Ireland’s quest to win a third English Derby in successive years is right on track. A total of 41 Irish trained greyhounds will be in the hat for Saturday’s opening round draw and the ante-post markets are completely dominated by those representing these shores.
As I pen these words, sponsors Star Sports have fifteen greyhounds priced 33-1 or lower for the blue riband event and, incredibly, eleven of them are Irish trained. Even more remarkable is the fact that the top five in the betting represent the Emerald Isle.
Nothing can be taken for granted, however. Greyhound racing can be unpredictable and, while the market suggests it’s Ireland’s to lose, the dogs themselves will need to perform. It all kicks off next Thursday, with the 32 opening round heats spread over three days, ending on Saturday.
Last year, with very limited numbers, Ireland provided fifty percent of the opening round heat winners for a total of eight wins from sixteen heats. Given the strength and, extra numbers, of this year’s raiding party, a similar strike rate would be an acceptable target.
Sadly, the Irish lost one of their more fancied runners through injury with Doolin Duke pulling up lame after a trial on Thursday. Thankfully, the dog should be fine and his handler, Pat Buckley, still has a very strong team headed by the defending champion Deerjet Sydney and the Easter Cup winner Knocknaboul Syd.
There will no doubt be plenty of plot twists in the coming weeks but hopefully there won’t be a sting in the tail for the Irish. All going to plan, Ireland should land a sixteenth victory, and a sixth since the turn of the century, in the famous event.
On this side of the Irish Sea, there is plenty of classic action to look forward to over the weekend. The semi finals of the Larry O’Rourke National Produce Stakes will dominate proceedings at Clonmel on Saturday, while it’s safe to assume there will be some incredible racing, for the second week running, at Shelbourne Park in the second round of the Sporting Press Online Edition Irish Oaks.
There’s a total of eight second round heats of the Oaks and all eyes will be on Ballymac Beanie. While she didn’t set the pace, she was the undoubted star of last weekend’s opening round. In what was her first start in almost six months, the defending champion was near enough to foot-perfect.
The draw has been relatively kind and she again looks likely to come out on top in the fourth of the heats. All the signs suggest the Declan Byrne trained star is as good, if not better, than last year and she is certainly the one to beat in the bitch classic.
If she does manage to come out on top on June 19th, she would become just the third bitch in history to successfully defend her title.
There are some real stars standing in her way, however. Of the opening round winners, Ballydoyle Rossa, Front Amani, Billys Diva, Scooby Princess, Ballymac Orna and Clona Skye were all mighty impressive and, should they all progress, the latter stages of the classic could provide some truly exceptional racing.
Billys Diva and Scooby Princess are really proven performers and rank amongst the very fastest in training. The argument can be made that both would be better suited by a 550yd trip rather than the standard 525yds but, have little doubt, they are major players.
Good Cody was a stunning winner of his quarter final in the Larry O’Rourke National Produce Stakes, highlighting his massive potential. Displaying massive speed to the third turn after a flying start, he posted a fastest of the competition 28.20.
A week on, he faces a far tougher test in the second semi final with the likes of Deadly Destroyer, Vipers Buzz and Agent Stanley. Much will depend on the start but, should Good Cody hit the ground running, he seems likely to get first run on his rivals. That could prove decisive.
Explosive Boy is the one to beat in the opening heat. The Pat Guilfoyle trained star was brilliant through the recent Kirby Memorial only to suffer defeat in the final when warm favourite. He returned to winning ways last week, making a now trademark flying start to dictate throughout.
A similar start would most likely suffice this evening although Valegro is seen as a credible threat if turning close. The latter was beaten just a length behind Good Cody last week, displaying massive pace in defeat.