Punters have switched from ‘Scotch’ to ‘Whiskey’ in next Saturday night’s Group 2 Warragul Toyota Cup (460m).
Star sprinter Whiskey Riot catapulted to the head of betting markets following glamour greyhound Hooked On Scotch’s shock withdrawal from the final due to injury.
A winner of the $435,000-to-the-winner Group 1 Melbourne Cup at Sandown in late November last year, Whiskey Riot – trained at Rowsley by Anthony Azzopardi – has now been installed as $2.50 race favourite on TAB Fixed Odds.
WATCH: Whiskey Riot (2) takes out a G2 Warragul Cup heat in 25.46sec.
Whiskey Riot is striving to become the third greyhound in four years to land the Melbourne Cup-Warragul Cup double – Aston Dee Bee (2017/18) and Ando’s Mac (2016/17).
Ironically, his close mate – leading NSW trainer Jason Mackay – achieved the feat with Ando’s Mac. Mackay stayed with Azzopardi during that Victorian campaign.
“It would be fantastic to emulate a very close friend… I’ve known him (Mackay) for more than 20 years,” Azzopardi said.
Azzopardi relocated to Victoria from Shanes Park, on the outskirts of Penrith in Western Sydney, in early 2016. And four years later says he has no regrets with the move.
“Victorian greyhound racing is a very professional outfit… For starters, the tracks are a lot better; it gives young greyhounds every opportunity,” Azzopardi said. “I just like the whole setup, it’s the best state for greyhound racing; the top echelon.”
Azzopardi looked up to the heavens as Whiskey Riot crossed the line in the Melbourne Cup, dedicating the victory to his late father Charlie who passed away aged 69 due to lung failure in 2001.
And you can expect a repeat show of emotion if Whiskey Riot claims the $47,000-to-winner Warragul Cup, which would increase his stakes to $686,810.
“Dad was my mentor in life and greyhound racing… He was an amazing man,” Azzopardi said. “We have nine siblings in the family (7 boys; 2 girls) and he loved us all.”
Azzopardi said his father “treated us all the same” and always emphasised the importance of a rock solid, close-knit family. “We could never go to bed with any family issues, it had to be resolved there and then.”
“He never stopped trying to teach us things, especially working hard for everything you get in life. His last words to me were, ‘I’ve had such a great life… I have a fantastic wife (Georgina) and family. I’m dying a happy man’,” Azzopardi said.
“I wear a chain around my neck in his memory, and there’s not a day I don’t think about him. He was, and always will be, my hero,” he added.
A winner of 18 races (with 11 seconds and two thirds) from 38 starts, Whiskey Riot broke his G1 jinx when he defeated Western Envoy and his nemesis Hooked On Scotch in the Melbourne Cup.
He had previously finished second to Hooked On Scotch in the Adelaide Cup, second to Sennachie in the Maturity Classic, and third to Get It Gizmo in the Topgun. He was also third to Hooked On Scotch in the G3 Shootout.
And Azzopardi says the seven-time group race finalist, who recently finished second to Western Envoy in the G2 Ballarat Cup, has become “a real professional”.
“You need to pick and choose your races, and practice makes perfect… He’s been constantly meeting the top brass and that’s improved him,” Azzopardi said.
He added: “He’s really in the race now… He’s a real big contender. I’d like to see him win a few more group races and then retirement to stud beckons.”
Whiskey Riot won his Warragul Cup heat in 25.46sec but Hooked On Scotch was the fastest qualifier for the final, posting a near-record 25.34sec in his heat. Unfortunately, he sustained a stopper ligament injury in the catching pen shortly after passing the winning post.
It was a cruel blow for his Pearcedale trainer Jason Thompson, a fact not lost on Azzopardi.
“It’s terrible… We’ve all been there,” Azzopardi said. “He (Hooked On Scotch) was a certainty in the race, as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully it’s not the end of his race career.”
He added: “It’s really bad news. In fact, it’s a shame as he’s a crowd puller… He’s a true Brett Lee, if not the next Fernando Bale. He’s in that category!”