By TERRY WILSON
QUEENSLAND greyhound trainer of the moment Robert Jacobsen has had a tremendous past three months or so with his smart bitch Crazy Cool.
Crazy Cool zoomed from virtually nowhere to become a shining light on the national scene when she won the Golden Ticket (520m) at Albion Park, and qualified for a start in the Group 1 Gold Bullion where she ran second to Shima Shine.
She then had a go at the Australian Cup heats, where she was skittled, then took on the G2 Richmond Oaks, which she won.
That’s not too bad an effort from a young bitch which was basically purchased by Jacobsen for her breeding potential.
Jacobsen started in greyhound racing when he was 12.
“That was about 45 years ago,” he said.
Jacobsen moved to Brisbane even years ago, caught the greyhound bug again, and bought a couple of break-ins from Steve Williams, one of them being Money For Jam.
Here are Jacobsen’s thoughts on the training caper:
1. How and when did you get involved in the greyhounds?
A: My uncle Barry Turner started out with a team of dogs from his backyard and we raced dogs at the first race meeting in Townsville.
I was a kennel hand for my uncle and I’d get up about 4am and ride my bike to his place in the dark for about a half an hour
I went to school across the road from the kennels and would go over at lunch time often to empty them out or do a few odd jobs. I’d then stay after school and we would walk them, clean kennels and feed them.
I just loved the dogs and still do. I couldn’t wait to get my own owner’s and trainer’s licences. In fact my father owned a few dogs that I unofficially trained at home when I think I was about 13.”
2. Who has been the greatest influence on you as a trainer?
A: Uncle Barry probably taught me almost all the basics and in a way we all learnt as we went along at that stage. He was an amazing mentor and was so fanatical about getting all the small things right and fine-tuning a dog. His strike-rate of starters to winners I reckon would have been minimum 50 per cent. These days he still gives me great advice and is a good ear to run things by as he brings the old school ways of doing things to the discussion which is invaluable.
3. At what age do you start preparing a pup for racing?
A: At 13 to 14 months they are sent to the breakers and, depending on the dog, some have a month to recuperate and some need to be kept moving to keep their mind on the job. Most of my dogs would start racing at no earlier than 18 months and no older than 22 months. Start too early and they risk injury; start too late and they won’t really learn to race properly, although obviously there are exceptions to the rule.
4: How long does it take to prepare a pup for its first race?
A: 10 to 12 weeks on average after break-in and spell if it’s done right and you have to give a young dog the best chance of success early. I think too many people rush this part of the education.
5: What makes a good pup?
A: In order of importance the top three are: 1 chase, 2 chase, 3 chase. Then a good dam line for generations back with sound strong relations that had many starts without careers being cut short by injury. Then confidence, a good temperament, and obviously they need to be able to run and run 500 metres. Chase, I believe is in-built and while it can be encouraged and taught when pups are young if it’s not the basic instinct you’re on a hiding to nothing.
6: Do you do anything special when preparing a young dog for its maiden compared to a seasoned performer?
A: You need to give them the best chance at their early starts to build confidence. If they start before they have confidence or they are not fit this will stick with them for life. I never start a dog half-ready because it can destroy their confidence and can start injuries that they may have to carry for life. They should have plenty of runs on the track they will first start on and go with one other dog when ready and then up to four dogs before they race.
7: Do you have a set routine for all your greyhounds or do you vary training for individual runners?
A: I have a set routine for all the dogs. They are like kids and without routine they are not happy and are unsure of what to expect. Having said that once you work out what works for each dog I make small adjustments to suit the dog. A good trainer, I believe, often goes on intuition and getting to know what a dog needs.
8: Do you have any unique or unusual methods you would like to share in regard to training?
A: Well I can’t share all the recipe but it’s a bit like when my mum makes a sponge cake the recipe is in her head and she sort of goes on feel because she says the eggs and flour differ and the temperature on the day differs etc. She goes on feel and instinct and the way the batter looks. I think it’s a lot to do with intuition and knowing your dog. You need to think like them and put yourself in their shoes. I believe this is something you have or you don’t and all the good trainers seem to have it.
9: Do you swim your dogs as part of your training regime?
A: There are no swimming races. If they start swimming races I’d think about it.
10: How frequently do you like to race your dogs?
A: It depends on the dog but mostly no more than once a week unless they are sprinters, sometimes twice a week or if there is a heat or final.
11: What’s your training routine for dogs between races?
A: They are checked for injuries after and between each race to prevent further injury. If the dog is very fit just free gallop twice between races if I can and machine walk the other days. If they are building fitness a run behind a drag lure no more than 300m added in to replace one of the free gallops.
12: Do you do all muscle work on your dogs or do you use a professional muscle man?
A: I check each dog for major injury myself the day after a race and pay particular attention to the way they look, behave and walk. Then I usually have them checked by an experienced person, possibly a muscle man. I don’t really like the term muscle man because I think many good people and trainers with many years of experience can do the job very well.
13: Do you do treat all injuries to your dogs yourself?
A: Yes, I spend a lot of time massaging my dogs. It not only helps healing but also it gives them confidence with you and they feel good. I also really like magnetic therapy, hydrobath and ultrasound as treatment. I know it is time consuming and old school but it seems to get results.
14: What is the best greyhound you have trained?
A: When I first started in the late 80s I had a dog called Royal Minstrel. He basically put me through university and taught me so much and he is really the reason why I’m still in dogs today. He got me hooked. More recently it is Crazy Cool. I’m so blessed to have her to learn from. She is honest as the day is long and she can really run. She is the whole package as far as I’m concerned.
15: What do you consider is the best greyhound track in Australia and why?
A: They all have their positives and negatives, to be honest. I have had most success at Albion Park but it, too, has its downfalls like most others. I think a lot more research and attention needs to be paid to improving track design to prevent injuries.
16: What does the industry need most going forward?
A: We need to be breeding for chase, temperament and strength more and we need to be finding ways to improve track design and prevent injuries. If we look at the US you see dogs having an average of well over 100 starts because of the above.
17: What is the best advice you could give someone just starting out as a trainer?
A: Be patient but know when it’s time to move on from a dog that doesn’t perform. Good dogs make good trainers. Trainers don’t make good dogs, they just bring out the best in a good dog. Make sure your dogs are happy, fed the best, are injury free and fit and they will perform to the best of their ability. Pay attention to everything about your dog down to how it eats, looks, runs and even walks, their coat and eyes because every good trainer will tell you from experience the small things are the big things. And learn from your mistakes.