By ANDREW THOMSON
WHATEVER Avalon trainers Jess and Todd Sharp plan with talented youngster Aston Merit, anything will be less pressure than his fourth-up career start in the Group 2 Healesville Cup.
After debuting with successive wins at Healesville to take out the lucrative Highway 31 maiden series, the KC And All-Secret Spell 35kg black dog was then thrown in the deep end – taking on some of Victoria\’s best greyhounds in the cup.
The field included Group 1 winner Tiggerlong Tonk and country cups king Ferdinand Boy.
Ferdinand Boy took out his third country cup at Healesville winning in a slick 18.88 seconds, with Tiggerlong Tonk running a drum, but Aston Merit came in for a share of the limelight in fourth.
Ferdinand Boy won the $50,000 first prize and an additional $50,000 bonus after winning his third country cup. He had already collected the Ballarat and Shepparton cups earlier this year.
Aston Merit ran second in a quick heat and despite an interrupted run in the final managed to finish just more than three lengths from the winner.
Litter sister Aston Geneve, unbeaten after six starts heading into the cup final, also copped more than her fair share of interference in the cup.
She had run quick times winning at Cranbourne (17.55) and 19.09 at Healesville in the lead-up to the final under the care of Jackie Greenough.
Aston Merit won a heat of Highway 31 maiden (300m) at Healesville in 16.72 back on August 24, just outside the best of the day, and backed that up with a barnstorming win in the final five days later in a slick 16.40.
He ran second in a cup heat, beaten two lengths in 19.28 by Hill Top Jonah.
Todd Sharp said he talked to owner Ray Borda and they agreed to throw Aston Merit in the deep end, tackling the cup after an impressive win in the maiden final.
\”He\’s a little bit older than I would usually start them. We got him off Ray later than normal and then we parked him, waiting for the Highway 31 maiden,\” he said.
\”We knew on his trial form he would be a decent chance in that.
\”He had trialled twice. First look at Healesville he went 16.60 and the guys up there said they don\’t go any faster first up.
\”After the heat win, I said to my son we might head to the cup, chuck him in, if he could win the Highway 31.
\”It\’s a big effort for a pup, but he\’s well bred and had shown potential going through the pre-training stages.
\”He ran good times over the short.\”
Aston Merit is out of Secret Spell, who won 23 of 45 starts and $276,000 in prizemoney, highlighted by a win in the Group 1 Hume Cup
Sharp said he had hoped in the final that Hill Top Jonah (box one) could jump and lead, and Aston Merit (box two) could get a clear passage behind him and have a crack at the leader at some stage.
\”Unfortunately they pretty much jumped together and Hill Top Jonah tried to get off the track a bit, which caused a few problems, before he eventually crossed.
\”I think Aston Merit then hit the running rail. I don\’t know how close he would have got to Ferdinand Boy with a clear run but he might have got close.
\”He finished off pretty well. I have no idea if he\’ll run 500 metres.
\”I train dogs a bit different. I build them up to 500m. I want to teach them to get out of the boxes.
\”I reckon you win more races getting out of boxes than being strong.
\”We\’ll get to see if he can run a bit further in the next few weeks and look at the Great Chase.
\”He\’ll go to The Meadows for a post-to-post and at some stage we\’ll drop him in over 500 metres, but regardless of what we do it won\’t be as big a test as racing in a Group race final at his fourth start.
\”At this stage he\’s got unknown ability. He really is untapped and it depends on if he\’ll run over 500 metres.\”
Sharp said the best greyhound the kennel had raced was Kouta Mayhem – 28 wins and 19 placings from 80 starts, collecting $190,560 in prizemoney.
The highlight was a win in the Healesville Cup.
\”Kouta was probably the best, but we\’ve got a few good ones at present: Junk Food Junkie, Daniel Avocado, Devel Sixteen and Hadouken. And Orson Mick looks okay after winning his maiden at Healesville,\” Sharp said.
\”We\’re getting a good team together and there\’s a few good races coming up.\”
Sharp said he and Jess had been training full-time for nine or 10 years and they had been together for 23 years.
\”I worked at the wharves with Jarrod Sharp and he bred a litter of pups. We started a syndicate and that pup Fozjean won the Shepparton VicBreeders series,\” he said.
\”He won in Melbourne and Perth, and we were hooked from then. We started in the backyard and have grown from there.\”
Sharp said his arrangement with owner Ray Borda was pretty casual.
\”Ray will just ring and say \’I\’m sending you four\’,\” he said.
\”It\’s a relaxed relationship. I don\’t ring and pester him for dogs. When he sends us pups we start from scratch and just work them out.\”
Sharp said he modelled his training methods on some of the best trainers and had tapped into Graeme Bate, the Brittons and the Daillys in the past.
\”I\’ve found if you push them too hard early you take the edge off them.
\”There\’s no science to it but I\’ve got a lot of help from good people like Jee and Robbie (Britton) and George and Tom (Dailly).
\”They are there when you ask a question and that\’s always been greatly appreciated. We\’ve been very lucky like that.
\”I\’m not frightened to have a chat. I think you have to aspire to be the best and to do that you may need to observe and need some help from successful people.\”
Sharp said he would turn 50 in December and he and Jess worked to their strengths.
\”Jess is good with young dogs and pups, bills and deliveries, while I do a lot of the training stuff,\” he said.
\”Aston Merit has had just a handful of starts but he has some talent. He\’s a big boy, takes big strides, so it takes a few steps for him to get going,\” he said.
\”That\’s our sixth fourth in a Group race recently. Hopefully he\’ll be the one to break through for us,\” he said.