Ian Brindle looks ahead to Saturday’s Star Sports Greyhound Derby semi-finals at Nottingham.
The sense of anticipation has begun to reach fever pitch as the remaining 12 runners in the Star Sports, Arc & LPS Greyhound Derby are just 30 seconds away from a tilt at the £100,000 first prize.
The cream has certainly risen to the top in this year’s competition, and though we lost last year’s runner-up, Droopys Verve, in the quarter-finals, the big names have all progressed and there will be no ‘free passes’ into the final.
Last Saturday proved to be a profitable night for this column as our ante-post selection, Magical Bale, produced the goods in the fastest time of the night.
Some may have thought that trap five was going to be a tough draw for Bale, but a brutal 4.88 sectional was enough to see him stride clear in the second quarter-final.
There were audible gasps as Dorotas Wildcat was drawn alongside him in the first semi-final, but the bookmakers still rate Kevin Hutton’s pair as outright favourites, and the first three finishers will qualify for the final.
Dorotas Wildcat was professional enough during his quarter-final victory. The make-up of his race lacked much in the way of raw early pace and the defending champion will not be afforded such a luxury on Saturday.
Queen Beyonce continues to amaze and the ‘pocket powerhouse’ put up a gutsy performance to take the third quarter-final.
The sole unbeaten runner in the Derby, she is one of two bitches still engaged, and will be joined by litter brother, King Sheeran, as he chased home Priceless Blake in the first heat.
Saturday will also see the start of the Derby Plate competition. This appears a vintage renewal and it would be no surprise to see Droopys Verve and Roxholme Jim (who were both eliminated from the Derby last weekend) figuring prominently on most shortlists.
The Derby will be shown live in the majority of betting shops and the full card is on Racing Post Greyhound TV (Channel 431).
20.48 - Semi-final 1
1 Droopys Expert
Consistent since narrowly avoiding elimination in opening round; has to reverse form with big two in market though did serve up a 4.98 sectional from here in the third round.
2 Magical Bale
Still improving and was fastest during the last two rounds; draw is not ideal (moved off from T1 in first round) but trapping has been spot on and another swift exit should suffice.
3 Dorotas Wildcat
Did what he needed to do in quarter-finals albeit in a modest time; very hard to write off but will need to employ all his guile and track-craft in order to secure that vital run.
4 Ballyanne Sim
Flashed out in his fastest sectional of the competition last week before emptying close home; previously edged left from similar draws and hopes rest upon him avoiding inside hazards.
5 Priceless Blake
Largely unheralded before last week’s victory and now three from four in the Derby; odds reflect that this assignment is considerably tougher.
6 King Sheeran (w)
Just his fifth competitive race since breaking his hock; stays on stoutly over this trip and will be running on dourly as pacier types flounder.
A hot semi-final where MAGICAL BALE can prevail over defending champion, Dorotas Wildcat. The draw is an imponderable though he would have been far more inconvenienced had the boxes been reversed. Ballyanne Sim is a Classic winner and the in-form Priceless Blake is clearly in good heart, but both will need something special in order to overcome their draws. King Sheeran could find things happening a little quickly so the evergreen Droopys Expert is preferred. 2-3-1
21.05 - Semi-final 2
1 Skywalker Logan
Nowhere near his first-round fireworks but did an awful lot of running to qualify from a hopeless position last weekend; could surprise if he can secure a clear run from this box.
2 Queen Beyonce
Only unbeaten runner in the Derby and allocated the blue jacket for the fourth week in succession; battled on bravely to back-run rivals in the last round and sure to be very popular with the public.
3 Clonbrien Prince
Still a major player in the competition despite surrendering his unbeaten record to Queen Beyonce; scrambled into the qualifying slots after taking a hefty bump and has an obvious chance to reverse form with his nemesis.
4 Roxholme Glory
Only won one race in the Derby so far but represents a kennel that have an exceptional record with producing finalists; heaviest dog in this race by some margin and a repeat of last week’s 4.93 sectional would pose serious questions.
5 Ballymac Tas
Proof that qualification is the name of the game in the Derby; difficult to fancy on this occasion.
6 Jaytee Taylor (w)
High class in Ireland and has taken time to get to grips with the trapping procedure at Nottingham; times have been going the right way and he can’t be ruled out if turning anywhere near the leaders at the third bend.
The ‘easier’ semi-final though not quite the case if you are a punter. Queen Beyonce is clearly durable but her sectionals and the presence of a potential hazard in Skywalker Logan create enough doubt to make her opposable. CLONBRIEN PRINCE put up his best performance in the Derby when drawn previously in three, and were he to crack out smartly, he would be difficult to peg back. Jaytee Taylor has the perfect make up and should qualify. Roxholme Glory appears to have been underestimated by the layers and he can cling on for the remaining berth. 3-6-4