2022 couldn’t have ended any better as far as Irish greyhound racing was concerned. The RCÉ Winter Racing Festival was run over two nights at Shelbourne Park and the action was every bit as enthralling as it was quality packed.
Over the two nights, there were so many wonderful performances from the best in the business while it was also significant to see the UK providing two winners. As with horseracing, the battle between Ireland and the UK adds so much to proceedings but sadly, it’s been largely a one-way street in recent years.
The Irish have mounted many raids across the water and have, of course, had plenty of success in the English Derby. Perhaps this latest taste of success on Irish soil may prompt further raids in the coming year. Now that would be something.
Of course, we now look forward to another year with 2023 promising so much of the track. The calendar was released in recent weeks and it highlights the fact that Irish greyhound racing is now an established twelve-month sport.
The calendar now has a well-established shape with the young stars given their chance to emerge in the coming weeks as the various unraced stakes getting underway. Be it at Clonmel or Tralee, many of those that merge will be contesting the classics through the remainder of the year.
Of course, the more established performers will also have their chance to shine. The traditional curtain raiser for those already capable of challenging for major honours is the Gold Cup. The only top competition run for all-aged performers at Shelbourne Park, it is likely to attract some huge names.
Already, Jenifer O’Donnell has suggested she will be targeting the early season competition with her Derby champion Born Warrior, while her Winter Racing Festival Open 525 winner The Other Kobe also looks certain to be aimed at the Gold Cup.
More immediately, focus of attention on Saturday will be on Shelbourne Park where there is some outstanding open race action on offer. The highlight of the action is the final of the Shelbourne Marathon over the gruelling 1,025yd trip.
Of course, this competition was due to end during the opening night of the Winter Racing Festival but the gremlins got into the system during the semi-finals, meaning it had to be put back a week.
Run over two full laps of Shelbourne Park, it is the biggest event of the year for the ultra-marathon performers.
Following the retirement of Dana Point, who won the event in each of the last two years, there is a notable gap left for a young star to emerge. Saturday’s final line-up is not bursting with big names, although a couple seem to have a bright future over six and eight bends.
Semi-final form would point towards the locally trained Garfiney Legend. He got loose in the early stages of his semi, making all to score in 59.40. Next fastest was Fire Height Mane as he came home clear in an estimated 60.09. One suspects the pair could battle it out tonight with the nod just going to Garfiney Legend.