So much has happened in the year since Ballymac Anton raced out a superb winner of the 2020 Best Car Parks Gold Cup at a packed Shelbourne Park. It has been the most incredible and surreal twelve month period.
Not only has racing been behind closed doors for much of that time, but we also missed three months of action during the first lockdown and some of the greatest greyhounds in the history of the sport have come and gone.
But some things never change. The 2020 winner Ballymac Anton may have been retired but Liam Dowling has one of the favourites for the 2021 Best Car Parks Gold Cup which will come to a conclusion at Shelbourne Park on Saturday night.
It’s probably safe to say that Ballymac Cashout, who Dowling nominated as a possible successor for Ballymac Anton, is the fastest dog in the €20,000 decider but he faces a tough draw and needs to step up on a slightly flat semi-final display.
Instead, Knocknaboul Syd will bid to give Pat Buckley a first win in the competition. The Kingdom Derby winner prior to Christmas, Knocknaboul Syd is a thoroughly professional tracker with superb trapping ability, fine early speed and the pace and stamina to mix it with the best in training.
A trap three draw would normally be seen as ideal for the son of Droopys Sydney but the presence of Inforapenny on the fence is the potential fly in the ointment. Inforapenny is blessed with fine early speed and tends to edge off the rail. If he does get in the way of the favourite at the corner, this race could be thrown wide open.
Blastoff Fire is another that will need to avoid Inforapenny. His best hope is perhaps coming out behind his rival before staying tight to the fence on the turn. If doing so, the strong running Laurels runner-up could find himself in a position to challenge from halfway.
Paul Hennessy is bidding for an incredible eighth win in the competition. He sends out the in-form Boylesportsbingo and, given the current well-being of his tracker, can be relatively confident. While a trap five draw doesn’t seem ideal, it could work in his favour if those on the inside do find crowding.
That leaves us with Minglers Popeye. A fast starter, he could potentially race prominently but it’s difficult to make a realistic case for the son of Sparta Maestro.
General wisdom would suggest that Knocknaboul Syd is the most likely winner. If he does make one of his trade-mark flying starts from trap three, it’s conceivable he won’t see another rival. Ballymac Cashout could certainly have something to say about that but his chance does depend on whether he can turn close to the pace. Those wishing to view the action can do so on the Sky television on channel 437.
On Friday night the younger, less exposed stars will again have their chance to shine at Clonmel in the second round of the Rural Hawaii @ Stud Unraced 525. There were some superb opening round performances and it seems safe to assume there will be more of the same a week on.
Whether a potential Derby or Oaks champion will emerge from the competition has yet to be seen but the signs are certainly encouraging. Incidentally, the fastest opening round winner Blastoff Harry has been sold and will now race under the care of Paul Hennessy for new owner Paul Hynes.