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Selective Stephenson says Hara’s Panda will handle Group racing

By Isaac Murphy

The Group 3 Flying Amy Classic looks to unearth up-and-coming greyhounds capable of mixing it in feature company.

The way Hara’s Panda’s career is going for Michael Stephenson, Thursday’s heats could signify the day the prolific restricted winner becomes a respected Group dog.

Hara’s Panda turned two last month and is currently on a streak of five wins and four minors from his last nine starts, including a 29.92 effort last time out at Albion.

Veteran trainer Stephenson has pulled all the right reigns with the dog, but credits long-time friend and owner/breeder Tony Glover’s support as the key factor in Hara’s Panda’s progression.

“Tony Glover the owner is like a son to me, I’ve been training his dogs myself for years but as I’ve got a bit older, he’s spread his litters out and I’ve been lucky enough to come out with Hara’s Panda and Hara’s Smokey,” Stephenson said.

“I picked Hara’s Panda out when he was about two-weeks-old and at the last minute decided to take the fawn dog Hara’s Smokey as well.

“I was a bit worried early they were going pretty ordinary and I told Tony as much.

“Since I’ve got them to the track they’ve just got better and better, especially Panda he still trials well below average but he’s a race dog and grows another leg when he’s in a full field.”

Stephenson preaches that placement is everything with young dogs and the trainer has been savvy in using up Hara’s Panda’s grades, building his confidence at the same time.

“To this point of Hara’s Panda’s career, I’ve been happy to place him where I think he can win, jumping between Albion Park, Capalaba and Ipswich and he still has a couple of restricted races up his sleeve after the Flying Amy,” he said.

“I thought with his early pace and how good he’s been going I had to give him a go in the Flying Amy, he consistently runs in the 5.4’s for his first sectional and if you can do that you’re a chance in any race.

“He’s got a lot of confidence from his lower grade wins and he doesn’t know he’s racing Oh Mickey this week, he’s a dog on the up and that’s all you can ask for.”

Albion Park

FAST TIMES @ SIRES ON ICE 5th Grade F 520m

Hara's Panda Next Racing

Race-4-Hara-s-Panda-DS5-5108-JPG.JPGOh 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.”