Trainer hopes for fairytale ending

GREYHOUND RACING

Imagine forking out six times as much money for a stopwatch as a money-spinning greyhound, paying off the trusty timekeeper one instalment at a time.

John Martin does and did - 10 shillings for his first pup and 2 pounds 19 shillings for the stopwatch.

That was 61 years ago when a curious Gulgong-raised 14-year-old peered over a neighbour's fence and took a fancy to the sleek speedsters.

It was the start of a love affair with greyhounds that has Martin on the brink of his finest ever night in the sport - after more than six decades of trying.

The occasion is the Dapto Puppy Classic final featuring his protege Toots - one of two pups he trains from his backyard kennel at Primbee.

Toots, which went under the hammer for just $1600 at last year's Dapto Puppy Auction, isn't expected to trouble the big guns over the 520-metre scamper.

But that doesn't deter the 75-year-old Martin, the only Illawarra-based conditioner still standing in the $75,000-to-the-winner series.

"I'd like to have the odds-on favourite, but I've got to put up with it," Martin joked. "I'm lucky to be there. I don't know how many [locals] kicked off, but we're the only survivor and it's good to be there.

"As a top trainer [Frank Hurst] said to me the other day, 'John, you've got more hope of winning it than me because I'm not in it'."

If Toots's story sounds familiar, it is.

Farmborough Heights flyer No Rules League, pouched for a dirt-cheap $800 when going under the hammer, was the only Wollongong-trained pup in last year's final.

The rags to riches story had a fairytale ending, too.

But 2012's version almost didn't eventuate for Martin, who has only ever built up his team to a maximum of four and was without a greyhound until Toots's owner Mark Elvins came knocking.

"I only met the young couple about 12 months ago and actually I got it [Toots] through Kevin Keys," Martin said.

"They rung Kevin up to take it, but Kevin was full. When he couldn't take her they rung me and said, 'Would you like to take a greyhound?'

"I was in semi-retirement."

Now Toots, which was fitted with an easy lead-up win at Nowra on Sunday, has what Martin describes as a "fighting chance" of pulling off a huge upset from the two alley.

"Who knows, around that first corner anything can happen," he said.

PUP PRICES

Dapto Puppy Classic finalists prices:

1 Booze Hound (Denice Warren) $3600

2 Toots (John Martin) $1600

3 Magic Fancy (Wally Lutiger) $10,000

4 Where’s Wob (Sharron Webster) $5200

5 Go Oro (Ray Webster) $3500

6 Winsome Charlee (John Finn) $4200

7 Dark Assassin (Anthony Azzopardi) $4200

8 Jay Bee Rock (Sharron Webster) $4500

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