For the powerhouse Manawatu greyhound racing kennel, the return to action at Whanganui's Hatrick Raceway has seen the best of times after the worst of times.
The nation's best trainer Lisa Cole and partner Brendon Cole made New Zealand racing history on Friday night when their greyhounds won all 12 races on the card – the first ever clean sweep of a meeting whether dogs, trots or gallops.
While the Palmerston North-based Cole kennels have always treated Hatrick as their home-away-from-home with multiple race winners and place-getters, Friday truly was the apex of their domination.
It started with Big Time Angel winning the opening 305m jump at 4.28pm, through to Race 12 at 7.59pm when Bigtime Bee took victory in the final race by a length.
As well as the 12 winners, the Coles had three races where their greyhounds claimed all three spots on the podium, and six more where they had trained at least two of the Top 3.
Again, statistics have often been in their favour – the evening feature in Race 9 over 520m saw the Coles start seven of the eight dogs in the field, with Bigtime Rod picking up the win, while "outsider" Emgrand Park, trained by Angela Turnwald, finished third racing against the kennel.
But even with numerical superiority, each Cole charge still had to be good enough to get to the finishing post first, and Wanganui GRC operations manager Paul Freeman was very proud to have witnessed unique history in any form of racing.
"We made up a little presentation for them after the last [win]," he said.
"Because we get used to Cole winning a lot of races, I didn't actually realise, until Mark Rosanowski the commentator come down and said 'well, that's ten straight for Cole'.
"Of course, then the interest swung to watching the last two races and obviously more so the last race."
Brendon Cole was amazed that the stars had aligned so well.
"There's been a lot of meetings where we've trained 12 race winners, but there's often been 15 races and we may not have been in the other three.
"To get the entire card was something that I'll take to my grave - it's very special for myself and my family."
The victory in Race 9 saw Lisa Cole move past 700 winners for the current 2019-20 season – her own national record of 861 winners in a season remains firmly in sight, although Brendon Cole said the racing shutdown for the Covid-19 pandemic meant their overall goal of 1000 winners is now gone.
As a family business run by the Coles, along with their five children and around eight staff members, the lockdown had been a very challenging time for the kennel - having to make short-notice arrangements to maintain their food supplies and training schedules, which was costing them around $25,000 a week.
"Our animals had to be fed, and we had to comply with all the regulations to make sure the staff could come to work, and all the paperwork that went with it – making sure we were keeping ourselves in our own bubble, working in groups and things like that," said Brendon Cole.
"The difference is with the greyhounds, you can't just tip them out in a paddock or put them on the farm and forget about them.
"They've got to be let out twice a day, they still got to have their beef and their racing kibble, and that was just a fixed cost we couldn't get around.
"It was over $150,000 in that short period that Covid was affecting the non-racing and we had no income - that was life savings all gone straight out the window.
"We just had to get on with it, and we've come back all guns blazing, just trying to win as many races and make sure the dogs are as best prepared for every single meeting that is available, because we can only race in our own area because of travel restrictions."
After Race 12, Freeman presented Cole with a bottle of bubbly to commemorate the achievement, which has not been consumed and now sits among the other big racing mementos in the household.
"We did have a couple of quiet drinks when we got home," Brendon Cole said.
"The next morning when the staff all rocked back in at 7am and we finished the chores, we had a nice little bbq to show the appreciation to everyone, because it's a big team effort to get these dogs to the track and in race condition.
"This [financial rescue] package the Government seems to be able to throw at the thoroughbreds, I'm hoping it really does leak down to the greyhounds as well, because the greyhounds are a big spot in the racing calendar to help keep everything ticking over.
"Greyhound racing can work, almost, on a shoe-string budget in that you don't need a lot of people there, we can restrict our closeness and things like that, and still make it completely work.
"Back to business, and we couldn't do it without all the staff and the help we get from them as well, they deserve a pat on the back."
The Lisa Cole winners on Friday night were:
Race 1: Big Time Angel
Race 2: Big Time Baby (Cole swept all three placings)
Race 3: Sir Duggie (clean sweep)
Race 4: Big Time Chad
Race 5: Cheese and Chalk
Race 6: Big Time Seth (clean sweep)
Race 7: Big Time Gwyn
Race 8: Big Time Jonie
Race 9: Bigtime Rod
Race 10: Allegro Lanie
Race 11: Big Time Fairy
Race 12: Bigtime Bee