With predictability prevailing in many races – not altogether a bad thing – it was the Michelle Niele Memorial Dual Distance Challenge final over 600 metres that really made the day at Tara Raceway yesterday.
After the running of two 512 metres heats the previous week, the Mount Gambier Greyhound Racing Club couldn’t have hoped for a more evenly matched final – on paper, at least – with Montaya the 4/1 favourite at box rise.
In November, 2019, Michelle Niele at 23 years of age lost her battle with cystic fibrosis. Together with her father, Michael – well-known in greyhound racing circles – she had been a regular at Tara Raceway meetings for a number of years.
In fact, as a seven-year-old, she figures prominently in the 2003 Mount Gambier Cup presentation photograph with her father who won the race with Monstropolis.
Michael Niele, along with the MGGRC, had been keen to run a memorial race in Michelle’s memory. And yesterday, it had been a case of everyone getting right behind the event.
Portland trainer Nicole Stanley brought over a giant piggy bank, carrying the cracks from the day her son dropped it all those years ago. Patrons were asked to donate to Cystic Fibrosis Community Care via the “broken pig”. And they did.
Also, the Tara Tipsters, well on the way to feeding the whole of Australia through their contributions to Food Bank, switched charities for the day.
Berringa-based Niele, who hadn’t set foot at Tara Raceway for something like five years, was warmly welcomed back by his many friends in the sport. All noted that he certainly hadn’t changed.
Handling the presentation was Kevin “KD” Douglas, whose association with the Niele family goes back many years.
Now, it’s probably fair to say that by the time race eight came around yesterday, Douglas was all but out on his feet. Not surprising given that he had officiated at a school sports day on Friday prior to the Mount Gambier Pacing Gold Cup Calcutta that night.
Then, most of Saturday was taken up with harness racing commitments at Greenwald Paceway prior to yesterday’s greyhound meeting. But, still sporting his suit – minus the tie – from the night before, this was one presentation he wasn’t going to miss.
With no 600 metres form to speak of, Golly Gumdrops, trained at Compton by Tracie Price, went into the race as a 9/1 chance, despite winning a 512 metres heat the week prior in 29.81 seconds.
In fact, the daughter of Worm Burner and Psychotic Gold had raced over the middle-distance only once prior and that was when finishing a well-beaten fourth in a 643 metres event at Gawler last October.
However, Golly Gumdrops, raced by the Petar Jovanovic-managed Rovers Return Syndicate, is bred to run all day, Psychotic Gold winning 18 races at Angle Park, all over 731 metres for Lesley Sermon and Jovanovic.
And that’s pretty well how things turned out in yesterday’s final when she went straight to the front from box five, opening up a big lead early before finishing with 5½ lengths to spare over Hostile Savage in 35.26 seconds.
At the after-race presentation, Price, currently Tara Raceway’s leading trainer, also spoke of his long association with the Niele family and his own family’s battle with cystic fibrosis.
Meanwhile, the Michelle Niele Memorial will now continue on an annual basis and next be run in May 2022. This will correspond with Cystic Fibrosis Month.