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Len's faith may be rewarded in spades

 May 24 2016

Most people can always remember where they were when a significant event took place in their life.

Births, deaths, marriages…close your eyes for just a moment and you can instantly be transported back to another place and time.

In July 1969, I remember being in Miss O’Brien’s 3rd year class at Hornsby Public School watching black and white television as Neil Armstrong became the first person to step foot on the moon.

In August 2000, it was a case of bring out the tissues when my family and I were at a friend’s house cheering on Cathy Freeman as she united a nation when winning gold in the 400m at the Sydney Olympic Games.

And yet again, on November 27, 2014, I distinctly remember the auctioneer at the inaugural Richmond Riches Puppy Auction announcing that lot 297, a five-month old greyhound pup, had been purchased for a record $30,000.

Ok, so the first two events may have had a touch more significance than the last occasion but for those in the greyhound industry, let me assure you, it was a momentous event. 

For the uninitiated, buying a five-month old pup is akin to purchasing a number of Lotto tickets and hoping, no, praying, for a return on your investment.

Apart from breeding and conformation, at that age, you have literally nothing else to go on in respect of what their future ability as a race dog may be.

Retired dental prosthesis technician, Len Antonio, shocked, and stopped, the auction, when buying the pup which now races as Thirty Talks.

This Saturday night however, he may have the last laugh on the doubters as Thirty Talks will start an odds-on favourite to win the inaugural Richmond Riches Puppy Classic final, with a $100,000 first prize cheque awaiting the winner.

“I never studied the breeding I just studied the dog and at five months of age, he looked like he was twelve months of age he was so well conformed,” said Antonio.

“I’d reached my limit at $30,000 and it now looks like it could be a good investment but I’ve come to learn the hard way that not everything turns out the way you think it should in racing so we are just hoping for some good luck this Saturday night.”

Antonio was ‘born’ into the racing game, albeit in a different racing code.

The son of a jockey-turned-horse trainer from Caulfield in Victoria, he says he has always had a love for greyhound racing and was a regular visitor to Sandown Park and Olympic Park before moving to Queensland in 1975.

Since then he has experienced plenty of success with two of his best chasers being Don Paco, which won the Group 2 Ipswich Puppy Auction in 2005, and Regal Lauryn, a winner of 21 races including a Gold Cup double in 2013 when she was victorious in the Ipswich and Lismore events.

“I love a punt and I love to see my dogs win but I’ve also been lucky,” says Antonio.

That ‘luck’ extends to Len Antonio still being alive today to watch his prized possessions do battle on a race track somewhere in Australia.

In recent years, he has suffered two heart attacks while also being diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer as well as a bout of bone cancer.

“Three years ago after being diagnosed with the prostate cancer I went to the specialist who told me that he was going to give me a needle – he told me if it works you’ll live and if it doesn’t you’ll die,” recalled Antonio.

“Thankfully it worked and in recent times I’ve had no pain and I’ve managed to get my weight back up from 51 kilos’ to around 75 kilos’ and my doctor now calls me the walking miracle,” he laughed.

As for Thirty Talks, well, he has justified the faith that Len Antonio had in him eighteen months ago and is now one of the most promising race dogs in Australia.

Prepared by leading Queensland mentor, Tony Brett, the son of Where’s Pedro and Unfinished has now won ten races from thirteen starts and his record at Richmond is unblemished – three starts for three wins.

Check out the full market for the Richmond Riches Final here.

In this Saturday night’s final, Thirty Talks has drawn ideally in box 2 but Tony Brett believes we are still yet to see the best of his charge.

“He hasn’t really ‘nailed’ the start but the night he does, and I’m hoping it’s this week, watch out, because he will show everyone just what he can do,” said the multiple Group 1 winning trainer.

With winning times of 30.47 in his heat and 30.37 in his semi-final, Thirty Talks has dominated his opposition in recent weeks and Antonio is hoping it continues again in the rich final.

“My wife Gloria and I are coming down on Saturday night,” he said.

“We don’t drive real fast these days so we’re taking a couple of days to get down there and we’ll take a couple of days to come home but let’s just hope there’s a nice big trophy in the car on the way back.”

One can’t help but wonder exactly what it was that took Len Antonio’s eye when a raw, five-month old greyhound pup, entered the sales ring at the 2014 Richmond Riches Puppy Auction…this Saturday night, we may see it for ourselves.

I’ll be live trackside this Saturday night with an enhanced coverage of the inaugural Richmond Riches Puppy Auction final on Sky Racing2 (channel 527) with all the latest information, late mail tips and interviews with all the leading contenders.

Good luck and good punting.

Mark Duclos - Sky Racing

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