Jason Thompson remember exactly what he thought when he first heard about the GRNSW + Ladbrokes Million Dollar Chase … complete disbelief.
“My initial thoughts were it sounds too good to be true, and most things that sound too good to be true, aren’t true,” Thompson said. “There’s going to be a greyhound race that comes out of nowhere and is going to be worth a million dollars … it was just too good to be true.
“But then we heard it was real, it was happening, and we were naturally going to be a part of it.
“We weren’t going to target all our dogs at it, because we had the Adelaide Cup and few other races on down here, but the main ones we had went up there, and so far it’s as good as we can expect.”
For Jason and his wife Seona, they wouldn’t have expected to have three of the eight grand finalists, but that’s what they have landed with after last Friday’s semi-finals, with Poke The Bear, Azkaban and Midnight Starlet all winning and advancing to the $1 million to the winner decider next Saturday night.
Those semi wins capped a remarkable day for the Thompsons. Earlier in the afternoon, their promising young pup Black Opium stunned his rivals with a 13 length win of a feature maiden final at Bendigo. Later that night their sprinter Real Simple led throughout to win the Group 1 Adelaide Cup, then came their Chase semi successes.
“We get enjoyment out of winning a race anywhere, but to have a day like that, to send the dogs to all these places and get results, it’s just a great effort by the dogs,” Jason said.
“To have three chances in eight of winning a million, it sounds pretty good, hopefully one of them can stand up.
”The timing was perfect too. The Adelaide Cup was on 10 minutes before Azkaban’s race, so we had time to watch him go around and that was a good start to the night.”
Poke The Bear has been installed as pre-post favourite on the strength of his best of the night 29.66s semi win. His semi-final was dubbed a match-race between himself and fellow Victorian Benali, and it played out that way on the track, with Benali putting it to Poke The Bear all the way.
“I was really worried with all the rain they have had in Sydney,” Jason said. “I just felt it wasn’t the best place to be hard up against the fence and that’s where he was going to be if he began and that’s where he found himself.
“With Benali getting a clear run straight to second and challenging I did feel the conditions maybe might have been in the other dogs’ favour, but he (Poke The Bear) just really kicked in well, fought it out.
“Poke The Bear, Benali, Dyna Chancer and Zippy Mitzy, all got through the first corner unscathed which set up a good finish, which is what it was, and he (Poke The Bear) did everything right and if you do everything right, you probably deserved to win and that’s what he did.”
Thompson said he couldn’t be happier with the win, and added that Poke The Bear had been primed for this series, breaking the record at Warragul over 400m in a trial before his heat performance, and narrowly missing the track record at Healesville in a trial the Sunday before his semi-final win.
While the Thompsons qualified Midnight Starlet for the grand final, some credit must go to his former trainer and husband of the owner, David Pringle.
Seona sent Midnight Starlet back to the David to go through the Dubbo Regional Qualifying series. She won the final and broke the Dubbo track record before returning to the Thompsons to prepare her for the semi-finals.
Like she did at Dubbo, she flew out of the boxes and refused to surrender to any challengers.
“I think she’s hit and miss out of the boxes,” Jason said. “She had been home here for three weeks and had been going well, and her trials and obviously her last race start at Dubbo, indicated she was in the right space really, she was going well.
“To win (the semi) she had to do what she did, she couldn’t afford to miss the start in that race and win from behind, she did everything right, began well and was probably a bit lucky because her and Dyna Patty were having a real battle and luckily for us, Dyna Patty came off worst and we stood up and kept going.
Azkaban didn’t actually qualify for the semi-finals, after finishing fourth in a heat at Wentworth Park on September 29, but luck was working for the Thompsons as the third placegetter in that heat, Rita’s Boy, was injured and became ineligible to be drawn in the semis. The rules state that the fourth placed runner in that heat, gets the run … enter Azkaban.
“We were going to go to Adelaide for the Cup with him after he missed out, but then realising he was definitely going to be a reserve for the semis, we decided against Adelaide, and were going to just wait and hope he might get a run, but as it turned out he went straight into the fields.
”You feel for the ones who qualified and missed out, but that’s just racing, and it has happened to us as well.”
Azkaban took his place in the semis, and stormed home to snatch a win, and a spot in the grand final.
“My philosophy, not just with dogs but in life, is pretty much if it’s meant to be it will happen. That’s worked out for Azkaban so far, we’ll wait and see what happens next Saturday,” Jason said.
“He’s just about done a Stephen Bradbury, he’s come from nowhere and all of a sudden, who knows, he might find himself on the podium.”