He’s going out on top

Pearcedale trainer Luckie Karabitsakos celebrates with Melbourne Cup winner Hard Style Rico. Pictures: COURTESY OF SANDOWN GREYHOUNDS

By Lance Jenkinson

Hard Style Rico is retiring to stud after climbing greyhound racing’s Mount Everest.

Pearcedale-based trainer Luckie Karabitsakos confirmed that his superstar local dog will go out on a high after racing into immortality with his 2020 TAB Melbourne Cup glory at Sandown Park.

“It was probably the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make,“ Karabitsakos said.

“The biggest race and the biggest achievement is the Melbourne Cup, and once you conquer the Melbourne Cup, it’s like climbing Everest, you’ve done it, there’s nothing left to prove.

“Now it’s off to relaxing and let everyone else enjoy some Hard Style Rico puppies.“

Hard Style Rico produced one of the great Melbourne Cup runs.

The brindle dog, known as ’Bruiser’ in the kennel, broke the track record over 515 metres, winning by five-and-a-half lengths in a time of 28.91 seconds.

It was Hard Style Rico’s start – his first sectional of 4.99 was the best of his career – that set up a dominant display.

“He just showed his power,“ Karabitsakos said.

“He put the foot down.

“It was a bit like going to Calder Park and looking at the drag racing over 400 metres.

“The race is won off the line, reaction time, bang, gone.“

Starting in Box 5, Hard Style Rico was able to slice through the middle of the field like a hot knife through butter.

That box can often encounter argy bargy from all angles, but Hard Style Rico was so confident and assured that he left all others in his wake and led most of the way.

“They call that the squeeze box,“ Karabitsakos said.

“I think he used the box to his advantage, came out and did everything right from start to finish.

“As soon as those lids came up mate, he was off and gone.

“You have to do that from Box 5, otherwise you’re going to find it very hard.“

Hard Style Rico not only won the star-studded race, he won it running away.

All that trailed him when he crossed the finish line was daylight.

It was a jaw-dropping performance that will be spoken about for a long time.

“The line up in this Melbourne Cup, a lot of people were saying it’s the best they’ve ever seen,“ Karabitsakos said.

“There’s probably six dogs in that line up that are potential stud dogs and he’s made a mess of all of them.“

Karabitsakos and his connections knew from a long way out that Hard Style Rico was a special greyhound.

There was only ever going to be one destination for Bruiser – the event they call the world’s greatest greyhound race.

“I bred the dog, I whelped him, I pre-trained him, broke him in, I’ve done it all with him,“ Karabitsakos said.

“During his pre-training stages at 16 months old, I looked at my mates and said to them ’Jesus Christ boys, we’ve got ourselves a Melbourne Cup dog here’.

“From that day on, I said the main race I want to go for is the Melbourne Cup.

“It’s just a dream when you start saying all that because you’ve got the dog, but you’ve still got to win the race.

“He’s done it now, he won his heat in fine style off the pink, which is hard to do and he’s come off the yellow and just made a mess of a quality field.“

No matter how much work he put into Hard Style Rico’s preparation and how much belief he had in his star dog, Karabitsakos was in shock when his dream of winning a Melbourne Cup became a reality.

He was overcome with emotion as he embraced his brother Anthony, a Group 1 winning trainer, after scooping the $435,000 first place prize.

“I’m only coming back down to earth now,“ Karabitsakos said.

“He’s just made me proud, he’s made the whole family proud, he’s a superstar.

“Winning a Melbourne Cup changes your life.“

One of Karabitsakos’s best mates, Mario Briganti, was also a Group 1 winner on Melbourne Cup night.

Briganti’s dog Manila Knight took out the Bold Trease in a thriller over 750 metres.

“To have best mates win two Group 1s on the same night is something else,“ Karabitsakos said.

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