The Star Sports English Greyhound Derby gets under way on Thursday and our expert Ian Brindle has 25/1 and 33/1 fancies for the Towcester showpiece.
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Towcester stages its second renewal of the sport’s premier classic, and despite a drop in the number of entries received, this year’s competition appears exceptionally wide-open.
Last year, Astute Missile, a dog that had not won a single heat en route to the final, produced the goods when it mattered most. Seamus Cahill’s dog will be absent through injury so the class of 2017 will be represented by runner-up, Tyrur Shay, and fifth-placed, Murrys Act.
The former appeared to be heading for a career at stud after sustaining a gracilis injury, but he has shown connections enough to make a return to Towcester, and he’ll bid to become the first dog since Loyal Honcho (2008) to win a Derby having finished second in the previous year.
This year’s competition will be staged over its traditional format of six knockout rounds, and 26 first round heats will whittle 151 runners down to 96.
Alnwick-based Angela Harrison has been in the position of having one of the ante-post favourites for the Derby since the layers put chalk to board.
Droopys Expert was installed as favourite having romped home in the All England Cup at Newcastle but shock defeat in the Racing Post Juvenile, and a subsequent operation to remove a tendon, has seen his position in the market eclipsed by kennelmate, Droopys Verve.
The son of Loughteen Blanco has impressed in two Trial Stakes, and he saw off a couple of decent yardsticks in King Kid and Bruisers Bullet on his most recent outing. Given the high number of railers in this year’s draw, the decision of connections to go for a middle seeding seems sensible.
Bruisers Bullet needs little introduction and Mark Wallis’ kennel star was to bounce back with a sub 29-second spin over the Derby distance. A semi-finalist last year, his ability to handle the track is not in question though he’s a much more potent performer when nearer the rails.
Bad draws can beat good greyhounds and Dorota’s Wildcat is another for whom the draw will be important. Kevin Hutton’s inmate was eliminated in the second round last term, but he made amends by trouncing his rivals in the Derby Plate and scooping the Select Stakes at Nottingham.
He will be part of a strong local contingent that includes 2017 Puppy Derby winner, Magical Bale, and he’ll need to overcome another banana skin of a draw in the opening round.
I’ll be hoping that RISING BRANDY can keep out of his path as this lightly-raced individual ticks plenty of the right boxes. Matt Dartnall has given him a textbook preparation with a couple of spins around Towcester prior to a workmanlike success on his first competitive look.
He didn’t hide his light under a bushel when seeing off Droopys Verve in the Monmore Puppy Derby, and that form was given a boost when third-placed, Brinkleys Poet, sensationally saw off his opposition in the Gymcrack at Kinsley.
Statistically, the Irish have performed well in recent years, providing 12 of the last 30 finalists. While they have produced the last five favourites on finals night, Jaytee Jet (2016) has been the only dog to justify that market confidence.
With normal service resumed at the Irish tracks, this year’s raiding party has a reliance on quality rather than quantity, and with the bookmakers paying six places for each-way players, it’s no surprise to see a number of Pat Buckley’s raiders proving popular.
Buckley often aims his rising stars at Limerick’s Con & Annie Kirby Memorial, and he won it this year with Droopys Davy.
Having faced the starter on ten occasions since the beginning of February, this impeccably bred sort clearly stands up to a lot of racing. He’ll need to exhibit plenty of resilience in order to emerge as the champion in this competition.
It is not impossible for wide seeds to win at Towcester, and despite a fairly modest trial last Saturday, he has a week to acclimatise to new surroundings and one of the easier heats on paper.
Droopys Biker has always been held in high regard and the bookmakers ran for cover following his trial. His price looks short enough so my preference is for BORNA GIN.
He disappointed badly in the final of the Easter Cup, but he’s a class act that has shown he can back-run his rivals when all doesn’t go to plan from the boxes. This should hold him in good stead at Towcester, and his competition experience will prove invaluable once the Derby reaches its denouement.
At bigger prices, there are a number of potential dark ‘uns that are worthy of more than just a passing glance.
Hayley Keightley trained Hiya Butt to the last two finals and she has taken on an interesting recruit in Oi Oi Upenalty.
History suggests that she’ll find it tough to emulate, Farloe Verdict (2003) as the last bitch to win a Derby, though the Keightleys have a fine record in sourcing Irish talent, and this daughter of Taylors Sky appeals in the specials markets.
Charlie Lister does not have the sort of ammunition he had in his pomp, but the octogenarian’s passion for the Derby remains strong, and Tyrur Harold is not without hope.
He made a mess of the start on his first run for the Newark maestro but the bookmakers have priced cautiously about the Irish Derby semi-finalist and his opening round opposition shouldn’t give him too many problems.
Black Farren was a key player in the Mark Wallis team that took the Trainers Championship meeting. He will need to find a little bit of time on that performance, but he is a former Irish Derby finalist and a solid finisher of his races.
Scottish Derby hero, The Other Reg, could give him a stern examination in the opening round. Pat Rosney’s dog made a positive impression during the early rounds of last year’s Derby and the trainer believes him to be a much stronger runner this year. With fitness assured, he can make an impact here.
The first three rounds will be shown on Racing Post Greyhound TV, with Sky Sports likely to take over coverage from the quarter-final stage. All races will be shown live in the majority of betting offices. The opening heats commence on Thursday 3 May.