So that’s a wrap for the Star Sports & Arc Greyhound Derby - and no doubt the overriding feeling of those at the sharp end was one of relief, especially at Nottingham.
The track takes great credit for getting through the Classic after the initial postponement due to the first lockdown. It staged yet another batch of trial stakes and then five rounds of the famous competition - which produced another success for Ireland. Indeed, another outstanding 1-2-3 for the Emerald Isle.
Last year, it was a case of what might have been in terms of Magical Bale’s almost impossible draw, for him at least, in the red jacket. Priceless Blake ultimately took advantage to land Paul Hennessy a second English Derby triumph, but supporters of Kevin Hutton’s dog will always believe it could have been so different.
Not so in 2020. Yes, Southwood Jet missed the break, always a negative but especially in such a high-class affair, but Pat Buckley completing the set of Scottish, Irish and English Derby victories always looked likely from those early rounds - remember, his four-from-four in the first round and three-from-four in the second round.
With his brilliant trapping ability and superb early pace, albeit with a penchant for the rails which caused issues for himself - and his rivals - when pitched in the midfield, Deerjet Sydney needed only to clear Richard Rees’s hitherto unbeaten runner to grab Derby glory, albeit credit to Graham Holland’s Ballydoyle Valor for his powerful effort in second.
Coolavanny Chick ran her race for Noel Hehir in third place. The bitch always needed scrimmaging inside to really make a serious play, but after Ballymac Tas finished second last year it shows bitches should never be underestimated when it comes to Derbys - and neither should top-class trainers.
It is surely no coincidence that Seamus Cahill and Graham Holland - both Derby-winning trainers - both fielded finalists and their Smurfs Machine, plus the aforementioned Ballydoyle Valor and now-retired Wolfe, did connections proud. But it was another man at the top of his game, Pat Buckley, who realised a long-held ambition.
Pat has been a regular visitor to these shores for Derbys and went close, in particular, at Wimbledon with the likes of Droopys Roddick, Lenson Rocky and Mind The Net, all of whom made the final, with Roddick closest in 2016 behind compatriot Jaytee Jet. Pat travelled to Towcester and to Nottingham last year, without luck.
However, his stall was set in the very first heat of this year’s Derby - yes, heat one - when a certain Deerjet Sydney made all the running. Three other victories followed across those first two nights and it was clear he was the man to beat - and so it proved as Buckley became only the third trainer to complete the Derby ‘set’.
Only Paul Hennessy and Nick Savva in the long history of all three famous competitions had won English, Irish and Scottish Derbys before him, so Pat joins a select and fantastic trio to have claimed the ‘triple crown’. A mention here must also go to Charlie Lister OBE, whose Rapid Ranger and Some Picture both made Shelbourne finals.
But then so had Buckley in terms of Wimbledon - so Saturday landed the treble for the Co. Tipperary-based handler in what was a real family affair. Pat’s daughter Emma paraded champion Deerjet Sydney and there was understandable emotion post-race given the lengths the Irish trainers had gone to get to this point.
Because of travel restrictions, the likes of Buckley, Nicky Holland and Noel Hehir all had to base themselves in English kennels for the duration of the Classic - and the winning trainer paid particular credit to Hove trainer June Harvey and her husband Tony for once again playing host to Team Buckley this year.
So now what? What happens in 2021? Will Nottingham stage the Derby again, or will Towcester reclaim the Classic they hosted in 2017 and 2018? Might Central Park throw its hat in the ring again? All are possibilities and will ensure the GBGB will be working through lockdown in terms of the 2021 racing calendar.
Interesting times - again!
Ballymac Inspeed could still return to the track, reports his owner Colin Davey.
The new sponsor of the Oaks under his company Property 192, Davey intends to boost British breeding by standing the one-time English and Irish Derby favourite here at stud.
“He’s with John Mullins recuperating and looks to be coming along nicely,” said Davey. “I’m not fussed whether he returns to the track or not, because his stud potential is great and by drawing straws from him I fully intend to use him to launch my new stud plans.”
Newmarket-based Davey is currently in the process of building kennel blocks for stud dogs and brood bitches and is excited at how popular Ballymac Inspeed could be.
The former Liam Dowling-bred racer won the Future Champion Unraced Stakes at Enniscorthy last year before finishing second in both the National Puppy Stakes and Gold Cup at Shelbourne before finishing third in the Easter Cup - to English Derby finalist Wolfe.
Ricky Holloway could join an elite band on Sunday should one of his four finalists grab gold in the Colossus Bets Grand National at Central Park on Sunday.
Holloway has three wins in the Grand National to his name, one less than both Seamus Cahill, who struck last year with Caislean Fifi, and Colin West of three-time winner Sherrys Prince fame. However, victory for any of Roxholme Biscuit, Roxholme Butt, Lenson Wilson or Nomansland Flyer could equal the record. And, knowing Ricky, he would then be all out to make it number five in 2021.
On Sunday at Central Park, the newly returned Central Park handler will take on two Crayford runners for a real battle of Kent in the shape of James Turner’s Subterfuge and Jim Reynolds’ Toughest Test. A first prize of £7,500 and runners-up purse of £1,500 await the principals - with the new sponsors Colossus Bets continuing their support of the track after their Kent Silver Salver sponsorship.
Fix up, look sharp
Good to hear last week that Pat Quinn is in rude health again after a heart scare. The former Breeders’ Forum chair and longtime partner of the late Pam Heasman, one of the sport’s best-known handlers, was on the back of a quad bike when I spoke to him!
Pat, 78, wanted to congratulate all those who made the Greyhound Derby possible. He enjoyed the racing and thought Nottingham’s groundstaff did a fantastic job with the track in terms of the elements they faced - especially for the Saturday of the first round!
However, Thurso-based Pat, who now keeps in touch with the sport via RPGTV and his many friends and contacts in the sport, wanted to impress to all and sundry about keeping up standards - and appearances - when it comes to high-profile nights.
“I know it was difficult for the handlers given the weather conditions and no doubt Covid-19 restrictions meant that smart parader’s jackets couldn't be passed from person to person, but we must try to smarten up,” he said. “Tracks needs to lead the way.”
Quinn recalled: “Everyone talks about the good old days. They weren't always great, however, and there were many things that needed to change and have done. But come the major nights, the trainers and their staff were spotless, pristine.
“I remember once being in the paddock at White City and one of Randy Singleton’s lads had a dog jump up at him, leaving a mark on his spotless white shirt. Well that was it, Randy told him to change his shirt back at the kennels and he wasn't allowed to parade.
“Now that’s taking things to the extreme, I know, but it’s those standards that have slipped in the game. I know there’s a huge amount of the racing, but for those meetings when you might get a casual viewer or racegoer arriving at the track it can make a difference.”
Admiral steers ship home
So, it’s well done to John ‘Admiral’ Benbow, winner of the 2020 Star Sports Greyhound Derby Media Challenge.
Ex-Sporting Life man John finished with a profit of 62.46 ahead of RPGTV’s Jason Barrasford (25.97), channel analyst Kaan Hughes (20.77) and the Racing Post’s Jim Cremin (18.06).
Well done all who took part - and it’ll not be too long before we’re all be doing it again! There’s talk about a Derby in May next year. What’s the chances of Deerjet Sydney being a popular choice again?
Finally, the good people at sportinglife.com want to build up a portfolio of greyhounds to follow - one graded and one open-racer.
So let’s go with the John Mullins-trained Twende Kiboko, who opened his account at the fourth time of asking at Yarmouth on Wednesday and ran away in the style of a promising youngster, while on Derby final night Ballydoyle Razor caught the eye when winning the puppy final. A decent four-bend sort clearly, Sheffield trainer Phil Barlow’s dog could be an even better stayer.