By DAVID BRASCH
WHEN it\’s been raining non-stop for three weeks at a time at Leongatha in the South Gippsland area of Victoria, or during the depths of a bitterly cold winter, Ben George and his partner Tara Baxter can start to have regrets.
What have they done?
But, when Ben and Tara land that elusive Melbourne city winner, or present with a winning strike rate of up to 50 percent around country Victorian tracks, they agree the gamble to take on greyhound racing full time is all worth the trouble.
Three years ago, Ben and Tara sold up in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of Nundah where they were firmly ensconced as a sparky and an interior designer. Life was grand.
So, how does a ‘yuppy’ young couple end up on a 10-acre greyhound property in South Gippsland working harder than they ever had?
It all started with Scissor Queen (Knocka Norris-Surf Queen by Surf Lorian), a bitch whelped back in 2009 bought by Ben and a bunch of mates as an entry into greyhound racing.
Scissor Queen won the Grafton Sprinters Cup … twice. The litter sister to superstar Don\’t Knocka Him instantly became a broodbitch. Ben George relished that initial success in greyhound racing and needed more.
\”The syndicate of mates got pups from Scissor Queen\’s first couple of litters and that was the end of their involvement,\” said Ben. \”We sent Scissor Queen to Tracey and Mick Hindmarsh at Willow Park near Grafton.
\”But all the time I was talking of betting bigger in the industry.\”
He and Tara sold their Nundah home and headed to Victoria.
\”We reasoned it was the best place to be for greyhound racing,\” he said. \”Tara and I were both looking for a career change. We were both OVER our jobs and a career change had to come before we got much older.\”
They searched the internet and Ben flew to Victoria a few times to look over properties that would be best suited for dogs.
\”The house was old, but the property itself was fantastic,\” said Ben of the 10-acres he and Tara bought at Leongatha, an hour and a half to Sandown, an hour to Warragul and one hour to Cranbourne.
Ben and Tara set about transforming the property into a working greyhound complex.
\”We did most of it ourselves,\” he said. \”Put in 250 fence posts, cemented every one of them in, fenced everything with chain wire, built a straight track, exercise yard, three pup holding yards, a four-acre galloping paddock and a kennel block.\”
Ben opted for 500 sq metre holding yards for the pups rather than the up and down straight runs used by so many rearing properties.
\”It was my theory that pups needed to be prepared for circle racing and with that in mind they needed to be able to twist and turn in big paddocks.\”
Tara has been an integral part of the development. \”She is as handy on a power saw as anyone,\” said Ben.
The kennel block is state of the art with access from each kennel out to small individual empty yards.
\”We\’ve just put in a fireplace to keep everything warm during winter,\” said Ben.
Ben and Tara took to Victoria a couple of broodbitches and quickly put together a race team.
They include Sandown winner Royal Arrival, the 20-times winner Duce Royal winner of $50,000, and Kroos who Ben says is the quickest he has trained but a poor box dog.
\”When we first got set up, we started rearing for other people, but we\’ve stopped that now,\” he said. \”Our goal is to breed a couple of litters for ourselves each year.
\”But, we need to rely on getting winners to make a living.\”
Leongatha is a long, long way from Ben and Tara\’s family back in Queensland.
\”My dad came down for a visit early in the year, but when Covid turned up, dad had to bolt home,\” said Ben. \”Tara had been working part-time down her, but she\’s been home full time during Covid.\”
He says work on their home improvements has started. Greyhounds came first.
\”We had four in work last year and won 35 races,\” he said. \”The strike rate was 50 percent on some country tracks. But, we are quick to realise we need city class dogs.\”
Ben and Tara live for greyhounds.
\”We believe it doesn\’t hurt to spoil them,\” he said. \”Every night we make the dogs a small snack, a ball of meat, bread crumbs, cheese all rolled up and baked in the oven. It ends up being a bit bigger than a tennis ball and each dogs gets this treat at night-time.
\”It was easy when we had only four dogs, but we\’ve had up to 30 here and that\’s a bit of baking.
\”As I said, it doesn\’t hurt to spoil them. A happy dog will perform for you.\”
Scissor Queen, or Vicky as she was known around the kennels, died last year but has left her legacy on the track. Ben is breeding with, or planning to, a number from this damline.
He has been buoyed with the success at stud of her son Sulzanti who broke his hock in the Sandown Shootout at his 12th race start. His son Short Pork is doing great things for the Anthony Azzopardi kennel.
Ben and Tara are settled at Leongatha, despite the cold and rain at times.
But Ben is just as adamant that if the proposed new greyhound development at Yamanto is built and up and running, he and Tara would seriously consider selling up and moving back to Queensland.