Group 3 Launching Pad (515m)
Heats March 31. Semis April 7.
Final April 14.
$150,000 to the winner.
By DAVID BRASCH
SIX years ago, Mick Gibilisco retired after 28 years as a director of Sandown Greyhound Club.
Mick, now 82, admits age and some health issues impacted upon him so he and wife Lizzie decided to call it quits.
With the Covid hassles for the past couple of years, Mick has stayed away from greyhound racing much to his dislike. Only recently has he been seen around Sandown each Thursday night.
Mick and Lizzie will more than likely be at Sandown on April 14 when the final of the much sought after Group 3 Launching Pad is run with potential stars of the industry chasing a $150,000 pay day.
Mick and Lizzie, and their long-time mate, trainer Des Carlson, landed the very first running of the Launching Pad way back in 2003 with the Just The Best-Your Thoughts bitch Bounty Lass.
Des died a few years ago and Mick has missed him every day since.
“We were brothers,” Mick said. “He was a very good conditioner of a greyhound. Had them super fit. And he was a dinky di Aussie.”
Des trained Bounty Lass who raced in Lizzie’s name and became a star.
By the time she had won the Launching Pad, she had also been a finalist in the Group 1 Sapphire Crown.
The history of the Launching Pad actually dates back to 1997 when it was run as the Dandenong Dry Cleaners Distance, a Group 3 race over 715m. In 2003 it was rebranded as the Launching Pad, shortened to 515m and the unique clause of 1-4 wins and no more than 20 starts added.
The intention was to give the country’s best juveniles a chance to “launch” their careers on the national stage.
How right they were.
The potential of the concept was realised straight away with Bounty Lass winning and then going on to finish second to Bombastic Shiraz in that year’s Melbourne Cup.
Mick remembers meeting Des Carlson like it was just yesterday even though it was the early 1960s.
“I had one greyhound I was training and I was out walking it one morning when I ran into Des with his two greyhounds,” Mick said.
“I wanted to learn all about greyhounds from Des and would purposely head the same way each morning after that to meet up with him.
“But, come the following Friday and Saturday mornings, Des did not turn up.
“I found out he ran a local butcher shop. We became friends and from then on I would walk Des’s two dogs each Friday and Saturday so he could open his shop early.”
Des so valued Mick’s help he never again paid for meat.
“Des fed my family for years after that. And we became brothers. He trained our dogs for us and we pulled off some incredible betting plunges.”
One of those was in 1988 when Des and Mick pulled $120,000 out of the Sandown betting ring with a bitch called Our Choice.
“We backed her from 8-1 to nothing and she won,” Mick said. “We organised punters at the Gabba, Angle Park, in Tassie and at Hawkesbury trots to back her.”
Bounty Lass came about in 2001.
“Des and I bought a dog pup from the litter but he broke a leg, so we got one of the bitches and she raced as Bounty Lass,” Mick said.
“I remember the thrills we had with her … and some of the betting plunges we landed. She always seemed to be a good price.
“That run when second to Bombastic Shiraz in the Melbourne Cup was great and we felt she may have been a bit unlucky not to have won.”
Bounty Lass stayed with Des for a couple of litters when she retired, produced several city winners, but Des decided after two litters to call it quits.
“I organised for her to be adopted,” Mick said.
Mick and Lizzie owned farms and on one reared all their pups.
“It was a big job,” he said. “Actually Lizzie did 90 per cent of the work.”
Mick takes great notice every year of the Launching Pad.
“It gives young dogs a step up to Group racing,” he said.
The Launching Pad is a huge lure for anyone with a highly promising youngster. In the 2020 running, Kuro Kismet downed Aston Rupee and Destruction, with Mepunga Warrior, Fernando Mick and Hadouken all future Group stars behind them.
In the past, the Launching Pad has seen the likes of Aqua Cheetah, Bago Bye Bye, Barcali, Buck Forty, Dundee Osprey, Dyna Patty, Fast Times, Mepunga Blazer, My Redeemer, Premium Share, Quick Jagger, Raw Ability, Rock Up Top, Sennachie, Thirty Talks and Tornado Tears as graduates of the heats.
Mick said he still enjoyed a punt today, but if he lost $10 these days “I start to bleed”.
“It’s a big change from the day I had $30,000 on an ex-Queensland dog called Niosfar at Sandown,” Mick said. “He missed the start. He won his next start at 2-1 on and then made an Australian Cup final.”
Bounty Lass won that inaugural Launching Pad beating future Adelaide Cup winner Hotline Hero and classy Smack Wallop.
Mick and Lizzie know it so well.