Casino Cup victory ‘not about the money’

24th December 2020

Posted in: Latest News

Caption: Casino Cup celebrations after Phantom Bonnie’s win, from left, Helen and Mal Ross, Lauraine Bailey and John Free (Photo: Lisa Vanderstok) 

By DAVID BRASCH

LAURAINE Bailey is a newcomer to greyhound racing, ‘dragged’ into it by her partner, long-time dog man John Free.

But Lauraine already has a successful and instant rapport with greyhounds that has resulted in a Group victory.

Lauraine’s ‘girl’ Phantom Bonnie sped to the front and demolished her rivals to win the Group 3 Casino Cup back in November to give she and John and their close friends Mal and Helen Ross a much-deserved Group victory.

Mal Ross made the immediate statement that it wasn’t about the $25,000 winner’s cheque for the Cup but all about the satisfaction of winning a Group final.

Mal and Helen bred the daughter of Fernando Bale-Clover Cottage, a bitch given to them by the late Darryl Schafer, who had nurtured the damline for five generations.

One of the first people to congratulate Mal and Helen was Darryl’s widow Sue.

John Free, now 68, has been in greyhound racing most of his life shifting to the Northern Rivers in 1990 and becoming a fixture among leading trainers until he retired from hands-on in the industry a few years ago.

He and Lauraine now live in the township of Casino.

But, John’s love of greyhounds has never waned. Mal and Helen Ross lived only a few kilometres apart on the Rivers and they became friends.

“When Mal and Helen bred the Fernando Bale litter I reckoned they were too cheap so decided to buy a dog pup,” said John. “Fernando had produced some good brindle dogs and at the time I was looking at Mal’s litter. Terry Jordan’s good dog Fernando Blaster was winning everything, including a Casino Cup in track record time.”

John picked a brindle dog, later named him Phantom Clyde and today he is a flying machine.

“Mal and Helen still had a few bitches from the litter to sell and one day Lauraine and I went out to their property,” said John. “We kept looking over the pups and this brindle bitch kept coming up to Lauraine all the time.

“The others had gone away by this time. It was not so much that Lauraine picked her out, but the pup picked out Lauraine.”

The bitch became Phantom Bonnie and on she went to Casino Cup success.

Local educator John Martin was packed to the rafters when it came time to educate the Clover Cottage litter, which is why they were 20 months before that part of their development was started.

But the litter has emerged as quality.

Mal and Helen mated Clover Cottage to Barcia Bale and John Free quickly snapped up three of the pups.

While John is retired from training, he still spends most mornings at the Casino slipping track helping Mal Ross gallop his team of dogs.

“We have developed a strong friendship with Mal and Helen, but we still look on the greyhound industry as a business,” said John. “Winning the Casino Cup was fantastic. I’d been placed in it a few times when training. A big thrill and it was wonderful for Mal and Helen.

“They were very, very happy.”

John has been naming his dogs with the “Phantom” prefix for decades.

“Not long after I came to the Rivers, I bought a dog that was white and had two black patches over his eyes,” he said. “He looked like the Phantom.

“So I named him Star Phantom and he won a few races for me. From then on I kept naming my dogs with Phantom in their name.”

Phantom Bonnie, Casino Cup winner, is proof of its success.