In-form Mark Wallis leads the way in Greyhound Trainer of the Year battle following Antigua Fire's St Leger victory
Mark Wallis bolstered his chances of securing an 11th Greyhound Trainer of the Year title after Antigua Fire stormed to glory in the Jay & Kay Coach Tours Kent St Leger at Crayford, writes Graham Clark.
The Lakenheath handler moved back to the head of the table above his former assistant Patrick Janssens after the son of Vulturi defeated kennel-mate Brigadier Bullet to lead home a one-two for Wallis in the final of the Category One contest at the Kent circuit on Saturday.
Turning in second during the opening bend of the 714 metre prize behind Roxholme Dolly the 5-2 shot moved into an advantage he would not surrender heading out of the sixth bend before crossing the line four and a half lengths clear of Brigadier Bullet.
Wallis said: “Antigua Fire was second at the track in the Golden Jacket final so we thought he was a decent dog for it.
“He was workmanlike in the heats and in the semi but he came good on the night which is something our kennel has a good record of doing. It was good to see Brigadier Bullet come back to form in another final.
“Antigua Fire has been one of our best dogs all year. The kennel has had a couple of rough patches but he has kept us going. He deserved a Category One and hopefully he won’t be stopping here.”
Victory for Antigua Fire completed a remarkable turnaround in form for Wallis, who was trailing Hockwold-based title rival Janssens by more than points in the middle of August, with it being his third Category One winner inside six weeks.
Wallis added: “It looked like the title was beyond us but we’ve had a terrific run though and there is still plenty of the season left.
“It’s the first Category One we have given Nic and Amanda and they have been great supporters of the kennel since coming in earlier in the year.”
Winning owners Nic and Amanda Jeal breathed a sigh of relief after ending their near 18-month wait for a second top-level triumph following their breakthrough success with Brinkleys Poet, then trained by Matt Dartnall, in last year’s Gymcrack Stakes at Kinsley.
Nic Jeal, owner, said: “Mark is a great guy and we’ve enjoyed teaming up with him. We very much enjoy our racing with him.
“When we won our first Category One you think these races are easy, but it’s a lot of time and money to get here so it shows how difficult they are to win.
“When he turned in second, all he then had to do was avoid any trouble. I backed him at 12-1 so that helped a bit. We are here for nights like these.”
Although it wasn’t to be third time lucky for Brigadier Bullet in a Category One final connections were nonetheless proud of his efforts.
“It was nice to see him run well in his third Category One. It was a fantastic training performance by Mark to get the one-two,” said Billy Boyle of the Bruiser Boyz syndicate.
“This dog has been there all year and he does deserve to win one. If he doesn’t get to win one he has still ended up doing really well for us.”
There was more success for Wallis and the Jeals later on the card as Brinkleys Poet warmed up for an outing in the Ladbrokes Gold Collar over 540m with victory over track and trip in the Jay & Kay Coach Tours Maiden Stakes.