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"It's All About Class", BY Christopher Grieb - Guest
Count Ivan aka "Big Sam"
11 Nov 2006 - 26 Apr 2019
First time I laid eyes on Count Ivan was in a kennel building at the NGA compound in Abilene, KS. It was my first trip to the Nationals Spring Meet and boy, what an introduction.
He'd run a monster of a race in the first round winning it in convincing style; his trainers Wes and Lesley Parvin were kind enough to let me, my boss, and a gentleman who bought plenty of dogs for us to run at Orange Park, visit their kennel - they were proud of him, and rightly so. When they brought him out of his crate for us to see him, it was like they let out a pony. Sam was a BIG boy.
And that's how he was always seen - "Big Sam." All 85lbs of him. An question that to this day remains unanswered, "How can a dog THAT big move so FAST?" Guess we'll never know...and I'm ok with that.
When Sam made his way to Jacksonville in the Spring of 2008, he did so with little fanfare. We already had superstars in our kennel, dogs who would go on to be recognized as some of the best to ever grace the Jacksonville Greyhound Racing circuit. Little did we know, Big Sam would leave as big a mark as any of his predecessors in the JGR history books.
His first schooling race was impressive, he ran a respectable time for a puppy and won it by 9L. It was in his second schooling race where he served notice. Dropping a time most Grade A/Stakes dogs would crow about, he won by a stupid 28L... TWENTY-EIGHT LENGTHS. That's better than 1.75 seconds over the 2nd place finisher.
Big Sam had arrived.
He quickly shot up the grading ladder to Grade A and would stay there for the entirety of his 99 race career (56 of which were wins... I mean, what dog wins 56% of his races? Oh, yeah. Big Sam does) while racing against the best that North Florida had to offer. And he did it with grace.
Sam was the kinda dog who when you look at your book and see him in it you think, "Well, guess we're running for 2nd tonight." and you'd be ok with it. You see, everyone loved Sam. Not liked. LOVED. Trainers and helpers from other kennels. The leadouts. The fans. Everyone. He just had something about him that people loved and gravitated to.
Sammy would go on to win two stakes events (2008 Jacksonville Juvenile and 2009 Jacksonville Sprint Classic), flirt with the track record every time he strapped on his muzzle, be named to the AGTOA All-American team in 2009, and upon his retirement, was named to the Jacksonville Greyhound Racing Hall of Fame.
But, his biggest win came when none other than Teddy Palmer brought my big boy home. Some of you might remember the story I wrote of their romance, and some may not - I'll post it below in the comments - and it was truly a match made in Heaven. The first time she laid eyes on him, I knew that he'd end up with her. Teddy always kept me up to date with Sam's shenanigans... how he'd parade the kennel at Halfway Home Greyhound Adoption flirting with the ladies and how he'd not only stolen her heart, but, her bed and couch as well. And always with a laugh. I could truly hear her smiling as she regaled to me stories about her boy. I'll miss those calls.
A couple of months ago, Teddy called me to let me know that Sam was sick. And that we didn't have much time left with him - my heart sunk. I can't imagine how difficult it was for her to make that call to me. I'm only now really able to write about him. But, at the same time, too, I realized how lucky Sam was. Lucky for his entire life to be around people who truly loved him. Lucky that he seemingly never had a bad day. Lucky that when he went to the Bridge, he did so gently - just like everything else he'd ever done in his life. And he did it at home, on his favorite bed in his sunroom.
Teddy, thank you my dear friend for giving Big Sam the home and retirement he deserved - I can't think of anyone else in the world I would have rather him been with.
RIP Big Fella ❤️
Good Things Come To Those Who Wait.