A Northamptonshire winner of the Wimbledon Greyhound Derby in the year Towcester unveils its new track to an expectant nation. The notion is ludicrous, one plucked straight from the top shelves of doggy fiction.
Let imagination really run riot and unveil a pup written off and rejected, yet backed at odds of 500/1 for the most valuable race ever in the history of the sport, a canine Seabiscuit if you like. Now here’s the crunch...
For this week the world of romance, incredulity and sporting achievement from a seeming no-hoper rolled into one in spectacular style bringing a monster reward to inspire the aspirations of any little man who has ever strived to achieve his lifetime goal. Step forward Salad Dodger, and his trainer Bruno Berwick.
For Kettering man Berwick and his unlikely white and brindle coloured hero scooped the £200,000 first prize at odds of 16/1, the pup trapping in front from box two and although headed, swooping on the run-in to score by half a length from Droopys Well.
The instant shock aftermath for 41 year-old Berwick meant receiving a deluge of 500 congratulatory phone calls, a 2am return to the home he shares with partner Lisa and the couple’s daughters Lola and Bella, before driving back to Canary Wharf on London on Sunday afternoon to take centre stage of the greyhound channel review.
It has all been a whirlwind and Berwick, a former boxer who trains just four dogs. In fact, he was still in a state of shock this week. Yet not dazed enough to miss the significance of the coup he and Salad Dodger’s co-owner Ron Mills had landed.
He said: “You only get one chance in life like this and we have taken it. There is no way a dog of mine will ever be 500/1 again. We each won around £50,000 in bets, backing it at 500/1, 125/1 and 66/1. After that there was no point when the prize shortened.”
Berwick and Mills paid just £2,000 for Salad Dodger earlier this year. “He had been running in low A6 races at Romford for around £150 and won twice for his previous trainer,” said Berwick who has only held his latest licence for a year and whose father Kevin also trained.
“The idea was to win a couple of graded races at Coventry. We went there once, he was second, and then they shut the track at Brandon down. At that stage I thought about packing it up I was so disheartened. We entered him for races at Monmore and Perry Barr and couldn’t even get in.”
Then Salad Dodger went to Wimbledon for a trial to keep kennel-mate Confident Shea company and he produced a scintillating time to ignite the Derby dream and initial ante-post bets.
Perversely, Salad Dodger ran in five qualifying races in advance of Saturday’s final, failing to win any, but finishing second or third each time. Then he delivered the coup de grace when it mattered most.
Berwick left no stone unturned in his preparation, saying: “We haven’t run any of the others in the mean time. You are frightened they might pick up a bug and bring it back. I was feeding Salad Dodger on fillet steak for three weeks before the final but now he has to make do with rump!”
According to Berwick, the brilliant name Salad Dodger came from his previous owner who used to sit in transport cafes with a mate and watch drivers come in. “If any were overweight they used to say: ‘here comes another salad dodger!’
Berwick was due at Towcester Racecourse on Wednesday with a gathering of fellow trainers to inspect the site of the new track and said: “It has opened a new door for everyone in the sport and given us all something to look forward to with so many tracks having closed down. It will encourage young trainers when it opens in December and I will certainly be there.”
Salad Dodger’s triumph has also sparked memories of the last Northants Greyhound Derby winner in Tartan Khan who also a shock scorer at 25/1 in 1975. Bizarrely, he was also a two year-old pup and similarly failed to win a qualifying round although he went on to succeed in the St Ledger in the same year.