Launch pad Unforgettable moment for Clark

TWELVE months after his biggest training triumph, Matt Clark still can’t get the smile off his face.

Clark’s Launching Pad victory with Kuro Kismet was the crowning achievement of a life spent in and around greyhound racing.

The winner’s check for $150,000 was nice, but it was the work that went into making it happen that gave Clark such satisfaction.

It required careful planning, dedication, and an ounce or two of luck.

And it almost didn’t happen at all.

KURO KISMET AT THE STUD

Clark’s Launching Pad journey actually began in 2020. Catch The Thief had burst onto the scene and was the preemptive favorite in the slot racing series after the night’s best consecutive wins at Sandown Park.

Then the world changed.

“It was the year Covid hit and I thought it was just cruel. Nothing would have beaten it and then all of a sudden the rug is pulled under you,” Clark said.

“I’ve been in the game for a long time, but I thought for a moment that this was the one and only chance to win a race like this. And 12 months later, I won it.

Fast forward eight months, and Kuro Kismet has arrived at Clark’s Briagalong kennel with a potential career on the cards. But on his first start for his new coach, Clark realized ‘Sox’ had a bit of work to do.

“His first start at Sandown for me, he was definitely beaten, he was going to pass them in the back and he hit the dog in front. I told (owner) Mel Mayle ‘this dog needs to learn to run.’

“I took him to Sydney to give him a preview before the Derby and that’s what did. He missed the start by about five lengths having never seen the seal and ran second. C was a massive race.

“He came back and had two straight wins at Sandown, and all of a sudden he started running better. We had bought the Launching Pad ticket, and I told Mel that this dog was good enough to win the Launching Pad, but it was still a long way off.

The launch pad is open to greyhounds with 1-6 wins and no more than 30 starts, which presents a challenge for many preparing for the series, a challenge Clark soon understood all too well.

“We thought given his form he could just do rankings at Sandown every week leading up to the launch pad.

“Well, he won, in the best of the night, and he had maxed his wins four weeks into the series.

“Keeping the dog for four weeks was the hardest thing I had to do in my coaching career. We went to Sandown four weeks in a row, every Wednesday, and I remember it was 29.20 seconds every week.

“People told us we were wasting time because Aston Rupee was on the scene at the time and everyone was just talking about Aston Rupee. We debated whether we should go or not, but we decided to continue.

When the fields for the heats were released, the disappointment was palpable. Not only did he draw badly, but he drew against Aston Rupee.

“We waited four weeks and found box five in the heat! I told Mel it wasn’t supposed to be.

“But I think it was his best win that night. He won by five canters in 29.18 and beat Aston Rupee, so that really set him up. But he still didn’t have the tipsters support.

“When he came out and won the final, it shut everyone up.”

The victory and the preparations that went with it gave Clark renewed confidence in his ability to compete in cross-country races wherever they may be. And doing it in a place he considers his “home” track and in the presence of his family and friends has made it more special.

“It was my best night in the dogs. Still to this day it was my best night. It gave me confidence from there to take on any race in Australia, you just have to be in it to win it.

‘My mum was in Traralgon hospital so she couldn’t be there but she would have gone if she could, dad worked at Sandown for years and he went there that night and didn’t don’t go often. My sister was there and she never goes, being able to share this moment with them was special.

“I remember sitting in the grandstand that night and thinking ‘wow’, just to be here is fantastic. We could have raced last, I would have been just as happy.

“After the race I came off the track and stood in front of the grandstand and before I knew it the meeting was over, they turned off the lights. I never moved for three or four races. It was just amazing.

“For a plan to go like this, you just can’t describe that feeling.”

Now retired, Kuro Kismet is available at stud and Clark is certain he will succeed if given the right opportunities. But even if he doesn’t, the Sox will still have a place on the couch.

“He was the ultimate race dog. This dog just won from impossible positions and if he didn’t win he had a hot crack.

“If he doesn’t get them, I don’t care, he has a forever home here.”

The 2022 Launch Pad Rounds will take place at Sandown Park on Thursday.

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