By Isaac Murphy
Common Ground travelled to Sydney for the heats of the National Futurity in January as a red-hot chance on the back of her Queensland Young Guns victory, but an innocuous injury would turn into a 173-day exile for Warren Nicholls’ star bitch.
“She busted a tendon in her toe two days before the Futurity heats in Sydney, we got it right before she did it again and attacked it a bit differently second time around and thankfully looks like it has worked,” Nicholls said.
“It was a challenge mentally as a trainer because you question if you’re doing everything in your powers to get her healthy, but to see her back on the doorstep on Nationals it’s a huge relief.
Nicholls said after a stomach muscle tear in the lead up to this year’s Queensland Futurity had him questioning if Common Ground would even return to the track, but he couldn’t be happier with her re-emergence.
“It’s unbelievable she’s come back very close if not on par where she was before the injuries, I was very deliberate in my planning for her return, the Townsville Cup was a carrot, but I didn’t want her to go through trialling and travelling to a new track.”
“It’s worked out nicely winning a couple of fifth grades of Albion Park coupled with some tune up runs at Capalaba and we come into the heats of the Nationals this week right on top of her game.”
“Sunday’s at Capalaba have been invaluable for her recapturing that racing mindset, rather than going up the straight by herself as she gets a hit out in a field.”
Common Ground has won five of her seven starts since returning and a 29.90 run of the night last Thursday has given Nicholls confidence she can stack up against Queensland’s best.
“It’s just really exciting to have a genuine chance in a race like the Nationals. Her times stack up well to see her progress, but there will be plenty of nerves come Thursday too,” he said.
“It’s going to be great to reignite a rivalry with a bitch like Dam Slippery who’s enjoyed so much success while we were out. There was not much between them when we left and there’s not much difference now.”
“I’ve seen Brett Hazelgrove eating a lot of oysters and prawns over the last few months, so hopefully it’s my turn to get some,” Nicholls laughed.
Common Ground stands alone as the star of the Nicholls kennel, but fellow Nationals shot Dusty Delight gets a chance to don the maroon in Sunday’s National Straight Track qualifier at Capalaba.
“Dusty Delight will go in we all know he can run, but I think he really needs to draw one to three to be a genuine chance,” Nicholls said.
“Ultimately I see him as a six hundred metre dog, but he’s qualified for the National Straight Championship Final at Capalaba this Sunday and if he gets the chance to wind up, we could be off to Healesville for the National final.”
Nicholls said he’d come out the other side of Common Ground’s injury a much better trainer, learning to operate a growing kennel while also funding an extensive rehab process.
“Some of the dogs who really stepped up in Common Ground’s absence were Copy Workshop, Point Seven and Broken Loose. They all contributed, Broken Loose even making the Derby Final,” he said.
“It’s been a learning experience, with thirty dogs in the kennel. We want at least half of them racing and it’s probably taken my training to the next level getting the balance right.”