Awesome Lodge is family owned & run by Jason Thompson, his partner Seona Hood & their 3 children, Ben (13), Luke (8) & Holly (7).
HOW IT ALL BEGAN:
STORY BY DAVID BRASCH
HE’S 41 and trained his first winner when he was 13, even though it had to be in his father’s name. Since then Jason Thompson has done his apprenticeship with one of the game’s greats, but become just that himself. Ask anyone who knows him and they will tell you Jason is a workaholic, a perfectionist. And he gets results … more than most. He’s one of the world’s great greyhound trainers. Journal Editor DAVID BRASCH sat down with Jason and found out the “secret” to his success.
Jason Thompson was 13 when he first started going greyhound racing, fitting it in between his passion for footy in Victoria. He and his family lived at Traralgon at the time.
“Our neighbour raced a dog called Mr Christian who was trained by Marg Long and I tagged along when the neighbour went racing,” said Jason. That was pretty often at the time because Mr Christian won about 30 provincial races during his long career.
“I started following Marg around to the dog tracks,” said Jason. “I’d play footy on Saturday and back up at the dogs on Saturday night.”
Jason was still 13 when Marg and Jason’s neighbour gave him Mr Christian to train.
“It had to be in Dad’s (Jack) name but I was training him, and another one also,” he said. “Mr Christian won a race as a five-year-old at Traralgon. It was a huge thrill.”
From that moment school came second, footy went by the way when he was 17, and Jason was never without a greyhound.
“Dogs were my passion,” he said. “Marg was secretary at Traralgon at the time and I got odds jobs working at the club on race nights, in the catching pen, kennels, you name it.”
It wasn’t long after this that Jason was introduced to Kevin Richards then one of the state’s leading greyhound trainers and studmaster to the champion stud dog Chariot Supreme.
Jason got to train a dog for Kevin’s daughter Jemima and when he was 18 took that dog for a two week “holiday” at Kevin’s stud and training complex.
“I stayed for 10 years,” he said. “And once I got there, I knew that’s what I wanted to do in life. It was also the best start in my career that I could ever have got.”
Of all the things Kevin Richards taught Jason Thompson, professionalism was the foremost. “He told me you don’t get anywhere without working hard,” said Jason.
“From that time I decided to stay in the right group of people because what they do will rub off on you.”
By the time Jason was 23, Kevin had retired from training.
“I became a public trainer and everything just grew from there,” he said.
Light Of Fire came along to thrust Jason Thompson into the greyhound world spotlight. The son of New Tears-Centrefire won the 1994 Melbourne Cup for Jason as well as the Silver Chief and ran a record in the Traralgon Cup. It was just the start he needed, but not quite.
“The Melbourne Cup was worth $50,000 that year and the next year it went up to $100,000,” said Jason. “That hurt.”
While this initial success “doesn’t get any better” in five years Jason had “got stale”. He cut back to just one or two dogs for a few years.
Not just any dog, but Awesome Assassin (Light Of Fire-Tranquil Flame) who won the Silver Chief and set eight track records and became a champion stud dog.
“It was good to have a break,” he said. “It was also the time I hooked up with Seona, the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Seona’s father is Ron Hood who at one time was secretary manager at Ballarat. Marg Long is her stepmother.
Awesome Assassin retired, Jason turned 30, and he and Seona branched out into stud work.
“We got six dogs by then and that was our team for four or five years,” he said.
In 2003 they decided to buy a five-acre property at Pearcedale south from Cranbourne. “We sunk everything we had into the property and by that time had a lot of good owners and a lot of good dogs,” he said. Those dogs included Hotshow Vintage, Monsters Inc, Whisky Assassin, the Proven line of dogs and more recently Whippy’s Image, Miss Hot Gossip and El Galo.
Brett Lee had a brief stint in the kennel towards the end of his career.
From Pearcedale, Jason and Seona have been building on their kennel, building up their reputation and building on their credentials, to today when they are the among the most sought after trainers in the land.
So what then is their recipe for success?
Jason Thompson has been through all the fads, all the feeding routines and settled on “basic”.
Meat and kibble is about it. In the morning every dogs gets two 2x2 Box 1 biscuits. No fluids are fed.
For a night meal, the dogs are fed very lean beef and Canidae (commenced using in 2010). Added to that meal is potassium in a soluble form, a liver tablet and a Throxine tablet … nothing else with the exception of about 400 to 500mls of hot water.
“They get the same morning and evening meals, seven days a week, 52 weeks of the year,” he said. “We don’t change anything.”
Jason says he went through the stage of “whatever was on the shelf at the feed store, we had to try”. “Over the years we tried everything, but I believe the longer you are in greyhound racing, the less of that stuff you use,” he said. “Whether people believe me or not, that is exactly what we feed.”
He is a stickler for getting regular blood tests on each racing dog in his kennel, and regularly takes them to the vet for a muscle check, at least every two weeks.
He worms every dog on the property every six weeks and changes his wormers regularly. He chooses between Exelpet, Ivomec, Ambex, Drontal etc, claiming variety is often the best to keep on top of worms.
Jason and Seona are ever aware of the importance of hygiene in their kennels.
“We vacuum the kennels and the dog beds every day,” he said. “That’s what I do for a job and I can’t ask the dogs to perform if they are not kept in safe, warm in winter, cool in summer kennels that are clean and hygienic.”
Every dog sleeps on a “big thick doona” on a board that is raised one brick height above the ground.
In winter, the Thompson kennel gets roused into action about 7.15am, earlier in summer.
“I walk all my dogs every day, even on race day,” he said.
“The dogs are emptied first thing and then all go on the walking machine at a fast pace for 14 minutes. I know that’s an odd time but that’s how long they are on the machine. The walker takes four dogs at a time. The only time they don’t go on the walker is the day AFTER a race.
“Then they go into an acre galloping paddock to free gallop, always in pairs.”
He will put younger dogs into his 70m competition runs to put some added and much needed fitness into them when starting their training.
Once a week each dog is galloped over 350m up a straight track. “I ALWAYS put my dogs behind a drag lure, never whistle them up. It opens their lungs up and I believe that’s enough for them,” he said.
Every dog in the kennel goes to local vet Barry Hayward at least twice a month. Jason says, in his opinion, Barry is the best greyhound vet in the country.
“I go over the dogs myself but I’m not a dog checker and don’t profess to be. Some people can go overboard in getting dogs checked, and some not enough.”
“We keep four broodbitches on our property and probably have two or three litters of our own each year,” he said. “We’ve got two pup yards which we keep the pups in until they are four or five months old.
“They are then sent to a variety of rearers."
Jason has a specific routine for his young dogs and all go through it over a period of about three months before starting in a race.
He usually takes a youngster after it has been broken in, spelled and then given a six to eight week stint of pre-training which involves a couple of weeks up the straight and four runs on a racetrack to give him some gauge on what times they can run.
Each pup joining his kennel gets straight into the daily routine of walking and free galloping.
“I give them two runs up the 350m straight a week apart and then they go to Warragul for a 350m hand slip,” he said.
That is followed by three 347m solo trials around Geelong a week apart.
They are then taken to Sandown for two handslips post to post, again a week apart.
It’s then back to Warragul for a 424m solo trial and the following week for a two-dog trial over the same distance.
“We then go back to Geelong for two 457m trials, one solo and the next week one in a two-dog trial,” he said.
“I’m prepared to do that early education program. We will maybe give them a 350m run up the straight behind the drag lure between those trials. We stop the work in the competition runs by the time we head to Warragul for the 424m trials.”
Jason also likes to get two 520m trials, one each at Sandown and The Meadows, into his pups BEFORE they start racing.
“I believe some people make the mistake of not stepping their dogs up to 520m soon enough,” he said. “You will see them educate the pup and go straight into a race over 457m without stretching the dog to 520m.
“I believe it can often teach a dog to get only 457m.
“Every dog can run 520m, some faster than others. I believe it is important to get a dog up to 520m, generally about 19 or 20 months.
“I also believe a lot of people are too soft on their dogs.
“After those two 520m trials we then have a very fit dog, ready to race and we then start to look around for a race.”
Because many of the dogs Jason gets are Victorian bred, he will often look for added money Victorian-bred maiden series at provincial tracks.
The normal routine is kept up to every dog in the kennel every day.
“We will put them on the walker and free gallop them in the acre paddock on the morning of a race,” he said. “We do this because we want the dogs to settle all day.
“A change in routine is a good signal that something different is happening and I don’t want that going on with any of my dogs.
“They get worked up enough when they go to the trailer for the trip to the races.”
He does change his training with stayers.
“With sprinters I will give them the straight gallop on Wednesday between racing at The Meadows, but with stayers I will give them a 457m or 520m trial on the Wednesday between Saturday races.”
Jason is adamant no-one can make a slow dog runs fast, but just as adamant that some trainers can make a fast dog run slow.
“If you don’t look after a dog, get them checked regularly, do the right thing by them, it can happen,” he said.
He says you will know very early on if there is a good dog in the kennel by the dog’s demeanour. “Most good dogs have got good habits. Pups will show you that straight away.”
The Thompson/Hood kennels are full all the time. “But we always have room for a fast dog.”
He added that he has been very fortunate to have owners ringing up constantly with the offer of dogs to train. “I can honestly say I have NEVER rung to ask an owner for a dog from another trainer,” he said.
Brett Lee is the best dog he has seen race. Jason trained him for only a short time at the end of his career.
“The best dog I have trained throughout its career is Awesome Assassin, but Hotshow Vintage was an amazing dog as well winning six Group finals,” he said.
When traveling his dogs throughout the country he says he does nothing different. “I like to arrive the day before a race,” he said. “I don’t give the dog fluids before the plane trip but that depends on just how far the dog is flying. Some dogs adapt to flying, others don’t. I believe too many people have a phobia about flying dogs, it’s not that difficult.”
He also is adamant he never uses a hydrobath.
“I don’t believe it is natural for a dog and I don’t believe in it,” he said. “My dogs are groomed every day, brushed and kept clean that way. In summer after a race they are drenched. I don’t massage at all. I would rather see the dog asleep and resting after they have raced or galloped than being massaged etc.
“That’s just me and my dogs are pretty happy dogs.”
Jason is meticulous around his kennels. I even get my dog trailers detailed every month to keep them clean,” he said.
His advice to young trainers starting out is to work hard and “don’t keep slow dogs”.
“If you are getting into greyhound racing professionally, it helps to have a partner that will work with you,” he said. “Seona and I are a great partnership and together with our children they are the best assets I have.”
He believes breeding is everything in successful greyhounds.
“Good bloodlines will win out in the end,” he says. “The broodbitch has got to be a good race bitch and got to be well bred. Good race bitches keep producing the best dogs. Just look at Peter Giles’ damline that comes from Floodgate.
“I know some of the very best bitches have not produced as would have been expected, but generally good race bitches do.”
As for stud dogs, he says temperament is everything.
“Look at how many fast dogs go to stud every year, but only a few of them make it,” he said. “I believe temperament has a big influence and I’ve seen this proven over many years.
“There are a couple of well known stud dogs about now that had very poor temperaments. I believe they will be able to produce a few with ability, but generally their stock will not live up to expectations.”
That’s one reason Jason cannot wait to get El Galo (Where’s Pedro-Roxy Reason) to stud. The Gold Coast Cup winner has everything. Just like Jason Thompson.