getting a good start and getting through that first turn “clean”. In stakes races, where a lot of the greyhounds are separated talent wise by the thinnest of margins at times, this is even more amplified. It wasn’t that people felt BAR GIN didn’t belong in the field, but there were considerably more that felt he may be overmatched in this race to pull it out.

Yes, BAR GIN did have a stakes win under his belt. He won the Arkansas Bred Juvenile Division championship in the Festival of Stakes this past Fall. However, it was also likely the most “watered down” championship of the nine contested that day just due to the small field size. He only had five victories all of last season as well, and those five wins did not come versus any of the top talent at Southland Park. All these could be pointed out to be signs of just a “young pup” who hasn’t fully developed into a talent capable of winning on the big stage. There are signs of that being the case as well.

The 2017 campaign, although halfway through, is showing a lot of improvements for BAR GIN. Before the championship race, he already eclipsed the previous win total from last season with seven victories. Of those seven wins, four came against top “AA” competition and better yet, half of those top grade wins came in the first two rounds of qualifying for the Derby. He followed that with two solid seconds and looking back over his past twelve starts, only two failed to garner a paycheck for his owners John and Robert Hardison. It was hard to argue he was starting to find his own way and running really well.

But all that recent performance wasn’t enough to sway bettors his way. FLYING WOLF PACK’s three wins during qualifying and BARTS GIRL’s three wins plus an “it couldn’t be any better” starting post position had gamblers fighting over who was the favorite in the race (both ended up just a tad above even money). AMF DIRTY TRIX was also getting “win love” on the odds board ending up at just 5 to 1 despite the competition. It all looked great on paper and as the greyhound were being loaded into the starting box the only thing for certain was a new champion would be crowned in just a few ticks more than 32 seconds.

As Rusty got himself into position for the launch of the Derby, the tension mounted as eyes were trained towards the rail to see which one of the inside speedsters would prevail and get that crucial early lead. BARTS GIRL delivered initially launching herself quickly from the box and had plenty of early room. FLYING WOLF PACK was not as lucky, just missing his break enough to where he was crowded in the first few yards and even longshot AKON failed to fire as well. BAR GIN surprisingly broke about as well as could be expected and was laying a close second as AMF DIRTY TRIX didn’t break as sharp, but still found himself in a good spot having nearly the entire mid portion of the track to himself to work with.

The field of eight closed quickly on the pivotal first turn and BAR GIN used his nearly patented rushing speed to gain control of the race while AMF DIRTY TRIX nearly did the same and was right on his heels. BARTS GIRL was still in the race as well and a surprising early threat also came from #5 XKT RICK NESS (T and T Kennel) who was left alone to use his rushing speed to get into close position as well. The pack of greyhounds in general were bunched up pretty well going into that “race deciding” first left turn.

That is when trouble ensued for most in the race. BAR GIN cleared the turn on top, but right behind him BARTS GIRL lifted just a little off the rail going into the turn and collided into the side of AMF DIRTY TRIX. While the collision was minor overall, “TRIX” brushed it off and maintained his second place positioning. But, for BARTS GIRL who is known to be a tad bit short in finishing speed, that collision was the nail in the coffin to her chances in the race. It became obvious as the race went on that she could not regain her speed once she offstrided a bit and she slowly started to lose ground. The aforementioned XKT RICK NESS benefitted from BARTS GIRL fading back to move into third where he was pressed by FLYING LONE WOLF who smartly used the open space on the rail left by BARTS GIRL floating out to make up some crucial ground.

BAR GIN safely maintained his advantage down the backstretch as the field started to separate and stretch out a bit. AMF DIRTY TRIX was second in command while XKT RICK NESS and FLYING LONE WOLF matched strides in the battle for show with just one turn to go. The rest of the field was too far back to make up the ground needed to threaten the leaders and it become a two dog race for all the money and the crown.

That far turn is when it became apparent that AMF DIRTY TRIX was starting to gain ground and momentum on BAR GIN as they both hugged that rail. A few lengths further back, XKT RICK NESS was not giving any ground up to FLYING WOLF PACK, even though the latter was latched onto that key rail positioning with plenty of ground left in the race. As the turn for home came up, you could hear the crowd elevate their excitement, especially those who grabbed onto BAR GIN’s amazing 14 to one odds. BAR GIN wasn’t known to be “short” as they call it, but they couldn’t help but notice that “TRIX” was digging in even more and still slicing away at the lead.

The last forty yards of the race were simply what stakes races are supposed to be. BAR GIN’s lead was down to a single length and still shrinking as he lifted off the rail just a bit to force AMF DIRTY TRIX a little more towards the midtrack. It didn’t break his intensity though, as with every stride the lead was slowly inching away. It got down to 3/4ths of a length. Then a half a length. Then a quarter of a length. And then, the bright lights of the finish line hit and nobody knew for sure who exactly won. Did BAR GIN hold on? Did “TRIX” steal the victory away at the last possible moment? The Judges had to go to a photo finish.

When the dust settled, it was a good thing the race was 583 yards long for BAR GIN, because if it had been 584 yards he wouldn’t of claimed his second major stakes title of his young career. By the thinning of margins (a head), BAR GIN was just two one hundredths of a second better than AMF DIRTY TRIX who settled for runner up privileges. “I didn’t think he had a chance to win” trainer Bill Nihan said before pausing, “until I saw how well he broke. Then I knew we had a chance.” It ended up being more than a chance as it turned out, it was reality, albeit by the slimmest of margins. However, championships and prize money are dealt out in black and white (and green) based on the official order of finish, and as the “OFFICIAL” light was hung, BAR GIN was able to finally let out a sigh. Will this be the pinnacle of his career or are there still plenty of fireworks left for this youngster? The upcoming Festival of Stakes will likely shed some answers.

XKT RICK NESS won the battle for show by a length over FLYING WOLF PACK who was relegated to fourth place. Other finishers include BARTS GIRL (5th), AKON (6th), PJ IAINTMADATYOU (7th) and FIESTA PODER (8th).

Shane Bolender