The saddest part about the sudden and unexpected retirement of star sprinter Barcia Bale is that we will never really know just how good he could have been.
Barcia Bale joins a long line of greyhounds whose careers have been cut short well before their mettle could truly be tested.
To recap, Barcia Bale started a mere 14 times for 13 wins and one unplaced performance. He won his first 11 in a row, the equal eighth-best of all time and the equal third-best for a greyhound at the start of its career. His most important success came in the Maturity Classic.
The following recounts a few greyhounds from the past who possessed similar records to Barcia Bale and suffered similar fates, their careers curtailed, usually by injury.
None of the following had careers of more than 14 starts. This essentially means they did not have the time, in terms of race starts, to reach the very highest level, usually competing against their own age.
Take Bearability as our first example. He started his career in 1997 with two wins over 457 metres at Toowoomba at the age of 20 months, both in the best time of the meeting. After a spell of three months he resumed for an easy win at the Gold Coast and then registered a stunning debut at Albion Park, scoring by almost 10 lengths in 30.27, the best of the night.
He won his next six in a row, all over 520 metres at Ipswich and all in the best time of the meeting to be undefeated in 10 starts.
The sequence ended in the final of the Ipswich Auctions Series where he met his first defeat, running second to the smart Travel Train.
Back to Toowoomba for two more wins before tragedy struck and he dropped a back muscle when finishing at the tail of the field at Ipswich on 30 May 1998.
From 14 races Bearability notched 12 wins, all in the best time of the meeting. His average winning margin was more than seven and a half lengths.
Not long after Bearability came Just The Best. One of the most potent sires of recent times, Just The Best began in late 1998 with three average runs: two thirds and a fifth.
Given a break, Just The Best came back in March 1999 and blasted his way through the Vince Curry Memorial Maiden Series at Ipswich with three emphatic victories, by 14, 19 and 14 lengths respectively.
After another win and then a failure (seventh and injured) at Ipswich, the beautifully-bred son of Credibility and Flying Amy resumed after three months to score by 17 lengths at Albion Park. His time of 29.97 meant he became only the second greyhound to break 30 seconds at his first start on the track.
Set for the Queensland division of the National Sprint Championships, Just The Best won his heat by 12 lengths. In the final he found Faithful Hawk too classy, finishing a well beaten second.
Taken to Sandown, Just The Best scored an impressive first-up victory, running the fastest time of the night. Set for the Brisbane Cup he won his heat by six lengths from Bob’s One. In the final he suffered a career-ending injury when sixth behind Bob’s One.
From 14 starts Just The Best scored eight wins (all in the best time of the meeting), one second and two thirds.
Another greyhound who only had 14 starts was Ultimate Wish. After a fifth at his first start in a maiden at Wentworth Park in December 1995, Ultimate Wish notched seven successive victories at Appin and Bulli, six in the best time of the meeting. After a second at Appin, Ultimate Wish came back and won his next four on end at Appin and Bulli, culminating in victory in the inaugural Bulli Gold Plate. Sadly, he broke down and was retired after he fell in a heat of the Tweed Heads Galaxy.
Victorian speedster Zed Three’s career lasted slightly over four months, from late December 2001 until the start of May 2002. He won his maiden at Warrnambool at his first start before notching a couple of placings. Zed Three then won six straight at Horsham, Warrnambool and Bendigo followed by a second and a fall.
His final three races were all victories, the last one being the Warrnambool Classic where he downed future NSW Greyhound of the Year Big Sam Banner.
Injury cut short Zed Three’s career after 14 starts for 10 wins, two seconds, and one third.
Finally, delving deep into the archives we come to the father and son Arctic Light and Arctic Fire. Both products of the Pringle farm, Arctic Light had one start for one win, an eight lengths maiden success over 340 yards at Temora in 1969. A broken leg forced him prematurely to stud where his fastest progeny was Arctic Fire.
He won his maiden by eight lengths over 457 metres at Temora in December 1972, running 26.4, just 2/0ths outside Zoom Top’s track record.
Brought to Harold Park, Arctic Fire could run only third at his first start on the course. Then, on 24 January, he scorched over the 457 metres of the Harold Park turf to win by 13 lengths in 26.0, equalling The Shoe’s track and world record, set in 1967. Arctic Fire was the only greyhound to ever equal the record. When the course closed in 1987 he went down as the equal third-fastest greyhound to compete at the track. Arctic Fire was retired immediately, after only three starts, to take advantage of his potential stud prospects.
The question with all six of the greyhounds mentioned above is, ‘what if…?’ Could they have gone on to be classified among the greats, or would that early fire have eventually burnt out as we have seen with so many others over the decades?