THE stars of Victorian greyhound racing will be out in force this Saturday on Group 2 Bendigo Cup night. And so too will the battlers.
While most interest in a huge 12-race program will surround the $50,000 to the winner feature race, a Cup of a different kind is generating almost as much enthusiasm, particularly with plenty of local flavour involved.
The second edition of the $5000 to the winner Battlers Cup attracted an enormous response this year with 94 entries, enough for 12 heats to be run on October 6.
That number has been whittled down to eight (and two emergencies), with the fastest of the heat winners advancing through to the 425m final.
With three of the finalists prepared in the region, the chances of a 'local' Battlers Cup winner emerging are solid if they can get past 'the red' Dinkydi Asset for trainer Jason Nibbs.
Heathcote trainer Jordan Formosa might be best placed of the local brigade, with Lembor to jump from Box 2 as the fastest dog in the heats.
Alongside him in Box 3 will be the Faye Wilkinson-trained Blueberry Hill, while don't count out McIvor Ernie for Junortoun's Barry Priest, who will exit from his favourite Box 8.
All would no doubt love to get their hands on the Cup and earn a share of the limelight on the Bendigo Greyhound Racing Association's premier race night.
Greyhound racing is in the blood for Formosa, who followed his father Jason into the sport.
After years of assisting his father, the 26-year-old branched out on his own about five years ago and has enjoyed his share of success, most notably with Erolo Bale.
Contrary to the race's name, his Battlers Cup hopeful is certainly no slouch with nine wins and 14 placings among her 49 starts.
"I'm probably more of a battler than my dog - that's probably the truth," he said.
"I've had her since she was broken in as a young dog and had her the whole way through. She's been a handy little dog.
"This will be a nice race for her. She was struggling for form a little bit there, but she has the ability.
"I feel she got her confidence back with her last run - she had a good preparation leading up to it.
"Hopefully, she can replicate that performance."
Formosa hopes a Cup win might be the lift Lembor needs in her bid to return to a higher-grade of racing.
"She's already raced in better races, but this is how things have panned out," he said.
"She's probably dropped back to this sort of race at the right time, so there's a bit of being in the right place at the right time about it.
"She qualified for this because her form tapered off a bit, but she's capable of better things."
Formosa, who will line up for Newbridge in the Loddon Valley league next season under coach Luke Freeman - an assistant at Strathfieldsaye in the young trainer's time at the Storm - is hoping Lembor can find the front from Box 2.
"She needs to lead to win, so she has to jump (well)," he said.
"'Dinkydi Asset is probably the main danger because she can shift up, but if she can follow it through she'll be hard to beat.
"She has to do a lot right, but Box 2 is not too bad for us if we can jump out and hold our position.
"It's going to be a great night all over. There's some really good races and the (Bendigo) Cup is one of the best fields in a long time."
I'm probably more of a battler than my dog - that's probably the truth.Josh Formosa
The outside draw could not have been kinder for Barry Priest and his dog McIvor Ernie.
"He's got the right box - eight is his favourite. If you read his form he's an outside specialist," the Junortoun trainer boasted.
"When he's in the other boxes he flies out and bullocks his way through just to get to the outside.
"Then he gets on the turn and is normally six-metres behind, but comes around them and flies home.
"He could be eight or 10 lengths in front, but coming around the turn he'll go eight-wide and nearly scrape the paint on the outside fence.
"He'll save himself a lot of trouble on Saturday not having to shift to the outside. But anything can happen in a dog race as we all well know."
Priest - a long-time owner - has been around greyhounds for more than 50 years, dating back to the Eaglehawk days in the 1960s, but only started training a small team of dogs about five years ago.
While he might be lining up in a race called the Battlers Cup, McIvor Ernie has had his share of wins.
Eleven, in fact, from 55 starts for a winning strike rate of 20 per cent with 14 minor placings.
The fanatical greyhound enthusiast rates McIvor Ernie as 'a decent chance' in the race, but is above all proud to be taking their place among some of the sport's other battlers.
"They're all good battling dogs - they certainly try," he said.
"As the old saying goes, they're good bread and butter type dogs. They have a crack.
"We love our dogs and we're happy with them. Greyhounds are happy to see you in the morning and as soon as you open up their kennels their tails are wagging at a thousand miles an hour.
"They just love running and they love racing."
Sadly for Priest, he will be unable to load McIvor Ernie into the starting boxes on Saturday due to an operation on his hand on Thursday.
Seventh-fastest in the heats, Blueberry Hill will be Pyalong couple Faye and Ron Wilkinson's contender in the race.
A dog with above-average ability, the three-year-old bitch quickly raced to eight wins in her first 29 starts, but has found the going a bit tougher since.
Ron Wilkinson, who has been a member of the BGRA committee for about the past six years, believes they are in with a good chance of victory after Blueberry Hill rebounded to claim her first win in 22 starts in last week's heats.
"She's been a good pet. She got knocked around a bit at The Meadows (earlier in the year) and she wasn't putting in properly," he said.
"But in her last couple of runs, she has been going a lot better.
"Ideally, I would have liked our dog on the outside where she'll get a free go at it."
In its second year, Wilkinson described the Battlers Cup as a fantastic concept for trainers of a similar ilk to Faye and him.
"We were lucky to get in .... she only just got in with her times, but she can run a lot faster than that," said Wilkinson, who declared Lembor as arguably the dog to beat.
"Being honest, every time we have trialled her (Blueberry Hill) at Bendigo over the 425m the last three times, she has run the fastest time of the day.
"She's broken 24 seconds there on a couple of occasions, so if she gets a clear run she will go well.
"We'd love to win it - like we would any race - but we are in it for the sport more than anything. We just love our dogs."
He'll save himself a lot of trouble on Saturday not having to shift to the outside. But anything can happen in a dog race as we all well know.Barry Priest
To the subject of Saturday night's main event - the Group 2 Bendigo Cup - Formosa and Wilkinson expect Typhoon Sammy to carry on the form that saw him set a new Bendigo track record in last weekend's heats by winning the $50,000 to the winner final.
"If he can do what he did last week, he's going to be very hard to beat," Formosa said.
Added Wilkinson: "The dog is starting to fly. I wish I had him out here. I wouldn't be trying to win Battlers Cups."
Priest, however, is siding with Dr Tucker, who was second-fastest in the heats and will exit from Box 4, for long-time Gippsland trainer Bill McMahon.
"I think it's got a helluva good chance, but so has Typhoon Sammy," he said.
"But every dog in that race has a real chance.
"It's like me with my race, we as trainers all know what our dogs can do, but anything can happen."
We'd love to win it - like we would any race - but we are in it for the sport more than anything. We just love our dogs.Ron Wilkinson
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