Mark Ruff is no stranger to success on the racetrack, being a part-owner of 2017 thoroughbred Melbourne Cup winner Rekindling, while he was also involved in the ownership of runner-up Johannes Vermeer for good measure.
“That was the first time I’ve had a Melbourne Cup runner and they ran one-two. Mind you, I’ve owned horses for 30 years and had plenty of slow ones,” Ruff said.
While it took decades to celebrate victory in the race that stops the nation, Ruff hasn’t had to wait nearly as long to unearth a greyhound racing superstar.
Ruff is the proud owner of boom staying prospect Houdini Boy, incredibly a homebred son of his first greyhound, which will make his hugely anticipated 700m debut at The Meadows on Saturday.
After a brilliant last start victory in the Group 3 600m Speed Star, Houdini Boy, which is trained by master Pearcedale conditioner Kel Greenough, will face a baptism of long distance fire in the Group 3 Top Cat Video Cup (725m), race 8 at 7.02pm.
While he’s tackling the likes of star brothers Here’s Tears and Tornado Tears, TAB are taking absolutely no chances, marking Houdini Boy at a prohibitive $1.45.
“Houdini Boy’s mother was the first dog I’ve ever had,” Ruff explained.
“I was at a kids basketball carnival at Ballarat a few years ago. It was freezing cold and there was a bar at the stadium and we spent most of the day watching dogs and horses.
“I said to some of the other dads that we should get a greyhound and on the way home I made a few phone calls and was put in touch with Rick Durham, who was the media manager at GRV.
“I told Rick I wanted to buy a decent dog but that I didn’t know anything about it. I wanted to be involved with the right people more than anything else and Rick recommended Kel Greenough, who at the time had two pups out of So Seductive, a Group 1 winner.
“We bought a bitch and a dog and the bitch, which I called Pechey after a good mate of mine from Queensland, won eight races and Kel said he thought she was probably worth breeding with.
“Kel picked Zambora Brockie for her first litter and she’s also got a second litter on the ground by My Redeemer and has just been mated with Fernando Bale.”
Houdini Boy was named after a restaurant in Diggers Rest, where Ruff and his fellow owners meet to discuss their burgeoning greyhound operations and from where a replica Melbourne Cup trophy was unfortunately stolen following Rekindling’s triumph.
“There’s only a train station, a post office and an Italian restaurant at Diggers Rest,” Ruff laughed.
“We’re very close to the owner of Houdini’s and that’s where we go when we meet to discuss the dogs. It’s called Houdini’s because (Harry) Houdini actually performed there.”
Houdini Boy has become remarkably adept at pulling off his own escape routines.
An alarming lack of early pace and barnstorming finishing bursts that enable him to ‘get out of jail’, have netted nine wins from 18 starts, with his only unplaced effort coming in the Group 1 Vic Peters, and already captured mainstream media attention.
“How good is it to watch him?” said Ruff.
“It’s amazing but unfortunately I haven’t seen him in the flesh since he was a pup because of the restrictions.
“The amount of people that have jumped on is phenomenal. He was on Channel 9 news a few nights ago and my phone kept going off with people saying ‘your dog is on the news!’
“He’s been a wonderful relief with what we’ve had to deal with over the last six months and I barrack for North Melbourne too, so it’s been a tough time!
“There have been a couple of phone calls from people interested in buying him but I cut them off before we get to money. We’re in it for the love of it and as Kel puts it, dogs like this are pretty hard to come by!”
That’s high praise indeed from the usually ultra-conservative Greenough, who is no doubt casting a keen eye towards upcoming feature events including the Bold Trease, which Houdini Boy’s grand-dam So Seductive won in 2010.
The Bold Trease omens are strong with Mark Ruff knowing a thing or two about winning a race on Melbourne Cup day.