Greyhound racing, like so many other sports and businesses, has experienced a couple of tough years and there is still plenty of uncertainty about how the coming months will go. Covid-19 continues to act as a big grey cloud hovering overhead but, thankfully, the canine stars are playing their part to keep punters interested.
2021 was another vintage year on the track with so many memorable nights although the Derby success of Susie Sapphire was a real standout. Not only did she emerge a brilliant winner but, with a large crowd allowed on site, there was also the most incredible atmosphere.
Her brilliant performance was suitably appreciated by the packed stands and the memory of Owen McKenna dancing up the home straight with his Derby champion will live long in the memory. Thankfully, the plan is to bring her back to the track in 2022 and, given the fact that she only turned two years of age in November, there is no reason she won’t be as good in the coming months if not even better.
Her main targets will no doubt by the Irish Oaks in the summer and the Derby a couple of months later. She may need to return to her very best form, however, as so many exciting young trackers are set to debut in the coming weeks, while a few emerged at the back end of the year.
Not for the first time, Garth Brooks caused mayhem. His decision to perform extra shows meant a change to the Irish greyhound racing calendar. With the prospect of those who follow the sport needing to book hotel rooms in mid-September, the wise decision was made to move the Derby final back a week so as not to clash with Croke Park gigs.
It means that the Laurels, Leger and Winter Racing Festival amongst others have all seen their dates change. It will matter little to the dogs themselves and certainly won’t affect their performance.
The greyhound year really gets underway this evening with the opening round of the Rural Hawaii @ Stud Unraced Stake the feature at Clonmel. While it may be an ON2 competition, it never fails to produce a few stars names. To highlight the fact, the last two winners were 2021 Derby finalist Jackslittlething and 2021 English Derby finalist Newinn Session.
Have no doubt, a few potential superstars will emerge from this year’s renewal with so many extremely well-bred youngsters, representing many of the top kennels in the land, on show.
In terms of the more established performers, the RCETS Gold Cup again takes up its place as the early-season curtain raiser. The valuable competition, which has been won by some of the great names of the sport since it was first run in 1998, will commence at Shelbourne Park next Saturday.
A number of potential Gold Cup challengers will line-up at Shelbourne on Saturday, while a few more will trial ahead of racing. Of those in racing action, the likes of Corbrack Prince, Storys Direct, Rusmur Pat, Coolavanny Blaze, Beach Avenue, Darbys Delight, Macho Pride, Glenquain Pat, Storys Peewee, Riverside Blake, Romeo Mcqueen and Boylesportsbingo all seem likely to take in the Gold Cup.
Whatever happens on Saturday, the RCETS Gold Cup should provide the perfect start to what will hopefully be another magical year on the track. At present, due to the current Covid-19 guidelines, racing is commencing far earlier than usual at 5.45pm.
Hopefully, these restrictions will be lifted soon and it’s worth pointing out that greyhound racing is an outdoor pursuit, although there are plenty of indoor facilities. If you are nervous about Covid-19, why not wrap up warm, get to the track and enjoy the action from the safety of the outdoor grandstand. It’s better than sitting at home, wallowing.