Prodigious talent Poke The Bear has long promised to claim a Group 1 trophy and he delivered in spades on one of Australian greyhound racing’s greatest stages when careering away with the star-studded TAB Topgun (525m) at The Meadows on Saturday night.
In a sensational display, Poke The Bear trounced the best sprinters in the land to claim the Topgun’s $150,000 winner’s purse, emulating his superstar sire Fernando Bale, which won the invitational feature in 2015.
It was Seona Thompson’s second Group victory in as many nights, with Aston Kimetto storming home to win the Geelong Gold Cup on Friday.
Poke The Bear gave the powerful Thompson kennel a third Topgun triumph, with Seona’s husband Jason having won the race with No Intent (2001) and Whisky Assassin (2004).
Coming off a luckless fourth in the Million Dollar Chase in Sydney a week earlier, where he started favourite, Poke The Bear was the $3.30 second select in the Topgun from a testing draw in six, with Andrea Dailly’s rails runner Dyna Patty heading the market at $2.90.
2017 Topgun heroine Up Hill Jill, striving to create history by becoming the first sprinter to go back-to-back in the event, was a $15 outsider, but she was best to begin, clearing Dyna Patty rounding the first turn.
Poke The Bear was positioned awkwardly early but drove through into third and after railing past the gallant Up Hill Jill in the back straight he dashed clear, trouncing Hasten Slowly by an ever-widening 5.96 lengths in 29.74sec.
It was a fourth second at Group 1 level for Jeff Britton’s Hasten Slowly, another son of Fernando Bale, while Dave Geall’s Up Hill Jill didn’t surrender her Topgun crown without a great fight, finishing third.
Owner/breeders Darren Puleio and his father Michael have enjoyed a wonderful 2018 with their Fernando Bale – Nicki Fields litter, with Poke The Bear’s litter brother Out Of Range claiming a Group 1 double earlier in the year, taking out the Silver Chief and National Derby.
“I’m in shock. To have a dog this good is a dream come true,” Darren Puleio said.
“Dad and I have been breeding greyhounds for a long time and have been trying to improve our line and it feels like we’re finally there.
“But it’s a team effort. The Thompsons do a great job, as do the breakers, as well as a girl named Lisa who helps us with the pups at home.”
Poke The Bear has now won 28 of his 49 starts and it was his second Group success, having won the Traralgon Cup back in January.
“He has his moments of brilliance, that’s for sure,” Michael Puleio offered
“If he begins, they won’t touch him, but if he misses it, he’s got to fight for it. He began like a bullet in his semi of the Million Dollar Chase, but he missed it in the final. But I was rapt for Peter Lagogiane and we won the Consolation with Poke The Bear’s litter brother True Talent at least.
“We’ve had an unbelievable run in 2018, and tonight is a real big win. Watching the race I nearly fainted. Poke The Bear is a wonderful dog.
“Unfortunately, Out Of Range has been retired after hurting his stopper bone. He’ll be going to stud and standing with the Thompsons.”
* Compiled by Gerard Guthrie and Andrew Copley. Photos by Jason McKeown on behalf of BlueStream Pictures.