For those who follow greyhound racing, especially those based on Irish shores, Shelbourne Park becomes a place of worship through August and September. There is no other event quite like the Boylesports Irish Greyhound Derby.
156 greyhounds set out the journey to become the latest winner of the blue riband and, just a fortnight later, less than a third remain. Tonight, for the first time in the classic, the remaining 48 competitors will be in action on the same night.
It happens every year yet punters never seem prepared for just how competitive the racing becomes at this point in the classic. With much of the deadwood eliminated, the racing moves to a different level and a glance through Saturday’s heats will unearth some mouthwatering clashes.
The real highlight is the meeting of the top two in the outright betting Coolavanny Hoffa and Ballinabola Ed in Heat 6. They are joined by the exciting Callaway Pro Am as well as 2021 Derby finalist All About Ted, the top class Maries Wedding and promising Droopys Rocker.
It’s a line-up that would be fitting of the final itself and yet, such is their brilliance, all the talk is of the top two in the betting. Coolavanny Hoffa will start favourite after recording a magical 29.13 last week. In victory, he also recorded a sensational 16.80, making him one of the fastest greyhounds ever to the third turn at the famous venue.
A repeat of that run would normally be more than enough to secure the victory but Ballinabola Ed is no ordinary rival. Perhaps the fastest greyhound in training, he seemed to be very comfortable in his latest success despite posting a rapid 29.27.
It would be no shock if he were to go a few lengths quicker, which is testament to his incredible talent and pace. Should the duo avoid early traffic and, enter the back straight in first and second, they could provide one of the truly great races.
It’s not the only mouthwatering contest on the card, however. Heat 2 is another very special contest. The market will suggest that the exciting Ballymac Finn, who looked so good in the second round, and English Derby champion Romeo Magico are likely to dominate.
That may not be the case as both Magical Kuba and Mustang Jet are also extremely quick, although they would be better suited if they reversed the boxes. Magical Kuba is certain to edge wide from trap five, while Mustang Jet tends to move inwards to the corner.
In what looks another potential thriller, Ballymac Finn might get first run on Romeo Magico, who stands out as the main threat.
Reigning Dog of the Year Explosive Boy will start favourite for the opening heat, although he must take on three of the fastest ladies in training and the bright prospect Tullig Raven. The three females in question are Droopys Nextone, Bockos Crystal and Droopys Nice One. Much will depend on the start but after a professional front-running effort last weekend, Explosive Boy just about gets the nod.
Paul Hennessy would dearly love to add a second Irish Derby crown to his incredible CV and he three runners remaining, the remarkable Beach Avenue and the hugely fast duo of Priceless Jet and Barefoot Supremo.
Beach Avenue is facing a tough test in Heat 5 where Born Warrior looks the most likely winner but his kennel companions both have strong claims in their respective heats. Priceless Jet seems likely to make a bold bid in Heat 4 where he is set to start favourite, while the same can be said for Barefoot Supremo in Heat 3.
Vincenzo remains one of the main fancies for outright glory and his price in the final heat is likely to reflect his ability. If producing a slick exit, he could take some stopping. Fernandes is his nearest rival in the betting but one suspects Ringabella Boy could run well at the big price from the inside draw.
Bockos Budsit is another set to start a hot favourite in Heat 7, although he faces a potential banana skin with Annagh Bailey seen as a big danger despite the betting suggesting otherwise.
Those wishing to keep up to date with the Derby action can do so live from tonight with RPGTV televising the racing live on channel 437 on the Sky Platform.