By MIKE HILL
THIS month we feature Northern Rivers-based Bob Merillo in our The Trainer column.
Merillo admits to being a bit of a lazy trainer – not in regards to his dogs but about travel.
“I just don’t like travelling,” he said.
“I could go to Sydney or Brisbane and my dogs would be competitive but I’d just rather race at the local tracks – Grafton, Lismore and Casino.
“I’m happy doing that.”
And why not?
Merillo picks up his doubles on a regular basis and recently landed a couple of trebles.
“I had three winners at a Casino meeting (in late October) and a treble at Grafton a few week before that,” the trainer said.
His Casino winners – in consecutive races – were Bokarm Rosie ($5.30), Bokarm Nala ($3.30) and No Worries Cob ($2.70 fav), while he was successful with Bokarm Nala ($2.90), Bokarm Nora ($2.60 fav) and Bokarm Rosie ($4.80) at Grafton.
Following his Grafton success, Merillo was reported as saying that all of his winners were capable of improving, pointing out they had done little work going into the meeting.
“Because I went to Vietnam for a holiday my dogs did not have a trial for three weeks,” he said at the time.
“Instead of trialling I reckoned they were fit enough to handle the 305m trip at Grafton and three of them won while my other starter, No Worries Cob, led before tiring to finish third.”
Merillo prides himself on the fact that he doesn’t over-race his dogs.
“When I go on holidays, my dogs have a holiday as well,” he said.
“They’re definitely not over-raced.”
Merillo has been in the sport since the mid-1970s, beginning in the Brisbane region.
“Over the years, I’ve been on the committees at Capalaba, Lawton, Casino and Grafton,” he said.
Merillo admitted he tried to get out of the sport a decade or so ago, but he was quickly pulled back in.
“We sold up at Doubtful Creek (near Casino) and moved into Yamba,” he said.
“After two years I said to my wife if I don’t move back onto acreage and get back into the dogs I’ll die.
“I don’t know how people can retire and do nothing.”
Bob and his wife Kerry left Yamba, buying an eight-acre property at Waterview Heights near Grafton.
Merillo has a small team of five dogs in work, headed by consistent sprinters Bokarm Bear (40: 13-9-6) and Bokarm Rosie (34: 14-7-9), with a sixth coming back from injury.
His training complex includes a straight track, bull ring, kennel block and whelping room.
“I breed all my dogs, I don’t buy any,” he said.
Last month, the Merillos’ broodbitch Allegro Dot had a litter of 10 pups to Paw Licking. Her first litter to Glen Gallon has produced several smart sprinters, including Wentworth Park performer Saint Gallon and Northern Rivers pair Bokarm Nala and Bokarm Nora.
“The Paw Licking pups were born only a few days ago. My wife looks after all the pups,” Merillo said.
“She does a wonderful job with them.”
Over the years he has had some smart chasers, including Warren’s Tears, probably his best, and Oh Mate – a litter brother of the outstanding Knocka Norris.
“Warren’s Tears won 19 races, mainly at Lawnton and Casino in the mid-90s, while Oh Mate was a fast dog, winning eight races, including six straight, before dropping a couple of back muscles,” he said.
“As a full brother to Knocka Norris, I still have six of his straws if anyone is interested in the bloodline.”
Knocka Norris won 21 of 32 starts, including a runaway seven-and-a-half-length victory in the 2008 Group 1 National Sprint Championship at Wentworth Park, before going on to stud success.
Merillo said his wife was a great help with the day-to-day operation.
“Kerry just loves the dogs,” he said. “I think she enjoys them more than me.
“She takes control on race nights, doing most of the work.
“She kennels the dogs, takes them to the boxes … she does the lot.”
1: How and when did you get involved in greyhound racing?
A: My uncle had greyhounds when I was a young chap living in Sydney and I sort of got involve with him. I was also friendly with an old guy Kev Webb. He was a scrap metal dealer who had greyhounds and I would go with him when he went on his trips to country areas. He would travel to rural towns to buy scrap metal and race his dogs at the local tracks. I then bought a Mister Moss-Vivasue pup from John Snodgrass at Kellyville. The mother was a top broodbitch. When I moved to Queensland just after the 1974 floods I took the pup with me and had her reared at Loganholme by Peta Millet. She was the first dog I ever trained. She raced as Gorgeous Moss and won 12 or 13 races. She was a smart bitch.
2: Who has been the greatest influence on you as a trainer?
A: A bloke called Ted Warner. He lived at Kedron. I met him at Lawton one day and asked if I could trial with him. He said: “All I’ve got is my dog Big Boy Blue. He’ll kill your bitch.” I said: “It doesn’t matter.” Gorgeous Moss beat his dog easily. After that we became good friends and he helped me a lot. I was constantly asking him questions.
3: At what age do you start preparing a pup for racing?
A: I usually get them broken in at 15 months old and slowly work them up from there. I get them race fit here on the property with free galloping. I let them run around in a five-acre paddock. I’ll then take them to the track for three or four trials, maybe more, before their first start.
4: How long does it take to prepare a pup for its first race?
A: Three to four months. I start racing bitches, if they’re advanced, at about 18 months old and dogs about 20 months old. All my pups are broken in by John Martin at Casino.
5: What makes a good pup?
A: One with a good temperament. Young dogs that mess up in their kennel are not much good as a rule. Those that are relaxed, quiet with a good temperament usually make the better dogs.
6: Do you do anything special when preparing a young dog for its maiden compared to a seasoned performer?
A: No, nothing special. All my dogs are trained the same.
7: Do you have a set routine for all your greyhounds or do you vary training for individual runners?
A: No. It’s always the same. My wife and I get up at seven in the morning, have a cup of coffee, walk to shed, let the dogs out and feed them. I say to them, see you at three o’clock and we do it all again. It’s an easy routine. They dogs free gallop … it’s a great way to build their muscles and keep them fit. It works for me.
8: Do you have any unique or unusual methods you would like to share in regard to training?
A: No. I do nothing different. When we go on holidays, the dogs have a holiday. We’ve been away three times this year and the dogs have had six weeks off. When we have a break, they have a spell.
9: Do you swim your dogs as part of your training regime?
A: No, I don’t swim my dogs. There’s no swimming races for dogs.
10: How frequently do you like to race your dogs?
A: Once a week. Sometimes I may back them up, but once a week keeps them fresh, particularly if you don’t trial.
11: What’s your training routine for dogs between races?
A: I put them in the five-acre paddock and they free gallop. The day before a race, I put them in a small yard for a short time and then it’s back in the kennel for a relaxing day.
12: Do you do all muscle work on your dogs or do you use a professional muscle man?
A: I do my own muscle work. I’ve got all the equipment. If you use it properly the dogs stay sound and fit.
13: Do you do treat all injuries to your dogs yourself?
A: Yes, but if it is really bad I will use a vet.
14: Which is the best greyhound you have trained?
A: Warren’s Tears. He was a very fast dog and won 19 races.
15: What do you consider is the best greyhound track in Australia and why?
A: I do like the one-turn track. Of all the tracks I race at I like Grafton.
16: What does the industry need most going forward?
A: More prizemoney and a better grading system.
17: What is the best advice you could give someone just starting out as a trainer?
A: Don’t take a ‘giveaway’ dog. They’ll break your heart. Save up and buy a decent, well-bred pup.