Mark Ruff has ‘rubbed shoulders’ with equine racing royalty. He’s part-owned two thoroughbred Melbourne Cup winners – Rekindling (2017) and Twilight Payment (2020).
But the down-to-earth Diggers Rest-based industrial builder says greyhound racing gives him the same level of excitement!
Ruff owns staying ‘magician’ Houdini Boy who has attracted a legion of fans with his last-to-first ‘escape acts’.
Trained by Kelvyn Greenough, Houdini Boy (Box 1) is TAB’s $1.80 favourite to ‘unlock’ a $100,000 first prize – and a third Group 1 win – in Saturday’s night’s Group 1 Fanta Bale Super Stayers final (725m) at The Meadows.
“I’ve been surprised by the amount of people that follow the dogs,” Ruff said. “You probably get blinded and blinkered in your own sport, but everyone we’ve dealt with in greyhound racing have been phenomenal.”
“We also see the passion and the care industry participants take with their greyhounds; you know you’re dealing with quality people. And the professionalism of Kel and Jacqui Greenough has got me hooked on the sport.”
So much so, that if Houdini Boy wins or is placed in the final, Ruff and his wife, Shelley, have pledged their owner’s share of prizemoney to GRV’s Greyhound Adoption Program – which could equate to as much as a $50,000 donation.
“We just want to put something back into the sport,” a benevolent Ruff said.
Last week, Houdini Boy staged a herculean heat effort when second to West Australian wonder Zack Monelli after spotting him 12 lengths with a lap to travel.
WATCH: After leading by as much as 12 lengths, WA star Zack Monelli (4) holds off the magical finishing burst of Houdini Boy (7) in a G1 Fanta Bale Super Stayers heat.
“It was pretty special, he just let him get too far away,” Ruff said. “But he can do plenty of things to get himself into trouble.”
However, Ruff says Houdini Boy’s chances in the final are “really good”.
“You might have your heart in your mouth, but he always gives you something. He’d run through a brick wall!”
Fate has many hands and Ruff’s involvement in the sport emanated from an Under 15s country basketball tournament during a cold winter’s Queen’s Birthday weekend in Ballarat in 2015.
Ruff had no interest in greyhound racing, but when the conversation turned to greyhound ownership over a few convivial ales in a Sports Bar – during a break from watching his son, Will, play – it proved an amazing catalyst.
Not long after, Ruff contacted then GRV media manager Rick Durham and, as they say, the rest is history.
“I picked up the phone and made a few calls, Ruff said. “I said ‘I just need to deal with someone who is a good person’. It led to a phone call from Kel and he set me on the path.”
Cutting a long story short, Ruff became the part-owner of a December ’13 Magic Sprite x So Seductive pup, who was to race 23 times for seven wins – six at Sandown and one at The Meadows. (So Seductive won the 2010 G1 Bold Trease and was a four-time G1 finalist.)
And when she was mated with Zambora Brockie in March 2018, the pups were split 50/50. However, Ruff bought another two pups for himself – and, to complete a fairy tale, one of them is Houdini Boy.
Meanwhile, Pechey has a litter by My Redeemer, who have just been broken-in, and she has recently whelped a litter by Fernando Bale.
Houdini Boy is always racing for Ruff in heart, and hopefully on this occasion GAP is a beneficiary of his magnanimous – and ‘magical’ – gesture.
Pawnote: Greenough is chasing his second Fanta Bale Super Stayers win, having won with Just Friends in 2008.
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