Regal Bitch Unleashes Muzzled Magic To Lap From Cup In Ipswich (Trainer Unsure How To Respond To Last-Minute Wedding Invitation For In-Form Dog)

greys (1280x437)City of Ipswich Gold Cup Final; Ipswich Greyhound Racing Club; 16/11/13

“I have the sneaking suspicion that tonight’s ‘bunny’ is one half of a pair of those old novelty rabbit slippers you can probably still get if you go looking hard enough…”

Report by Nicholas Turner

The speculation’s been delicious all week: would Honey Bouquet be running in the Ipswich Gold Cup, or not? The bitch’s muzzling of Yogi Blue in the dying stages of last weekend’s qualifier had caught the stewards’ eyes. They said she wasn’t playing the rabbit. And so right after the $25,000 purse had been dangled before her eyes, Honey Bouquet copped a 28 day ban that would deny her a chance to run for it. Connections were livid and went for an appeal. It all came down to a Friday morning judgment, one sleep from the Cup. But despite the appeal Honey Bouquet was left to wilt, and first reserve White Hornet got the last golden ticket.

The Ipswich Greyhound Racing Club is some kind of sanctuary. Preserved in a pool-room choker-hold of pre-90s Australiana, it’s clearly a place where many-a shoulder-rubbing and good time has taken place. The floor is that loosely-patterned, grey/green/red/blue function-room carpet that in the right light can probably disguise every known edible substance – anything that will soak or smear into it after a little foot traffic. Anything without bones, really. The bar is its own island of stoicism that tells of a place where hard-nosed regulars and wily old-timers do the real board-meetings with one elbow on the beer-mat.

The glassware is those chubby, bulbous schooners that you couldn’t bust if you tossed them at a moving train. The beer taps are the smack-on, smack-off kind that you need an arm-wrestler’s strength and a snake-charmer’s agility to get more liquid than head from. (Fortunately the bartender tonight is an old-fashioned veteran and a venerable tap-whisperer.) Above the service area is a long brick wall of not-quite-aligned, not-quite-matching framed greyhound glamour shots; champion dogs rendered mid-stride from the preferred side-on angle. Occasionally they’re glancing back to the camera in that pseudo-complicit ‘oops you caught me being gorgeous’ way of magazine models caught ambling in fields of dandelions. The name of the champion dog, and its wall-space-justifying achievement, are printed onto the photograph in one or another of those seriously dated fonts that you just couldn’t help putting on every printed document when you first encountered a word processor.

The first race of the day goes to an outright and super-short-priced favourite and the mood in the betting ring is tepid. While the rain of torn stubs settles on the grandstand, the real-deal punters nod knowingly – they continue their serious business, milling under the TAB screens, plotting to out-think the markets. The sight of a short-priced favourite winning by plenty is perfectly good for a patient, lifetime punter, in part because it restores faith in the eternal fantasy of the gambling mind; the elusive and indeed illusory ‘sure thing’. But while your lifers are content enough, these sorts of feature race days attract a swathe of peripheral Hail-Mary-type flutterers that find the prospect of merely not-quite-doubling their money a mockery of the winning feeling. There’s at least one buck’s party in attendance here, the centrepiece in black-and-white-striped prison pyjamas. All they really want is a long-shot nag to score them a single lap-dance, even if it costs them the price of ten.

And so everything changes pitch when a thirty-to-one chance finds the line in the second. Suddenly the betting ring is teeming with prospectors – whispered tips are many enough to sound like busy whipper-snipper blades. The swaying prisoner, with that priceless drunken brow-furrow of affected seriousness (never mind the obvious impediment to his being taken seriously), is moving among the local guys in the driver’s caps and looking for word on the next. (Of which caps, for those who’ve not actually been to a greyhound race, I can assure you that there really are a lot of them out here tonight. But not the tweed ones you see on Irish horse trainers. This is more your canvas or mesh type. They’re typically white and a fairly watertight indication that the wearer has ‘been around the block’ where the hounds are concerned. Another likely curiosity worth serving with one night’s experience; the thing the greyhounds chase is actually a fake rabbit, although it’s dyed pink and there’s no head on it, and I have the sneaking suspicion that tonight’s ‘bunny’ is one half of a pair of those old novelty rabbit slippers you can probably still get if you go looking hard enough.)

It’s about now that in-house mail on the Ipswich Gold Cup starts to come in; Surfin’ Kuwati is big talk wherever you eavesdrop. He’s come through qualifying with the fastest time and has unblemished form this month. Regal Lauryn is the other obvious chance, having finished off the podium only seven times from an intimidating 33 starts and also being basically untouchable on this track. As chance and the practicalities of regional greyhound racing would have it, these two are blood related, fathered by local legend, multiple track-record holder (yes, he’s in one of those photos over the bar) and now professional Casanova, Surf Lorian. There’s talk of genuine chances all over the field; in fact, the qualification structure of this race means that every dog’s in form by definition. But the classy step-siblings never fade from conversation, and the official markets have singled them out now also. Some are saying that a clear start for Surfin’ Kuwati is as good as a win. Others, that Regal Lauryn, from box 8, will get the exact run she’s after, latching onto the front runners at the turn and chewing them up in the final lap with her superior staying strength.

The contenders are led out one by one, each accompanied by a trainer and a child holding a sign with the dog’s name on it. They’re briefly lined up for viewing beside the trophies before moseying up to the boxes. Surfin’ Kuwati and Regal Lauryn share the tiger-striped coat of their father, the latter a few shades darker. The grandstand starts to fill after last minute bets are printed. The boxes open and out come the dogs. The best word for describing what greyhounds do on a locomotive level is ‘pelt’. From front on at the end of the straight, they look surprisingly tiny. But as they close in their awesomeness is clear. At full stretch they look less like dogs than flying eels, each sliding through a fraction of atmosphere like a hot needle fired through butter. There’s a serious rumble in the ground but you can hardly see their legs unfolding to touch the dirt.

So often at the greyhounds, as much of this evening’s card has proved, the first corner decides the race. Or at least, the possibilities of the race’s outcome are whittled down to a mere few. Indeed by the first bend of tonight’s Cup, most of the race’s questions are answered. Surfin’ Kuwati has already missed it. He’s locked in the front of a dog peloton and no chance of joining the leaders. Swap and Regal Lauryn have shot out to the front and one of them is going to be at the top of the podium.  Regal Lauryn is in the exact spot she wanted, and it’s reasonable to believe that she’s aware of it. She sits in second for the first lap, then eases outside before the last turn. Indeed, as soon as she shifts those four or five inches to her right, the job is done.

As for Yogi Blue, the greyhound that was muzzled out of a chance to run in the big one. Well, he’s good enough tonight to win the Consolation Cup. And, believe it or not, the hollering from the grandstand when he hits the line is just about the noise of the night; the whole buck’s party – prisoner included – has backed him in at good odds.

The dog probably doesn’t get that he’s granted one young man a very special last dance.

Match Day Burger Score: 5.0

MDB Cost: $7.50 (w/ chips)

MDB Service Atmosphere: 6.0

Results: 1st, #8 Regal Lauryn (race record – 30.26s); 2nd, #2 Swap; 3rd, #4 Captain Clarrie

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