Revered Warrnambool greyhound racing stalwart Norm McCullagh, 79, is chasing a $47,000 first prize with Crimson Vixen in the Group 2 VW Ballarat Cup (450m) on Saturday night.
“I thought she’d run well, but she hadn’t had a great deal of work and I thought they’d run over the top of her,” McCullagh said of Crimson Vixen’s Ballarat Cup heat win. “And I wasn’t expecting Western Envoy (G1 Melbourne Cup runner-up) to blow the start.”
WATCH: Crimson Vixen (B8) defeat Western Envoy (B1) in the opening Ballarat Cup heat.
Crimson Vixen was only having her third start back since winning the G2 Bendigo Cup in July. Unfortunately, she sustained hock and fibula injuries shortly after that final.
McCullagh said Crimson Vixen had pulled up a treat following her courageous effort, where she dug deep and defied all attempts to run her down. He added that she’ll be “kept fresh” for the final with only “light duties” in the lead-up.
“She’ll be at her best, but her best might not be good enough,” McCullagh said. “But if she comes out running, and gets left alone, she could pinch a break.”
McCullagh said he’s confident Crimson Vixen – the only female in the final – will lead early but needs to find “more than just a couple of lengths” improvement on her heat, which was her third win from five starts at Ballarat.
“I’ve told her to jump to the lead and improve her position from there,” he said tongue-in-cheek.
But McCullagh doubts Crimson Vixen (Box 3) can cause an upset. “I think we’ll make the race for the ‘four’ (fastest heat winner La Grand Quality),” he added. “He should be sitting on her tail, and you also can’t write-off Melbourne Cup winner, Whiskey Riot. It’s a top field!”
Crimson Vixen, a winner of 14 races from 23 starts, has also contested this year’s G2 Warrnambool Cup (3rd) and G1 Sapphire Crown. Her prize money totals $140,460.
McCullagh, who has been associated with numerous topliners, certainly knows how to extract the best from a greyhound in big races. He guided immortal stayer Bold Trease to four successive G1 Sandown Cups (1986-89).