Illawarra greyhound racing’s richest prize is headed across the border after Victorian raider Aqua Cheetah arrived at the post to claim the Group 1 Dapto Megastar (520m) in a thrilling three-way finish on Thursday night.
After surging into the $75,000-to-the-winner final as the fastest qualifier, the Seona Thompson trained sprinter backed up his outstanding heat display to narrowly salute.
Aqua Cheetah ($2.60) marginally trailed Barking Bad ($12) rounding the final turn as Asa Barbosa ($10) attempted a last gasp rails run.
The trio came to the post locked together, but it was Aqua Cheetah that got the nod to beat Asa Barbosa by a neck, with Barking Bad a head away in third.
Co-owner Ian Robertson was thrilled by the result, but admitted he thought Aqua Cheetah hadn’t got to the front in time.
“I haven’t watched the replay and my eyes aren’t really good so I wasn’t sure. I actually thought he got beat on the line ” he said.
“I was a bit surprised that he got there. I had to bring up the replay quickly on Sky Racing on my phone to see that he got there.
“He is desperate for the eight box.
“It is hard at a track like Dapto from the eight, but that’s where he is best suited.
“I think that is only his fifth start in eight box from 66 starts and he has won two and placed twice.”
Aqua Cheetah ran a slashing 29.71 seconds from box eight in the heats and looked to be boxed to perfection in the final.
However, he was tardy to begin from the same box in the final before eventually mustering quickly to be up in the leading quartet by the first turn.
He looked to square off with Barking Bad down the back straight, with Asa Barbosa in the trailing position.
Just 0.03 seconds would split the trio when they got to the line.
Aqua Cheetah came home in 29.99 seconds to claim the second Group 1 in his impressive career to date.
The classy sprinter took out the Group 1 Adelaide Cup at Angle Park last year and has now won more than $300,000 in prizemoney for connections.
“He has taken us on a great ride,” Robertson said.
“[Co-owner Mark Morgan and I] bred him and own him together. He has just been a really good dog.
“He is up over $300,000 in prizemoney now and you never dream of getting a dog like this.
“We have raced a heap of dogs but had never won a Group race before this dog. This dog has just been brilliant for us.”
Thompson wasn’t on track to see the Group 1 success.
Aqua Cheetah has been kenneled with Richmond Vale trained Jason Mackay during his runs in NSW.
Mackay had Riley Tokaam in the Megastar final, which jumped poorly from box five and never recovered before eventually finishing sixth.
This year was the first year that qualifiers for the event came through four heats from the previous week.
In past years, half of the field were invited to compete in the race while four came through a prelude.