‘Fred’ proved himself a top gun

\"\"Caption: Poke The Bear with connections (from left) Holly and Sophie Thompson, Darren and Michael Puleio, Jason and Seona Thompson and the 2018 TAB Topgun trophy (Photo: BlueStream Pictures).

Group 1 Topgun (525m)

Best 8 by invitation

Adelaide Cup winner guaranteed

November 6

Winner $150,000

By DAVID BRASCH

COME November for the past couple of years, Victorian breeder-owner Darren Puleio has looked on the running of the Topgun at The Meadows with memories no money can buy.

Not that he actually needs to see each year\’s race. Darren has a constant memory of Poke The Bear\’s victory in the 2018 Topgun waiting for him each day he arrives at his work office.

Darren\’s office is flush with photos and trophies won by the many Group winners he and his dad Michael have raced.

But also holding pride of place in the office is the urn holding the ashes of Poke The Bear, the son of Fernando Bale-Nicki Fields who won 37 races and earned $487,000.

Poke The Bear, or Fred as he was known around the kennels, tragically died of cancer not long after retiring from racing.

\”I was absolutely gutted when he was diagnosed,\” Puleio said. \”When he had to be put down, I decided I would get him cremated and keep his ashes. They sit underneath one of his trophies in my office at work.

\”I\’ve never done that with any other dog we raced.\”

Poke The Bear was something else for the Puleio family.

\”Even his name has great significance to all of us,\” he said. \”His kennel name is Fred and he was given that name after a great mate of mine.

\”Fred and a bunch of our mates and wives were on a motorbike trip into Queensland a few years back. We\’d had a tough night and the next morning Fred came outside looking worse for wear.

\”One of the girls gave him a nudge in the stomach and he declared \’don\’t poke the bear\’. And that\’s how Fred the greyhound got his name.\”

Darren remembers the lead-up to the 2018 Topgun like it was yesterday.

Poke The Bear had won the Traralgon Cup, been third in the Cranbourne Cup, fourth in the Temlee, a finalist in the Easter Gift, second in the Speed Star and fourth in the inaugural running of the Million Dollar Chase.

\”His form was great and he had no luck at Wentworth Park in the Million Dollar Chase,\” Puleio said. “It was a big thrill for Dad and me just to have him invited to the Topgun.

\”But, he came up with the dreaded six box and I instantly thought, ‘Oh no, here we go again’. Fred kept getting box six.

\”But, Jason and Seona Thompson were very confident about the Topgun. Jason said if he got a bit of room early and was within the first three going around the first turn the race was over.

\”And, that\’s exactly how it turned out.\”

Poke The Bear downed Hasten Slowly and Up Hill Jill. All eight of the finalists would be Group 1 winners by the end of their careers.

\”The Meadows was always a track he loved,\” Puleio said. \”His quickest winning time there was 29.46 and Allen Deed still holds the record there of 29.37.

\”When Fred settled into third into the back straight of the Topgun, I started cheering like crazy. I wanted so bad to win a Group 1 with him and he did it.

\”As Jason Thompson said of him, he was the ultimate professional race dog. Nothing fazed him until he went to the races. He pulled his way to the starting boxes.

\”We were all pretty low key in the build-up to the race and even after the celebration was very low key. It was a huge weight off everyone. We are all so thankful to Seona and Jason.

\”What was most wonderful about the win is that we chose the breeding right, whelped him right, reared him right, raced him right, did everything right for him and it became the ultimate reward, a Group 1 victory.

\”Poke The Bear was a special one, a real special one.\”

Unfortunately Poke The Bear was lacking a couple of special aspects to his make-up which prevented him going to stud.

\”As I said, when he was diagnosed with cancer I was gutted,\” Puleio said. “To win the Topgun out of box six was something special.

\”He had box six in the Traralgon Cup, Easter Gift, Topgun and Melbourne Cup.\”

Poke The Bear retired in August 2019 after winning the G1 Topgun, G2 Traralgon Cup, G3 Speed Star, G3 Silver Bullet. He also ran second in the G2 Cranbourne Cup, G3 Speed Star, was third in the G2 Cranbourne Cup and a finalist in the G1 Melbourne Cup, G1 Temlee (twice) and G1 Paws Of Thunder.

And he was fourth to Mystic Riot in the inaugural Million Dollar Chase.

\”The lead-up to that was unreal as well,\” Puleio said. \”We won the Consolation with True Talent and that was something special as well because we never expected him to race.\”

The Topgun, the greyhound world\’s equal of the Cox Plate in thoroughbred racing, is only ever won by superstars of the industry.

Fred proved himself just that.

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