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Punter's Guide to Thoroughbred Tracks
By Isaac Murphy
Last week’s Queensland Emerging Origin Stars Sprint Final looked like it had eight genuine chances, and a stellar finish looked more than likely with that kind of quality depth.
Hara’s Panda - for trainer Michael Stephenson - didn’t read the script, giving the field a cold early as he flew to the lead and careered away for a nine-length triumph.
Now, the man they call Tricky is at it again with Hara’s Panda in this week’s Capalaba To The Creek Final.
Hara’s Panda’s box manners have been his calling card since day one and Stephenson is convinced there’s no supplement for early speed.
“Without his early speed he probably wouldn’t have won a race and now he has eleven including the Emerging Origin race which had some very good dogs,” Stephenson said.
“He is more than just an early speed dog, he has the second sectional to go with it as well and all he needs is one dog to check behind him and he can put up the kind of ten-length margin he did winning last week.
“Farmor Beach just caused a little bit of trouble after he crossed and that’s all he needed I looked up to see what was chasing and he was just too far in front.”
Stephenson openly admits Hara’s Panda steals races from quicker dogs, but it’s a tough watch when he gets the wobbles late.
“It doesn’t always work that way; the week before he led for fun again, but Magical Bill was always on his hammer and I knew even when he had a three-length break coming to the home turn he’d get found out,” he said.
“I think he just puts so much into the first and second splits of his race that he runs out of gas late, but if you’re still putting up sub-thirty second times doing that you’ve got a dog that’s won plenty of races like him.
“The way he’s been going made me feel a little bit better after his brother Hara’s Smokey who was travelling really well broke his hock a fortnight ago, but that’s greyhound racing.”
SKY RACING Qld Emerging Origin Stars F 520m
Stephenson has been a prominent name in greyhound racing for decades, but currently trains as a hobby and was surprised by the reaction after Hara’s Panda’s big win.
“I didn’t realise it at the time what a big deal his win was, I’m an old timer and I was just walking off the track ready to put him in the car and go home,” he said.
“All of a sudden I was getting pictures taken and we got a rug and trophy, the whole lot, and now looking back on the field I can see why there was plenty of fuss because he beat some good ones.”
Coming off the commanding win, many would press on to this Saturday’s Ipswich Young Guns heats but for Stephenson it’s all about placement with his small team.
“I always like to place my dogs, someone asked me after the race are you going to the Ipswich Young Guns with him and I said definitely not, he hasn’t raced much at Ipswich and the quality of dog is going to be top notch,” he said.
“Instead I took him to Capalaba last Sunday for the Capalaba To The Creek race where he ran second up the straight and he’ll meet the same dogs around Albion Park this Thursday night for good money in a much weaker field than he’d be facing at Ipswich.
“Mark Saal has a couple of talented ones against us in Pump It and Slade, but both are a bit hit or miss at the start and are going to have to do all the chasing to catch us.”
Stephenson has trained all types of dogs but always has a soft spot for those that can burn early, and Hara’s Panda bringing back memories of a past champion.
“I used to train a bitch Crail Tempers who was so quick out; whether is was Lismore, Casino or the Gabba we’d always have a big bet on her,” he said.
“She wouldn’t win a match race but in a field she made her own luck and more often than not won at a price.
“I see a lot of her in Hara’s Panda, when you’ve got a good box dog it takes you a long way and you can work on the other parts of their racing later.
“I love the way he can get out of any box as well, he’s had nine box sevens in his 26 starts and it doesn’t bother him one bit, he might be even better closer to the rail - I’m not sure but it’s nice not having to sweat on a box draw.”
Stephenson is happy to go through the grades now but knows the time will come when Hara’s Panda hits open company and has a target picked out well in advance.
“My long-term goal is to win the Grafton Cup with him next year when the track has been fully re-developed, I always plan a little bit and that’s a race we really want to go after,” he said.
“I’ve been trying to win the Grafton maiden for years and haven’t been able to crack it, it’d give me a real kick to go one better and win the first Cup on the new circuit.
“The old track would have suited him down to the ground, I’m just hoping the new one is a similar size, but we’ll have a go either way.”