Saturday’s action at Shelbourne Park will welcome in the most important and intense two months of greyhound racing of the calendar year. The Boylesports Champion Stakes feature eighteen of the fastest greyhounds on the planet as they battle it out for the €20,000 prize.
With just two to qualify for next weekend’s decider from each of the three semis, there is no room for error. The simplistic format has always been hugely appealing to the race-going public and those lucky enough to be on the stands at Shelbourne Park on Saturday should witness some electrifying action.
The sensational Pestana came out on top in the Champion Stakes last year, showing devastating early speed to see off a brilliant field in the decider. It provided the perfect springboard for a campaign that saw him go so desperately close in the Derby.
While the Champion Stakes is an exceptional competition in its own right, it is also the perfect stepping stone for a Derby bid. Only three greyhounds, Manorville Magic, Ardfert Mick and Shelbourne Aston have achieved the double in the same year but so many have gone close.
This year’s competition is a real conundrum. Each of the eighteen competitors have massive ability and are well-established amongst Ireland’s best. But, picking a likely winner is far rom an easy task. The sponsors have installed Ballymac Fairone as their 5-1 favourite and there seems no doubt he has all the attributes to join some of the great names in the sport by capturing the Champion Stakes.
Incredibly, he has only had nine career starts and has already reached the English Derby decider for which he was favourite. The occasion may have been too much for him at this early stage in his career and he eventually finished fourth.
That experience should stand to him and the Liam Dowling trained puppy remains one of the most exciting greyhounds in training. The draw has been kind to him in the second semi final and he gets the nod to lead home the likes of Zoom, De Machine and former Derby finalists Kilara Icon and Boylesports King.
The opening heat is a red-hot affair with all six holding strong claims. The powerful trio of Great Name That, Scooby Princess and Priceless Jet will be hoping to turn close enough to launch a late challenge while last week’s Champion 550 winner Deadly Destroyer, the Shelbourne Open 600 runner-up Pierno and the massive early paced Romeo On Fire will bid to win from the front.
The final heat is no easier to solve with so many of the line-up holding claims. Skywalker Barry and Broadstrand Ryan will go up fast on the inside of the track, while Sizzler will try and match them from a wide draw. Ballymac Wild, Catchemeflying and Beach Avenue will try to come through in the latter stages.
No matter the result in each of the three heats, as it should be, the final will inevitably be packed with star names.
While the established stars will be in action at Shelbourne on Saturday, tonight’s racing at HQ features a number of potentially brilliant puppies with the second round of the RCETS Open Unraced Stake dominating the action.
Romeo De Niro set the standard in the opening round but there are many others involved in the valuable stake that seem likely to make a splash in the future.
Dundalk is the perfect home for the Bar One Irish Sprint Cup. The opening round of the classic featured some stunning displays last week but none could match that of Good Cody. A greyhound with stunning pace, he was ideally suited by the long straights at Dundalk and is expected to continue his winning ways in the second round on Saturday evening.
Others including the Dundalk 400yd record holder Brodys Magic, Corbrack Prince, Deadly Big Show, Drahan Jet and Ballymac Rule also impressed last week and they all seem capable of going far in the top sprint competition on the calendar.
There eight second round heats and it seems, given the weather conditions, the track will allow for very fast times. Whether any can get close to the incredible 20.73 return of Brodys Magic in last year’s semi finals has yet to be seen but I wouldn’t completely dismiss the possibility.
Of course, the weather has played havoc with the schedule over the past week with many meetings lost due to the extreme heat. One of the affected meetings was at Thurles last Saturday and the rescheduled card should attract plenty of attention with the second round of the Tipperary Cup the highlight.
Veteran performer Cabra Ava set the pace in the opening round a fortnight ago and she is again likely to go close in the opening heat. Auxerre and Dark Devil get the vote in the remaining heats.