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Connell’s kennel built on love

By Isaac Murphy

Race-9-It-Ain-t-Billy-DSC-6295-JPG.JPGNicole Connell does it all; whether it’s handling, picking up fellow trainer’s dogs or racing her own, she does it with a smile and a whole lot of passion.

That passion has translated to training plenty of winners, and whether it’s It Ain’t Billy winning a Best 8 on a Thursday night or Backhander winning up the Capalaba straight on the Sunday, she gets the same joy and is enjoying the ride.

2020 has been a breakout year for Connell with the continued success of It Ain’t Billy, who has gone to another level since joining her kennel.

“I owe a lot to the Elsons giving me a chance with It Ain’t Billy, he’s just thrived in a small kennel environment where I can give him that little bit extra one-on-one time and it’s shone through in his performances,” Connell said.

“I do a lot of handling for Bill and Cyndie (Elson) and one night It Ain’t Billy had been really playing up in the kennels and at the boxes and Bill said ‘I think I might have a dog for you soon’ and a couple of weeks later he turned up with the dog and the paperwork and away we went.

“The first start I had him he flew the lids from box seven and was only tracked down by Cooper Dooper late, I thought I might have something to work with here and he’s gone from strength to strength since.”

The dog’s form was infectious, rubbing off on both the trainer and the rest of the kennel, resulting in a couple of weeks Connell could only have dreamed of.

“To see him go from a fifth grade Thursday night dog, to a four-time Best 8 winner and narrowly missing out on the Group 2 Ipswich Cup Final has given me so much more confidence in myself and my training that I’m doing things the right way,” she said.

“I had Sonic Boom coming along for Masters races each Thursday night as well, he’d had 18 starts without and win over the 500 and suddenly he won back-to-back races, I’ve got no doubt my own confidence had an effect on him.

“I had a magical couple of weeks where Billy won back-to-back Best 8s and Sonic Boom back-to-back Masters; to win one Thursday night race I would’ve been happy, it’s been an amazing run.”

Connell’s form was not contained to Albion Park, as she turned around the injury plagued career of Backhander, from whom she learned a valuable lesson in that you don’t have to have gun young pups to make a dime.

“It hasn’t just been Albion Park either, I train Backhander for one of my owners, he’s over four-and-a-half years old and they asked me if I wanted a go with him and he won five on the trot in August and September up the straight - we were both over the moon,” Connell said.

“It’s been a great lesson for me as a trainer not to give up on dogs, you can always find improvement even if they’re past their prime age-wise, I can still get the best out of them and because of their success it’s allowed me to buy some young pups.

“I bought two Zambora Brockie/Daisy Dreams off Darren Johnstone and another Zambora Brockie pup off Darren Russell who’s 28 kilos at six months - I can’t wait to get to work with them.”

It Ain't Billy Next Racing
Sonic Boom

Connell now finds herself in an ideal situation; class racing dogs and reinforcements to come with some gun pups, the kennel has never been better.

“I’ve had more dogs in the kennel in the past, but I’ve never had seven I’m as excited about as the ones I have now,” she said.

“It’s taken a long time and a lot of hard work but I’ve found the balance between the older dogs who are out there racing most weeks and the young ones coming through, it’s something I hope to keep going through the years and really set myself up for the future.”

Like many greyhound enthusiasts, Connell was born into the sport and credits her dad Kevin for planting the seeds for a life in dogs.

“I was born into greyhound racing; my Dad Kevin Connell was a trainer, he bred and raced dogs and I was mad about them from day one,” Connell said.

“I remember putting a lead and collar on Burning Smig for my dad at the Gold Coast track and I’ll never forget it, I’ve even got him tattooed on my arm.

“Funnily enough, of my five brothers and sisters I’m the only one that’s kept an interest in dogs, I love it and I certainly hope I’ve made Dad proud being so involved.

“It’s in my blood and I’ll be at it for the rest of my life.”

Despite her success, Connell’s feet are firmly planted on the ground thanks to all the great trainers and friends she’s worked with and alongside over the years.

“I’ve got so many people to thank that I’ve worked for and become great friends with; John Dart, Darryl Thomas, Tony Brett, Bill and Cyndie Elson - they’ve all been wonderful to me,” she said.

“That’s why when I’m handling their dogs, I take them out and treat them like my own and get just as excited when they win.

“There are a lot of other trainers I’ve watched from afar and picked up little tips on how to get the best out of your dogs, it’s a brilliant industry.”