This year’s Warrnambool Seaside Festival will be giving one young trainer his first shot at winning an exceptional $25,000 to-the-winner purse.
She’s a Mitzi, trained by 26-year-old Lara trainer, Jai Willoughby, is a strong contender for the festival’s feature race, the Summer Sizzle, taking place on Saturday, 12 January.
The Seaside Festival is held over eight weeks at the Wannon Park in Warrnambool and has shown strong fields from across the state. Last weekend’s heats were no exception, with two close races producing an excellent field for the Summer Sizzle.
She’s a Mitzi launched from Box 8 in the second and arguably stronger heat of the night. She took the lead before the turn but found interference as she headed towards the rail; she managed to hold on to a solid finish coming in just 0.08sec behind the race favourite, Whiskey Riot, who had the fastest heat time with 25.30sec.
“She went pretty good, but was a bit unlucky,” Jai said referring to his greyhound clipping her heel during the race. “Happy she made it through to the final.”
Jai Willoughby has only been working with greyhounds for about three years. A relation of his neighbour had a few dogs, so he went to the races with them one day and got attached right away.
He ended up getting a job with Jason and Jessica Sharp at their kennels in Avalon where he learned a lot from Team Sharp. They had a big impact on him, and he began training dogs at their kennels as well. Jai said he had little interest in greyhounds before then, but he can’t imagine himself doing anything else now.
Having only trained a handful of greyhounds, Jai says She’s a Mitzi is hands down the best dog he’s trained so far in his career; and there’s no doubt about it, She’s a Mitzi is an impressive greyhound with 7 wins and 8 placings from 22 starts.
Overall, the Seaside Festival has been a great experience for Jai. It’s the first time he’s had a dog in the heats or the finals, so he’s excited for Saturday’s feature.
“I’ve had her from the beginning,” Jai said proudly. “At first, she didn’t show too much potential, but she’s come a long way. This is the biggest race so far, but we’re just taking it one step at a time and trying not to get too carried away. As long as she’s performing that’s the main thing.”
When asked about the greyhound’s chances, Jai was tentatively optimistic. “She’s in the race, so she has a chance,” he said. “Although, she’s up against some good dogs, so it’ll be pretty hard.”
The step up in prizemoney and race action is the result of investments made to Wannon Park. This year’s festival showcased upgrades to the track, spectator facilities and the judges’ tower. It also included daily activities for the whole family.
Jai Willoughby is a greyhound racing convert, who recommends training to anyone who wants to give it a go. She’s a Mitzi came in third overall to move on to the finals this weekend and she has as good a chance as any of the greyhounds competing to take home the Summer Sizzle victory and prizemoney.
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