By Mike Hill

RICKY Hassall, based at the quaint Queensland country town of Torbanlea on the Fraser Coast, is enjoying being a full-time trainer.

Hassall, who has been in the game on and off for more than 40 years, is featured in this month’s The Trainer column.

“I kicked off as a 17-year-old trainer in NSW, winning my first race at the old Wollongong Showgrounds track in 1979,” he recalls.

But as a fireman, working day and night shifts, training had to take a back seat over the years.

However, he was still very active as an owner-breeder.

Hassall came to Queensland 25 years ago and in recent years he has been setting up his property in readiness for the time when he could hang up his helmet and hose and go training full-time.

That time has now come and he’s enjoying every moment with his seven-kennel complex containing some smart chasers.

“I decided to set a target and train seven dogs max,” he said.

He admitted he had never trained that many before – just the one or two – but he’s happy with his operation.

“I have seven great kennels, a straight track and competition runs.”

Last month he had four dogs racing at Bundaberg  – ‘That’s the most runners I’ve ever had at a meeting’ – and he returned home with a winning double.

His stocks are certainly high.

The outstanding race bitch, well-bred Elegant Eleanor (Fabregas-Befitting), returned to the track last month in stunning fashion with a first-up victory over the Bundy 460m after being sidelined for just under four months with a torn back muscle.

The black sprinter followed it up a week later with another success to take her record to 16 wins and three minor placings from just 25 starts and lifted her prizemoney to more than $45,000.

But Hassall is not getting carried away.

“It was great to see her get around safely, but she’s still a week-to-week proposition,” he said.

“She seems well in herself and she wants to do it, but as soon as she comes on season I’ll breed from her.”

Hassall has also uncovered another smart sprinter that he intends breeding from, Nerve Settler – a Barcia Bale bitch from two-time Group finalist Ash Flash (Velocette-Ashleigh Ella).

Nerve Settler arrived from Victoria early in the year and from nine starts for her new kennel she has posted six wins – five in a row, including a 30.30s victory over 520m at Albion Park when a $19 chance – and two minor placings.

She has more than repaid her sale price and Hassall is very impressed, so much so that he has already acquired her pink breeding card.

“She a very talented sprinter,” he said.

Hassall is putting together a nice boutique team of chasers and with his extremely well-bred racing bitches likely to be in pup in the next 12 months, the signs are bright that good things are on the horizon.

Other recent kennel winners include Kiki’s Mom and Prince Cosmic and Hassall has just added  former West Australian sprinter, the consistent Fernando Man, to his team.

1: How and when did you get involved in greyhound racing?

A: I was 16 and after attending a meeting at Wentworth Park as a punter I ran into a trainer with a couple of dogs that had raced that night. I was amazed at how gentle and loving the greyhounds were. I bought one advertised in the Greyhound Recorder the next week.

2: Who has been the greatest influence on you as a trainer?

A: So many people have been influential, but special mention to John and Leonie North, Jeff and Lillian Jones and Peter Denaro.

3: At what age do you start preparing a pup for racing?

A: It is ideal if you can rear them yourself. It’s not hard to instil their natural chase instincts from a young age in that situation. Correct rearing is so important and makes for an easy transition from pup to race dog.

4: How long does it take to prepare a pup for its first race?

A: All dogs are different, some are much more mature than others. But you generally start preparing them from 14 months onwards. Some take longer than others and you need to be patient with the ones that are not so ‘switched on’.

5: What makes a good pup?

A: Good rearing, regular worming and a good, healthy diet. Give them plenty of experience with mechanical noise and walking them through an old set of starting boxes or similar just makes them more resilient at education. Basically ‘bomb proofing’ them before education.

6: Do you do anything special when preparing a young dog for its maiden compared to a seasoned performer?

A: Teaching them the ropes, kennelling them up for at least 30 minutes before trialling. Weigh them at the track each time you trial – not to know their weight – just to get them used to the process. Put a racing rug on them for each trial.

7: Do you have a set routine for all your greyhounds or do you vary training for individual runners?

A: Each dog is an individual and they respond to different training methods. It’s a trial and error situation to find out what works best for each dog.

8: Do you have any unique or unusual methods you would like to share in regard to training?

A: No, I don’t do anything different to most trainers.

9: Do you swim your dogs as part of your training regime?

A: Yes I do, especially if the dog has a foot or leg injury. It helps to keep the dog in condition.

10: How frequently do you like to race your dogs?

A: Weekly, but it depends on the dog and the distance it races over.

11: What’s your training routine for dogs between races?

A: It depends on the dog – free galloping up the straight is ideal, but some need a lure to gallop. Once they are fit they only need a couple of gallops between races.

12: Do you do all muscle work on your dogs or do you use a professional muscle man?

A: I check them myself, but always get a second opinion from a much more experienced muscleman. There are plenty of quality musclemen around. I’m always trying to get better at this aspect of training.

13: Do you do treat all injuries to your dogs yourself?

A: If I can, otherwise I always seek help from a vet.

14: Which is the best greyhound you have trained?

A: Without doubt Elegant Eleanor, but I had a great little dog called Kilkivan Crow, who was also very smart, but unfortunately broke his hock.

15: What do you consider is the best greyhound track in Australia and why?

A: I really like my local track at Bundaberg. It’s the only grass circle track in Queensland and it’s exceptionally well maintained. It would be one of the safest tracks I’ve ever raced at.

16: What does the industry need most going forward?

A: We desperately need the new complex at Purga to go ahead ASAP. The industry is going gangbusters and we are let down by not having a top-class racing facility like other States.

17: What is the best advice you could give someone just starting out as a trainer?

A: Ask the successful trainers for information and advice – they are all only too willing to help you out with sound advice.