Greyhound racing is now a twelve-month activity with those involved in the sport kept busy over the festive period. There was a time, when track surfaces were mainly grass, that the schedule become somewhat lighter during the winter months but that is no longer the case.
With the advent of sand surfaces and the greater demand for restaurant and bar facilities leading up to Christmas, there is no let-up in the amount of racing available and, thankfully, trainers are increasingly keeping their best dogs in training.
This weekend is a perfect example with a number of superb competitions getting underway. Tralee welcomes the stars this evening (Friday) for the opening round of the Eric Browne Memorial Kingdom Derby, while the Shelbourne Marathon over the grueling 1025yd trip and the Gold Collar get underway at Shelbourne Park.
Shelbourne Park will also welcome many of the best in training on Saturday night as the opening round of the Christmas Oaks takes centre-stage. The Ringsend venue welcomed a big crowd last weekend for the second annual Winter Racing Festival and there were a number of brilliant displays.
A couple of the very best came from Ballymac Ariel and Benalmadena Roxy and both will be in action in the Christmas Oaks. Ballymac Ariel is a very special performer and confirmed her standing as one of the very best to ever grace Shelbourne Park.
She will be tested, however, in what is her first start over the standard 525yd trip since making her exit from the Kirby memorial at Limerick in April. She wears the strips in the opening heat and faces some notable rivals, while the presence of the early paced Peckies Flyer on her immediate inside is not ideal.
That said, Ballymac Ariel should be up to the task and she is chosen to come home in front of the very exciting Bockos Leah.
One of the more interesting runners in the competition is Benalmadena Roxy. She produced a brilliant display of front running to win a supporting race over 550yds at the Winter Racing Festival, posting a sizzling 29.40 in the process.
It was a career best display and, if she can consistently produce that type of form, she would be a big player in the end of season competition. She lines out in the last of the five heats and is a confident selection to follow up.
Skywalker Angie has very little racing under her belt but has shown real promise and ability when she did get to the track. She takes her place in Heat 4 and has obvious claims, although Tip Top Taylor and Burgess Cassie are seen as dangers.
Heat 3 features a clash of very different styles. Both Crafty Kokoro and Clona Skye were in action at the Winter Racing Festival and each ran very well in defeat. Crafty Kokoro flew home to finish a close fourth over the 575yds trip, while Clona Skye set a searching gallop in the Bitch 525 only to be picked up by Singalong Sally.
It will be interesting to see if Crafty Kokoro can turn close enough to pick up her rivals in the closing yards. Ballymac Art is the choice in the remaining heat.
Yes, we may be coming to the end of the year but there is certainly plenty gong on at the various tracks throughout Ireland. In these trying times, there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours so why not explore a potential trip to your local track.