Allansford greyhound trainer Mathew Wright thought he was in for a bad day yesterday when the back windscreen of his ute was shattered, however a win by his champion greyhound Lightning Frank in a heat of the Warrnambool Cup a few hours later turned his fortunes around.
Wright, a fencer by trade, was trimming the top of a fence when part of a paling went flying and, unfortunately, he had his ute parked “in the wrong spot”.
However, the incident was well and truly forgotten when Lightning Frank ($2.30 fav), a dual Group 1 winner in 2017, returned to his brilliant best after exiting box eight and defeating the talented Monster Fish by almost five lengths, thus winning his way into next Wednesday night’s $67,000 Group 2 final.
The performance brought a huge sense of relief to Wright. Lightning Frank, the pin-up greyhound of Warrnambool, has endured an injury-riddled past 12 months dating back to the 2017 Group 2 Warrnambool Classic when he finished sixth to Bewildering when the $1.50 favourite from box one.
“He injured his Achilles that night and missed three months of racing as a result,” Wright recalled.
Lightning Frank has had his share of injuries ever since, and Wright was starting to wonder whether his star’s time at the top level may have been behind him after “below par” performances in his previous two starts, however a sizzling 390 metre trial at Warrnambool a week before the Cup heats renewed optimism that his star may win another big race before the end of his career.
Drawn in box eight in his heat, his first race in three weeks, Lightning Frank was superb, winning in 24.94sec, the third quickest time among the seven heats and just a length off the fastest heat winner, Jimmy Newob (29.87sec).
WATCH: Lightning Frank win his heat of the 2018 Warrnambool Cup from box eight.
“I’ve never felt so nervous before a race as I did tonight,” Wright said after Lightning Frank’s heat win. “I usually don’t worry too much but I just wasn’t sure how he’d go. Even though he trialled really well a week earlier, until they actually do it in a race you never really know how they’ll go.”
“I remember looking at the odds five minutes before the race and he was paying $1.10. I thought, oh no, if he doesn’t win they’ll be jumping out of the trees to get me,” he laughed.
Lightning Frank again has the coveted box one on Warrnambool Cup night, and while the weight of expectation from his large legion of local fans will again be brimming, Wright isn’t getting carried away about his chances.
“This was only his third 450m run in quite some time, so he should have some improvement in him, but there are so many great dogs in the final. A lot of the locals will see he has box one and will think it’s the best thing ever, and hopefully they’re right, but I actually think he is better suited to box eight, as he showed in his heat. He just needs that little bit of room early, and if you miss the start marginally from box one at Warrnambool you can end up in no man’s land. In saying that, I’d prefer him in box one than box four, five or six,” he said.
Lightning Frank, who is also owned locally by the Hashtag Syndicate, is aiming to become the first Warrnambool greyhound to win the Cup since the Kevin Mugavin Junior-trained Honcho Classic in 1999.
“It has been way too long since we had a local Cup winner,” Wright quipped. “Hopefully this is the year we turn it around.”
The presence of Lightning Frank has ensured there will be a great atmosphere at Wednesday night’s Group 2 Warrnambool Cup, at which entry is free, with gates to open at 6pm. And should he cross the finish line in front and claim the $47,000 first prize, the roar from the crowd will be electrifying.