ONE thing about Lee Strand, they do things in real style and, as in other years, there was great hospitality and generosity associated with the running of their A3 550 final (winner, €8,000) at Tralee Track on Saturday night.
They filled the Oakview venue to absolute capacity with their guests and friends, who sent the tote turn-over simply rocketing with complimentary betting vouchers and, of course, nobody present will ever forget the way the Lee Strand final itself was won by a greyhound from Martinstown, Kilmallock, namely Touchdown Jacko.
How did Touchdown Jacko actually manage to do it? That's a question that even his owner, Shane O'Neill, found hard to answer afterwards, the reason being that the May '13 son of Crash and Soviet Britney found himself in a seemingly hopeless position as the race progressed.
He was, in fact, a good eight to nine lengths off the pace rounding the third bend, in fifth position, and, while he was only 3/1 in the race betting itself, he would surely have been 100/1 or better if there had been betting in running.
It, therefore, represented one of the greatest feats in a major final at the Oakview venue that he was able to come through and win by three-quarters of a length from the front-running Knockbrogan King in 30.13 (.10 slow), with two lengths back to Happy Endings.
Shane O'Neill admitted afterwards that he couldn't see his dog making even the first three after finding himself so badly positioned rounding the third bend. "He just amazed me the way he came through to win and I can still scarcely believe it," he said. "It's my biggest win ever and the feeling is just fantastic."
Shane O'Neill bought the dog at 18 months from Sean Cronin, of Kilmallock, whose father, the late Eamon Cronin, was a great friend of his. "Eamon owned all the great Soviet dogs, so the breeding was definitely there," he said.
Mind you, Shane O'Neill was out of greyhounds for five to six years before deciding to buy Touchdown Jacko, so there was a big element of luck involved there.
Touchdown Jacko, though, wasn't in the Lee Strand final by accident, or anything of the sort. He scored two good wins in the event, one of them in 29.96, and Shane O'Neill was quietly fancying his chances beforehand.
All his optimism, however, evaporated as the race progressed and he was looking at €800 in unplaced prizemoney instead of ten times that for winning.
Then the miracle. Touchdown Jacko found a different gear to all the others coming home and he swept to the front very close home for his three-quarters of a length victory over what could be termed the luckless Knockbrogan King, with two lengths back to Happy Endings.
"It was something else to see him come through and win the way he did and it's a memory I will always fondly cherish," said Shane O'Neill.
So will his son, Fergus, who helps him to train the dog.
In relation to future plans for Touchdown Jacko, Shane O'Neill said that he had nothing specific in mind. "We will probably come back here to Tralee for a race with him" he said.
There was a brilliant supporting card for the Lee Strand final and it added nicely to the sense of occasion on the night that a presentation was made by track management to the connections of Midtown Raffa, winner of the Irish Independent Laurels the previous weekend. The dog was warmly applauded when paraded in front of the crowd.
A feature of the supporting programme was a superb 1-2 in the final of an A3 550 sweepstake final by Millstreet owner, Donal G O'Mahony, who won in 30.30 with Millridge Matt and was second with Millridge Zephyr. Just half a length separated the pair at the line.
Other winners were Colmyard Star, 29.14; Ruby's Jules, 29.91; Our Laura, 29.20; Stormy Ned, 31.35; Brogan Harvey, 17.73: Baby The Goat, 28.67; Parish Hero, 28.61; Loher Baby, 28.77; Blue Chief, 29.35.
The going was the now customary .10 slow for 525yds, 550yds and 570yds and .05 slow for 325yds.