By Isaac Murphy
Greg Stella was at a crossroads with Regal Topaz after a luckless third as an odds-on pop in The Rockhampton Young Guns Final in February, it was her last crack at an age race where a combination of bad luck and boxes had plagued her, it was also the first time Stella had doubts just how far he could go with the talented bitch who had not yet delivered on the big stage.
Fast forward two months and Regal Topaz lines up in box four of the Anzac Day Trophy Best 8, looking for her second straight feature race win and Stella’s doubts are now a distant memory.
“Going back a few months ago I didn’t think she’d be competitive in top grade and she’s been around the money every week and to win the Winged Runner (Thursday 18th) really gave me confirmation she’s on the right path,” Stella said.
“Races like the Anzac Trophy on Thursday night are now well within her reach, with her times and the way she’s running her races, she’s got the confidence to go out and mix it with those Best 8 dogs.”
“She seems to handle all boxes she runs nice and straight when she comes out, so I don’t mind her off the centre draw if she gets a clean getaway.”
With a new lease on life Stella has begun to think about other races to add to Regal Topaz’ resume, but she should be a presence at The Creek for the time being.
“She’ll just keep ticking over in the Best 8’s at Albion each week, unfortunately we just missed out on the Futurity heats on Thursday by three weeks, which would have been a really nice race for her,” Stella said.
“The one race I am thinking about taking her to is the Rockhampton Cup, with the heats on May 22nd it gives her a few more runs to build up confidence down here before heading up to a track she has seen before in The Young Guns Final and hopefully get some redemption.”
Last Thursday night marked the biggest win of the bitches career taking out the Winged Runner Trophy Final and as much as it was a watershed moment for trainer and greyhound, the win held much more weight as the first of prominent owner Len Antonio’s winner after his recent passing.
“It was a special win, Len’s funeral was only the day before and to come out the next day and win a feature race like that I know he would have loved it as an owner,” Stella said.
“I’ve known Len for many years and we would always have a chat at the track and he’d say I want to give you a few dogs to train and about a year and a half ago he gave me a call about some promising pups and has had four of five dogs with me since then.”
“To have someone like Len with this success he’s had to trust me with his dogs gave me a huge confidence boost as a trainer, I owe him a lot for that.”
The Stella, Antonio combination will look to strike again on Sunday in the Ken Smith Memorial Final at Capalaba with the unbeaten Above Average looking for maintain his unbeaten record and make it five from five.
The race was named in honour of Ken Smith who was a giant contributor to the code, as a trainer and a friend at the Beenleigh track where the race was run until Capalaba continued the tradition from 2003 onwards, with a strong field lining up for the 2019 edition.
“It’s a solid race on Sunday, other dogs have qualified quicker than him, but with a clean getaway he’ll be strong late and I don’t mind the draw (6) either, he likes to drift out to the middle of the track anyway it should suit,” Stella said.
“I was really happy with his heat run, he’s not a great beginner at best he comes out with them, but he’s got good acceleration and came over the top of them, hopefully he can do it again.”
At twenty-six months Above Average has only managed four starts due to injury setbacks but knowing his raw ability Stella has been happy to take his time and it’s paid dividends going three for three at Capalaba and one for one at Albion Park.
“I find Capalaba a great place to start them off and learn a few lessons, they get the chance to balance up on the straight and learn how to race in a field,” Stella said.
“That said I’ve always had aspirations for him to be an Albion Park 520 dog and he showed he was up to that with his 30.3 win there two runs back and that’s where we’ll be headed after Sunday.”