Ian Brindle previews Saturday's Greyhound Derby final, where his antepost selection Swords Rex is fancied to land the money in style.
Saturday sees the final of the Star Sports & TRC English Greyhound Derby final as six dogs bid to establish their legacy in the sport inside thirty seconds of action.
It’s been a tremendous series for Graham Holland and the Irish-based handler has managed to get three through to the decider with Swords Rex, Clona Duke and Gaytime Nemo all securing their passage to this point
Romeo Command bids to win the prize for David Firmager, owner of last year’s victor, Romeo Magico, and the market suggests he’s the best of the Brits, though Cochise and Ninja Kerry have demonstrated the powerful nature of the racing strength at Hove.
The main event is at 21.15 but there is a stellar undercard to enjoy.
Fromposttopillar was ante-post favourite for the Derby back in May and while eliminated at an early stage, he will be a warm order in the Derby Plate (20.56) against his old foe, Brookside Richie and fellow Brough Park raider, Blackhouse Harry.
Ballymac John is yet to win a heat of the Greyhoundtrader.com Stakes (20.05) but the punters have remained unflinching in their patronage of Mark Wallis’s dog and he will attempt to reverse last week’s form with Savana Top Cat.
We have the rarity of a winner takes all match (17.47) to kick off proceedings with two of the brightest Puppy prospects in Britain - Maree Champion and New Destiny – facing off for £10,000.
The evening will close with the Dorando Marathon (21.55) where Space Jet aims to follow up a wide margin success 12 months ago.
Let us take a look at the main event…
bk d Droopys Sydney - Lemon Stacey (Jun 20)
Best recent time 28.94 (27 May)
Trainer: Richard Rees (Hove)
Owner: Billy Evans
The apparent translation from the native Apache is “having the strength of an oak” and there’s an aptness where this greyhound is concerned as he stays significantly further than the Derby distance.
Weighing in at 38kg, Cochise started off his career with Dave Mullins at Romford before the trainer suggested that he may be more suited to racing around Hove.
Connections have commented that he hasn’t been the best at handling the prelims of kenneling but he put those worries aside when seeing off rivals in the Cesarewitch at Central Park in January.
The Rees family have a rich history where the Derby is concerned. Richard’s grandfather took honours in 1976 with Mutts Silver, and his father did so nine years later with Pagan Swallow.
Readily available at 125/1 before the start of the competition, he’s already landed a nice each-way tilt for the owners by reaching the final and has done so through the combination of establishing good position from the boxes and producing a powerful finish. The question remains as to whether he can hold his line in the mid-section against dogs of the highest quality.
bk d Droopys Sydney - Gaytime Deval (Jul 20)
Best recent time: 28.79 (17 June)
Trainer: Graham Holland (Ireland)
Owner: Brendan O'Connell
When the Holland juggernaut arrived, it's fair to say that Gaytime Nemo may have arrived a little under the radar as the eight-strong party commenced their campaigns.
Part of the reason for that was undoubtedly the small matter of the dog returning from almost five months off the track with injury, but notice was to be served at Towcester with a sub 29 second run in the opening round from this location.
Were he to reproduce his quarter-final effort (Ninja Kerry finishing over five lengths behind), that figure could be a winning score though its worth noting that he was drawn five on that occasion and a noted pace angle headed obligingly left at an early juncture.
A lightly raced sort with few miles on the clock, there could potentially be some value in his current odds given the draw is arguably a “least worst” option. That said, he cannot afford to turn behind the red jacket as that rival tends to decelerate quickly into the opening bend and would arguably compromise any chance of getting a run at the more fancied sorts.
bd d Dorotas Wildcat - Drive on Betsy (Jan 21)
Best recent time: 28.75 (10 June)
Trainer: Patrick Janssens
Owner: David Firmager
If the pedigrees of connections dictated Derby winners on the track – there’s plenty to like about this dog as his owner won the Derby last year and he’s trained by the man responsible for Thorn Falcon, the ultimate protagonist in 2021.
Romeo Command is himself of a distinct Derby pedigree as a son of 2018 scorer Dorotas Wildcat and he was initially trained by Graham Holland. His form has reached another level since switching across the Irish Sea to join Janssens and he hit a winning streak that included an unbeaten blast through the BGBF British Breeders Stakes at Nottingham.
Beaten favourite in the Racing Post Juvenile over C&D in April, he was to win his first four races in the Derby with the highlight being an eight length demolition job in the third round where he served up the fastest time of the night from a 4.11 sectional.
Success on Saturday will require a turn around of semi-final form with Swords Rex on what was probably his worst start of the series, but his qualification was no fluke as he did plenty of running from an unpromising position. The handler has proved skilled in getting them out on the night when the big cheques are cashed and the dog has a fine record from the draw.
bk d Droopys Sydney - Starry Display (Jul 20)
Best recent time: 28.76 (24 June)
Trainer: Graham Holland (Ireland)
Owner: Barbara Lowndes
The only greyhound coming into the Final off a flawless record, Swords Rex will bid to follow in the pawprints of Westmead Hawk by completing the full set in 2006, though Nicky Holland brushed off comparisons with Nick Savva’s legendary performer by suggesting he’s a great dog in his own right.
Initially beginning life as Newinn Gilly, the son of Droopys Sydney burst onto the Irish scene in 2022 with success in an unraced stakes competition at Clonmel before confirming himself as one of the most exciting youngsters in the land with victory in the Kirby Memorial at Limerick.
Some may have been keen to go straight for the English Derby off the back of that but the decision to wait has been vindicated. A ready winner of the Easter Cup at Shelbourne Park, he’s taken well to Towcester and seriously set this competition alight with his swift acceleration from the traps.
Last week’s draw of five would have been far from ideal, but this is an uncomplicated sort who has handled everything that has been thrown at him so far. If he can lead up tonight, it’ll be very much game on for honours.
bk d Malachi - Coolavanny Pearl (Mar 21)
Best recent time: 28.69 (24 June)
Trainer: Graham Holland (Ireland)
Owner: Kevin O'Brien
Kevin O’Brien has been no stranger to owning serious dogs under his Clona prefix and this half-brother to 2019 Easter Cup winner, Clona Blaze, will enter the traps with very cogent claims on the book.
A winner of the 2022 RPGTV Juvenile Derby when 20-1 outsider of the field in the Final, Clona Duke warmed up for the Derby by obliging in what some have suggested to be one of the strongest Select Stakes at Waterford for some time.
The Kirby Memorial at Limerick did show the two sides to the dog. A track record equalling performance in the second round followed by a missed break and elimination seven days later. We’ve seen elements of this at Towcester with a track record (off a 3.98 sectional) in the opening round followed by a truly woeful piece of trapping in round two but you cannot win the Derby unless you are in it.
Those that had dismissed him out ahead of the semi-finals were left wiping plenty of egg off their faces as he produced one of the performances of the competition to break the track record from trap two. This assignment is from a much wider draw and he will need to realise similar levels of alacrity when it matters most.
bd d Droopys Jet - Ninja Penny (Nov 19)
Best recent time: 29.20 (24 June)
Trainer: Belinda Green (Hove)
Owners: Alan Ballard and Barry Sadler
The eldest dog left in the competition, Ninja Kerry had raced in Ireland in graded action before joining Belinda Green ahead of the 2022 Derby and being immediately pitched in against subsequent finalist, Savana Beau in a Trial Stakes.
Progressing to the quarter-finals of last year’s event without a win, he was to gain the confidence booster of a Maiden Open victory at Hove before landing the Sussex Cup - one of the most prestigious Category One competitions in the English calendar.
History has repeated itself with no wins at Towcester this term, though the mind is drawn to Astute Missile - the Hove-trained dog that who won the 2017 Derby at the "old" Towcester - but in many respects one could argue that Kerry is a better dog.
Officially a middle seed, box six was a given in the Final yet that has actually worked in his favour in recent weeks as his want to go wide around the bends has seen him stay largely out of harms way.
Granted, the clock says he has a mountain to climb but Belinda Green has had a tremendous 2023 with three Category 1 trophies already on the mantelpiece.
Followers of this column are already on SWORDS REX at decent prices and granted a clear run at the bunny, he will take the beating. Clona Duke threw his hat into the ring with a serious effort last week but whether he will be as effective from this draw is open to question. Romeo Command is a likeable dog and he didn’t lie down last week when things didn’t go to plan. Gaytime Nemo doesn’t appear to handle trap one at Towcester so that semi-final effort could easily be left behind. Ninja Kerry and Cochise are there very much on merit.
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