Townsville Cup shaping up as NQ bonanza

\"\"Caption: North Queensland trainer Rhonda Essery with Stratford and her support team – Sharon Burnett and Drew Pearce – after success in the $20,600 RQ Country Cup (520m) at Albion Park in February (Photo: Box 1 Photography)

By MIKE HILL

TOWNSVILLE Greyhound Club is gearing up for a massive three-night Cup Carnival in early September.

The club will hand out close to $200,000 in prizemoney over the three weeks, headed by the $60,000 Group 3 TownTpowsville Cup (498m), the richest greyhound race ever staged in north Queensland.

The Cup, with heats on Friday, September 3, and the final on Friday, September 10, is certain to attract some of the best sprinters and officials are hoping the prizemoney boost can attract an eight-heat series.

It is all part of the club\’s mission to have the Cup elevated to Group 2 status in coming years.

Townsville has also programmed a wonderful series of support races headed by the $7875 Cup Consolation as well as the $10,000-to-the-winner NQ Sprint (380m).

In recent years the Sprint has become a \’must win\’ event for many Townsville kennels.

Other feature events include the $5000-to-the-winner Stayers Challenge (643m), the $3675 Judy Olsen Maiden (380m), the $2625 Binks and Marlene Walker 4/5th Grade (380m) and the $2625 Taylor Family Colour Run 5th Grade ($380m).

Club president Gary Heath has been buoyed by the growing interest already being shown in this year\’s carnival.

He is hoping the sharp increase in prizemoney will well and truly put the club on the map.

Heath said Townsville was currently experiencing a surge in greyhound numbers and interest in the code was enormous.

Southern trainers have continually made the annual journey north since the Cup was given Group 3 status a decade ago.

Heath is expecting interest to be even greater this year.

Leading trainer Tony Brett, fresh from his kennels\’ clean sweep of the state\’s major Group 1s  – Brisbane Cup (Equalizer) and Queensland Cup (Sir Truculent) – at Albion Park last month, is still unsure about a trip north for another assault on the Townsville feature.

Brett has won the event twice with Velocity Regina in 2011 and Zabdon Ferrari (2016). He also had the raging hot favourite Flash Reality in 2015 when the Cup was abandoned because of mechanical problems to the lure.

The Grandchester-based trainer last month said everything depended on the latest COVID-19 situation.

\”If we can travel interstate I\’ll be taking runners to the Million Dollar Chase regional series at Lismore (August 10 and 17), Casino (August 19 and 26) and Grafton (August 29 and September 5),\” he said.

\”If we can\’t travel into NSW and I head north to Townsville, I\’ll be taking the likes of What A Debacle, Orchestrate and Hara\’s Clyde.\”

Brett congratulated Townsville on being the first country club in Queensland to offer G2 prizemoney.

\”It\’s a club going ahead in leaps and bounds,\” he said. \”It doesn\’t surprise me that the sport is flourishing in the north.\”

The master conditioner said this year\’s Cup, carrying $40,000-to-the-winner, was certain to attract some of the best FFA sprinters from Brisbane.

\”It\’s going to be great for the club,\” he said.

Brett also acknowledged that a better class of dog was now racing in Townsville.

\”Owners are spending good money for good dogs and they now have some smart sprinters up there,\” he said.

\”Stratford (trained by Rhonda Essery) is a dog that has made Townsville his own this year.

\”It certainly won\’t be easy for visiting dogs to win the Cup. You\’ll need the stars to align to take it out, that\’s for sure.\”

Meanwhile, Heath said the industry in Townsville was on a high following Racing Queensland\’s decision to give his club a second weekly meeting (Friday/Saturday).

\”We have had a number of trainers give up their full-time jobs outside of the industry to take up full-time training because they can now earn a decent living racing twice a week,\” he said.

\”We have so many more dogs being trained in the region – a faster and higher standard of dog.

\”The industry is going ahead tremendously up here and our Cup Carnival should only help to cement our position.\”

Earlier this year, the Townsville club introduced its \’Tropical Fridays\’ on Sky Racing.

Under the concept, every second week, when Townsville hosts its Friday afternoon meetings, trainers and handlers wear Hawaiian or floral shirts when boxing or catching their dogs.

While wearing colourful shirts may seem like just a bit of fun, Heath believes it helps to boost the profile of the club and the code.

\”We want it to be fun and look a little different when you watch greyhound racing from Townsville,\” the club boss said.

\”There are people not involved in the industry who we want to come into the sport and when they see the club doing fun stuff like this, hopefully, it will attract them to the code.\”

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