Much like normal, everyday life, January is a month to be survived rather than celebrated for those involved in Irish greyhound racing. There is quality action available if you are willing to travel but the cold snap is a real pain for those trying to get greyhounds fit and ready to race.
A number of meetings have been lost in the past week and that trend will no doubt continue over the weekend but Shelbourne Park should escape the worst of the weather. Tonight’s action is highlighted by the semi-finals of the Eric Browne Memorial Kingdom Derby at Tralee.
It’s hoped that Kingdom Stadium will get the better of the elements and they can race. If they do, there are two quality races to look forward to. It’s no surprise that local handler Liam Dowling has a strong hand in the stake.
One of Ireland’s best and most prolific breeders and trainers, he has no fewer than four of the final twelve competitors representing his Ballymacelligott outfit and each have claims of landing the €7,000 prize.
Dowling has Ballymac Bailey and Ballymac Whispa in the opening heat and both are expected to have a big say. The former is drawn to perfection on the fence but needs to come away racing. In contrast to many, the draw doesn’t matter much to Ballymac Whispa as she generally gives her rivals a start.
A massive finisher, she ran up the Irish Laurels last year and has been in exceptional form for some time. Should the gaps open at the right time, the daughter of Ballymac Anton won’t be far away at the finish and she gets the nod. If the winner is to come from elsewhere, the Pat Buckley trained pair of Tullig Raven and Stream Of Sydney are the likeliest to challenge.
Liam Dowling’s Derby runner-up Ballymac Finn is seen as the one to beat in the second semi-final. The brilliant tracker was a most impressive quarter final winner despite finding early crowding. If he can produce one of his better starts, expect him to emerge a good winner despite a tough draw in five.
His kennel companion Ballymac Bronze also won his latest assignment but the main threat may come on the form of Disco Pants. He has been in tremendous form and looks perfectly housed on the fence.
The less established but equally exciting next generation will be in action at Clonmel on Sunday as the Rural Kennels open Unraced continues with the second round. The last two winners of the early season event were subsequent Derby third Jackslittlething and last year’s Kirby Memorial winner Swords Rex, highlighting the importance of the competition as a stepping stone to future stardom.
This year’s renewal certainly seems every bit as strong with so many catching the eye both in victory and defeat in last weekend’s opening round. The latest headlines went to Droopys Racer, who posted a rapid 28.49 in the opening round. Others including Rural Taylor, Burgess Frankie and Hukum, in defeat, also went into the notebook.
As it happens, three of the quartet have been drawn together with Burgess Frankie, Hukum and Rural Taylor all lining up in Heat 2. On the strength of an inside drawn, Burgess Frankie is chosen to come out on top but Hukum is seen as a serious threat.
The aforementioned Droopys Racer will be hard to stop in the final heat, while Hovex Tommy and Ballybrazil Lima are chosen in the remaining heats.
Meanwhile, Shelbourne Park hosts another low-key card on Saturday. There are two feature races, the final of the Upcoming Events Open 550 and the final of the Talking Dogs A1 525. The former is a particularly competitive contest with a number of possible outcomes but the pin fell on Storys Cashout who has often given an indication of his abundant ability and obvious promise. He hasn’t always been profitable to follow but has clear claims this evening.
Stefans Socks makes most appeal in the other decider, especially if repeating last week’s slick exit. Making every inch, he posted 28.85 on a slow track and a repeat of his semi-final form would be good enough.