As we stare down the end of 2020, there is still so much going on in Irish greyhound racing. Due to the loss of much of the opening half of the year, the past five months have been frenetic to say the least and there is no let-up in the fortnight ahead of the New Year.
In any normal year, there is plenty of room on the calendar to space out the classics and feature events but, in recent times, greyhound racing enthusiasts have been spoilt for choice with each week offering up the very best action imaginable.
As we speak there are three major competitions underway at Shelbourne Park and Tralee, while on Friday night the unique Shelbourne Marathon over 1025yds will conclude. The main focus of attention is on the three aforementioned events, however.
They also serve to highlight the strength of the ‘Ballymac’ outfit of Liam Dowling with the favourite for each event hailing from his Kerry base.
At Shelbourne Park, Ballymac Ariel is clear favourite to continue her rise to stardom in the Christmas Oaks, while her kennel companions Ballymac Kingdom, Ballymac Cashout and Ballymac Cooper are the top three in the betting for the Shelbourne Open 600, a competition which for many years was known as the Guinness 600.
The 600yd trip at Shelbourne Park is recognised as one of the great tests of a racing greyhound and a look through the roll of honour will confirm that so many of the very best in the history of the sport have come out on top in the famous competition.
While his kennel companion Ballymac Kingdom is favourite, Ballymac Cashout produced the real standout display in the opening round. In what was only his fourth career outing, the hugely exciting puppy ran out a comfortable winner over some hugely talented performers including English Derby finalist Coolavanny Chick and former English Derby runner-up Ballymac Tas.
He will be tested again on Saturday and may need to better his latest display to see off another of his kennel companions, the brilliant Ballymac Cooper. In fact, the draw favours the latter and he might just inflict a second defeat on his younger namesake.
In contrast, Ballymac Kingdom looks the part in his heat and can come home clear for the second week running, perhaps at the expense of Jaytee Japan. The remaining heat looks wide open although a narrow vote goes to Own Spice.
Ballymac Ariel became the latest in a select group to dip under 28 seconds for the 525yd standard trip at Shelbourne Park in the opening round of the Christmas Oaks. In doing so she confirmed her standing as the most exciting young tracker in training.
She has again been handed the red jacket of one in her second round heat and can come home clear at the expense of Slippery Diva. Droopys Curio also stands out as the one to beat in her heat despite a tough draw in five, while Miss Joss and Ballymac Notoyou appeal in the remaining heats.
The Kingdom Derby will continue at Tralee on Friday and the opening semi-final features some of the biggest names in the sport. Liam Dowling’s duo, Great Name That and Ballymac Wild, are amongst the very fastest in the land and should step up on recent defeats to play a big part.
They will need to, however, as the unbeaten Native Maestro has set a strong standard in the competition and is likely to go up fast from trap three. The second heat isn’t as hot but may still take some winning. Knocknaboul Syd was beaten in both the first and second rounds but, should he recapture his best English Derby form, he could emerge as the one to beat.