Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing ahead of busy Christmas period

Our columnist looks ahead to a thrilling weekend

Eyes down for a fantastic weekend of top-class greyhound racing. In fact, I’m not sure we’ve ever had three days like it!

Tonight at Towcester it’s the Star Sports Puppy Derby Final.

Tomorrow at Hove it’s the Coral-backed Olympic, TV Trophy and Brighton Belle finals.

Then on Sunday at Swindon we have the Property192 Oaks Final.

It’s an extraordinary action-packed series of events which, in part, has been caused the truncating of the GBGB Calendar enforced by Lockdown Part 1.

Thankfully the green light was soon given to race behind closed doors and, while open-race opportunities were initially denied, the best dogs around were soon competing against each other and top competitions run.

Of course, the Derby was the main story when it came to rescheduling and Nottingham hosted it in October, although understandably at the expense of the Eclipse. The Select Stakes was also lost as was the Trainers’ Championship meeting.

However, those major events apart, its been pretty much as you were and well done to Towcester and Star Sports for stepping up with the Puppy Derby.

And if that has a familiar ring to it, that’s because the Star Sports English Derby was staged at Towcester for two years in 2017 and 2018 before the bombshell of the track’s closure.

Kevin Boothby has since reopened the picturesque Northamptonshire venue and, with the support of Ben Keith, now stages a first major event under his watch.

Of course, without Covid there’s no doubt Towcester would have made more of a splash in terms of open-race competitions - and really grown - but in the circumstances this is a fine effort and a limited number of racegoers will be allowed in tonight.

It looks a cracking race, too.

Seamus Cahill has Towcester previous having won the first Derby there in 2017 with Astute Missile. He sends out a precocious talent in Surprising, while champion trainer-elect Patrick Janssens eyes yet more silverware in a stellar year.

Patrick has two finalists in Puff The Tiger and Bockos Melody, while a half-brother of now-retired Greyhound of the Year, Ice On Fire runs for the same owner and trainer combination in Jimmy Fenwick and Dave Spraggon in the shape of Cold As Ice.

Ballydoyle Razor represents Sheffield’s Phil Barlow and looks to add to his success in the puppy race on Derby final night at Nottingham, while it’s great to see Ireland represented courtesy of the Brendan Matthews-trained De Machine.

And, like Seamus, Brendan has Towcester previous!

He sent out Innocent Times to finish second to Magical Bale in the only other time Towcester staged a Puppy Derby - in 2017 - before reaching the semi-finals of the Derby over the same C&D the following year.

TV stars on show

So to Hove and there’s really only one place to start - the Coral TV Trophy Final, and the re-match of Aayamza Royale and Roxholme Kristof.

They served up a real treat last week in the heats and continue to polarise opinion ahead of this superb clash on the south coast. Again, given Hove comes under Tier 2, some racegoers will be there to cheer the pair on - but we all wish it was more.

Fans of the Hayley Keightley-trained Roxholme Kristof are confident he will come on for the run last week, including Hove racing manager Daniel Rankin, who pointed out that Aayamza Royale improved on a trial stakes victory when winning her heat for Mark Wallis.

It promises to be a titanic clash and the overall quality is underlined by the fact that greyhounds of the calibre of Michelle Brown’s Micks Little Gem and the Wallis-trained Antigua Fire will be double-figure odds. Unheard of!

Add in up-and-coming Redzer Renae for Tony Gifkins and Simon Harms’s Kent St Leger winner Droopys Bird and it really is something special - as a TV Trophy should be.

The Coral Olympic Final will be a five-runner affair after the unfortunate withdrawal of Bockos Doomie - and certainly the race looks wide-open now - while a top-class card at Hove is completed by the Brighton Belle final and Ballyregan Bob Memorial.

Major trophies aplenty are up for grabs for what promises to be one of the meetings of the year.

Big two hard to split at Swindon

Swindon have done the Property192 Oaks proud and Sunday’s final looks a crackerjack affair, too.

Ernie Gaskin’s Newinn Liz and Liz McNair’s Queen Jessiej are the ‘big two’ in the market and that’s hardly surprising given the pair posted identical clocks in winning their semi-finals.

They go to traps with cracking profiles given Liz is unbeaten at the Blunsdon venue after a series of top-class front-running efforts, while Jessiej has winning form at the top table at Swindon having won the British-bred showpiece the Produce Stakes over C&D.

But as we know anything can happen on the night, so good luck to all the other finalists - and it’s certainly a decent field.

Kevin Hutton sends out another British-bred and Produce finalist in Lights Out, who aims to land a third straight Oaks victory - and fourth in all - for the big man. Some feat in itself.

John Mullins, who was in Classic-winning form with Smallmead in the St Leger at Perry Barr recently, sends out Fantastical, while local trainer Angie Kibble fields improving youngster Ballymac Trend.

Frank Bryce’s Baggios Gem completes the field after her semi-final win and victory for her would provide a superb story given her trainer is, by day, a community psychiatric nurse. Greyhound racing was a hobby which, well, just escalated!

Mention of the Oaks takes us to big-race sponsor Colin Davey.

He effectively saved the bitches’ Classic with his £15,000 sponsorship, then adding £5,000 on top for the winning trainer. He later added to the pot with £1,000 for the kennels - and their staff - of each of the finalists.

Just as John ‘JT’ Turner did previously with the Oaks, Davey ensured the most important race in the calendar for bitches - crucial when it comes to breeding - had a future.

Davey also has his eyes on other events and competitions. However, the next target will be to find a more suitable slot for the race, which is certainly not to disrespect Swindon’s efforts here.

They have embraced the event and, in Josh Sealey, have someone who has worked extremely hard to meet the demands of social media - spreading the word with innovation including a virtual racecard.

Kinsley and Towcester have also raised the game here - Towcester launching a superb virtual racecard with content for the Star Sports Puppy Derby tonight - catch the link here.

Great work.

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