Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing, the English Derby and 2020 Grand National

Jonathan Hobbs sets the scene for the Greyhound Derby

Saturday is traditionally one of the best night’s racing of the year. Eight heats of the Greyhound Derby, the last 48-stage - or 47 now after the withdrawal of Distant Star - when you come away (if that's possible this year!) knowing you’ve seen the Derby winner.

For the usual famous third-round stage of the Derby read second round of the 2020 Star Sports & Arc version, given a truncated Classic in an extraordinary year.

But now we’re set fair. Saturday’s eight heats promise top-class action and Ian Brindle guides you through the weekend’s qualifiers here - and both he and I will be looking for better luck in the Star Sports/GWA Derby Media Tipping Challenge via www.bagsracing.com/derby-tipping.html. Check out the scores.

Last Saturday was quite mad. Incessant rain made conditions tough for the groundstaff, handlers and greyhounds themselves - and testing would be as good a description as any of what the dogs faced. It was certainly far removed from Friday’s conditions, making form comparisons tough ahead of this weekend.

Just look at the sectional standings in Ladbrokes’ betting on what is proving a popular market. Almost all Friday’s runners are ahead of Saturday’s qualifiers, but conditions will be largely the same for them all this week - and there is a market on fastest sectional in the second round. John McGee’s Swanley Chick could be a fun play.

Outright, the Irish challenge holds the aces - lots of them. They were brilliant in the first round, with Pat Buckley and Graham Holland leading the way with a host of wins.

The way Doolin Duke (Buckley) and Wolfe (Holland) both powered clear of their fields in driving rain on Saturday was superb and gave the impression nothing could stop the challenge from the Emerald Isle this year. It prompted a suggestion the visitors were a hardier bunch than their UK-based rivals. Better potentially, but I’m not having hardier.

An Irish 1-2-3 last year surely makes them favourite to lift the famous trophy, but expect the home challenge to rise to the challenge this weekend - and the next, and the next. The 2020 Greyhound Derby might not be the marathon it generally is, but it still takes some winning and there is a long way to go. Luck plays its part.

Hat tipped to tireless Nottingham team

Incidentally, well done to Nottingham. For them, staging the Greyhound Derby has shifted from a sense of duty in 2019 to a sense of pride in 2020.

They could easily have called off Saturday’s meeting given the amount of rain. This wasn't about safety, because any doubts would have resulted in immediate abandonment. No, this was about the amount of work required to ensure everything functioned despite being saturated, be it the traps or hare system - and everything in between!

Only the utter commitment of those on-site made it possible.

I’m often asked how different Derby hosts compare and, given I’ve seen Derbys at White City, Wimbledon and Towcester, I’ve got a fair idea. Each brought different things to the table and excelled in different areas - making for a great pub conversation among like-mindeds! All had - and still have - pros and cons.

However in terms of safety, welfare and general organisation, last year’s Nottingham Derby comes out top - and I’ve no doubt that will be matched this year.

Colossus Bets sponsor 2020 Grand National

Great news that Colossus Bets have stepped into sponsor the 2020 Grand National.

The jumpers’ Classic was under serious threat due to lack of a backer after a previous deal fell through given restrictions on crowds being allowed into the stadium, even though owners have now been cleared to attend.

However, pool operator Colossus Bets stepped in to save the famous competition, so returning to the track where they backed a successful Kent Silver Salver in the summer, won by Shrewd Call. His owner Kelly Searle landed a £10,000 bonus.

Colossus boss Bernard Marantelli has not ruled out offering some sort of bonus once the entries for the event are known, although is happy for the company to underwrite a £7,500 first prize for the GBGB Category One and an increased £1,500 prize for the runner-up.

Of course, Central Park is the home of hurdling, given it stages the Springbok (for novice hurdlers), the Champion Hurdle and the Grand National. A triple crown for hurdlers.

Sadly, its support of hurdles racing is not matched by other tracks, although Crayford is a very honourable exception to the rule. It absolutely backs the timber-toppers.

Indeed this week the Kent track stages The Hazard Syndicate Kent National Hurdle, ironically sponsored by the winners of the Champion Hurdle - staged at Central Park!

Well done therefore to trainer James Turner and owner Patrick Rugg for supporting the race, which has attracted a number of hurdlers who will then be prepared for a crack at the Colossus Bets Grand National. Perfect.

Greyhound racing says goodbye to old friends

The greyhound family lost two great supporters of the game recently. One you would know, another perhaps not - but both shared a love of the game.

John Proctor was part-owner of a number of top-class greyhounds, most notably Droopys Roddick. One of the real champions of recent years, he almost won the 2016 Greyhound Derby at Wimbledon until Jaytee Jet swooped to conquer.

A honourable runner-up then, Droopys Roddick had won the Puppy Derby at Plough Lane the previous year and also won the Con and Ann Kirby Memorial at Limerick and Dundalk International in 2016. It is some CV.

Roddick was loved by greyhound people and has since become a leading sire. He was also adored by John.

John owned him in partnership with his great friend Darryl Bear as he did with a host of other top-class runners, the likes of Gold Collar champion Droopys Dresden and, more recently, All England Cup runner-up Waikiki Lad and last week’s Brinkleys Poet Young Guns champion Blackstone Milo.

A West Ham fan, John loved his sport - but especially his dogs.

Back in the day he had runners originally with the likes of Terry Duggan and Terry Dartnall, as well as Crayford handlers George Lang and John Gibbons, before returning to the sport after a few years to help set up the Brookside Racing Club with David Mullins. He later also had runners with Ted Soppitt, of course.

When John and David got together, the banter was legendary with football never far away from the surface - the Gooner versus the Hammer! John was very much larger-than-life, a fantastic character with a huge personality - and wonderfully loyal to his dogs. Woe betide anyone who dare criticise his runners - or think they might be beaten.

That passion never dimmed and was always great to hear. Sincere condolences to his wife Joan and family.

Alan Miles was less well known in greyhound circles - but was always at the Derby Final and many of the major races with his good pal Martin Gibbons.

Alan’s life generally consisted of working from his ice cream van, a visit to his local Betfred betting shops, attending Walsall FC matches and supporters club meetings, or enjoying a night at the dogs. That suited him and he was well known at all those places, always with a smile on his face - ready to cheer his team on (loudly!) or roar his dog home (again loudly!).

And when he wasn’t at any of those, he was at home watching RPGTV. He’d watch the programme seven days a week - with his special RPGTV mug by his side.

His favourite dog a few years ago was Barnfield On Air - and, along with Martin, followed him round on the open-race scene. BOA’S owners once gave him a winner’s trophy they’d won on the night - which got pride of place at home.

More recently he adored Ice On Fire, the reigning Greyhound of the Year. Incredibly, news of the great dog’s retirement came in the week Alan died.

Finally, make sure to get involved in a serious four-way battle for September’s RPGTV/GWA Greyhound of the Month.

Just look at these nominations - Yarmouth Derby winner Kilara Lion, 3 Steps hero Roxholme Kristof, Champion Stakes winner Smallmead and Puppy Cup champion Tenpin. Four superb greyhounds and all big-race winners.

Votes can be cast via @rpgreyhounds on Twitter and the poll closes at 8pm on Sunday.

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