Jonathan Hobbs rounds up all the latest news in the greyhound world with heats of the Coral Essex Vase at Romford something to look forward to.
NORMAL might not exist anymore, but Friday sees some sort of normality return for greyhound fans in 2021 with a full open-race card at Romford - including heats of the Coral Essex Vase.
With strict bio-security guidelines and protocols in place, greyhound racing - along with horse racing - continues as an elite sport and with their actions Romford’s management have ensured the first Category One competition of the year can take place.
And it’s an outstanding entry - which isn't a huge surprise given the 2021 Essex Vase follows hot on the heels of the 2020 version!
A reshuffle of the major 575m competitions at the London Road venue sees the Coronation Cup dropped and the Essex Vase moved to a January date, with definitely a moveable feast going on among the four tracks of the LadbrokesCoral - or Entain - group.
For example the Winter Derby moves from Hove to Monmore and will share the stage with the old ‘Midland’ Puppy Derby at Monmore in February with another Ladbrokes staple, the Golden Jacket, staged as usual the same month.
Either way, open-race fans, owners and trainers can look forward to a busy start of the year with Towcester reviving the Blue Riband and both Arc and SIS underwriting opens at their tracks - albeit a few venues are still not playing ball. Not many, but still too many!
Nottingham this coming Monday and Newcastle this Thursday are two that are playing ball (well played!) - and owners and trainers at the latter, not to mention RPGTV viewers, will be delighted to see a full batch of Arc-backed opens with a host of well-known names lining up.
So back to the Essex Vase - and great to see Sparta Master once again going for gold at Romford. Sharon Thompson’s dog is definitely in Adageo Bob territory when it comes to hard-luck stories at the Coral venue - but that story had a happy ending and surely no-one would begrudge him or Sharon victory.
He is once again to the fore in the sponsor’s betting on the famous event - won by the likes of Derby champion Dolores Rocket, the legendary Ballyregan Bob and the aforementioned Adageo Bob - and is the track-record holder for the six-bend distance. He has every chance again.
It’s also great to see 2019 champion Droopys Aoife in the line-up, fresh from her victory in the Brighton Belle at Hove. She forms part of a strong Ernie Gaskin team along with kennelmate and Olympic champion Newinn Jacko, as well as Oaks finalist Newinn Liz. Now a Romford trainer following the sad passing of wife Yvonne, success for any of the Gaskin runners would also be fitting.
Not surprisingly the form of last year’s - or rather last month’s - Essex Vase is well represented not just with third-placed Sparta Master but runner-up Droopys Addition, plus fellow finalists Doolin Princess and the evergreen Desperado Dan.
Desperado Dan won the 2019 Coronation Cup at this time of the year two years ago, while 2020 winner Antigua Rum is also in the mix - another January specialist!
Of course Desperado Dan also lines up as the Champion Stakes winner and a re-match between him and first-past-the-post Smallmead could be on the cards.
Incidentally, happy retirement to two other big-race finalists from last month - John Mullins’ Swift Tarquin and the Essex Vase winner himself Kilmessan Puma.
News broke of the latter’s retirement this week, although it had been considered in the immediate aftermath of his fantastic win. Indeed, how could the veteran better wins of 14-1, 14-1 and 16-1 during the Essex Vase?
It was one of the great stories of 2020 and just topped off an excellent year for his trainer David Mullins given his top-six Trainer of the Year finish.
So good luck to connections of all Friday’s Coral Essex Vase entries and great to see a £10,000 final in a fortnight’s time to kick off the year.
TOWCESTER TV is set for a welcome comeback in 2021.
News that the Northamptonshire venue will again stage the Derby this year has set the wheels in motion with producer Steve Katz understood to be talking to potential partners in the project.
It follows Kevin Boothby’s successful bid for the Classic, which he achieved with the support of Ben Keith and Star Sports plus another yet-to-be-named sponsor. They will host a £175,000-to-the-winner Greyhound Derby in May/June.
TALKING of Towcester, a busy week of trials lay ahead for the track.
Last year’s Sussex Cup champion Bockos Doomie trials on Saturday for Patrick Janssens, with other Blue Riband hopefuls being put through their paces including two-time GBGB Category One winner and kennelmate Kilara Lion and Janssens’ highly rated youngster Bockos Jon Jo.
Mark Wallis’s Hopes Bullet trials on Sunday as do Liz McNair’s team of British Breeders Stakes winner Queen Dolly, Olympic runner-up Darth Vader plus Frank Bryce’s Oaks finalist Baggios Gem.
DON’T forget to vote in the final RPGTV/GWA Greyhound of the Month poll of 2020.
December’s nominations are Coral TV Trophy champion Aayamza Royale (Mark Wallis), Property192 Oaks heroine Ballymac Trend (Angie Kibble), BGBF British Bred Derby victory Elderberry Sky (Patricia Cowdrill) and Star Sports Puppy Derby winner Surprising (Seamus Cahill).
Votes can be cast via @rpgreyhounds on Twitter - and will be the final time the RPGTV/GWA Greyhound of the Month is decided this way.
For 2021, the RPGTV/GWA Greyhound of the Month will see a list of nominations published as normal, but with Greyhound Writers’ Association members voting on the winner, which will be announced on RPGTV.