Oh Mickey looms large over Australian greyhound racing let alone a restricted age race, but Hara’s Panda’s first split will at least test the champ early.
“Oh Mickey is a hell of a dog but you’ve got to go into the race thinking you can beat him on any given day and the way the box draw has come up we’ve got a chance,” Stephenson said.
“We’ve got two slow beginners in Frieda Las Vegas and Bobby The Brute to our inside and outside, I think we have a real chance of getting to the first corner in front with Oh Mickey having to do a bit more work from the eight.
“He’ll be too strong for us late, but to make a Group Final with this dog would be fantastic - he’s just going to have to dig deep late to stay in that first four.”
Stephenson never takes on more than two or three dogs at a time, making sure he’s doing everything possible to get the best out of them and a change of scenery has played a big part for Hara’s Panda.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in fifty years of training, you’ve got to keep a dog interested and if you race them at the same track and distance every week, they’re going to get stale,” he said.
“That’s why I’ve loved Capalaba so much through the years, you can race Thursday and back them up on Sunday without flattening them and it keeps their mind on the job as well.
“You don’t always find dogs that can win consistently at the circle and the straight, but Panda has shown he can do that - I’ve got a good routine with him.”
Hara’s Panda is currently playing second fiddle to gun litter mate Hara’s Clyde, a Capalaba Cup Champ and 30.12 Ipswich 520 metre runner, but the gap between the two is slowly closing.
“They’re a really exciting litter (Fernando Bale/Hara’s Annie), Tony Brett’s Hara’s Clyde who’s in the other heat is a freak, give him a one turn track and no-one would catch him,” Stephenson said.
“Tony (Glover) brought all ten of them up to Lawnton for a run behind the lure early on and Hara’s Clyde was last to go, but even then, he had lengths on them - I told Tony (Glover) he’s the one.
“From his body of work, you’d still say Clyde is the litter boss, but I’ll tell you what if Panda can run a race this week the gap between them is getting closer and closer.”
Stephenson and Glover’s relationship is about as close as you can get between a trainer and owner, Stephenson a source of knowledge in the early days, while Glover always looks after his old mate when a new litter rolls in.
“Tony’s father was a concreter and I was a concreter and we got to know each other through business,” Stephenson said.
“Tony has gone on to be a very successful tiler, which has allowed him to own so many greyhounds.
“I say he’s been like a son to me because I’ve known him since he was a baby and as he’s grown up he always showed an interest in greyhounds.
“Even now when he’s made it big he’s never forgotten where he came from and always looks after me when he’s got a new litter.
“He’s made a name for himself nationally through breeding, I was with him the other day when Steve White gave him a call to catch up, he’s at the top of the tree now and he deserves it.”
Stephenson made mention of young trainer Jemma Daley who also has a share of the litter, citing her as breathing new life into his own training career.
“I’m mentoring a young girl who’s going places as a trainer - Jemma Daley - who has Hara’s Bacon and Hara’s Penny from the same litter and both have won their last starts,” he said.
“Her grandfather who was a trainer gave me a call and asked me if I could help her get started, I expected a shy young girl, but Jemma is the exact opposite.
“She dived straight into it, always very respectful and listens to what you have to say but backs herself at the same time, it’s really rejuvenated me as a trainer seeing her enthusiasm - she’s got a big future.”