When news of the postponement of the 2020 Night of Stars came through, it was feared the loss of the annual showpiece would mean that many of the best greyhounds in training would have little to focus on until the new year.
Thankfully, Greyhound Racing Ireland were quick to announce a worthy replacement in the form of the Winter Racing Festival. The two-day showpiece gets underway on Friday, although the real draw is the thirteen-race card at Shelbourne Park on Saturday evening.
The make up of the card very much mirrors that of the Night of Stars with races over all distances giving a championship type feel to proceedings. On a night when the very best in training will be in action, the presence of the Derby champion Newinn Taylor really adds to the sense of occasion.
The Graham Holland trained superstar boasts a record of sixteen wins from eighteen starts and, recent trials suggest, he is forward enough to bring his win tally to seventeen. He faces an ideal draw in the stripes of six and is the one to beat in the Talking Dogs with Ian Fortune Open 550.
While he is favourite to win, he won’t have things too easy with the likes of Ballymac Wild and Glengar Bale to contend with. It has the potential to provide a real spectacle but, were Newinn Taylor to produce his best, he really would take some stopping.
Newinn Taylor isn’t the only Derby winner on show. His kennel companion, and 2019 Derby champion, Lenson Bocko is on something of a recovery mission in the penultimate race on the card over the extended 575yd trip.
It will be the first time the brilliant tracker has raced beyond the 550y Derby trip and, should he avoid bumping at trap rise, he should really relish the longer run to the turn. In truth, this is potentially the race of the night with the hugely talented quartet of Ballymac Cooper, Doolin Duke, Oran Don and Razldazl Peaky taking on Lenson Bocko.
Race after race the quality is evident. From the very outset, only the best will be in action and there could be some special performances over all distances. It’s also noteworthy how many exceptional females will be in action.
Of course, the clash of Ballymac Beanie and Droopys Curio in the Bitch 525 is a highlight. The pair finished first and second in the Irish Oaks just a fortnight ago and Ballymac Beanie is chosen to confirm her superiority over her rival.
The Bitch 550 is another tremendous contest. In fact, it is in this contest that I will nominate Coolavanny Chick as the bet of the night. A finalist in the English Derby in her latest outing, she should have too much early dash for those in her inner and looks set to turn close to the pace before coming through in the second half of the contest.
There are also two wonderful staying races and Redzer Ardfert will seek to further cement his legacy as one of the best stayers of modern times in the Open 750. While he may not be the force he once was, he certainly has enough ability to make a bold bid. If he is to suffer defeat, Ballymac Wisdom and Meenagh Maverick are the most likely to inflict it.
Maireads Pearl and Sporting Pat stand out in the Open 850. The former won the corresponding race at the 2019 Night of Stars and is the one to beat again. But should he make any mistakes, Sporting Pat will be finishing with a wet sail and could pounce in the closing yards.
Others that look likely to take some stopping in their respective races include Brodys Magic in the sprint and Newinn Session in the concluding Open 600. Both are exceptionally talented and, if producing their best form, should be too good for their rivals.
It really has the makings of an incredible night of racing. The fact that it must go on behind closed doors is a real shame but, fear not, you can view the action on RPGTV on channel 175 on the Sky Platform. It really is worth tuning in.