By MIKE HILL
GREG Stella says he is enjoying training more now than at any other stage of his long career.
Stella, who has been in the sport since 1987 and who celebrated his 56th birthday last month, is featured in our The Trainer column.
“You do the best you can and take what comes, but it’s become more enjoyable as I’ve got older,” he said.
“I’m enjoying racing my dogs more now than ever.”
Based at his four-acre property at Park Ridge, Stella has 10 dogs in work, including talented sprinter Regal Topaz, the well-named Above Average and the promising youngster Certification.
The property has a slipping track, an outdoor rotary walking machine and a 10-dog kennel block.
“We also have days yards, a whelping area and kennel facilities for youngsters preparing for break-in,” Stella said.
Over the years Greg and his wife Michelle, who was a trainer in her own right, have had their share of outstanding chasers.
They trained the 2002 Group 1 Winter Cup winner Awesome Machine for friend and well-known Victorian greyhound identity Gary Ennis.
“Awesome Machine had previously won the Queensland Derby at Albion Park and was later awarded the 2002 Queensland Greyhound of the Year title,” he said.
In 1995, Newtown Boy, a blue dog (New Tears-Pom Pom) owned and bred by the Stellas, won the $20,000-to-the-winner Straight Track Classic at Capalaba.
“That was big money in those days,” said Greg.
“We also had the winner’s litter brother in the final.”
A year or so later, Stella acquired the dog he considers the best he has ever trained – Shape Shifter (Acacia Ablaze-Pretty Wanderer).
“He was a dog with freakish ability,” he said.
“I bought him as a maiden performer with my older brother Jeff.”
Although Shape Shifter never won a Group feature in his relatively short 37-start career, he held five track records during an amazing year of racing in 1997.
“He set records at Albion Park (600m and 710m), Ipswich (630m), Sandown (715m) and Cranbourne (699m),” Stella said.
“He won the Winter Chase at Albion Park, ran second in the National Distance Championship final at Angle Park after winning the State final and made the finals of the Sandown Cup, Sydney Cup and Association Cup.
“He was the fastest dog I’ve ever had.
“He always trialled brilliantly and was the first dog to break 35s for the 600m at Albion Park.”
In recent years, Stella has landed several feature finals, including the 2006 $35,000-to-the-winner Ipswich Auction Series with Rylee’s Revenge and this year’s $17,250 Dave Brett Memorial Maiden with Certification.
His talented chaser, the well-bred Regal Topaz, has been racing in scintillating fashion this year.
Since early February, the ultra consistent fawn bitch (Barcia Bale-Regal Lauryn) has been unplaced only once in 15 starts.
In that time she’s had seven wins – six over the 520m trip at Albion Park, including the Winged Runner Trophy Final – with four BONs, including a super quick 29.88s.
She also finished runner-up to litter brother Regal Recall in the G3 Rockhampton Cup (510m) in late May.
“She suffered damaged ligaments in her tail in a catching pen incident at Rocky,” Stella said.
“It’s an unusual injury but it will keep her off the track for a few more weeks.
“She’s really consistent and we’ll breed from her when she finishes racing.”
Regal Topaz’s record so far comprises 20 wins and 16 minor placings from 50 starts with prizemoney topping $85,500.
The very smart Above Average is becoming a Capalaba straight track specialist.
The black sprinter (Fabregas-Reshuffle) has raced only 12 times and has the impressive record of eight wins – seven at Capalaba – and three minor placings.
Stella, who took up training in his mid 20s, said he’d been around greyhounds in his early teens.
“Dad had dogs when I was in high school and I would go to the Gabba meetings as a teenager,” he said.
Stella said his wife was also interested in greyhounds from an early age.
“She lived at Greenbank and helped out in the sport during her teenage years,” he said.
“It’s always been a team effort for us over the years.
“In fact, Michelle was the registered trainer when Awesome Machine won the Winter Cup at Albion Park in 2002.”
Greg said he hadn’t bred a litter of pups for six or seven years, but hoped to resume a breeding program next year.
“We’ve probably whelped and reared 20 litters here over the years,” he said.
The Stellas’ have two daughters, Rylee, 20, and 13-year-old Ebony and Greg said proudly that Rylee had received her handler’s licence earlier in the year.
1: How and when did you get involved in greyhound racing?
A: My father raced greyhounds when I was going to school and I started training in 1987.
2: Who has been the greatest influence on you as a trainer?
A: Retired vet Graham Beh with muscle checking and treating injuries.
3: At what age do you start preparing a pup for racing?
A: Normally when they are about 15 or 16 months old after they’ve finished breaking in.
4: How long does it take to prepare a pup for its first race?
A: A minimum of four months.
5: What makes a good pup?
A: One with good temperament and natural ability.
6: Do you do anything special when preparing a young dog for its maiden compared to a seasoned performer?
A: Just trialling with other dogs and more starting box practice if needed.
7: Do you have a set routine for all your greyhounds or do you vary training for individual runners?
A: A set routine mainly .
8: Do you have any unique or unusual methods you would like to share in regard to training?
A: No there are no secrets.
9: Do you swim your dogs as part of your training regime?
10: How frequently do you like to race your dogs?
A: Every five to seven days .
11: What’s your training routine for dogs between races?
A: Outdoor rotary walking machine every morning and a free gallop up our straight track every second day. We feed breakfast every day and their main meal late in the afternoon.
12: Do you do all muscle work on your dogs or do you use a professional muscle man?
A: I check my own dogs and seek professional help if needed.
13: Do you treat all injuries to your dogs yourself?
A: We treat most injuries ourselves , but we will seek professional advice for the more serious injuries.
14: Which is the best greyhound you have trained?
A: Shape Shifter
15: What do you consider is the best greyhound track in Australia and why?
A: I always thought the old Parklands track was great, especially for young dogs learning how to race and not having to jump on a bend start.
16: What does the industry need most going forward?
A: A new track like Parklands with facilities such as a straight track, exercise runs and bull ring that any trainer has access to use. This would benefit the hobby trainers who train from house blocks that were the backbone of our industry. Having these facilities could possibly encourage a younger generation to start in the industry without the massive expense of purchasing their own property. I also believe there is a shortage of greyhound vets coming through and if the industry could possibly give some incentive to young vets to specialise in greyhounds, such as a greyhound veterinary clinic as part of the new track’s facilities.
17: What is the best advice you could give someone just starting out as a trainer?
A: Ask trainers questions and work with an experienced trainer if possible.