Caption: Plenty of smiles after the Jodie and Andy Lord prepared She’s a Pearl took the honours in the May 7 Million Dollar Chase (Photo: Lachlan Naidu)
By Chase Editor PAT McLEOD
The big end of town may have lit the spark, but Greyhound Racing NSW’s ‘go-to’ man Wayne Billett has no doubt what has fueled the Million Dollar Chase into a raging success story.
“We could not have done what we have done without the support of the participants and the clubs – the grassroots,” he said.
“This has been a whole-of-industry achievement and that’s what makes it so special.”
Across just five years the Million Dollar Chase (MDC) has been the lantern that has guided greyhound racing in the code’s most populated state from the brink of extinction to the gates of the Promised Land.
There have been many significant changes since the sport in NSW was handed an eviction notice on July 7, 2016, to where it is today.
She’s A Pearl’s emphatic win in the MDC at Wentworth Park on May 7 not only spotlighted a brilliant chaser, but the unprecedented media coverage broke through to the wider community, showcasing just how far the sport has come.
Billett, GRNSW’s Chief Operating Officer, has been on the ground, supporting GRNSW CEO Tony Mestrov, across those years dealing with the doubters, the hurdles … and of course Covid.
When the MDC was launched for its first outing in 2018 the naysayers lined up ‘plenty-deep’ and the jibes arrived thick and fast.
‘It was a ‘cash-splash’ for the sport’s already successful.’
‘The money would be better spent boosting prizemoney at the bottom end.’
‘Why not sink those dollars directly into welfare.’
… and of course other State jurisdictions were far-less-than-happy that an already compressed major race schedule now had to make way for an uninvited juggernaut.
But time is always the decider. As Mystic Riot (2018), Good Odds Harada (2019), Handsome Prince (2020) and now She’s a Pearl (2022) saluted in the MDC, the shift in sentiment towards the event has been seismic.
Billett explains the strategy that led to this.
“Initially we were looking for something to take the code to the next level and at the time Ladbrokes supported the original concept and then the TAB were looking to support something that was exceptional. That is how this concept was brought about.
“But it had to support the whole industry and that is why we came up with the regional model to make sure that everyone from every part of the state had the opportunity to participate. That was really important.
“Central to the plan for a million-dollar race was to take the messaging to a wider section of the community, so that more people had a better understanding of the greyhound industry and how animal welfare is at the core of what we do.
“That’s why the GAP program is a very visual partner in the MDC.
“So other than having just a signature race event, we also showcased the animal welfare aspects of greyhound racing and how initiatives such as re-homing are just as important as the racing part of the greyhound industry.
“And yes, when we first announced the MDC there were people from other jurisdictions who were not happy, especially with the racing schedule.
“Since then, we have worked hard to find a timeslot that doesn’t impact too much on other features events.”
Most of those boxes have been ticked.
The MDC embraces all NSW, from the smaller outposts to the centre-stage at Wentworth Park. Heats this year were held at 14 regional tracks.
Other states have now been factored into the MDC and they are able to leverage off the success of their best sprinters being ushered into the semi-finals stage of the event.
And the MDC has played a major role in focusing the PR spotlight on what greyhound racing is all about.
The May 7 final was beamed live via the Fox network and high-profile greyhound ambassadors including Tim Cahill (soccer), Ryan Papenhuyzen (rugby league), Jess Fox (Olympic canoeist), Todd McKenney (TV celebrity), Katrina Warren (celebrity vet), Rheed McCracken (Paralympic Athlete) and Harry Garside (Olympic boxer) have been ever-present on TV, radio and social media.
“So, overall we have had some really great exposure and commitment into the greater community,” said Billett, who also welcomes other exciting initiatives, such as The Phoenix, hosted out of The Meadows and offering $1.1million in prizemoney.
“I think it is very important for our industry to continue to evolve and that’s why we welcome other signature events such as The Phoenix.
“People want to aspire to contest those major events, so while the calendar of events is very busy, that is far from a negative. People in the industry have never had so many opportunities for their greyhounds.”
With the May 7 MDC run as a ‘catch-up’ for the Covid-enforced postponed event in 2021, Billett is now marking his run-up for the second MDC in 2022.
“We are currently doing a review of the just-conducted event and the full calendar of qualifying, etc for the next race will be out in early June.
“NSW is hosting The Nationals this year (August 26-27), so we will start our series just before The Nationals, with the heats expected to start in mid to late August, for the regionals. At this stage the final will be held on Saturday, September 24.
“We believe the MDC is now a nationally iconic race for the code and we want to continue to build on that.”