By Isaac Murphy
Mark Saal has been involved in the greyhound industry for decades, but the self-professed hobby trainer will be racing for the biggest pay day of his career with Are Jay Junior in Thursday night’s Group Three Ipswich Gold Cup with $75,000 to the winner.
Saal has just three in work with another three on the way at his Cranley property out the back of Toowoomba. The size of the kennel didn’t matter last Thursday night when $31 shot Are Jay Junior upset two of the series favourites, Regal Recall for Tony Brett and Smooth Act for Rob Cooke, winning his heat in a smooth 30.35.
“His first sectional was the quickest he’s clocked at Ipswich and his run home was second fastest to only Silver Stunner, so that’s saying a lot about the way he’s going,” Saal said.
“He’s a terrible kennel dog. The earlier he races the better because he expends a lot of energy through the kennelling process. Having an early heat last week probably helped us.”
“Stewards gave me the ok to use a blind fold pre-race and it seemed to work a treat last week. There was a lot less barking and carrying on beforehand and he ran accordingly. Having to wait until race eight this week may be a bit tougher.”
Are Jay Junior is sandwiched between six hundred metre jet Shorino in box four and Ipswich Futurity winner Velocity Bettina in box six, although far from ideal Saal sees a way clear for his chaser.
“Looking at the draw we’ll be doing it tough from the five, but the dogs drawn around him Shorino to the inside and Velocity Bettina to his outside aren’t too comfortable there and will hopefully give us a bit of running room early,” he said.
“Fernando Blaster was outstanding, and he’ll win the race if he clears them at the turn, but Maywyns Noise likes to shift out from the two. If he gets in trouble early there are enough strong dogs in the field, he probably won’t catch them.”
“No-one gave us much of a shot last week and with the number of variables and ways this race could play out he’ll be a big chance if he can leave well again.”
Saal said the sprinter’s career has been far from below par, with ten wins and thirteen placings from thirty-three starts, but after a rollercoaster start hoped last week’s win signalled the start of Are Jay Junior’s prime.
“$113,000 is a big prize pool, but what I’m most excited about is he’s shown me he can compete with that level of dog and certainly won’t be intimidated going forward,” Saal said.
“As a pup he broke in fantastic and I thought I might have a real handy one, but with his issues at home and a few setbacks it made me think twice, but I think we’ve come out of the other side of that now.”
If making the biggest final or his career wasn’t enough Are Jay Junior booked another final eight spot. This time in the Capalaba Derby Final, a happy hunting ground for the pair.
“I was quite pleased with his third in his heat on Sunday, Thursday night took a bit out of him, but he’s still been benefitting from the run in between and he did well to pick himself up and run into another final,” Saal said.
“The Derby wasn’t a target race. We just snuck in under the thirty-month age limit and was planning on running him anyway.”
I’m starting to lessen his Capalaba runs as he gets a bit stronger. The 366 is a bit short for him to wind up, the 600 metres in definitely an option down the track with him as he continues to get runs in his legs.”
Saal said everything the dog was doing pointed towards a coming of age, expecting huge improvement at headquarters with a solid schedule planned post Ipswich Cup.
“As a two-and-a-half-year-old with the Summer Carnival approaching I’ll be hoping racing in this company gives him the confidence to go on with it,” Saal said.
“We’ve got a good window after the cup final to get him back to Albion Park for a few weeks where he can hopefully knock off a couple of graded races and if he’s going well enough come January, we’ll look at the Group races.”