Having already programmed the world's richest events in the sprint (Ladbrokes Million Dollar Chase), distance (The Ladbrokes 715), and the middle-distance the Ladbrokes Country Classic, in 2022 Greyhound Racing NSW (GRNSW) announced a new feature race – The Ladbrokes Thunderbolt, worth $75,000 to the winner – which made it the world’s richest race over a short-court distance.
When the race was first announced, GRNSW Chief Executive Officer at the time, Mr Tony Mestrov, said of the new event when it was announced: “The Thunderbolt becomes the latest piece in the calendar puzzle in our attempts to cater for all participants and their greyhounds - ranging from short-course dogs to distance dogs.
“We are incredibly proud of the fact that NSW is now home to the world’s richest events across all racing distance ranges, with The Thunderbolt ticking that final box for the short-course sprinters."
The inaugural Thunderbolt didn't disappoint either, with the large crowd on track witnessing a thrilling finish between the joint track record holders.
After opening up a big lead early and maintaining it swinging for home, it looked like the $75,000 winner’s cheque was headed the way of the connections of Orson Laurie.
But as they showed two weeks earlier in the Thunderbolt heats at Grafton when first Orson Laurie broke the track record, then the Rob Andrews-trained Integrity Mate equalled it, there is little between the pair and on the line it was Integrity Mate just arriving in time to snatch victory, with just a half head separated them.
Just as they were two weeks earlier on heat night with their record 19.65s performances, both Integrity Mate and Orson Laurie were credited with the same time of 19.77s, with Diamond Jill a length back in third in 19.85s.
Asked if he thought he was a chance on the home turn, Rob Andrews said: “Yeah I thought we would struggle to get him (Orson Laurie). I thought he was that far in front, we’re not going to get him.
“But when he (Integrity Mate) knuckled down, I thought geez he’s coming hard and …. wow, I’m in awe mate.
“The dog’s done all the work not me, but this means everything to me. As a greyhound trainer you always strive for these things.
“I am absolutely thrilled to win the first running of this race.
“To (owners) Allan Hilzinger and the family, for all their support it’s absolutely amazing. I couldn’t have done it without them. I hope we go on to bigger and better things.
“This shows dreams do come true mate, and a big congratulations to the Grafton Racing Club and Greyhound Racing NSW for this race, it’s absolutely fantastic.”
Integrity Mate and connections flanked by Orson Laurie and Diamond Jill
In 2023, the Grafton circuit was overrun with punters as more than 3000 people made their way to the track for the second annual running of the event.
On the track, pre-series favourite and 2022 finalist Vamoose was victorious for Sue Smith. The Branxton-based greyhound was a deserved winner of the event after connections made eight separate trips to Grafton in the months leading into the race to prepare the dog for the series.
The win still coming as a surprise to Smith after Vamoose didn't present in perfect order on the morning of the race.
“To be quite honest I was really sick all day,” said Susan who explained that when Vamoose left for Grafton with Jade Murray that morning he didn't seem 100%. "I thought of all days for him to be crook."
“They when they got up there Jade called to tell me he was down about .6kgs in weight. I thought that’s it. You can’t expect him to run well against that field when he’s not 100%, and I had virtually conceded he wouldn’t be up to it and made myself sick thinking about it all day.
“And now he’s gone and done it for me.”
He did indeed. Vamoose speared from the boxes and gave each of his seven rivals no chance of running him down, taking out the final of the world’s richest shortcourse event in 19.74s.
“He would have broken the record (19.64s) if he was 100%,” said Susan.
Rushford Ally was gallant in finishing second 2.5 lengths back with West Australian Custard Monelli running home for third a further 1.25 lengths back.
Thunderbolt winner Vamoose with handler Jade Murray