By Isaac Murphy
Big Nose Johnny looked like a bona fide sprinter consistently pinging the lids over the 520 metres early in his career, as he aged trainer Jamie McHugh started to notice change in his dog less early pace and a strong run home leading him to the 600 metres where the dog has been a revelation shooting for his fourth straight win at the trip on Thursday Night at Albion Park.
“My initial impressions were he would be a 520 metre dog through and through, he was genuinely quick out of the boxes and held his speed throughout he looked a good prospect,” McHugh said.
“He had a few good wins over the trip but the more he raced he started to become a little less explosive at the start and was getting into a lot of trouble.”
“He went 30.01 with a 12.60 run home one afternoon at Albion and that’s when I really believed he had a future over 600, we planned to go through his 520 metre grades before he stepped up but we ended up pulling the trigger a bit earlier and he’s been excellent.”
Excellent is the only way to describe the dogs transition winning four of six starts and only out of the placings once McHugh had pushed the right button.
“Although he’s lost a bit of early dash over the shorter trip the hallmark of his 600 metre runs has been his ability to get out and lead,” McHugh said.
“People talk about the 431 metres at Ipswich and the 395 metres at Albion as the toughest corner starts, but the 600 at Albion is right up there and if you can be first around that corner it can win you the race.”
“We certainly never imagined he’d come out and win four of his six starts at the trip, he’s had his fair share of luck with other dogs getting into bother and some good draws, but he’s definitely exceeded expectations.”
After his golden run Big Nose Johnny is up in grade and drawn wide in Thursday night’s race where he’ll tackle the likes of Group Three placed It’s A Trick, but McHugh is still confident he can make it four on the bounce.
“He doesn’t get the favour of box one which he’s had his last two starts on Thursday he’ll have to try to come across the field from the seven, but I still think he’s well placed as a fourth grader in the Mix 4th/5th Grade,” he said.
“I normally give him a run at Rob Essex’s straight track or Capalaba between runs, but with both out of business at the moment I’ve had to trial him a couple of times and he’s absolutely flying, so I’m excited to see what he can do on Thursday night.”
“His best is 35.03 over the 600 and I’m confident he’ll get down into the 34 second range in his next few starts; he may lack a little bit of conditioning this week but he’s close.”
Just as Big Nose Johnny is experiencing the hurdles that come with distance racing his trainer is learning too not having had a genuine stayer before.
“In the twenty years I’ve been training dogs I’ve never been renowned for training stayers mainly due to the breeding lines,” McHugh said.
“Johnny is out of Kinloch Brae and Anja who is the equal track record holder over the 395 at Albion, so he’s a bit of an outlier this dog.”
“Moving forward I definitely want to give him a crack at the 700 before the Winter Carnival to see if he can make it as a top-grade stayer.”
Placement is everything when coming through the staying ranks, something McHugh is fast finding out but he is not hesitant to throw his dog some fresh challenges.
“I’m learning on the fly what it’s like to train a stayer and the trick to him so far is to keep him race fit, he won his last three starts in the space of eight days, but due to the weather and lack of suitable races he’s probably tapered off slightly,” he said.
“If he wins this week he’ll be an open class dog, so we’ll probably test him at Albion against some of the best at the moment and if not may go South and find a race for him to keep that fitness up.”
McHugh operates his kennel at his Logan Reserve property but hasn’t always been a Queenslander, he continues to give back to his hometowns racing industry.
“I’m born and bred in Coonamble; a lot of my relatives live down there and I’m one of the major sponsors for the Coonamble Carnival we go down for every year,” he said.
“I work in the building industry and we always make a significant contribution to the carnival and I take my dogs down every year, whether they be Thursday night grade or a fifteen-start maiden.”
“It’ll always be home and I’m looking forward to getting down there later this year with my two boys who love the dogs and we’ll probably bring Johnny along for the ride.”
McHugh has found the balance between his work and his passion training greyhounds and has picked up some high-profile owners along the way.
“The Cattle Dog syndicate if of course named after my most prominent owner Tommy Raudonikis, who I’ve been friends with for years and also contains a number of mates from work,” he said.
“They bought Johnny and his sister Restless Emotion for $6,000 each as three-month-old pups and at two and a half they’ve won a combined total of almost $50,000; it’s been great for all of us.”