Sitka a world-class memory

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By Chase Editor

Pat McLeod

WHEN you scan through Mick Louth’s history as a breeder, owner and trainer it is akin to dancing across the globe.

Names of far-flung places crop up regularly. Some well-known, some not so.

“I have been involved in the mining industry and have worked ‘everywhere’,” he explains. “So when I name my dogs, often they are named after places where I have worked.”

But one name, one place, one dog remains special after a lengthy career in greyhounds.

Sitka.

Google it and you will discover it is an Alaskan city – population 8,647. Louth last worked there in 2006 and really liked the region.

That’s the reason in 2008 he named one of a Collide/Mohar Litter after the north American city.

At that stage Louth had moved from South Australia to Tasmania. He had been involved in greyhounds since the mid-‘70s, however had hung up the collar and lead for about 20 years as work took him to places like Sitka.

“I got back into it in about 2000,” he recalls.

“I bought a pup that did OK and then a bitch that won a few races and I bred from her. One of her pups – Koocanusa (named after a lake in northern Montana) – qualified for the sprint Nationals in 2009.”

But back to Sitka.

The early news wasn’t great. In fact during the rearing process Louth was told that the young bitch ‘would make a good house pet’.

Undeterred Louth persisted with Sitka and trialled her down the straight at Launceston.

“She went about 20 or 30 metres and then just stopped and looked around,” he says with a laugh.

“Same happened when I tried her on the circle.”

However, Louth could still see something in the black bitch with the lovely nature.

He then trialled her with another dog … and the penny dropped.

“She just flew past the other dog. Incredible! She trialled slow but raced great,” says Louth.

“I had a suspicion she could run. And I was right.”

Sitka began her track career in March, 2009, and by May that year recorded her first win.

By September the same year Louth was gearing Koocanusa for a shot at the Nationals at Cannington. He decided to send Sitka over as well, with both dogs being kennelled with respected mentor Bill McNally.

Koocanusa ran fifth in the sprint final to the legendary Dashing Corsair, but Sitka also impressed with a second placing over the 642m in the last race of the night.

McNally liked the bitch and convinced Louth to leave her in WA for the next few months, during which she recorded 10 wins from 25 starts.

There was also plenty of interest in Sitka, with Louth fielding a number of lucrative offers.

However the answer was always a firm ‘no’.

By May, 2010, Sitka was back in Tassie with her owner, who had mapped out another nationals campaign, this time over the longer distance and with his new kennel star.

Sitka was certainly up for the challenge. In the Nationals State distance final at Launceston she set a new mark for the 720m at 42.36 – a record that still stands today. An indication of her early pace was the fact that she broke the 278m record (run from the same boxes) in that same race.

At the Nationals, at Angle Park, Sitka ran third behind Blue Lorian over the 731m distance.

She then recorded a second in the Sale Cup behind Symmetry in a red hot field that included Dashing Corsair and Bobby Boucheau.

Just three months after that start, she injured a hock at Ballarat and Louth decided to retire her. He bred from her – three litters, which included some very handy chasers.

“But most of all I just loved having her around the house,” he says.

“She loved being inside and on the couch. She was a beautiful animal.”

In early May this year, Sitka passed away from kidney failure, leaving behind a lengthy highlights reel for her owner. But most of all she confirmed a greyhound philosophy that Louth still holds close to his heart.

“Too many trainers rely on the clock too early with their dogs,” he says.

“If I had have applied that rationale to Sitka she would have gone to the GAP program and would never have raced.

“So many times, the first thing a trainer will pull out is the clock. Sitka was 22 months before she chased. All dogs are different and I take great pride in producing the best out of dogs who take a while to show their hand – but I can see something in them.”

Bill McNally, who has been based in Tasmania since 2013, says Sitka holds a special place among the long list of champions he has trained.

“She was special in that she had great speed at the start and at the finish,” he said.

“And she proved that time and again. If you mix that with a great temperament and her will to chase, you can see why I rated her so highly.”

McNally also agrees with Louth’s  ‘clock philosophy’.

“Patience is far more important than the clock,” he says. “Of course a good trainer or rearer will also have the ability to see that something special in a dog despite the fact that early times might not be sensational.

“But the more time and patience you put into the early stages of a dog’s life, the bigger the rewards will be. The clock can never be the only decider with young dogs. I learnt a long time ago, they don’t print the time on the winner’s cheque.”

Mick Louth is still enjoying his life in greyhounds.  He is based out of Flowery Gully, north-west of Launceston, with a current team of six dogs in work.

He has lots of great memories from around the globe. But one special one is captured in a photo on his loungeroom bureau – a ‘house pet’ who rewarded his faithful owner with a record run at Launceston.

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