By Andrew Thomson
Melbourne trainer Jason Thompson has been a leading Australian greyhound mentor for more than 20 years, preparing many of the best chasers in the nation.
Only twice have greyhounds run so fast that Thompson thought the time recorded must have involved clocking the lure not the dogs.
It happened 20 years ago with a greyhound named Collision, who went on to become a super sire.
It happened more recently with a young pup called Zambora Smokey.
\”Before he raced he went 8.01 or 8.02 to the first mark at Warragul and 22.30 overall,\” Thompson said
\”You ask people from around our area and that\’s nearly unbelievable that a dog can show that much early speed.
\”I just immediately put it down that the clock was wrong to the first mark and the overall time was right.
\”And, then he did it again in a second trial – and I knew it must be right.\”
Thompson said experienced trainers roughly knew what their greyhounds would run in trials.
\”The last dog that did that was Collision early on before he raced. Wayne Vassallo was working for us. He took him to trial, then rang and told me what Collision had run. I said, \’That can\’t be right, they must have clocked the lure\’.
\”He went on to prove that the time was right, but that was almost 20 years ago,\” he said of the greyhound that had only 12 starts with six outstanding wins.
Thompson said he had a good idea of Zambora Smokey\’s ability.
\”I know the speed this dog has got. He hasn\’t consistently shown it, but he certainly did at Warrnambool,\” he said after a break-through win in the Group 2 cup win.
\”Most young dogs take time to develop. They don\’t always show in races what they show on trial tracks. This dog has got unbelievable early speed.
\”Now he\’s got experience and a bit of age on his side. He\’s learnt what racing is all about. He\’s a lot more consistent and that\’s being reflected in his performances.\”
Zambora Smokey emerged as Victoria\’s next sprint sensation after downing gun chaser Simon Told Helen in the final of the $45,000 Warrnambool Cup (450m).
The 33.5kg Zambora Brockie-Zambora Cross black dog was well supported and beat dual Group 1 winner Simon Told Helen in the heats, winning by 2.5 lengths in 25.08 seconds on an extremely wet track.
Admittedly Simon Told Helen went into the heats after not having a run since winning the Perth Cup in mid-March.
The Dave Burnett-trained speedster drew perfectly in box one for the final and was expected to be greatly improved by his heat run, with Thompson\’s star in box two.
On a perfect night, without a crowd on what is usually a huge night due to the coronavirus pandemic, Zambora Smokey exploded from the boxes and led.
The race was effectively over.
Simon Told Helen got within a length on the first turn, but had to track Zambora Smokey until the home turn.
The black two-year-old youngster was too strong in the run to the line winning by a length in 24.80, just over a length outside Unlawful Entry\’s 24.719 track record.
\”He just did everything perfectly,\” Thompson said.
\”You\’ve got to be able to produce that in a race and he\’s taken a bit of time. Some dogs take time to build that belief and confidence.
\”They\’ve got to get used to racing and procedures on race night. Sometimes it takes a few runs for the penny to drop. He\’s now won eight in a row all in best-of-night times. That\’s a good effort from a dog who\’s only had 16 starts.\”
Thompson said Zambora Smokey reminded him of gun sprinter Aston Bollero, which won 53 races and collected $400,000.
\”I think he still holds three track records. I really liken Zambora Smokey to him,\” he said.
\”I did the same thing with him. There\’s no rush to get this dog to 500 metres. It\’s for the dog\’s benefit. I don\’t see over 500m for a little while, two or three months at least.
\”I\’m happy to have him going around half circles. We\’ll aim him at the Bendigo Cup in a few weeks time.
\”Warrnambool was his first crack at open age group racing. We had him right where we wanted him. Confident and rock hard fit.\”
He said Zambora Smokey\’s explosive start was the key, improving more than two lengths on his heat first split time.
\”We knew he had to do what he did, jump and potentially lead, but didn\’t think he\’d be able to do it because Simon Told Helen is a class dog,\” he said.
\”I thought if Simon Told Helen jumps and leads we wouldn\’t be able to run it down again with the benefit of the run that it had last week.
\”It probably missed it a bit and we led and it just went to script the way we wanted.\”
Zambora Smokey took his record to 12 wins and two placings from 16 starts, but it was by far his most significant win as Thompson has allowed the youngster to go through his grades.
He ran 21.90 second start at Ballarat, and his other impressive wins include 24.92 Shepparton, 24.50 and Sale, 25.54 at Warragul.
Three of Thompson\’s runners – the others Hooked On Scotch and Fire Legend – broke the magical 25-second mark over 450 metres to complete a winning treble.
Hooked On Scotch returned to racing after being injured while running the fastest time in the heats of the Warragul Cup on January 3.
He clocked 24.94 after swooping on early leader Speed Star in the Stan Lake Memorial final.
His record now stands at 13 wins from 20 starts with $355,000 in prizemoney.
Fire Legend took his record to 11 wins from 19 starts after clocking 24.98.
Thompson said there were very few similarities when Zambora Smokey was compared to super sprinter Hooked On Scotch.
\”The only thing is they both just want to be at the races,\” he said.
\”Those better dogs just love racing. They\’re excited to hop in the car and go racing. They\’re like kids in a lolly shop, they just want to be there. They just switch on when they get to the track.\”
The mentor said Hooked On Scotch had been on the sidelines after tearing a tendon which was attached to the back of the stopper bone.
\”We gave him plenty of time, didn\’t want to rush him, but he\’s still got back earlier than I first thought. Racing is more beneficial than a handful of trials for those experienced dogs,\” he said.
\”It always takes one to three runs to get back into racing mode. He was just over excited to be there.
\”It was his first look at the track and after a four and a half hour drive from home. I was just pleased he got around safe and the benefit will be unbelievable. He has pulled up well.\”
\”We ideally just keep racing, stay sound and he\’ll be aimed towards the Melbourne Cup. That\’s one race we really want him fit for.\”
Thompson said he also had a huge rap on up-and-coming sprinter Fire Legend.
\”He\’s under the radar. I really rate him. He\’s almost as good as any dog at home. He\’s a serious dog. I think there\’s a really good race in him if I can keep him sound.\”
For Thompson the Warrnambool Cup was a perfect 51st birthday present.
\”It\’s a great birthday present,\” he laughed.
\”It\’s a long drive home but it\’ll be enjoyable. We came here hoping to win one race and that was hopefully the cup.\”
Thompson said Zambora Smokey would tackle the Victorian country cup circuit before again starting around two turns in Melbourne.