Cancer survivor Paul Galea, trainer of Maturity Classic surprise packet Handsome Rhino, admits he’s feeling the nerves in the countdown to Saturday night’s G1 age feature at The Meadows.
Which is completely understandable, considering Galea, 55, trains just two dogs out of his St Albans home and is contesting his first G1 event, with homebred excitement machine Handsome Rhino the least experienced finalist.
“It is a bit nerve-wracking,” Galea conceded.
“Going from the backyard to a Group 1, you’d like to think it would be!
“But I’m over the moon just to be in it.”
Galea isn’t one to shy away from a challenge, having bravely stared down cancer to now find himself on the verge of a fairy tale G1 breakthrough.
“I had cancer about five years ago and had a massive operation – 12 or 13 hours – to remove half my jaw,” Galea explained.
“I had a bit of a break from greyhound racing for a year and a half but I’m okay now.
“I’ve been a reserve for two G1s with Black Viking, which was reserve for the Sandown Cup and Sale Cup. Black Viking also ran fourth in the Rookie Rebel when it was a G2, so I haven’t trained a dog in a G1 before.
“I owned Magpie Bob, which ran second in the (G1) National Distance Championship at The Meadows, but he was trained by Dave Hobby over in WA.
“Handsome Rhino is from the same dam-line. I actually bred his mother (Got The Attitude) and grandmother (Amanda).
“I sold Got The Attitude to Vicki Wisener, who was up in Queensland.
“She showed a bit of promise and won in town up there and I said to Vicki that I’d take her back to breed a litter. She’s only had the one litter so far, to Aston Dee Bee. Unfortunately she missed to Zambora Brockie.”
WATCH: Handsome Rhino (5) ‘charges’ into the G1 Maturity Classic final with a runaway 29.85sec heat victory last Saturday night.
Handsome Rhino, which has won seven of 15 starts, put the writing on the wall at just his seventh start in February when speeding around The Meadows in 29.75sec.
Facing the biggest test of his brief career in last weekend’s heats, Handsome Rhino started at $7.40 from box five and gave nothing else a chance, assuming control with a 5.02sec first section as he trounced $1.60 favourite Jepara by five lengths in 29.852sec.
It was Handsome Rhino’s fourth win from five starts at The Meadows as he was shaded for qualifying honours by Jason Thompson’s Aston Fastnet, which clocked 29.850sec.
“I’ve always said this dog would make a good race one day but it’s probably happened a bit sooner than I expected,” Galea said.
“He’s the least experienced dog in the field but I think he’s a chance. Aston Rupee and Koblenz getting knocked out has opened it up.
“He’s been jumping good and if he can come out like he did last week he’ll be in it right up to his neck.
“Last week wasn’t a fluke because I’ve trialled him at Sandown and he’s run 5.02sec early there twice and that was on trial day.
“I think he’s well-boxed because when he’s drawn in the middle he tends to go straight, whereas when he’s on the inside he can jump a little right. There’s a couple of others in the litter that do the same thing.
“He’s trained at The Meadows, he broke in there, it’s fantastic to have such a good facility only 15 minutes away.
“The worry is if Aston Fastnet (Box 8) pings out and runs into me. If that happens I’ll probably be out of the race after 30 metres.
“He’ll have to do a lot of things right but the main thing is that he gets around safely. I’m just hoping he can stay sound for the next 12- 18 months.”
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