Greyhound racing returns to Irish terrestrial TV on Saturday evening with Virgin Media 2 covering the semi finals of the Boylesports Irish Greyhound Derby from Shelbourne Park. It should make for spectacular viewing with so much at stake for those still involved in the classic.
Sadly, the field is down to eleven with Vincenzo sadly withdrawn after picking up a small shoulder injury in the quarter finals. It will obviously come as a real disappointment to his connections although they are lucky enough to still be represented by his kennel companion Explosive Boy.
He is one of six wonderful greyhounds in a truly special opening semi-final. Four of the top five in the outright betting have been drawn together and followers of the brilliant Coolavanny Hoffa will watch the opening yards through their fingers.
Blessed with incredible early speed, Coolavanny Hoffa has been the undoubted star of the classic but has been handed his toughest test on Saturday. With the immensely fast duo of Born Warrior and Callaway Pro Am drawn on his immediate inner in five and four, Coolavanny Hoffa will need to be at his electric best in the opening exchanges.
If clearing his two early paced rivals in the opening yards, he is likely to race to a comfortable success but things could very sticky, very quickly if failing to do so.
Crafty Kokoro is one that will also attract real support in this contest. Unlike her rivals, she is not blessed with big early speed but few can match her for power and pace. She has produced a series of exceptional displays through the classic, coming from out of the clouds on a number of occasions to leave those in the stands in awe.
It may seem paradoxical but Crafty Kokoro is perhaps the most likely qualifier given her style of racing, while Coolavanny Hoffa is the most likely winner.
The second heat is no less interesting. The extra space provided by the absence of Vincenzo should suit those drawn on the outside of the track, Gortkelly Nestor and Droopys Nice One, but Ballymac Finn is certain to start a short-priced favourite from an ideal draw on the fence.
He may have tied up in his quarter final success but has gone faster in the earlier rounds and it would be brash to oppose him on the evidence of just one run. Should he come away racing, as he has done each night when wearing the red jacket, Liam Dowling’ charge is likely to take some stopping.
Those searching for value could do worse than side with Droopys Nice One. She was a big eye-catcher last week and seems to be really running into peak form. The betting would also suggest that Maries Wedding is a big player. She won in tremendous fashion last weekend but must clear Skywalker Barry into the corner to get a run at Ballymac Finn. That is no easy task.
Backing up the Derby are the semi finals of the Michael Fortune Memorial Derby Plate. Named in honour of this scribe’s late father, who commentated on so many Derby finals over the years, it’s a wonderful competition.
The opening heat features the rapidly progressive and hugely exciting Garryvoe Joe. The Graham Holland trained star is set to start favourite and can emerge as the one to beat if getting the better of Well Met into the corner. In such circumstances, big finisher Ballymac Ben could emerge as the main threat.
Kildare, The Other Kobe and Bobsleigh Dream are the big three in the second heat. All three are amongst the fastest in training and they could serve up a thriller. English Derby runner-up Kildare is starting to return to his very best and is perhaps the most likely winner, although one suspects Bobsleigh Dream could really push him.
All the action can be watched live on RPGTV, channel 437 on the sky platform, while the two semi-finals can be viewed live on Virgin Media 2 between 8 and 9pm.