2017 has already been a year to remember for Lara-based husband-and-wife training team Jason and Jessica Sharp.
And it could get a whole lot better on Friday night when Jason’s brilliant youngster Kouta Mayhem faces the biggest test of his fledgling career in the star-studded Group 2 Triple M Bendigo Cup Final.
The winner of eight from 12, with all eight victories coming in his last nine starts, Kouta Mayhem stepped up to elite company for the first time in last Sunday’s Cup heats and handled the assignment with flying colours, leading throughout in 23.61sec, the second fastest qualifying effort.
“When Kouta Mayhem won his three starts in the Vic Breeders at Shepparton I thought then he was going to be a Cup dog,” Jason said.
“He was only about three lengths off the track record at his first look at Bendigo (23.55sec) and then he went to Geelong over 460m in good company and brained them and went fast on the clock too.
“He would be the best sprinter we’ve had. I don’t even know if he will run 500 metres yet but I assume he will. When you’ve got fast dogs you’ve got to put them in these races. You can’t win them sitting at home in your kennel!”
While Jason is understandably wary of the Cup opposition, which includes defending champion Aston Bolero and Group 1 winners Striker Light and Black Mumbo, he’s optimistic Kouta Mayhem will measure up.
“It’s a brilliant field. It’s like the Bendigo Club hand-picked it!” Sharp offered.
“Kouta Mayhem had missed the start a fraction at his last couple and from box five in his heat I was a bit worried about Ian Cockerell’s dog in the six (Igor Karkaroff) because it crashes to the fence, but I thought if he got out he had them covered and I think everyone else thought that too.
“I’m happy drawing eight for the final. Young dogs can make mistakes and from box eight if he misses the start or does something wrong he’ll still have a chance to get back into the race. Time-wise he has to have some chance but he probably has to lead.”
Victory in Friday’s $47,000 to-the-winner Cup would be Team Sharp’s most significant success to date, eclipsing Oronsay’s win in the Group 3 Vic Breeders at The Meadows on Australian Cup night, their first Group success.
“We’ve been training full-time for about five or six years and this has been our best year by far,” Jason explained.
“We’ve been averaging about 100 winners a year, but it depends on what class you’re getting the winners in.
“We’ve had a really good year Group-wise, with Oronsay winning the Vic Breeders, which was our first Group win. Oronsay also made the final of the (Group 2) Launching Pad but got knocked over on the first turn.
“Jess trains Oronsay and while obviously we do everything together, she always seems to get the faster ones! I don’t have any choice! As soon as they walk in the door Jess casts her eye over them and nine times out of ten she picks the faster ones.
“It’s very much a family affair, with our children Liam (15), Dylan (14), and Mia (11) all involved. We all work really hard and while I suppose the family have missed out on a few things because of the dogs it’s all worth it.
“Liam turned 15 about eight months ago and he handles most of our dogs. He does a great job and a lot of top trainers use him too. Dylan is counting the days until he can start handling too, while Mia is the princess of the family and she’s just a real animal lover.”