With Christmas just around the corner, you would expect a slight ease in the pace of the Irish greyhound calendar but it’s quite the opposite. Just a week on from the successful Winter Racing Festival, a number of top-class competitions either get underway or continue this weekend.
These include one of the most famous events on the calendar, the Shelbourne Open 600. Known for many years as the Guinness 600, the competition has been won by some legendary names over the years and, while it is normally run much earlier in the year, the 2020 renewal should be no exception.
There was a possibility the event would be a casualty of the first lockdown but the powers that be have done wonderfully well to squeeze it into the schedule and it should provide some tremendous racing to end a memorable year.
With a winner’s purse of €15,000 on offer, it’s no surprise to see some brilliant trackers taking their chance in tonight’s opening round which headlines a top-class card at Shelbourne Park. One man that seems hell bent on lifting the prize is Liam Dowling.
He won the event in 2015 with his Derby winner Ballymac Matt and sends out six runners in this year’s stake, a full fifth of the total entry. Ballymac Kingdom and Ballymac Cooper are his main hopes, although the hugely exciting Ballymac Cashout has the potential to be something of a star.
While worth less than half of the Shelbourne Open 600, there will be huge interest in the Christmas Oaks which also gets underway at Shelbourne Park on Saturday. Liam Dowling again has a very strong hand with his IGOBF National Puppy Stake champion Ballymac Ariel the most eye-catching runner in the competition.
One of the most exciting young trackers to emerge in recent years, the daughter of Ballymac Bolger has stunning pace and an abundance of class. She will be tested in the opening round with another if the very fastest in training, Droopys Curio to contend with.
This is far from a two-dog competition, however. There is real quality on offer and the likes of Lang Syne, Priceless Verona, Sliabh Liag, Slippery Diva, Miss Joss, Right So Belle, Ballymac Art, Risk Of Thunder, Highview Mission and Azzabi could all play their part in making this a cracking competition.
Meanwhile at Tralee, the Kingdom Derby is set to continue on Saturday evening and, without trying to be repetitive, Liam Dowling is again the man to follow. Tralee is Dowling’s local track and two of his very fastest, Ballymac Wild and Great Name That, seem set to provide him with a double.
Great Name that actually won twice last weekend, in the Kingdom Derby on Friday and the Winter Racing Festival twenty four hours later.
With just the one race to worry about this weekend, he can again display his awesome pace in Heat 3. Ballymac Wild has an even better CV. He won the Juvenile Classic at Tralee earlier in the year and ran up the Champion Stakes at Shelbourne Park before, subsequently, reaching the final of both the Derby and Leger. He will be very hard to contain in the opening heat.
Apart from the top-class racing, it was also a week when we said goodbye to some real star names. Derby champion Newinn Taylor has run his last race after picking up a bad injury but, thankfully, he is set to make a full recovery and will have a long and healthy retirement.
2019 Derby champion Lenson Bocko also bowed out with his connections feeling he had little more to prove. They were, of course, correct. On top of the two Derby champions, Redzer Ardfert and Grangeview Ten were also retired. The latter was a real star throughout his career, winning two classics, the 2019 Produce Stakes and this year’s Irish Sprint Cup, while Redzer Ardfert will be remembered as one of the great stayers of all time.
He created history by becoming the first greyhound to break 41 seconds for 750yds on Irish shores, while he also became the first Irish winner of the British St Leger. All four were exceptional performers and we wish them the very best in the future.