Caption: Mark Moroney tends to Fire Legend the morning before the chaser’s victory in the Village Green Hotel Sprinters Cup, one of the feature events of the Grafton Carnival in July.
By PAT McLEOD
The morning winter chill may have been biting outside, but inside Mark Moroney’s custom-built caravan annex at the Grafton Greyhound Racing club there was the warm glow of contentment.
At 60, the former truck driver and greyhound devotee, is living his best life. He calls it ‘semi-retirement’ as he and wife Mel enjoy every day.
This day, Mel is out getting her hair done. Both are off to the Grafton (gallops) Cup meeting that afternoon. They are members of the turf club, which adjoins the greyhound track. Signed up as soon as they moved into one of the permanent sites just after Christmas.
“Mel loves being here. She has made some really good friends,” says Mark. “They go out and have coffee. It has been great for her.”
In a few weeks they will be moving to 25 acres at Junction Hill, on the outskirts of Grafton. A rent with an option to buy scenario where Mark can expand his training and breeding operation. In between there are games of golf.
“I am just a hacker, but there are a couple of great little nine-hole courses here which I really like,” he says.
He walks his dogs every morning and occasionally slips one up the back straight of the gallops track.
Yes, life is good. In fact that morning it couldn’t be much better.
Outside, lazing in the sunshine was the best dog Mark has ever owned, Fire Legend, and the previous night he had won the Village Green Hotel Sprinters Cup Final, one of the star attractions at the historic Grafton Winter Carnival.
“I have been lucky enough to win a few big races, but that win was right up there,” he said. “It was like a hometown cup for us.”
Until the recent move Mark has never lived in Grafton, but has always been his home away from home. His mum, Norma, was born in Grafton and he has been coming to the winter carnival for as long as he can remember.
But what made Fire Legend’s win even more significant for Mark was the fact that he owned and his father, John, trained Fire Cape, which won the same race in 1991.
“I remember winning that race back then,” he recalls. “It was really emotional winning it with my Dad. At that stage I was in my 20s and doing things that 20-year-olds do. Dad was doing all the work.
“But this dog I have now, Fire legend, is the best dog I have ever had.
“He has been a great dog since 16 months of age when we first started him off.
“He went to Victoria and won on all the tracks there and made a few group finals. Since he came back he has broken a track record (Wauchope), won a Lismore cup, ran third in a Paws Of Thunder.
“He also got picked for the Temlee, which was one of our biggest thrills ever. But unfortunately we had to scratch him from that because he pulled up really bad after the Bathurst Cup the week before and a 10-hour trip to Melbourne five days later was just going to be too much.
“He turned four in April and the way he is going he will easily race until the end of this year at least.
“The win at this Grafton carnival surprised me, but then again he always surprises me. He is just a race dog and just gets the job done. He has won nine of his last 10 races. So he is really in a purple patch of form.”
Mark joined the chorus of praise for the Grafton track which was redeveloped in time for last year’s carnival, but those meetings were held under a restrictive ‘Covid cloud’.
This year’s mid-July carnival attracted number crowds and great racing.
Long-standing Club president John Corrigan said he had been inundated with ‘high praise’ across all meetings.
“Trainers love this track,” he said. “This has been a bumper carnival. One of the best in a long time.”
For Moroney the track is not only the scene of his best moment in greyhound racing, but also the launching pad for a successful new chapter.
“I have got a good line and I have been breeding on that line since the early 90s,” he says. “When Fire Cape went to stud I bought a female out of the first litter he had and she was my foundation female and I have bread on from her and that was 25 years ago. Every dog I have had is from the same family.
“It is still a very rich line.”
And for Mark there is little chance he will be back behind the wheel of a truck.
“When I got the Fernando Bale litter, which includes Fire Legend, they were a very good litter. But I needed to put the time in with them.
“I was going to work on a Saturday for a 100 bucks for the day and then I would take the dogs to Gosford and earn two grand in 30 seconds.
“The sums didn’t add up.”• Jedda Cutlack’s Sunburst won the GDSC Stayers Cup, while successful Grafton carnival veteran Dennis Barnes won the Fair Dinkum Builds CV Sheds Ma9iden Final with Nangar Rocket.