These carnival clouds have a golden lining

Caption: Josh Priest, Samona, and the Winged Runner Trophy at Albion Park (Photo: Box 1 Photography)

Albion Park wrap with PAT McLEOD

Like a punch-drunk fighter, Luke Gatehouse is praying for the bell.

For the boss of Albion Park ‘the bell’ is the end to the wet season in South-East Queensland.

He’s been through a dictionary of descriptions, which started with ‘horrendous’ and then ‘heartache’ after Albion Park was submerged in late February and the track closed until early May.

There was a brief ray of sunshine, but as early Brisbane Winter Carnival offerings descended through May, the rains returned, and many more non-PG descriptions could be heard around the soaked kennels at The Creek.

As Chase was nearing print time in late May Gatehouse had settled on ‘relentless’ as the best description of Mother Nature’s performance.

He has described this wet season as the biggest test his club has faced during his tenure, which has included live-baiting and Covid.

As the graphic, below, indicates, June and July offer a smorgasbord of delicacies during the TAB Queensland Winter Greyhound Racing Carnival. Let’s hope the weather gods play ball.

A cashed-up Winter Carnival

The TAB Queensland Winter Greyhound Racing Carnival is set to be enhanced through prize money increases to its features.

Racing Qld in May unveiled stakes enhancements across the opening month of the re-imagined Winter Carnival, which officially started at the Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club on May 19.

The opening feature night included the Brisbane Young Guns, won by John Dart’s Gypsy Del with a withering final burst, and the Carnival Chase, which went to the Brent Kline-trained Keen. Both were run as Group 3 events for the first time at $37,5000 apiece – up $10,250 from 2021.

On June 2, the BGRC 50th Anniversary – formally known as the Carnival Chase – takes centre stage for its inaugural running as a Group 3 event, more than doubling in prizemoney to $50,000.

The Group 2 Flying Amy Classic on June 16 will remain Queensland’s richest event for age-restricted greyhounds, receiving a $37,000 prizemoney increase to $150,000 – almost triple the amount it was run for in 2019.

The Dashing Corsair for stayers will feature alongside the Flying Amy Classic, upgraded to Group 3 status along with a $10,250 stakes increase to $37,500.

Following its return to the winter schedule in 2021, ‘Super Night’ will again include a feature race from each of the five distances contested at Albion Park on June 23 (331m, 395m, 520m, 600m, 710m).

The $57,500 Group 3 Super Stayers Invitational continues to offer prospective TAB Queensland Cup hopefuls with a superb opportunity to become acquainted with the Albion Park circuit – incentivised further by a $20,000 prizemoney injection.

The Super Sprinters, a new addition to the calendar in 2021, will join the Super Stayers as a Group 3 event, providing Brisbane Cup hopefuls the chance to race for $60,000 – almost double the purse from its inaugural running.

Late last year, RQ announced a $4.6 million increase in prizemoney for the code – headlined by a $150,000 increase to Queensland’s winter showpiece, the Group 1 Brisbane Cup, now worth $525,000.

The Group 1 Queensland Cup looks set to attract the nation’s premier stayers to the Sunshine State this winter, with confirmation that event will receive a $75,000 increase – to be run for $225,000 on July 7 at Albion Park.

The carnival closing Origin Greyhound Series will once again feature two Group 3 races – the Origin Sprint and Origin Distance Both Group 3 events – previously run for $60,000 – have received a $15,000 uplift in 2022, as has the Listed Origin Match Race, which will now hold a $45,000 purse.

Welcome back … for now

John Catton has won more significant races, but there was a nod of genuine mutual appreciation between him and Brisbane club boss Luke Gatehouse when the pair met midtrack moments after Catton had quinellaed the opening race at The Creek on May 4.

That race, the Welcome Back To Brisgreys Maiden over 395m with a total prizemoney of $3045, was the first race at Queensland’s headquarters since the February 26 floods.

Catton, the Capalaba president, had already ‘been there, done that’, with his track returning to racing just a couple of weeks prior.

So, the poignancy of that moment of ‘appreciation’ cannot be underplayed.

Both men know just how draining and frustrating March and April had been and just how amazing the staff at both tracks have performed … and continue to perform.

“I have been racing dogs for about 12 years as a trainer and I love coming to Albion Park,” Catton said just after Alpha Tiara had saluted, with kennelmate Shucks claiming second.

“This is our premier track. Everyone likes to race on the big nights at Albion Park and Luke and the guys here always put on a great show.

“But to win after what we have all been through was extra special.

“So, a big well done to everybody at Albion Park for getting the track back to this condition. It has been a lot of hard work.

“Ipswich has done a great job holding the fort while both Albion Park and Capalaba were out of action, but there is no doubt the industry has been hurt with our number one track out of action for so long … there is something special about winning on Thursday night at Albion Park.”

The win by Alpha Tiara is also hopefully a great indicator for the Zambora Brockie – Alpha Themis litter, which was shared by Catton and prominent owner Chris Georgiou.

Catton trained and Georgiou owned the 16-time winning dam.

“This was the first win for Alpha Tiara,” said Catton. “I bred the litter. The mother was a group-placed staying bitch and this is the first winner out of the litter.

“It is very pleasing to breed them and race them and so to get the first winner here today is great.”

Young Priest making his own mark

The horizon is a lot closer for focused young southeast Queensland trainer Josh Priest.

Priest, just 20 years of age, landed his first listed race when Samona dominated the historic Winged Runner Trophy at Albion Park in early May.

Exiting the boxes with her usual less-than-scintillating start, Samona soon reigned in the early pace setters to take the lead and score in an impressive 29.92secs.

The win confirmed Samona’s rise in stature since a brief change of scenery in Victoria and Priest has no doubts maturity and a far keener track sense has the Ritza Lenny- It’s A Synch bitch on the way to even more impressive outcomes.

“She is now making the right decisions and that is the biggest improvement in her racing,” said Priest. “She is maturing and improving and she has really learned to be a race dog.

“She has never been brilliant out of the boxes and we know that she musters good speed after that. When she got into second (in the Winged Runner) I knew she was a show. A bit more box speed would be better, but we certainly have to be happy with how she uses her head after coming out of the boxes. She is getting better, so it is just a case of time and patience.”

Josh’s father is long-time and highly-respected trainer Terry Priest. With Josh gaining in experience the pair are forming a formidable team.

“Dad and I work together. He gives me the instructions and I carry them out. Whether that is walking, galloping or whatever. We work as a team. There is no ‘i’ in ‘team’ in the Priest family,” said Josh.

“I take my hat off to my dad. He has taught me everything. He is a great trainer and has been for more than 30 years and he is now passing the torch on to me. And I hope (long term) I can keep the legacy going for the Priests.

“I have been around greyhounds since I was born. My future is greyhounds. I’ve never considered another career.”

The Winged Runner lost plenty of glitz when the highly credentialed Extra Malt was a late scratching, however Josh Priest wasn’t celebrating when the trump card was deleted from the pack.

“The win was definitely a thrill,” he said. “It was a very tough field and a tough race. It was unfortunate that Extra Malt was scratched and I hope all is good with that dog.

“Definitely I would have preferred Extra Malt to be in the race. Samona has to take on the best at some time and Extra Malt is one of the best up here. Absolutely this was a match-up that I was looking forward to.”

The minor placings in the Winged Runner showed just how exciting the future of greyhound racing in Queensland is. The current Queensland Young Achiever of the Year, Jedda Cutlack, secured both bottom rungs of the victory dais with Lily Monelli (second) and Sunburst (Third)

Owners back to salute Winged Runner

There is one night of racing each year at Albion Park that David Schulz and Cameron Tesch never miss – the Winged Runner Trophy.

This Listed race for bitches, over 520m, is special, very special, for them.

They were part of a syndicate that owned the ‘Queen of the Creek’, Winged Runner. Trained by Hall of Famer John Reimer, Winged Runner amassed an incredible 31 victories at Albion Park in a stellar racing career.

She won the Group 1 Nutience Cup at Albion Park and she was also judged Queensland Greyhound of the Year for 2000.

“It was an exhilarating ride,” said Schulz. “So many great memories. We were members of the Ledlie Syndicate, which operated for decades via Lionel Ledlie.

“Lionel was a champion as well. He introduced a lot of people to greyhound racing.

“I remember the get-togethers we would have at John’s (Reimer) place up at Dayboro (north of Brisbane). There would be so many trophies and sashes on display that would be given out to the owners.

“I can still remember drinking out of the Cup at this bar (at Albion Park) when Winged Runner won the Group One here. That Cup still has pride of place at my house.”

In early May this year, Schulz and Tesch, again, were back to toast their champion and the legacy that lives on.

“I recall when this race night came around not long after Lionel (Ledlie) had passed away,” said Tesch. “That was very emotional. But it is great that the feats of Winged Runner are still celebrated. I think that is important, to celebrate the industry’s highlights.”

And there was even more reason to celebrate that night, for Schulz at least.

“I backed the six (winner, Samona),” he said with a massive smile as he made his way to the presentation arena.

“That’s the number Winged Runner wore when she won the Group 1!”

         TAB Queensland Winter Greyhound Racing Carnival

Date            Race Name                                                    Distance                Prizemoney

2 June         BGRC 50th Anniversary Trophy (Listed) 520m                    $50,000

16 June       Flying Amy Classic Final (Group 2)          520m                    $150,000

16 June       Dashing Corsair Final (Listed)                    710m                    $37,500

23 June      Super Sprinters (Group 3)                           520m                    $60,000

23 June       Super Stayers Invitational (Group 3)          710m                    $57,500

23 June      Lightning Final                                             331m                    $18,700

23 June       Thunder Final                                              395m                    $18,700

23 June       The Tempest                                                600m                    $18,700

23 June       Chairman’s Cup                                          710m                     $18,700

7 July          SKY Racing Brisbane Cup (Group 1)       520m                    $525,000

7 July          TAB Queensland Cup (Group 1)                710m                   $225,000

7 July          Mick Byrne Mem Novice Final (Listed)   520m                    $25,000

14 July        TAB Origin Sprint (Group 3 Restricted)   520m                    $75,000

14 July        TAB Origin Distance (Gr 3 Restricted)     710m                    $75,000

14 July        TAB Origin Match Race (Listed)               520m                    $45,000

14 July        TAB Regional Origin Challenge                520m                    $18,700

14 July         TAB QLD Emerging Origin                             520m                     $18,700

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