A half-head was all that separated two champion greyhounds in the world’s richest race over a short course distance, as a photo finish revealed Integrity Mate had defeated a gallant Orson Laurie right on the line to become the inaugural winner of the Thunderbolt.
Both dogs backed up sensational efforts in the Thunderbolt heats on June 4, when they broke and equalled the track record over 350m within 20 minutes of one another, to set up a thrilling finish in the $75000 final which was hosted by the Grafton Greyhound Racing Club on June 19.
Trained at Whiteman Creek by Evelyn Harris, Orson Laurie started at 5/1 and jumped sharply from box 6, with the brindle dog showing superior speed to race to an early lead from the short-priced favourite Integrity Mate and 60/1 shot Diamond Jill.
Well-tried local hope Orara Dan struck trouble and fell in the back stretch as Orson Laurie kicked strongly to extend his lead turning for home, but Integrity Mate unleashed a powerful sprint to charge down the outside and claim a tenacious victory in the shadows of the post in a time of 19.77 seconds.
Consistent bitch Diamond Jill put in another solid performance to finish third, one length behind the winner.
Trained in Stratheden by Robert Andrews, Integrity Mate has now won 16 races from 26 career starts with four minor placings and over $115000 in prizemoney.
His victory in the Thunderbolt was his sixth in succession.
Describing himself as thrilled to win the inaugural running of the feature race, Mr Andrews congratulated the Grafton Greyhound Racing Club for hosting the event, and acknowledged the winning owners, Allan Hilzinger and his family from the Gold Coast, for their ongoing support.
As Integrity Mate was rewarded with plenty of cuddles and pats, his proud trainer said it was a pleasure to train a dog like him.
His words were echoed by Mr Hilzinger’s young daughter Verona, who spoke of her love for Integrity Mate following the race, and how she cried tears of happiness after he prevailed in a tight finish.
“I never cry at these events, but I did this time,” she said.
“He’s a beautiful dog.
“We’re all so happy and so proud of him.”
Orson Laurie’s trainer Evelyn Harris said she was happy just to have a runner in the Thunderbolt, and said she was very proud of her beautiful boy following his second place.
Orara Dan was later cleared of serious injury.
President of the Grafton Greyhound Racing Club John Corrigan told the Clarence Valley Independent it meant a lot to the club to be involved with the inaugural Thunderbolt series.
A large crowd of more than 400 people attended the race meeting on June 19, with many also enjoying the live entertainment during the night, which included performances by star jockey and singing sensation Robbie Dolan.
The Grafton Greyhound Racing Club will host their next race meeting on June 26.