Jonathan Hobbs on greyhound racing ahead of Derby semi-finals at Nottingham

Jonathan Hobbs casts his eye over the latest developments in the greyhound world

Eyes down for semi-final night of the Star Sports & Arc Greyhound Derby at Nottingham this weekend - and what a fantastic card.

The two semi-finals are brilliant enough, with the ongoing battle between the home-trained runners and the Irish contingent providing a great narrative to this year’s competition - and the gap has definitely closed!

Honours were even in the quarter-finals last week with the Richard Rees-trained Southwood Jet and Seamus Cahill’s Smurfs Machine landing home-trained wins, matched by Graham Holland’s Wolfe and Pat Buckley’s Knocknaboul Syd.

Last year the likes of Magical Bale, Dorotas Wildcat and Droopys Verve flew the flag brilliantly for the home side and the first-named pair plus Liz McNair’s Queen Beyonce landed three of the four quarter-finals for the UK runners.

Of course, the other quarter-final was won by Paul Hennessy’s Priceless Blake and he ultimately led home a 1-2-3 for the visitors followed by Ballymac Tas and Skywalker Logan, although a red-jacket draw for Magical Bale still pains connections - and backers!

Either way the gap has definitely closed and bragging rights will again be up for grabs this weekend - and next. It’s shaping up nicely.

Also shaping up nicely are the competitions supporting the Derby - catch the form via this link - which sees some fantastic races over varying distances. The heats of the RPGTV Stayers Trophy are particularly top class.

Also eye-catching is the RPGTV Puppy Trophy, the heats of which last year saw wins for none other than Ice On Fire and eventual winner Trickys Dumbo, so some young talent will be following in some choice paw-steps on Saturday.

Then there a tribute to a legend of the game in terms of The Westmead Legacy In Memory of Natalie Savva Trophy, staged in the name of the late wife of legendary breeder and trainer Nick.

Natalie held the trainer’s licence for many years either side of Nick - and this Dunstable-based husband and wife team dominated the British-bred scene.

Just the ‘Westmead’ prefix alone stirs memories of Hawk, Lord, Chick, Joe, Suprise, Aoife and those before them - and that’s just those with the famous moniker. What about Special Account, Phantom Flash, Toms The Best, Staplers Jo, Larkhill Jo, Dilemmas Flight et al?

Yes, a fantastic tribute to Natalie and yet another terrific opportunity for British-bred greyhounds given the ongoing series of events which will continue in the coming weeks with the British Breeders Stakes at Nottingham and BGBF British Bred Derby at Sheffield.

Oaks secures sponsorship boost

Great news this week that longtime owner Colin Davey has stepped in to sponsor the Oaks.

Swindon had seemingly struggled to nail a backer for the bitches’ Classic in 2020 and the famous race had looked in trouble, until Davey stepped up with a £25,000 package in the name of his company, Property 192.

The 72-bitch Classic will start on December 5 through to December 27, with £15,000 to the winner - plus £5,000 to the winning trainer, a fantastic gesture.

Moving forward, efforts will be made to switch the Oaks away from its end-of-season slot, with the GBGB’s open-race planning committee already looking at various options for 2021 ahead of post-Derby discussions.

Holloway all the way

As expected, runners from Ricky Holloway’s kennel dominate Sunday’s heats of the Colossus Bets Grand National at Central Park.

Three heats of the hurdlers’ Classic take place at the Kent venue at the weekend, with the first four in each qualifying for the semi-finals on November 1 and the £7,500-to-the-winner final on Sunday, November 8. All races will be on RPGTV.

Holloway’s Kent National Hurdle winner Roxholme Biscuit heads the entries and is joined by exciting novice Roxholme Butt, but it’s great to see the RPGTV Champion Hurdle one-two in James Turner’s Swift Loki and Jim Reynolds’ Billericay Blue also in.

We know the hurdles scene lacks depth, but having the Grand National is the shot in the arm the jumps needs and will hopefully inspire more tracks to stage hurdles racing - given Central Park and Crayford are responsible for almost all the entries.

In fact, there is only one other ‘outside’ entry - and that is the Simon Harms-trained Loggies Monkey, who represents Towcester. Perhaps Kevin Boothby will start a hurdles scene at the Northamptonshire track - it hosted some brilliant Champion Hurdle finals!

Incidentally, the Harms kennel arrives in great form after Droopys Bird won the Jay & Kay Coach Tours Kent St Leger at Crayford last week on a night Desperado Dan might just have sealed the Trainer of the Year title for Patrick Janssens.

The Evan Herbert-owned runner grabbed gold, literally, in the Ladbrokes Gold Collar to extend Janssens’ lead at the top of the table to over 100 points over 11-time champion Mark Wallis, whose victory last year was his eighth in a row.

However, even with a clutch of Category Ones to come, it looks unlikely Mark can reel in his former assistant. He caught him last year, but Patrick Janssens looks away this time and might soon be crowned 2020 Trainer of the Year.

If so, it would be a fantastic and popular accolade.

Watch out for auction item

Fundraising in 2020 has not been easy given Covid-19 restrictions, but greyhound racing has played its part with the recent GOSH golf day in Essex - and the new sponsor of the Oaks, Colin Davey, has plans of his own to help ex-racers.

“I have something very special to auction - and plan to split the proceeds between horse welfare charities and greyhound home-finding centres. Dogs and horses are my thing and whatever we can raise from the auction - and I promise you it will be a tidy sum - will go to them,” said Newmarket-based Davey.

Watch this space.

Smooth sailing for Admiral

Finally, he’s the man with the golden pin! And he’ll not mind me saying that.

Hats off to John ‘Admiral’ Benbow, one of the longest-serving members of the Greyhound Writers’ Association, for his performance thus far in the Star Sports Derby Media Challenge. He has been different class.

Heading into semi-final might, the Admiral is 76.83 in profit ahead of Swindon’s social media guru Josh Seaey (+15.77), Tony Bullen (+13.06), Jason Gander (+£10.65), Sam Dunn (+10.09) and Jim Cremin (+10.02).

See how he and the others get on this weekend, and check out the scores via this page on bagsracing.com.

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