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Withers and Panama Pepper prepare for Flying Amy Classic Final

15 June 2022

By Jordan Gerrans

Away from the bright lights of a big Group racing night at Albion Park during the carnival, West Australian visitor Panama Pepper is preparing on a cold Tuesday morning.

While other leading kennels such as Jedda Cutlack and Tony Brett trial their dogs around the circuit, Panama Pepper’s trainer Steve Withers has also booked himself a trial session.

While the fastest qualifier from the Flying Amy Classic heats last Thursday night is down to trial officially, he won’t actually be running around Albion Park.

The lure runs and Panama Pepper is out on the track, but this is more about mental preparation than physical.

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Trainers trialling dogs between runs when they are seven days apart is nothing new or different.

But, as a visitor to the Sunshine State for the carnival that has drawn out wide for the Final this week, respected dog conditioner Withers knows his chaser will need to be at his absolute best come Thursday night.

“We took Pepper for a walk and kept him on the lead so he can have a play with the lure,” Withers details.

“Hopefully, it can get a bit excited to get him to come out fighting on Thursday night with plenty of speed.

“It is about enthusiasm and intensity; we want him pushing up hard against them lids and hopefully he can get it right in his first step.”

Withers likens the practice to a football coach yelling at his players after a poor performance.

If he was to take Panama Pepper to the track every week like he has done on this occasion with the aim of firing him up for a big performance in his upcoming race, then the greyhound would become numb to it.

The trainer believes taking him to Albion Park just over 48 hours out from the big Group 2 Final will have him in the right head space to perform at his peak.

Withers and his small team of dogs arrived about a week before the Flying Amy heats and he was able to properly trial his chasers around Albion Park then to best familiarise themselves with surrounds.

With just 23 starts on Panama Pepper’s resume – which was earned over $70,000 in prize money – the top WA trainer was unsure how a cross-country trip would impact the light fawn dog.

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Withers has plenty of knowledge around travelling dogs around the nation, taking superstar greyhound Tommy Shelby on tour in recent years, and he has been blown away with how well the Flying Amy Classic hopeful has handled himself.

“Surprisingly he has settled in well, he can be a bit of a fiery dog and he is quite intense and has a big personality,” Withers said.

“That was something we were not sure about but being a young dog, he has handled it well and if anything he has matured from the experience.

“Some dogs don’t handle trips away so well and stress the whole time and then they don’t perform up to their ability.

“It can help some dogs grow and mature and they become more aware of things, hopefully that can happen with Pepper.”

Races

8
8

Albion Park | Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club | 8:58 PM

TAB Flying Amy Classic (G2) F

Withers and his dogs have set up shop at Jamie Hosking’s Churchable kennel after making the trip over to Queensland.

Both having travelled their dogs around Australia over the last few years, Hosking and Withers have developed a close bond in that time and regularly help each other out when they are in each other’s state.

“You go there to win races but it is the connections you make with people,” Hosking said.

“You always want to get good dogs and hopefully the next time we get a good one we are better prepared for it as it is all new to us, travelling around as we had a lot of good people take us in around Australia.

“Hopefully, we can go back there with another good dog and strike up a bit of a partnership.”

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With $100,000 on the line in Thursday’s Final ahead of a tilt at the Brisbane Cup later in the carnival,  Withers says his travelling kennel could not function the way it is now without the help of Hosking.

“Jamie, he is a great guy,” Withers said.

“I have known him for a few years now, having toured with Tommy, and we have been lucky enough that he has trusted us with Micks Recall when he came over to Perth and now we are back over here.

“Without people with fantastic facilities and help like that, you just cannot travel dogs and it is greatly appreciated.”

Following the stunning career of popular dog Tommy Shelby, Withers is one of the more recognisable trainers in the country and Hosking is soaking in the opportunity to learn from him on a first-hand basis.

“It is exciting with Steve, we have struck a bit of a friendship over the last few years,” Hosking said.

“He used my straight track with Tommy Shelby and he is a very good trainer that gets very good results.

“Having someone like him at home will be awesome.”

Champion dog Tommy Shelby’s success and whirlwind career has rubbed off on dogs such as Panama Pepper, their trainer believes.

“Tommy did a us a favour, we have got the benefit of experience, we know a few people and roughly know how things work over here in Queensland,” Withers said.

“It is a privilege to have a dog that you think is good enough to put on a plane and take away and race like this.

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“It is hard work on the family back with my wife and kids and the rest of the dogs back home, it leaves a big burden on the them as it is a team effort, but to have a chance in races like this, it is great.”

West Australian visitor Withers claimed the speediest heat victory of the evening last week, Panama Pepper getting home in 29.65 seconds, for an almost six length triumph.

He has drawn seven for the Final this week and Withers believes his dog will need a stack of luck from out wide, hoping his Tuesday morning session at Albion Park pays dividends.

The TAB has Panama Pepper rated a $5 chance in Thursday’s Group 2 Final, with fellow interstate raider Photo Man the $2.80 favourite as of Wednesday afternoon.

Races

6
6

Albion Park | Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club | 8:07 PM

TAB Flying Amy Classic (G2) H