Following a stunning 2015 in which he had in excess of 50 winners, emerging greyhound trainer Mark Giddings will have his first runner in a group race when Lioness Lulu lines up in Saturday night’s $145,000 Group 1 Superstayers (725m) at The Meadows on the final night and culmination of the $1.3M Australian Cup Carnival.
Giddings, 22, is set to rub shoulders with two of his childhood heroes, the likes of whom are no strangers to the group racing scene.
“It’s going to be a dream come true to walk out to the boxes with probably my two favourite trainers that I grew up idolising as a kid in Jamie Ennis (Esparza) and Anthony Azzopardi (No Donuts). It’ll be a surreal feeling,” said Giddings, who grew up in Epping but now resides near Bendigo in Toolleen.
Giddings will have no shortage of fans at The Meadows on Saturday night, but he says he’ll feel no extra pressure going into what will be the biggest race of his life.
“To race against the likes of STAR RECALL and NO DONUTS in front of my friends and family will be a huge honour, especially my father (Brian), who is very ill and has always been my number one supporter.”
“I’m feeling more excitement than pressure, just to be there to race against the likes of Star Recall and No Donuts in front of my friends and family will be a huge honour, especially my father (Brian), who is very ill and has always been my number one supporter,” said Mark, who has high hopes of forging a long term career training greyhounds.
Lioness Lulu almost led all the way at huge odds ($24.60) in her heat before finishing second in what was her first staying attempt, and Giddings insists that because she is capable of leading, she is a sneaky each way chance again despite her status as the rank outsider at $101.00 and $13.00 a place.
If she does happen to snare the $100,000 first prize it would be a potentially life-changing moment for Giddings – who also owns the Lioness Lulu, ensuring him a full cut of prize money.
“I bought Lioness Lulu for $2,000 after she’d had about a dozen starts including one win. She has since won three races for me and she has run a lot of placings (27 in total from 54) so she has been pretty handy. If she wins the Superstayers it would mean a deposit on a (first) house, so it would be huge for me,” he said.
Q. What is your schooling and work background?
MG: “I grew up in Epping in the northern suburbs and went to Epping Secondary College, completing Year 12 in 2011. I worked at GRV for about 12 months in 2012 while studying Business Management. Prior to all of that I was a catcher at the Healesville greyhounds as an eight year old and all my part time jobs growing up were greyhound related at trainer’s properties on school holidays or at The Meadows and Healesville.”
Q. What were your career aspirations in high school?
MG: To work in the greyhound racing industry either as a Trainer or at GRV. When I was at GRV I did a Traineeship learning about various aspects of the business including grading races, in member services, stewarding and infrastructure.
Q. When did you start training greyhounds and do you do it full-time?
MG: “I have been training greyhounds since I left GRV at the start of 2013 and I train full-time. At the moment I only train five or six race dogs at a time, but I have just started doing some break-ins and pre-trainers for other people as another source of income. It is my ambition to make a long-term career out of training greyhounds.”
Q. Tell me about your training set up?
MG: “I am renting part of (fellow trainer) Rod Clarke’s property in Toolleen, which is about 15 minutes from Bendigo. At Toolleen I have access to 100m sprint lanes, a 400m slipping track, a rotary walker and plenty of open space to walk the dogs.”
Q. Is Rod Clarke like a mentor to you and does he offer advice with regard to how you train your greyhounds?
MG: “Yes I have learnt heaps from Rod but I have also learnt from a number of people who have all helped me immensely. Rod is a brilliant trainer and his strike rate speaks for itself. Not many trainers outside of Cranbourne and Geelong can boast statistics like him. He is great at understanding the different temperaments of all his greyhounds, and their specific needs, so each dog has a varied racing and training workload based on what Rod thinks will get the best out of them.”
Q. It must be incredibly satisfying to say you’ve trained 50 winners in a calendar year?
MG: “Yes it is. The first six or seven months of 2015 were really great as I was having a great run winning races with greyhounds of average ability, a few of which I had to nurse back from injury. That was very pleasing, but I cut back my numbers towards the end of 2015 for family reasons.”
Q. What is your philosophy as a greyhound trainer?
MG: “I believe that feeding a healthy diet and keeping a steady, simple training regime brings success. I try not to dabble into using too many supplements and other training fads, I just keep it simple, feed the best meat and kibble I can afford, with some light free galloping and walking in between.”
Q. Is Lioness Lulu the best greyhound you have trained so far in your career?
MG: “I’ve had some pretty handy country dogs, but with Lioness Lulu making a Group 1 Final (Superstayers) and the Wagga Cup it puts her on top of the list. She was the only Victorian greyhound to make the Wagga Cup and she is also my first city winner, which happened last year at The Meadows over 525m.”
Q. How did you come to own and train Lioness Lulu?
MG: “I bought her for $2,000 after she’d had about 12 starts for one win. From what I’ve heard she had been bounced from kennel to kennel even before her first start. I’m about the sixth trainer to have her since she’s been in work.”
Q. Were you nervous going into her Superstayers heat last Saturday night, which was your very first taste of group racing?
MG: “Not really. I had no expectations going into the race. I was very interested to see what she would do at her first look at the 725 metres as she ran a really good race at Shepparton over the 650 metres a week earlier, which was really just a hit in hope. Prior to that I had no real intentions of trying her as a stayer at all, but here we are.
Q. She paid $3.70 for the place. Did you place a wager on her?
MG: “We had a few bucks on her each way just to make it interesting.”
Q. Lioness Lulu is the rank outsider with TAB at $101.00. Do you give her any chance of causing what would be a massive upset?
MG: “Obviously if Star Recall or No Donuts get their own way early it will be a case of times and margins, but I believe Ima Misha Doll and Lioness Lulu might cause the champs some grief early which throws the race wide open for a dog like Esparza, who ran a huge race last week. All I know for certain is that Lioness Lulu is going to be chasing her rump off no matter what, and if she’s somewhere near the front going past the 600 boxes it will create the most noise heard at a dog track in a very long time because I have a lot of friends and family coming along on the night to support her.”
Q. What will you do if she wins the $100,000 first prize on Saturday night?
MG: “If she wins the Superstayers it would mean a deposit on a (first) house, so it would be huge for me.”
Q. What advice would you offer young people thinking of getting into training greyhounds?
MG: “Just have a go at it. It isn’t as daunting as it can seem. Make sure you go in with a plan but be open minded and listen to everyone, but only act on what you think is right. Learning from other people’s mistakes can save you from making your own, and can be as good as the best advice. Don’t be scared to ask questions. I learnt by literally walking up to top trainers at the track and introducing myself and asking them questions. Surprisingly, it worked and nearly all of them were more than helpful.”
WATCH: Lioness Lulu (3) leads the field in a heat of the Group 1 Superstayers last weekend.