By Isaac Murphy
Sandown Park’s Launching Pad series holds a unique place on the racing calendar.
It’s Australia’s only sweepstakes series, and requires a $2000 entry fee which seems well worth it with $420,000 of prize money on the line.
That is money that Queensland’s Hirstglen for Gerard Bowe and Farmor Beach for Steve Scott are keen to get their hands on.
The two dogs are some of Queensland’s most exciting pups and are keen to see what they’re made of in the three week series restricted to greyhounds with no more than six wins or thirty starts.
Both youngsters eligible and capable of making their mark when heats start Thursday March 26 at Sandown Park.
Despite the proximity of their Queensland kennels, each dog has taken its own path to the Launching Pad with trainer and owner duo Gerard and Justin Bowe eyeing the race a long way out after a three-month spell.
“We got him back healthy about a month ago and sat down to try to map out a plan for him and saw the Launching Pad as a pretty ideal target, both time wise and the restricted entry conditions,” Justin Bowe said.
“He came back in really good nick and we trialled him around Albion park in 29.67 and we thought this was the right time to get him down there earlier and give him a few races before the series, so we sent him down a couple of weeks ago.
“He’s got tonnes of ability his second and closing sectionals are just phenomenal.
“His first go at Sandown last Thursday he came home in 10.40 on a wet track and the fastest ever run home is 10.3 - those times line up with a Hooked On Scotch.”
Farmor Beach had a far different preparation - thrust into the limelight winning the Group Three Vince Curry, Series Scott was keen to get his charge down early too, but had to overcome a few obstacles.
“It’s been a bit of a journey getting him down there, but he’s all set to fly in tomorrow get checked out by a vet and once he gets the all clear he’ll be straight into Robbie Britton’s kennel,” Scott said.
“I’m very lucky to have Robbie (Britton) down there to take care of him through the series, his reputation speaks for itself, I’m lucky enough to call him a mentor and a mate, so he’s in good hands.”
Hirstglen is three months the elder of Farmor Beach and subsequently got to the track earlier, and although he may not have an unbeaten record like his counterpart, some of his runs have been worldly.
“If he’s got a weakness it’s at the start, he’s not great away and as the racing gets tougher and he’s certainly going to need to take the runs and get a bit of luck early to be in the finish,” Justin Bowe said.
“But with splits of 12.49 home at Albion and 11.83 at Ipswich coupled with a good race sense well and truly offsets his start, he’s not yet two but he’s earnt a chance at races like the Launching Pad.
“He’s in on Thursday night at Sandown again coming up against some stiffer competition, but I’m confident he’ll handle it and stay on the right track.”
Farmor Beach was flawless through the Vince Curry series before being held up by the coronavirus scare, but Scott said there was no doubt the dog had plenty of time to be peaking for the heats.
“I gave the dog a week’s let up after the Vince Curry, but he’s had two trials since and the dog’s going as good as he ever has,” Scott said.
“It’s just the next step in his racing life to go down there in stronger company and I’m confident Robbie (Britton) can find another couple of lengths he’s a bit of a genius like that.
“The first of his two trials were at Albion Park, first look at the track he handled it pretty well given the different dimensions to Ipswich where I took him for a post to post Monday.
“If he gets down there tomorrow, the plan is to settle in for a few days and Robbie (Britton) was hoping to give him a look at Sandown on Saturday and move forward from there.”
Hirstglen’s early arrival in Victoria has given him the advantage of seeing the track under race conditions, something Justin Bowe said would not be possible without his own Victorian connection.
“The dog is young and it’s his first trip away to a big race, but we’re very lucky I’ve got one of my best friends Vicki Wisener handling the dog for me down in Victoria,” Bowe said.
“It makes everything a lot easier she takes care of him at home, does the trialling, takes him to the races and has done everything to make the trip as easy as possible for him.
“He’ll stay there for the whole campaign, hopefully we can make it through the heats and if we get through the semis as well, I’m sure there will be a bunch of us jumping on the place for the final.”
It takes some confidence sending a greyhound to the Launching Pad with the entry fee and travel costs adding up, but it only took one run to convince Steve Scott Farmor Beach was ready.
“I thought he was something special this pup, so when he came out and won his heat in 30.3 without a 520 run in him, I immediately inquired about a ticket,” Scott said.
“Even if he didn’t win the Vince Curry I probably would have sent him.
“There’s a lot of hype around him winning the Curry and I understand that, but even with the restrictions he’s only won a maiden.
“he’s going to be up against dogs with a lot more on their resume, we’ll just have to wait and see if he’s up to it.”
Justin Bowe is a third-generation owner/trainer, with the family having seen a lot of good dogs over the years, but none quite like Hirstglen.
“I’ve got the brood bitch Left In Paris who I took to Dyna Double One to breed the litter, they all showed plenty of talent, but Hirstglen was head and shoulders above from the start,” Bowe said.
“That’s not a knock on the rest of the litter that are all going well in their own right, but to breed one like him out of your own brood bitch is pretty exciting.
“Gerard (Bowe) and I have both talked about it and we’re not afraid to say he’s the most freakish dog we’ve ever had, we knocked back a fair bit of money for him last week because we think he’s that good.”
Steven Scott didn’t go as far in declaring his star pup, but said the dog was fearless and certainly wouldn’t be intimidated by his more seasoned opponents.
“The positives are he’s going great guns and he doesn’t care who he’s racing against he’ll just go out there and chase,” Scott said.
“We were thinking of giving him a race start down there before the series but decided not to as they judge it on prize money not experience.
He would have ended up racing top grade dogs off his Vince Curry prize money so we’re going to have to rely on trials.
“With a couple of weeks until the series kicks off, he’ll have plenty of time to settle in and should see him get at least three looks out of the boxes.
“I hope he loves the place because hopefully he’s back there in the future.”
The Bowe family are in a similar boat with Hirstglen, the brilliance is there for all to see but the Launching Pad presents another level of racing.
“We’ve got big plans for him, but first things first what he does over the next few weeks will dictate what he does at a later date,” Justin Bowe said.
“If all goes well after the Launching Pad you may well see him at Wentworth Park, we’ve got no issue with travelling him for the right races, we can’t wait for the next chapter.”