John Catton gave an insight into the man the race was named after Bob Vernon, one who asked for little but gave a lot.
“I met Bob Vernon as a family friend when I was four years old, my Dad passed away when I was five and for the next decade, he coached me at footy but also helped my Mum out with us three boys,” Catton said.
“He was on the board of Norths Devils for years, worked at Main Roads, coached footy and was a greyhound trainer all at once - he was a pretty remarkable man.
“He was the type of bloke you never had to ask to do anything, he’d just do it and he was always that way around Capalaba as well, so it’s with a lot of pride we run this race every year in his memory because he earned it.”
Russell insists his pup is still earning his stripes and although he looks a class above in this week’s final, he has plenty to prove after just one start.
“Everything going well he’ll be a 520-metre dog but how good? You never really know until you get them there, but he’s had a couple of impressive post-post’s and if his trial form stood up at Capalaba, I don’t see why it wouldn’t anywhere else,” he said.
“If everything fits, we can hopefully win this weekend, get him to a Novice at Albion Park and come back here for the Young Guns.
“I trained the dam Larsie Lou who was a good bitch, ran around thirty flat at Albion and after her racing career bought her off Brad Northfield, to breed with.
“Tommy (Tzouvelis) put her to Cosmic Rumble and bred the litter and in the end, he kept one and I got seven.
“I know the one he kept made the final of the Dave Brett a couple of months ago, but Tough As Teak has been the first of my seven to get to the track, the rest aren’t far away.”
Russell never carries a big team in his kennel, but it’s quality over quantity for the trainer who has a couple of other young guns in form, starting with Best Fit.
“I probably overworked Best Fit a bit last week, I was in a bit of a rush to get him back to the 520 and I think he was within his rights to get a little bit tired late, big effort to come again and win,” Russell said.
“I’ve given him a really easy week this week, he’s looking much better within himself hopefully we can crack that thirty second barrier next time out.
“What cost him time-wise last time out was his second split was only 11.83, I think we can get him down around 11.50, couple that with his 5.50 early and he’s a hard dog to catch.”
It’s been a big training performance to get the dog back from a six-week injury, picking up where he left off.
“I was pretty disappointed a couple of months ago when he did a pin leading around the first corner at Albion, he was really coming into his own,” Russell said.
“He’s been very good since he’s been back, hasn’t run a bad race - the only times he’s been beaten are because he’s been a run short but he’s getting back to full fitness now.
“He’s up to mixed three four grade on Thursday night but it looks another winnable race for him, he’s just going to need to step well again from the middle (5) of the line.”
Smokin’ Wits has created quite the buzz being the brother to Group One winner Oh Mickey, but without his early explosiveness, Russell is bringing him along at his own pace.
“Smokin’ Wits is just a dog I’m going to have to persevere with, if he ever starts coming out of the boxes he could be anything, but at the moment he’s just too slow at the start,” he said.
“His run was enormous last time out second last and wide at the turn and he ran into third within three lengths of a 30.11 winner, he’s just not consistent yet.
“He stacked up well in fifth grade, hopefully from box three this Thursday he can find the rail and position himself a bit closer to them, giving him a chance late.”
Russell hasn’t been short of a winner the last month, but in sombre news for the kennel and greyhound racing, dual Group One champion Bago Bye Bye has been officially retired.
“It was a fairly slow start to the year, I didn’t have many in work and they weren’t winning but the majority of them are going really well at the moment,” Russell said.
“The big letdown was Bago Bye Bye injuring himself again, and along with the owners we’ve decided to retire him, he’s done more than enough a Group One winner in two countries over the sprint and staying distance.
“It’s sad to see his racing come to and end, but we didn’t want to put him through more rehab.
“I’m not sure what will happen with the dog breeding wise, I’ll have to sit down with the owners and see what they think.”