Champion trainer Graeme Bate must be thinking the ‘staying’ stars are all in alignment in the first half of 2012 and they are all favouring his brilliant all-distance star Irma Bale.
Bate has won just about every major event on the Australian racing calendar. Yet, until this year the prestigious Sandown Cup and the long-established McKenna Memorial had eluded him.
Admittedly, in the case of the Sandown Cup, Bate just hasn’t had the ‘stock’ capable of making it through to what is arguably the premier distance event in Australia.
Irma Bale’s upset victory in the race in late May was interesting in the sense that the runner was only Bate’s second starter in a Sandown Cup final this century. Jarvis Bale, who finished sixth behind Next Top Model in 2010, was the only other greyhound to represent Bate in a Sandown Cup.
Indeed I can find no other greyhound who has raced under the tutelage of Graeme Bate who has been a Sandown Cup finalist.
It’s worth remembering that 2012 marks 35 years since Graeme Bate first made a name for himself as a trainer, bursting onto the scene with a great stayer named Ibrox back in 1977.
Ibrox won 24 of her 45 starts (with 10 placings) and was named 1977 Victorian Greyhound of the Year. The little brindle bitch was a mighty front-running stayer who, in 25 races beyond 710 metres, notched 19 wins and four seconds. Strangely, she only ever raced twice at Sandown, over what was then 718 metres, and scored two easy wins.
Yet, despite that early success with a brilliant stayer, it has taken Bate 35 years to annex the Sandown Cup and McKenna Memorial.
Irma Bale (Bartrim Bale x Amelia Bale) boasts a record very similar to that of Ibrox. In 42 starts the black bitch has recorded 21 wins and 10 placings. At Sandown, over 715 metres, she has now raced three times for two wins and one second. Maybe Irma Bale is a reincarnated Ibrox.
The McKenna Memorial, inaugurated in 1971 and a distance event until 2010, has seen Bate with a few finalists in recent times. Amity Bale ran second to the brilliant Mantra Lad in 2009 while Zambora Bale was third behind Flash Of Light in 2010.
Irma Bale joins Lizrene (1973), Keon Star (1995), Osti’s Joker (2000), Arvo’s Junior (2003) and Mantra Lad (2009) as joint winners of the Sandown Cup and McKenna Memorial.
Perhaps it was the frequency of this double being achieved between 2000 and 2009, suggesting a serious lack of depth in staying ranks, that partially led to the McKenna Memorial being turned into a 595-metre ‘close your eyes at the first turn’ middle-distance test.
Whatever the reason, Irma Bale must surely figure as one of Graeme Bates’ all-time favourite performers for her efforts in filling the gap to two trophies in the victory cabinet.