After just 12 race starts, one of Australia's brightest greyhound stars has suffered a career ending injury and will never race again.
Trialling at Sandown yesterday morning, the 2011 Sandown Shootout winner dropped a back muscle in the run and has been retired.
The winner of 8 of 12 race starts with a further 2 second placings, Bekim Bale's last race was to be the Group 1 Brisbane Cup, where he finished a disappointing 5th after blitzing his heat from box 1 as an odds on favourite.
The son of Bartrim Bale and Amelia Bale, began his career in a whirlwind of publicity by demolishing a Sandown maiden heat in an unthinkable 29.37, winning by over 21 lengths at the finish.
Bekim Bale's next start was the maiden final, and it took a 29.27 track record run by litter brother Heston Bale to beat the 30kg black dog, finishing second just 2 lengths from the winner.
But Bekim's next start would prove to be the run that got the whole of the greyhound world talking, smashing the Sandown 515m track record at just his third race start. The run of 28.96 made him the first greyhound ever to break 29 seconds in the run over the Sandown 515m, and to make the run even more amazing, Bekim was still 1 month shy of his second birthday.
With the eye of the greyhound spotlight now firmly on the Andrea Dailly trained and Paul Wheeler owned greyhound, Bekim Bale moved straight in to city class racing, stepping out in a 5th grade Sandown Thurday night meeting which resulted in another easy win, cruising home by 7.5 lengths in the best of the night of 29.70 after finding some trouble in the run. Litter brother Heston Bale also won at the same meeting running 29.84.
At just his 5th race start, Bekim Bale was set the task of qualifying for one of Australia's premier Group 1 race, The Melbourne Cup. Taking his place in the 5th Melbourne Cup Prelude against seasoned city class campaigners, he overcame a tardy getaway and trouble to record a 29.54 win, running down the early leader in the shadows of the post.
Now fully qualified for the Melbourne Cup and 4th grade at Sandown, Dailly's headed Bekim Bale toward Victoria's alternate city racing venue The Meadows, a track that heavily biases leaders, which would go against Bekim's race pattern. Starting from box 6 in a mixed 4/5th grade, he was slow away and bumping with another dog in last and second last placing, before unleashing a powerful run that, although at one point was held up by another runner, saw the black dog streak in to second placing after circling the entire field.
To prove the run was no fluke and that Bekim was not a one track greyhound, he returned the following week and off a better draw of box 1, gave his rivals a toweling, running best of night 29.69 and winning by over 13 lengths. The run even upstaged the running of the Group 1 Topgun on the same night, where another Wheeler owned greyhound Allen Harper took out the $125,000 first prize, and only ran 29.82 depsite leading all the way.
With a record that now read 8 starts for 6 wins and 2 seconds, Bekim Bale was nominated for the Sandown Shootout, a race that only attracts the 4 best greyhounds suited to the Sandown track, and after some conjecture, Bekim Bale took his place in the field of 4.
The result was what would prove to be Bekim Bale's only group race win. After beginning on terms with early leader Cape Hawke, Bekim settled a length off the lead through the first turn, before powering past Cape Hawke down the back straight and racing to a 5.75 length victory in a race record 29.13 seconds, and collecting $40,000 in the process.
The win was so emphatic and so amazing for such a young greyhound that owner Paul Wheeler, who is not prone to outbursts of hyperbole, claimed after the race that the win "was unbelievable” and that the flying black greyhound would only improve, predicting the greyhound world would not see the best of him "until he turns two and half or three". The Sandown Shootout win came just 2 weeks after Bekim Bale's second birthday.
Just 1 week later and Bekim would be again be on the big stage at Sandown in the heats of the Group 1 Melbourne Cup, which this year would provide the final winner an unsurpassed $200,000. Bekim Bale would start many of the pre-post markets as the favourite greyhound to win through his heat and claim the 2011 Melbourne Cup. Beginning fairly from box eight in his heat, Bekim Bale trailed the early leaders and had to overcome a 4-5 length break on the home corner to reel in Dyna Bert, but knuckled to the task and got home by a length in a best of night 29.28. The win took his career record to 7 wins from just 9 starts and was impressive enough to firm Bekim Bales odds to as low as even money to win the Group 1 Melbourne Cup.
Then, in an historic Melbourne Cup in which owner Paul Wheeler had qualified 7 of the 8 runners, Bekim Bale would be sent out favourite to win the race but had to overcome an awkward box 4 draw. After being slowly away and squeezed up early, he was pushed back to second last in the run before balancing up past the 700m boxes and attempting to start a run toward victory. The run never came though as Bekim Bale ran in to a dead end near the 600m boxes that kept him held until they entered the home straight. Coming from 6th at that point he flashed late to grab 4th place but the race had been won. In contrast the winner had led all the way untouched, highballing out in front, and yet somehow Bekim Bale had managed to close the margin to just 5.5 lengths on the line.
With the Group 1 Brisbane Cup heats just a week away, and Bekim Bale in flying form, a trip to Albion Park was always going to be on Dailly's hitlist, but without having seen the track, the black superstar in the making completely lost his way at the first turn in his heat and had to draw on raw ability to just get up on the line and qualify for his second Group 1 final at just his 12th start.
In the final, Bekim Bale began only fairly from box 5, but was checked and squeezed up early all but losing his footing before settling second last in to the first corner. Attempting his customary storming finish, the black dog pulled wide on a track that was not suiting wide runners and his attempts to circle the field were in vain, clearly looking uncomfortable in the running, but still managing to finish in 5th place just a little under 4 lengths from the winner. It would prove to be his last run.
Trialling at Sandown yesterday at the public trial session, Bekim Bale dropped a back muscle, which is the term given to a complete rupture of the hamstring, and the flying light of Australian greyhound racing has had his career curtailed.
Bekim Bale's career record will forever read: the winner of just $73,338 in prizemoney, winner of 8 of 12 starts with a further 2 seconds, Group 3 Sandown Shootout winner, Group 1 Melbourne Cup finalist, Group 1 Brisbane Cup finalst, Sandown track record 29.84, first greyhound to ever break the 29 second barrier at Sandown.
There is no doubt that Bekim Bale's race and career stats and figures would have grown immeasurably, having accomplished the unimaginable at just over 25 months of age. Like so many of the greats, we, as an industry, have been robbed of seeing the heights this greyhound could truly have scaled.
It is understood that Paul Wheeler is in early talks with Paul Westerveld's Meticulous Lodge, and there is every chance Australian breeders will be able to tap in to Bekim Bale's speed and chase at stud in Australia.
As an industry, we mourn the loss of a greyhound to the track that had the ability to pull huge crowds, attract interest from mainstream media and get the general public excited about greyhound racing again.
The purists and die-hards will now forever have to argue Bekim Bale's place amongst our racing's elite. His record will never compare to that of Tenthill Doll, Flying Amy, Temlee, Rapid Journey, Brett Lee or even of one of Wheeler's foundation dam's Winifred Bale, who also finished her race career with a dropped back muscle; but there is no arguing that the best was yet to come from the black excitement machine whose hard finishing efforts were a testament to a racing style of yesteryear and some of the greats of our sport.