With the Australian Cup Carnival upon us, dizzy heights and lofty Group 1 dreams are often accompanied by plenty of pre-race nerves for owners. But, what about connections who are just as nervous at every start, no matter what class their greyhound is racing in?
One such owner is Roslyn Russell, who is half of the Banana Besties Syndicate.
Roslyn got to hold her greyhound puppy the moment he was born, commencing what really is a love story, between Roslyn (Roz) and her little puppy who is now all grown up – on the racetrack he is known as Curlin’ Merlin.
Or just simply, George – to those that are near and dear to him.
Curlin’ Merlin (Stagger x Soul Dancer) is Roz’s very first racing greyhound, and to say she is ‘attached’ to George would be an understatement. But, unlike most of those lucky enough to experience the spoils and thrills of the big time of the Australian Cup Carnival, Roz came across the greyhound breed and its racing opportunities a little later in life.
“I had his racing name picked out when he was just six months old, I couldn’t wait to get his name registered.”
Roz grew up in Wollongong, New South Wales and lived just five minutes away from the Bulli greyhound racetrack, never showing any interest in greyhound racing when she was young. Fast forward some 20 years later to 2015, and as an adult living in the Shepparton region, Roz became involved with a retired racing greyhound thanks to greyhound trainer Karen Pitt.
In a recent discussion I had with Roz, she recalled “A GAP walk took place in Seymour which I attended with my retired race dog Jimmy and my whippet Wylie and I met a lady called Liz (Elizabeth Breukink).”
“Liz and I developed an instant friendship and we started organizing walks here in Shepparton as well as Benalla, from which I then became much more involved with GAP.”
“Many people asked me why did you get a greyhound? And, to be honest I don’t know. I don’t know what the attraction was, but once I got Jimmy, my retired racer, and he got into my heart, I just fell in love. I will now, never own any dog, other than a greyhound.”
“Both Liz and her partner Theo Dahl have their own race dogs and I started to spend a lot of my weekends with them. They were teaching me about rearing and other aspects of raising and training greyhounds.”
“As time progressed, one of Liz’s Greyhounds – Summer (Soul Dancer) was in pup and they offered me a puppy – I couldn’t believe it !”
“George was the first one born and he looked like his older half sister Georgia, so I said – can we name him George?”
“I then became a part of George’s life every weekend until he went to his first trainer.”
“I had his racing name picked out when he was just six months old – I couldn’t wait to get his name registered.”
“I kept ringing up GRV and asking them why it was taking so long when in actual fact it was only a week,” Roz said laughing.
WATCH: Curlin’ Merlin (4) runs 3rd at Beckley Park on Boxing Day, securing him the Geelong Greyhound of the Year title for 2020, providing Roz with a massive thrill.
“I taught George how to walk on his lead and the first time he went to the track and chased the lure, I was there.”
“I was there for every part of his development and It has been an absolutely fantastic journey and I can never ever thank Liz and Theo enough for being a part of it!”
At this point, while talking with Roz, she starts crying and it becomes more than clear as to how much George means to her, as well as the beautiful gesture that Liz and Theo made to Roz by giving her Curlin’ Merlin.
“Liz and Theo mean the world to me, and if they had not given me this chance, I would not have George, we all have a very special bond.”
At Curlin’ Merlin’s last start for 2020, he had tied for ‘Greyhound of the Year’ at Geelong with Uptown Trixie on points.
Heading into a race on Boxing Day, Roz knew that as long as George ran a place, he would then go on to win the Geelong Club’s 2020 title.
When Curlin’ Merlin finished third, even race caller Brendan Delaney remarked he had never heard such a loud cheer for third place.
“I went berserk,” declared a very proud Roz. “Everybody heard, I did go a bit berko,” she laughed.
Her enthusiasm has been undeniable throughout Curlin’ Merlin’s entire career, which has seen him race 67 times for 13 wins and 32 minor placings.
“George’s first race was at Ballarat – I drove three hours each way to see him race with Liz.”
“Geelong, Healesville, Bendigo, Shepparton – if I can get to the track to watch him race, I will.”
“I will go anywhere for him, I’ve been to most of his races, excluding those affected by Covid-19 restrictions,” Roz added.
And, for someone who didn’t know anything about greyhound racing in the early part of her life, Roz has certainly made up for lost time by obtaining her GRV attendant license and has actually ‘caught’ George a couple of times at Healesville.
“I would love to have a shot at training one day. My living circumstances at the moment don’t allow for it, but if I could rent a kennel from someone I would,” Roz revealed.
“I will go anywhere for him, I’ve been to most of his races, excluding those affected by Covid-19 restrictions.”
Additionally, Roz has also been the Longwood Coursing Club’s slip steward for the last three years, and that experience has certainly left a favourable impression with her for several reasons.
“I love the opportunity that greyhound racing provides to such a wide age bracket of people. When you see 13 and 14 year old kids presenting their greyhounds to the slipper amongst a wide variety of ages, I love the fact that you can have a whole family involved in greyhound racing.”
Despite Curlin’ Merlin last tasting victory in July, Roz is quietly confident of him experiencing more success, and he was recently transferred to a new trainer, Brendan Jones at Shepparton.
“He has a heart that is bigger than Phar Lap’s,” she said of her star.
Whatever the case – win, lose or draw – Curlin’ Merlin and Roz share a bond that will last well beyond the racetrack.
And Victorian greyhound racing is all the richer for acquiring another ‘hands on’ participant, who has developed many new skills and whose racing interests are underpinned by something that no Group 1 race or money will ever buy – love.
WATCH: Curlin’ Merlin (7) scores a gutsy last-to-first win in heavy fog at Shepparton last year.
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