Jonathan Hobbs looks at the stories behind the action as the Derby reaches the quarter-final stage at Nottingham on Saturday while he rounds-up all the latest news as well.
Just six more races remain before the runners for the 2020 Star Sports & Arc Greyhound Derby Final on October 31 will be known.
Saturday sees four quarter-finals at Nottingham followed by two semi-finals a week later, after which we will have more of an idea whether Ireland’s domination of the event - they landed a 1-2-3 last year - will be repeated.
As it stands, that seems more likely than not. Both Pat Buckley and Graham Holland have won Derby heats for fun this year, supported by Noel Hehir and John McGee.
However, the home challenge has begun to rise to the challenge, too.
Southwood Jet was impressive for Richard Rees in last week’s second round and the likes of Kilara Icon (Peter Harnden), Deanridge Rapid (Allison Kelly-Pilgrim) and Blue Tick George (Jim Daly) are bubbling under nicely.
And there’s more. Troy Firebird (David Mullins), Distant Village (Matt Dartnall) and Smurfs Machine are assured of decent draws should they progress at the weekend - but given the quality of opposition from across the water that’s a real ‘if’.
Pushed to name this year’s winning trainer Pat Buckley’s name would be at the top, although having his three entries in the same fourth quarter-final is hardly ideal. Nevertheless a 1-2-3 couldn’t be ruled out!
Good luck to the connections of every single one of the quarter-finalists. These might be strange times - and Saturday at Nottingham was certainly a surreal experience - but the desire of those with entries remains fierce and every round qualified for a success.
And there are stories everywhere.
John McGee (Swanley Chick) famously won the Derby at Wimbledon back in 1988 with one of the greatest winners, Hit The Lid, and is back gunning for more Classic glory - and success would surely create history given the gap between victories.
Then there is Richard Rees with Southwood Jet given both his dad and grandad won Derbys - in 1976 with Mutts Silver (Phil Rees snr) and in 1985 with Pagan Swallow (Phillip Rees), both again at Plough Lane. Again, there is potential for history.
Mark Wallis (Kinda Ready, Blonde Snapper) and Seamus Cahill (Astute Missile) join McGee as English Derby-winning trainers among those still with chances in 2020 - although as mentioned the Buckley and Holland camps have Irish Derby wins on their CV.
So, too, has Noel Hehir. Owner-trainer of Coolavanny Chick, Noel was part-owner of Shelbourne Aston who scored one of the most popular - and lucrative! - Irish Derby victories for his friend and trainer Pat Curtin at Shelbourne Park in 2008.
Still on the Derby theme, Paul Hennessy announced the retirement to stud this week of last year’s winner Priceless Blake.
The dog owned by Brian and Kathleen Murphy led home a 1-2-3 for the Irish at Nottingham in 2019 to provide Hennessy with his second English Derby success following Jaytee Jet’s win at Wimbledon in 2016.
Jet was owned by John Turner and the same owner-trainer combination struck gold last weekend - at Fairyhouse.
Heaven Help Us won the Mares Beginners Chase on Sunday to follow a Cheltenham victory last year. And the greyhound links do not end there given a certain David Mullins rode her again - not Troy Firebird’s trainer it should be noted!
Given his success over the jumps, can Central Park expect to get an entry from Paul Hennessy for the upcoming Colossus Bets Grand National?!
The Kent venue reminds trainers than entries for the hurdlers’ Classic - a Category One event with a £7,500 winner’s prize and £1,500 to the runner-up - close on Wednesday (October 21). Last year’s event was won by Seamus Cahill’s Caislean Fifi.
Incidentally, watch out for a possible trainer merry-go-round with Matt Dartnall heading to Central Park from Towcester.
Naturally the Derby is taking centre-stage on the track, but get set for a brilliant double-header on Saturday at Crayford. Actually it’s a quadruple-header given four finals take place at the Kent venue at the weekend.
Not only are two GBGB Category One titles up for grabs with the finals of the Ladbrokes Gold Collar and Jay & Kay Coach Tours Kent St Leger, but there are also the ladbrokes.com Rose Bowl and the Hazard Syndicate Kent National Hurdle finals.
Just as the other LadbrokesCoral tracks have done, Crayford rejigged their schedule in light of the March lockdown to accommodate all their major events, doubling them up where necessary - a huge boost for owners and trainers.
The Gold Collar is the old Catford competition now very much home at Kent and has enjoyed a rich history - and there is a fantastic link to past glories with one of the finalists, the Jamie Kingsley-trained Druids So Bright.
He happens to be part-owned by John Coleman, one of the sport’s best-known and most successful trainers, who has two Gold Collar wins on his CV - with both Im A Smasher (1978) and Alans Rose (1995) grabbing gold for the now-retired Walthamstow handler.
So how was your golf? If you played in the recent Maurice Newman-organised day at Stapleford Abbots, Essex, raising money for Great Ormond Street Childrens’ Charity, then check out the video below...
Filmed and produced by Steve Katz of Towcester TV fame, the likes of Teddy Sheringham, John Conteh and Gary Wiltshire are interviewed by Steve and Rachel Casey - before Rachel joined up with the RPGTV four-ball on the course!
It’s a fantastic tribute to the great work of GOSH - and underlines greyhound racing’s support for the charity and organiser Maurice Newman, who pulls everything together with the generous help of the likes of Tony Dark, Steve Fluin and Stapleford Abbots GC itself.
Film production company Wapping Assassin also takes great credit and its boss Jimmy Flint was on hand on the day to support the occasion.
And finally, back to the Derby, check out the Star Sports Derby Media Challenge, which has seen John ‘Admiral’ Benbow (+£59.58) streak clear after nailing 40-1 winner Rockmount Ozzy.
He’s going to be tough to reel in, so expect a few lively priced runners being napped.
Fair play to Jason Gander (+£13.15), Sam Dunn (+£19.09), Tony Bullen (+13.06) and Richard Harkness (+£10.74) for decent showings thus far, plus an honourable mention for a certain Vincent Peter Jones.
Yes, Vinnie Jones is putting up a fight with a £10.21 profit heading into the quarter-finals. Representing easyodds.com, the owner of dual Derby finalist Smoking Bullet (2000/01) is enjoying a decent Derby campaign.
See how he and the others get on this weekend, and check out the scores, via http://www.bagsracing.com/derby-tipping.html