Matthew Clark was a spritely 20-year-old catching pen attendant when the inaugural Topgun – a deadheat between Golden Currency and Worth Backing – was decided at Sandown Park in 1993.
And ever since, Clark, now 47, has held on to ‘haunting’ dreams of winning the prestigious invitation-only event.
But Clark’s vision could finally become reality when Catch The Thief – aptly nicknamed “Ghost” – contests the Group 1 TAB Topgun (525m) at The Meadows on Saturday night.
“I was only a ‘kid’ when the first Topgun was run in 1993… It’s like the Cox Plate, you’re hand-picked,” Clark said. “It’s always been my dream to win the race.”
Based in the tiny hamlet of Briagolong in Gippsland, Clark says he can’t even think what it would be like to win the Topgun.
“I couldn’t go that far; it seems totally out of reach… I don’t think we can win it, but if we do it will be a dream come true!”
And the passionate Clark says savouring a Topgun win with his father Geoff, 81, would be the icing on the cake. “He gets more nervous than I do watching Catch The Thief race.”
A ‘show stealing’ speedster, Catch The Thief has drawn Box 6 in the $150,000-to-the-winner event and subsequently drifted from $4.40 to $7.00, behind Simon Told Helen ($3.30), on TAB’s fixed odds market.
But it’s worth noting that he’s won four times in five starts from the ‘green’ alley.
“He hasn’t been jumping as good as he can, but I’ve rectified that,” Clark said – albeit playing his cards close to his chest. “I like him out wide, but I would have preferred Simon Told Helen (Box 8) on the inside of me.”
An eight-time group race finalist, Catch The Thief has changed the lives of Clark and his wife, Bianca.
“He’s allowed us to set up our greyhound complex. He’s made our place a better place for the dogs that will follow him,” Clark said. “Everything earned from him has been ploughed back into the property. But we treat him the same way as every dog in our kennel… He’s more like a pet and is really calm and docile.”
And Clark added: “He’s the same old ‘Ghost’ we’ve had all the way through. He almost talks to you and my wife is more attached to him than me. She’ll be taking him to the boxes on Saturday night. The last time she handled him, he won three in a row at Sandown and I believe in karma.”
Blessed with amazing mid-race pace, Clark says Catch The Thief is getting better with every run. “We’re 5-6 months behind Simon Told Helen, but I reckon he’ll eventually take Simon Told Helen’s mantle as Australia’s No. 1 sprinter.”
Catch The Thief (May ’18 Aussie Infrared x Dundee Ally) is owned by the ‘Ghost’ syndicate, managed by Louie Cardillo – proprietor of a Sale-based security firm.
He’s started on 34 occasions for 19 wins, eight seconds and one third, with stakes totalling $165,155. And he’s won six of his past 11 starts.