By DAVID BRASCH
ALMOST before he got back to the dais after finishing third in the Group 1 Golden Easter Egg, Steve Keep could feel his mobile phone working overtime receiving text after text.
Congratulations was the theme. It was a proud moment and Keepie was riding it for everything he had.
That\’s because it was the first time he\’d had a runner in a Group 1 race. And only the second time he\’d been in a Group final. The previous had been his win in the Group 2 Tweed Galaxy with Sootie Allover way back in 2003.
Yes, a long time between drinks and Keepie was not going to let the moment get away even though he was trying his hardest to be ‘cool’ about it. Keepie has to try VERY hard to stay cool.
\”Within minutes I had 48 text messages wishing us congratulations,\” said Keepie of he and partner Shannon. \”I\’ll be working through each of them … at five minute intervals,\” he said.
The subject of such pride came via the phenomenal performance by Baroque Knight to finish third in the Egg as the $61 rank outsider. Keepie told everyone and anyone who would listen the dog was a much better chance than the odds said.
\”And, coming to the turn out of the back straight when he was starting to take ground off Tommy Shelby and Wow, I couldn\’t believe what was happening.
\”He ran up to a dog like Wow like he was standing still.
\”The run was brilliant,\” he said.
Tommy and Wow kept up their momentum and ran the Egg quinella, but Baroque Knight held on bravely for third and a $25,000 pay day running a fabulous 29.61 beaten just four and three-quarter lengths.
He\’d never before broken 30 seconds at Wenty.
\”Do you know, the owners backed him the place when the fields came out at $76,\” said Keepie.
\”Then, when he made the final finishing second to Wow in the semis, they took another piece of the place at $17.\”
While running third in the Egg at his Group 1 debut was a feat of which to be proud, the result was a plan Keepie put together months in advance.
He remembers driving with the dog to Wentworth Park, via Armidale, during the severe flooding that hit NSW in May chasing a berth in the big time.
The meeting was washed out while Steve was on his way and transferred to a week later. Keepie, 57, stayed with his daughter Sarah in Newcastle, and the trip home to Grafton took more than eight hours.
It was a nightmare he still laments.
\”The dog is a wonderful traveller, but having to stay at my daughter\’s place overnight was terrible because he is such a fussy dog,\” he said. \”I had to go out and get him a cooked chook and for breakfast the next morning had to tempt him with toast and the likes. He was like a baby.\”
But Steve Keep has been in dogs long enough, since he was eight years old in fact, to know good things come to those who wait … and plan for it.
The ‘good thing’ was the fact all those weekly trips to Wentworth Park with Baroque Knight ended with a spot in the final of the Egg.
Keepie and Shannon went to Wenty wanting just to savour the entire experience. Anything else, like running a place in the glamour race, would be a bonus.
\”We had a heap of supporters and handed out about 15 special shirts we had made with the Newcastle Knights logo on the back and the word BAROQUE above it,\” he said.
\”On the Sunday after the final, my uncle Simmo (transport guru Peter Simpson) turned up at our place delivering dogs here and he still had his shirt on. I think he slept in it.\”
Third place in the Egg was no surprise for Keepie.
\”No, no way,\” he said. \”I was pretty confident he would run a place. He actually didn\’t come out as good as I expected him to, but he is a dog who drives hard into a corner and that put him into third behind the best two dogs racing in Australia.
\”What it has shown us is that he is a genuine Group dog now. And, he\’s only just turned two. I\’m not saying he will win a Group 1 because he will always come up against dogs like Tommy Shelby and Wow in those races, but a Group 2 or 3 is in him.\”
Of his first Group 1 experience, Keepie says it was ‘a buzz’.
\”It was exciting, just to be with the trainers that were in the final,\” he said. \”All credit to the dog, he was not overwhelmed by the night and the things going on around him.
\”I think it was also good for country trainers to show we can do these things.
\”When he was beaten in a fifth grade at Wenty as the $1.70 favourite and off the one box, well it was hard to think we would keep going towards the Egg.
\”But, they got only 13 noms for the Preludes the following week and we pressed on. We hadn\’t come this far to miss out. He won that Prelude and the rest is history.
\”To think he ran third behind the two best dogs racing in Australia … you can\’t ask for more than that.\”