After five weeks of pulsating action, the 2021 Star Sports & TRC English Derby will draw to a conclusion at Towcester on Saturday night and the final has thrown up a fitting line-up with four of the six greyhounds trained on this die of the Irish Sea.
It has been a feature of recent years with the Irish dominating the last two renewals, eventually sending out the first three home on both 2019 and 2020. That could again be the case this evening with the top three in the betting all Irish trained, while the fourth Irish trained runner is also a big player.
Favourite to land the £175,000 winner’s purse is Ballymac Fairone, although he is being challenged by Deerjet Sydney at the head of the market. Of course, Deerjet Sydney is bidding to create a bit of history by defending his title. If doing so he will become just the fifth greyhounds in history to do so, while he is also bidding to become the first greyhound to win an English Derby at two different tracks.
Trained in Cappawhite by Pat Buckley, the son of Droopys Sydney suffered his first defeat in this year’s competition in last weekend’s semi-finals although excuses can certainly be made for the run. Last October, at Nottingham, the brilliant tracker produced his best start of the 2020 Derby in the decider, flashing from trap two to make all.
As fate would have it, he again lines out in the blue jacket of two and should he make his fastest start of this year’s competition, he could find himself in pole position on the run to the corner. In such a scenario, its likely he would go on to make every inch.
Ballymac Fairone is a worthy favourite, however. Trained by Liam Dowling, who has gone so close to capturing the English Derby in the past, finishing third with Ballymac Vic in 2013 and runner-up with Ballymac Tas in 2019.
Dowling actually has two finalists with his incredible tracker Ballymac Wild joining his younger kennel companion. Ballymac Wild is a star in his own right. Not only has he won two classics, the Juvenile Classic and the Shelbourne Open 600, but he has also reached numerous top finals including the 2020 Irish Derby and Leger deciders.
In most kennels he would be the undoubted star but Liam Dowling has unbelievable strength at his disposal and, in the form of Ballymac Fairone, he has a young greyhound with unlimited potential and ability.
He had just three starts under his belt before the Derby commenced but he has quickly established himself as one of the very best in training and a deserving Derby favourite, all before his tenth career start. In fact, the Derby decider will be just his ninth career start.
Much will depend on the start but, should Ballymac Fairone come away racing as he did last week, he could be in front before the opening turn. If doing so it would need something spectacular from one of his rivals to deny him.
The last of the four Irish trained challengers is Newinn Session. He has long been a star but his passage through the Derby has been far from straightforward. Amongst the favourites ahead of the competition, he failed to really shine in the early rounds but that all changed last weekend.
For the first time around Towcester, the Graham Holland trained star looked happy, forcing his way to the front early before going on to record a fine success.
There are two UK trained runners and both have real ability. Much like Ballymac Fairone, Thorn Falcon has only a handful of races under his belt but he looks perfectly housed in the stripes. His kennel companion Kilara Lion has far more experience. A bit of a specialist in winning finals, he is entitled to respect despite some insulting prices.
But all the evidence suggests the Derby trophy is coming back to Ireland for the third year running and the sixteenth time in total. All four Irish trained runners have outstanding claims but there can only be one winner and Ballymac Fairone is chosen to lead home Deerjet Sydney. Whatever the result, we wish those with a runner the very best of luck.
The highlight of the action on Irish shores comes at Shelbourne Park with the semi-finals of the Corn Cuchulainn and the Champion 550 the feature. Bockos Brandy posted a brilliant 41.27 last week to set the standard in the Corn Cuchulainn and she will again be fancied to score on Saturday night.
Her task is far from an easy one, however, as she faces some hugely talented trackers including Priceless Jet, Boylesports Bingo and the defending champion Ballymac Kingdom. It should be a tremendous contest with the result likely to go right down to the wire.
Ballymac Ariel was fastest in both rounds of the Champion 550 to date. She can again set the standard, although she too faces a far tougher test. She will need to come away racing with second round heat winners Jackslittlething and Romeo Magico also capable of going fast.