Greyhound Racing: Some Picture gets his shot at immortality

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No greyhound has ever won the Triple Crown of English, Scottish and Irish Derbys, but Some Picture could complete the treble in Dublin tonight before setting out on a stud career that should earn his owner a million. Greg Wood finds out what makes this dog so special.

He is young, gifted and black. He has earned almost pounds 250,000 in the last 18 months and is reckoned the finest athlete his sport has seen for at least 60 years. If he had feet, he would not slip one into a top- brand training shoe for less than half a million a year.

But he does not. He has four paws, which in the space of 30 seconds at Shelbourne Park in Dublin tonight could carry him into greyhound history. Some Picture will leave trap five at 10 o'clock to race around four bends in the final of the Irish Derby, and victory would make him the first dog ever to win both the English and Irish Derbys in the same season. Not only that, Some Picture also won the Scottish Derby earlier this year, and so will be chasing not just a fake hare, but an unprecedented Triple Crown of the most competitive greyhound races in the British Isles.

Until Some Picture started his Classic collection, few in the sport believed that a greyhound Triple Crown was any more achievable than a Grand Slam in golf. A measure of the scepticism is the pounds 100,000 bonus put up by Imperial Tobacco, sponsors of the Scottish Derby, the opening leg, for any dog who could go on to complete the set. They did not, you suspect, even consider the possibility that they might have to pay up.

And their money looked safe a little over a week ago when, after passing untroubled through the first three qualifying rounds at Shelbourne, Some Picture finished only second in his quarter-final, running as if he had just smoked 20 Players. He was beaten again in the semi-finals three days later, but as Steve Spiteri, his owner, explains, Some Picture was running on nothing more than courage.

"He'd picked up a stomach bug and he just wasn't himself," Spiteri says. "We were very close to withdrawing him, but he seemed to perk up before the quarter-final so we let him run. The beauty of this dog is that he runs the first and second bends really hard and then flies down the back straight, but in the quarter-final that kick just wasn't there."

Some Picture will have had a week to recover from his semi-final by the time the traps snap open tonight. "If he clears the bend," Spiteri says, "he will take all the beating. He doesn't have to turn [the first bend] in front to win. He can turn third or fourth so long as he gets a clear run, and then he just explodes, the pace is unreal. He's so special, if you see him standing he's a fantastic looking dog, he looks like a statue. He's got brilliant physique, great balance and temperament, everything. And he can run."

It is not just those who know and love him who slip into fluent eulogy whenever Some Picture is discussed. The previous Arkle of dog racing was Mick The Miller, who won the English Derby in both 1929 and 1930, just three years after the sport began at Belle Vue in 1926. The tracks and punters have been waiting for one like him ever since, and most now believe that their vigil is at an end.

Unlike Arkle, though, Some Picture will not be returning season after season. A greyhound's racing career is short, and with nothing left to prove whether he wins tonight or not, he will retire to stud immediately. There, he is expected to become the sport's first million-pound hound, with a covering fee of about pounds 1,000 and perhaps two matings a day. "That's just off the scale," Simon Marcantonio, of the British Greyhound Racing Board, says, "most racehorses don't earn anything like that in their lifetime, and he was bought for only about pounds 10,000. He is greyhound racing's Nijinsky, and in many ways his success has made the sport a lot more buoyant and optimistic. It had been in decline, but now we've walked into a big story."

History is not made easily in any sport, however, and Some Picture is far from a long odds-on chance to win his last race. Spiral Nikita - "the talk of Ireland for the last two years and one of the fastest dogs ever to travel the back straight at Shelbourne Park," according to Spiteri - is drawn just inside Some Picture in trap four, while Vintage Prince (three) and Toms The Best (six) are also serious contenders. Ladbrokes make Some Picture a slight favourite at 2-1, with Spiral Nikita on 9-4, Toms The Best at 3-1 and Vintage Prince just a third of a point longer on 100-30.

"It's going to be a sad day when he retires," Spiteri says, "it's not like you don't know him, he's not just something you own. He's a part of my life and has been since I got him. But I'm looking forward to seeing the pups, and hopefully one day there'll be a little black pup running around that would give you a bit of hope you could breed another Some Picture." Tonight, though, one is more than enough.