After five weeks of the most pulsating action, less than thirty seconds separate one greyhound from immortality as we ready ourselves for the final of the Boylesports Derby at Shelbourne Park on Saturday evening.
It all got underway on August 14th and, since the very opening heat, the action has been of the rarest quality. Of course, empty stands have meant that the backdrop wasn’t ideal but we can look forward to what promises to be the perfect ending to the blue riband event.
A glance through the history books will confirm that anything can, and often does, happen in a Derby final. Since the start of the century, the richest race on the Irish calendar has gone to a number of big priced runners including Ballyanne Sim two years ago.
On the night he was a 12-1 chance, while in 2004 and 2005, Like A Shot and He Said So were both 10-1 before racing to Derby glory. Tyrur Rhino was another 10-1 winner in 2007, while his namesake Tyrur McGuigan won at 8-1 in 2010.
For balance, in the same period, the winner has been favourite, or joint favourite, on nine occasions. As we look forward to this year’s contest, it’s still unknown whether Pestana or Newinn Taylor will head the betting as they go to traps.
The latter was simply sensational last weekend and has been rewarded for his efforts with a perfect draw in the stripes of six. Under the tutelage of Graham Holland, the son of Droopys Buick has established himself as one of the finest canine athletes on the planet.
He made his debut less than a year ago but it was obvious from that night he was destined for greatness. Over nine months later, he lost for the first time in his career in the opening round of the Derby.
During that period, he captured the Shelbourne Open Puppy 525 and the Produce Stakes to confirm his standing as a superstar. He quickly put his first defeat behind him, running an incredible race behind Pestana in the second round.
That was his last defeat and, as we look ahead to Saturday’s contest, his record reads fifteen wins from seventeen starts. In any normal year, he would be a red-hot, odds-on favourite to claim his place on the roll of honour.
This is far from a normal year, however. In fact, despite posting 29.13 and 29.11 in his last two starts, he is only the fourth fastest greyhound in the race in terms of the Derby clocks. Of course, Pestana tops the charts with his sensational second round run untouched by any greyhound.
On that famous night, Pestana wrote his name in history, becoming the first dog to dip under 29 seconds for the 550yd trip when posting a scarcely believable 28.99. The run went viral with the replay watched tens of thousands of times on social media and actually making Australian TV.
He has certainly built up a massive fanbase with his series of brilliant front running displays. What is particularly eye-catching is the manner in which he explodes from the boxes and drives for the fence. Des Grace’s star is amongst the most consistent starters in the history of the sport and, as a result, is strong fancied to continue his winning ways.
Trained by Owen McKenna, who has a serious Derby pedigree, Pestana will bid for his seventh win in a row and his tenth since the lockdown was lifted. As with Newinn Taylor, in any normal year he would be a red-hot favourite.
The clash of the Newinn Taylor and Pestana has really captured the imagination and their clash could potentially offer up one of the great races in the history of the sport.
But, as stated, anything could happen in a Derby decider and the connections of the four remaining finalists will be travelling to Shelbourne Park full of hope. The pressure is off as far as they are concerned. They can be proud of their greyhounds for reaching the greatest greyhound race on the planet but they can also continue to dream.
Liam Dowling has two runners in the form of Ballymac Wild and Ballymac Cooper. Both greyhounds are superstars in their own right and it would be no shock if either were to make a bold bid for glory. Remarkably, Dowling actually bred half the field, as Pestana was also born in his Ballymacelligott base. It is an incredible achievement but, have no doubt, he will be hoping either Wild or Cooper can lower the colours of their former kennel companion and Newinn Taylor.
For that to happen they may need the big two in the market to clash or make mistakes at trap rise. Such occurrences can happen, however. Ballymac Wild is third choice in the betting and given his profile, is perhaps the more likely winner of the ‘Ballymac’ duo.
That leads us to the big outsiders of the field, Kilara Icon and Meenagh Miracle. While they are available at huge prices, both have a massive engine. Meenagh Miracle is taking on the stats. She is bidding to become the first bitch to win the Derby this century.
The last member of the fairer sex to capture the classic was Spring Time in 1999. Incredibly, three bitches won the Derby in the 90’s and there is no obvious reason why there has been no female winner since. The odds seem stacked against Meenagh Miracle but she has shown massive pace and determination to get this far and her owner, Michael Corr should be proud.
Kilara Icon is also a massive price but there are many, including this scribe, that believe he represents obvious value. The Robert Gleeson trained star has wings when he gets into full stride and any traffic problems up front would aid flying brindle.
In fact, no greyhound in the Derby has consistently clocked better than Kilara Icon from the second bend to the winning line. Given the nature of the race and the possibility of crowding up front, Kilara Icon is far from a no-hoper.
For what it’s worth, the vote just goes to Pestana to get the better of Newinn Taylor, while Kilara Icon could be the value alternative.
The stage is set, much of the hard work is done and, when the competitors go to traps at 9.24pm, it will be out of the hands of those on the end of the lead. Six of the fastest greyhounds on the planet are set to provide the best possible finish to what has been an incredible competition. Let’s hope for one of the great races in the history of the sport. Whatever the outcome, the winner will be thoroughly deserving of their place in the history books.
Remember you can view the action live on RPGTV on channel 175 on the Sky platform or you can also view it on the Racing Post greyhound bet website. If you are viewing from the couch, the Irish Greyhound Board have also offered an on-line programme in the form of a PDF which can be found HERE.