Ian Brindle believes it’s all to play for in the Star Sports and TRC Events & Leisure English Greyhound Derby as the home team made a spirited start to the competition.
The business end of the English Greyhound Derby is starting to beckon as the sport’s premier competition roars into its third round at Towcester on Saturday evening.
Somewhat unusually, this year’s Derby has seen an absence of big name departures during the initial stages, and while 2019 Irish Derby winner, Lenson Bocko, crashed out in the second round, he thankfully survived the spill with no lasting effects and left his own imprint on the competition with an emotional first round success.
From a personal perspective, it was a relief to see both ante-post picks progress and it has been great to see that the British trainers have been in no mood to roll over in the face of a predictably stern Irish opposition.
Bockos Belly was a dog that came into the competition under something of a cloud but he’s proved a standout performer so far and the bookmakers have duly taken notice. He faced what could have been a hazardous draw in the second round and was able to negate it with a smart exit and a new track record to boot.
I'll admit to some regret about not availing myself of the 80/1 that he was available at in the outright market on the eve of the first round, and he is one of four remaining from the Patrick Janssens team.
The Belgian-born handler endured a nightmare Nottingham last year but with Maiden Derby winner, Thorn Falcon progressing unbeaten and Kilara Lion and Aussie Captain still there, his hand appears strong.
We’ll see Bockos Belly in the last of the eight heats (21:26) and he will take on reigning champion Deerjet Sydney and another leading British hope in Hilight Arkle.
The former showed that he won’t be surrendering his crown lightly with an impressive success last Saturday and proved that the dogs don’t take much notice of what odds are on the bookmakers’ boards.
Knocknaboul Syd is yet to sparkle and much will rest upon a positive response to the decision to reseed him into a middle draw. He will receive a tough examination in the fifth heat (20:26) against Thorn Falcon and Roxholme Sheikh.
The issues of traps and draws are a perennial talking point during Derbys and this year’s renewal has had more than its fair share of consternation about the efficacy of the boxes.
The Irish raiders have traditionally required a couple of runs in order to get used to the British trapping mechanism, but it has been noticeable that a number of the railers haven’t totally got to grips with the former Peterborough boxes, despite the statistics not showing any massive bias against the red jacket.
What is clear is that early pace is a must for any greyhound drawn low. With plenty of rail seeds left in the competition, it is difficult for greyhounds to recover momentum having surrendered early track position on the inner.
Some habits die hard and keeping a close eye on Liam Dowling’s Ballymac team is a maxim to live by when the big competitions are up for grabs.
Ballymac Wild has been a market springer following two victories, and as a winner of a Category One event in his native Ireland over 600 yards, he’s always going to prove a tough nut to crack when getting his way upfront.
He faces Unlock Unlock in heat three (19:54) and the litter-sister to Coolavanny Chick produced one of the performances of the second round when picking up a race from off the pace. That feat would be remarkable in itself before one realises that Brendan Matthews’ bitch gave birth to a litter of puppies just five months ago.
Kevin Hutton won the Derby at the ‘old’ Towcester with Dorotas Wildcat and though Signet Ace has some way to go in order to follow in those illustrious paw prints, the Winter Derby winner and Magical Silas were to progress as second round winners for the Oxfordshire-based handler.
Bruno Berwick proved with Salad Dodger that you don’t need the big battalions to seize the ultimate prize and plenty of the smaller trainers will fancy their chances of picking off the big boys.
Lee Field could be a name unfamiliar to many but his kennel are very much on the upgrade and Adeles Duke has showed plenty of bravery in two big wins so far.
Frankies Jet is still readily available at odds of 50/1 in the ante-post lists but Falkirk-based Gary Ferguson has never been afraid of putting the miles in, and his charge went close to the bagging the fastest sectional of the competition on Friday.
The draw is always of importance in greyhound racing and with his middle seeding, were he to survive a tricky assignment in the opening heat (19:16), there is a strong likelihood of the former Irish runner continuing to receive his ideal draw throughout the remainder of the competition.
I’ll be back with in-depth previews from next week’s quarter-final stage as 24 remain in the hunt for the £175,000 prize.