17 December, 2023

Schillaci and Ladbrokes collect all the dough in The Phoenix

What a moment in sport for future generations! It was like a time capsule you bury in the yard.

It was a momentous climax to the $4.1m Sportsbet Dream Chasers Festival.

And it was on a ‘Super Saturday’ champion hoop Damien Oliver bowed out a winner, scoring three wins from his final three rides in his home state of Western Australia.

He exited the saddle in legendary fashion by weaving through the field to score aboard Nick Ryan’s Munhamek in the $1.5m Damien Oliver Gold Rush at Ascot.

“I work hard. They (the family) ride it with me. This is unbelievable.”

Just over an hour later, greyhound racing super speedster Schillaci – named after an eight-time Group 1 winning grey-coloured sprinter of the early ’90s trained by Lee Freedman and ridden by Oliver – won the $1.65m The Phoenix (525m) at The Meadows.

It was sporting theatre at its finest – a humble Carrum Downs pizza shop owner, Jihad Talgi, taking out a $1,000,000 first prize in the world’s richest greyhound race.

Ironically, Talgi started following horse racing when he was 19 years old and the thoroughbred Schillaci was one of his two favourite horses. The other, Hareeba, was his favourite – hence the dam of Schillaci the greyhound being Flying Hareeba.

Talgi makes pizzas for a living, and they said Schillaci couldn’t do it… Well, think again!


“It’s unbelievable,” Talgi said. “I was just hoping he jumped. That’s his go.

“I work hard. They (the family) ride it with me. This is unbelievable.

“Damien Oliver won his last race… He (Schillaci) has made the name proud.”

Even the team were gobsmacked: “He’s the undisputed champion of The Phoenix. This is what greyhound racing is all about. He (Talgi) has only got two dogs in work.

“The Uncle Drews pizzas would be going off at Talgi’s shop… He had two favourites (horses) growing up – Hareeba and Schillaci.”

In what seemed a sporting ‘omen’, Schillaci – the greyhound – ‘flew the barriers’ (Box 5) and as Talgi would say – “put his name up in lights forever”.

A rank outsider in the race, Schillaci ($20.60) – representing slot holder Ladbrokes notched his 11thwin from 19 starts defeating ex-Kiwi Postman Pat ($6.60) by 0.8L, with Hector Fawley ($4.80) a further 1.8L away third in 29.87sec.

The $1m winner’s purse equates to Talgi churning out around 67,000 family-size pizzas. What a way to make a ‘crust’!

Talgi – who bred, owns and trains Schillaci – has twice refused $100,000 for his once-in-a-lifetime superstar. But he has no regrets – even after he sustained an Achilles tendon injury at his second start and spent four months on the sidelines.

Schillaci’s pet moniker is “Jaxson” – named after Talgi’s son who ‘christened’ him at three months of age.

In the lead-up to the Phoenix, Talgi said: “At the end of the day I know the million dollars is a big apple. But it’s not about the money, it’s about winning the race.

“It’s something I’ve been striving for 20 years to get a dog like Schillaci, and he’s arrived”.

“He’s a sensational dog; he does nothing wrong (at home). He just sits in his kennel and other than that, he just lays there.”

“It would be great, not just for me, my family, my kids. They have grown up with the dogs… But to get a dog like Schillaci – even my young fella, Jaxson, he’s over the moon. He named him as a pup, and he absolutely loves him”.

Talgi was asked earlier in the week what he would do with The Phoenix’s $1,000,000 first prize?

“Ladbrokes would take some of it,” he quipped. “It would be life changing, but I think the kids would already have it spent.”
And then was quizzed on whether he would hang up the oven mitts and put away the pizza peel.

“I’d have to think about it over a pizza,” he jested. “But it’s been a long-held desire to train greyhounds on a full-time basis.”

Article courtesy of GRVs Peter Quilty. Photo credit Clint Anderson